Flemish rabbits are also called the king of rabbits owing to their large size and longevity. In addition, the moniker gentle giant has also been used to refer to this rabbit breed, being inspired by their gentle personality and likable disposition. While the Flemish giant rabbit was originally bred for meat, today, you are more likely to find them kept as family pets and for show.
What Makes Flemish Rabbits Good for Meat Over Other Rabbit Breeds?
There are a few reasons that some people believe that Flemish rabbits make better meat animals than other breeds. First, they are a larger breed of rabbit, which means that they will provide more meat. They also have a higher muscle-to-fat ratio than other breeds, which means that the meat will be leaner and healthier. Finally, Flemish rabbits are known for their docile nature, which makes them easier to handle and slaughter. All of these factors make Flemish rabbits an attractive option for those looking to raise rabbits for meat.
The History of Flemish rabbits
As the oldest recognizable breed of domesticated rabbits, the Flemish giant rabbit has been prized for its meat for over half a millennium. However, there is no universal agreement on the history of the domestication of these gentle giants. There are some who believe that the rabbits were first domesticated in Patagonia.
However, the most reliable historical evidence suggests that they have first raised in Flanders, modern-day Belgium, beginning in the sixteenth century.
The earliest incontrovertible historical evidence of Flemish giant rabbits as domestic animals comes from nineteenth-century England. These are written accounts of a breed of enormous rabbits raised in Flanders and France. They were said to be highly prized for meat and fur production.
From many accounts, it seems that Flemish giants were raised to a very strict pedigree up until late into the nineteenth century. After that, they were increasingly cross-bred. This practice is what has brought out the widely varying colors and shades common in the breed today.
Distinguishing features and Characteristics of Flemish rabbits
Here is a look at the characteristic features that distinguish the Flemish giants from other rabbit breeds.
Semi-arch Body Type
The Flemish giant is one of just a handful of breeds of rabbits recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) as having a semi-arch body type. A semi-arch rabbit has a body arch that starts at the base of the shoulders before it curves up and over towards the animal’s rear end.
Weight and Length
Compared to other rabbit breeds, Flemish giants are distinctively ginormous. In addition, they have a large bone structure compared to other rabbits making for a considerably low meat-to-bone ratio.
A full-grown adult can weigh upwards of twenty pounds though the average weight is fifteen pounds. They could also grow as long as 30 inches. This is a size more comparable to a midsized dog. Male Flemish rabbits tend to be heavier than females.
Flemish giants reach their full growth size when they are about one and a half years old. In that period when they experience rapid growth, they need a lot of feeding as well as plenty of water. Unlimited food supply should also be provided after females deliver kits. These big rabbits also require more feeding during the winter months.
Differences Between Males and Females
generally speaking, you may only tell the difference between a male and a female rabbit by examining the genitalia. This can be done more easily when it comes to Flemish giant rabbits. This breed of giant docile rabbits is one of the few where there is clear sexual dimorphism.
You can easily identify a male Flemish giant as it will have a broader head than a female of similar size. Female Flemish giants are even more conspicuous as they spot a dewlap, fur-coated folds of skin just below the chin. The females use the dewlap to keep baby bunnies warm when they are nursing.
Attitude and Intelligence
Flemish giant rabbits are some of the most socially predisposed rabbits you can raise at home. However, these large rabbits integrate well with other domestic pets as well as with children. They are also quite intelligent and can be taught tricks without too much frustration.
It is also possible to train the rabbits to toilet train the rabbits. Just ensure there is a ready litter box in a conspicuous place in the rabbit’s pen, and the rabbit will adjust easily. That done, the rabbit can be left to run up and about the house without concerns that they will lead to an unsightly mess.
The Suitability of Flemish Rabbits for Meat Production
Being easily the largest breed of giant rabbits on record, it would seem rather obvious that Flemish giant rabbits would be kept to produce meat. However, compared to other meat rabbit breeds, they have a rather unimpressive meat-to-bone ratio.
It is also true that the Flemish giant breed requires a lot more space and special attention to grow to adulthood. For instance, to prevent sore hocks, Flemish rabbits have to be kept in cages with wooden slat floors as opposed to wire mesh. If your goal is to raise meat rabbits affordably, you had better consider other breeds such as the American Chinchilla rabbits, New Zealand rabbits, and California rabbits; all of which come with less stringent care requirements on top of producing more meat per pound.
