I have always been interested in learning new things. I guess that is why I went into education. When I became interested in breeding New Zealand Reds, I wanted to learn as much as possible about their history. After a little research, I found a link to the Library of Congress and the book The New Zealand Red Rabbit and Rabbit Culture by C. P. Gilmore, which was published in 1917.
Gilmore’s concern for his rabbits’ well being is established in the opening pages of this fun to read book. I wished I had heeded his advice about the proper cage size for New Zealand Reds. Gilmore wanted room for his rabbits to move so they could grow to their full potential, yet he also wanted the convenience of being able to reach the back of the cage. Therefore, a four foot wide and two and half foot deep cage was his ideal. I mistakenly purchased three foot wide and three foot deep cages; I regret this decision every time I try to reach a rabbit in the back of a three foot cage.
According to Gilmore, bucks and does should not be bred until eight months of age to allow for physical maturity. He was also an early advocate for the forty-two day breed back system. Gilmore believed that baby rabbits were too often weaned at four weeks of age and recommended six to seven weeks for weaning age. Gilmore tried to utilize “natural” breeding practices: he took the doe to the buck’s cage but would only breed the pair once, then rebreed in five days to check if the doe was again receptive or “squealed’ to show she was already bred. One idea I found interesting is that Gilmore did not believe a doe should be allowed to nurse more than six babies. To rebuttal advocates who wanted large litters of eight to ten, he counters that when compared pound for pound, a litter of five will out weigh a litter of ten at seven weeks of age. I have often noticed in my own rabbitry that the kits from small litters mature much more quickly than kits from large litters.
Of special interest to me is Gilmore’s discussion of the New Zealand Reds’ history. Gilmore explores the different theories as to where the New Zealand Red originated. One story is that a John Henry Synder, of San Francisco, traveled to New Zealand in 1906 and returned with four does and one buck. Gilmore further states that the foundation breed for the New Zealand was the Otago rabbit from Southern New Zealand. The Otago itself evolved from Scottish imports known as Scotch rabbits. The Otagoes were lighter in color and weighed about seven pounds at maturity. Gilmore further notes that these Otagoes were known for their hardiness.
If you are interested in learning more, you can find Gilmore’s book at:
Let me know what you think.