Monday, April 13, 2015

C.P. Gilmore and the History of New Zealand Reds

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.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Good Friday, Magdalene, and life on a farm

Good Friday was the start of lambing season here at Mission Hill. Right on cue, our ewe, Chloe, gave birth to a beautiful lamb, whom my son quickly named Magdalene.

The morning began as most: my youngest daughter fed the animals and completed her chores; soon, Micaela hollered for us to come down the hill. We had a new addition to our family. The lamb was already dry and nursing by the time we reached the sheep pen.

This birth symbolizes the cycle of life that renews the soul each spring when we witness the miracle of life. Our little lamb is full of innocence and beauty and possibilities.

Magdalene will not be alone for long; brothers and sisters and cousins will soon join her to run and play and bring the pastures to life. Up the hill, the rabbit nest boxes are filled with potential waiting to travel to Portland in the fall.

We are excited; we have never attended an ARBA national show before. What will it be like to see 15,000 rabbits under one roof? I must thank Manuel Hidalgo for selling me my New Zealand red breeding stock. 

I have high hopes that some little bunny in one of those nest boxes will shine on the judge’s table come next November. But if show success eludes our rabbits in Portland, it will be OK. We will return to Mission Hill, sit in our rocker, and watch Magdalene and the other lambs run and frolic for another year.