The only strong argument for raising Flemish giants for meat is where someone is looking to commercialize more than the meat. Flemish giants are also prized for their glossy fur. This makes Flemish giants a great choice for those looking to sell meat and furs.
Some Flemish giant rabbit breeders prefer to crossbreed with some well-established meat rabbit breeds such as the great Dutch. This has been shown to improve the bone to meat ratio of rabbits.
Care Precautions and Health Concerns for Flemish Giants
Flemish giants are prone to get fur and ear mites due to their thick and glossy fur. You can tell if your rabbit is affected by mites if she keeps scratching and rubbing the skin or ears. To ward off the parasites, regularly groom your rabbit and, if necessary, give a topical application to fend off the mites. Talk to your vet to know which is the best treatment and how often it should be given.
During the summer months, Flemish giants can get heat exhaustion. To prevent this, keep your rabbit in a well-ventilated area. If that is not practical, you can use fans to keep the room cooler.
What Do You Need to Raise Meat Rabbits?
Raising rabbits for meat production is a potentially lucrative income-generating option. Domesticated rabbit breeds reproduce very quickly and, provided they have adequate food and reasonable shelter, require very little maintenance and care.
Here is a look at what you need to begin raising rabbits for meat:
Shelter and Living Space
Domestic rabbits are typically raised up in cages or hutches. The size and structure of the cage depending on the size and breed of the rabbit under consideration. In general, a medium-sized rabbit only requires space that is about 24 by 36 inches in area.
There are three kinds of shelters and housing that can be used for raising meat rabbits. Before choosing any of them, be sure to research whether the method is ideal for your chosen breed of rabbits. It is also important to keep in mind that you need to provide a soft spot on the floor where the rabbits can rest their feet if you go for wire cages.
1. Stackable Cages
The cages are stacked one on top of the other. The option is ideal where space is limited. The cages can be kept in places such as the garage or garden shed.
2. Hanging Cages
The cages are suspended above the ground. This provides better aeration, and the cages are easier to clean. Hanging rabbit cages are ideal for barns, lean-tos, and garages.
3. Colony Setting
In a colony setting, rabbits share the same space. The approach is ideal where there is plenty of open space for rabbits to move up and down and maybe even graze on natural vegetation.
As you raise meat rabbits, it is important to keep in mind that they reproduce very quickly. A single pair of doe and buck will produce between 40 and 50 rabbits in a year. Rabbits breed about every 90 days. The gestation period, the amount of time between conception and birth, is from 30 to 32 days. This is a much shorter period of time than other mammals of a similar size.
As a breeder of meat rabbits, you should make provision for the breeding cycles and harvesting regularity to ensure there is enough space and food for the growing rabbits.
Rabbits are very clean animals, and if they are managed properly, the hutches will not emit any smell or odors. They also do not make any noises unless they thump their feet as a result of being frightened.
Precautions for Outdoor Housing
If you are raising your Flemish giant or another giant rabbit breed, it makes sense to have the hutches out of doors. Such shelters should be properly roofed to protect against the elements and the danger of predators.
Hayracks and Hay
The staple food for rabbits is hay, and you need to have a hayrack in each rabbit hutch. Meat rabbits require hay varieties that are rich in protein. The best choice is, therefore, alfalfa hay. You can also feed your rabbits leafy clover hay. Timothy grass hay is not as nourishing as these other varieties and should not be the predominant food offered to your meat rabbits.
Other than the food and shelter, you need a number of miscellaneous supplies to raise your meat rabbits successfully. The most important of these are custom feeders where the rabbits can take the hay, vegetable materials, and pellets from. You should also invest in a number of sturdy and comfortable nest boxes where the does can give birth and raise young ones from. Water bottles or containers are also required to ensure your rabbits are always hydrated.
Start Your Rabbit Herd With a Trio or Quartet
While it is possible to start your rabbit herd with a single doe and buck, it is much better to start off with a trio or quartet. These should comprise one buck and two or three per set.
It is important, to begin with, more than one doe in your litter because you need adequate genetic diversity in your meat rabbits. That said, it is important to procure all the members of your breeding trio or quartet from the same breeder. This assures you that the does and bucks are genetically compatible.
With a maximum of three reproductive ages does, a first-time rabbit farmer is able to adjust gradually to the frequency of breeding and harvesting easily.
Which Commercial Meat Breed Rabbits Are Good Alternatives to Flemish Rabbits?
If you find the breeding requirements of the Flemish giant rabbit untenable, there are other breeds you can turn to for meat. Here is a selection of the best alternatives:
The American breed of rabbit is a classic American creation in that it is a mix of a motley collection of immigrant breeds. The most predominant genetic characteristics inherent in the American rabbit are those taken from the Flemish, the mandolin, the imperial, and the Vienna breeds. While it is an excellent choice for somebody looking for a low-maintenance meat rabbit, the American is often raised as a multipurpose rabbit as it also has excellent fur.
The American is on the list of threatened species. Aspiring breeders can help protect it from extinction by raising more as either pets or meat rabbits.
American Chinchilla Rabbits
The American chinchilla is another breed of domesticated rabbit that was bred for a dual purpose: meat rabbits and fur. The rabbit’s physical characteristics, such as its broad shoulders and deep loins, are what make it so desirable as a meat rabbit.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has listed the American chinchilla as an endangered breed. It has been proposed that to save this breed; more people should take to raising the rabbits for their fur and meat.
New Zealand White
The New Zealand white rabbit is a distinctively snow-white variety with upstanding ears. The breed is a favorite for popular media depictions of the Easter bunny. The rabbit also spots a distinctly red pair of eyes. The color of the eyes, as is the white fur, comes from a lack of melatonin pigment. Owing to the thick and even nature of their soft fur, New Zealand whites do not require a lot of grooming.
New Zealand whites are medium-sized rabbits, weighing between 9 and 12 pounds (4 to 5 kilograms). Their docile nature also makes them ideal for raising as family pets. They are also sufficiently intelligent to learn tricks and therefore have been used as show rabbits.
Californians are a crossbreed bringing together the best qualities of New Zealand whites and the American chinchilla. The breed is a good example of what a careful breeding program can produce. California rabbits are a rapidly maturing variety with a blocky body ideal for meat.
Californians weigh between 8 and 11 pounds when they mature. They are white in appearance with black ears and nose sections. They may spot red or pink eyes.
The Silver Fox
The silver fox is a great homestead rabbit. It is ideal as a multipurpose breed, meaning it is suited for raising as a pet or for commercial purposes such as fur and meat. As the name suggests, silver foxes have a silver coat of fur with dark shading. Indeed, their name is chosen as their appearance is reminiscent of a wild silver fox.
Silver foxes weigh between 9 and 12 pounds (between four and five kilos). They are highly social animals with good temperaments.
Satin rabbits are a very unique breed of rabbits that spot an almost translucent sheen to their fur. This unique appearance comes from a recessive gene mutation. It is said that this unique appearance first made its way in a litter of Havana rabbits in 1934.
As with most medium-sized rabbits, an average satin rabbit weighs about 10 pounds (5 kilograms). Their heavyset body type makes them ideal as a meat rabbit breed. Their striking appearance and docile nature also make them a great choice for family pet rabbits.
Also known as the Géant Papillon in French, the checkered giant rabbit breed is one of the largest varieties of domestic rabbit recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA).
ARBA recognizes two varieties of checkered giants: black and blue. The black variety is largely white with black markings, while the “blue” is white with gray markings. Adults can weigh up to 15 pounds (7 kilograms) and measure between 25 and 30 inches long (63 and 76 centimeters).
The Final Word
The Flemish giant rabbit is one of the earliest rabbit breeds to be domesticated. While cross-breeding has resulted in some remarkable changes in their appearance, Flemish giants are still one of the largest rabbit breeds being raised today. Admittedly, their voracious appetites and space requirements make them quite uneconomical for commercial meat production.
Their considerable pedigree as suitable sources of rabbit fur and acclaim for being great family pets more than makes up for this limitation, though. Even if you do not opt for Flemish giants as your preferred meat rabbit breed, the alternatives we have recommended will offer you a good choice to begin your venture as a rabbit farmer right away.