New Zealand White Rabbit History

History of New Zealand White Rabbits

Believe it or not and despite the name, New Zealand rabbits actually originated in America. Their genesis is tied much more to Belgian Hares than it is to rabbits from the country of New Zealand.

The New Zealand Rabbit became known in the United States around 1912 and was first a red variety. New Zealand Reds were thought to have been a cross between a Belgian Hare and a white rabbit.  It is thought that this white variety came about from the cross breeding of the Flemish Giant, American White, and Angora. 

We will try to explain the early history of New Zealand Red Rabbits here. This is also the history of New Zealand Whites (NZW), as they are nothing more than albino sports of the early New Zealand Reds. 

Since New Zealands are as American as sliced bread, why are they called “New Zealand Rabbits?”

There was a printed article about New Zealand Red Rabbits that circulated in 1918 about rabbits imported from New Zealand to California. This article connected them to the newly developing breed of rabbits known as New Zealands.

While the alleged imports may or may not have contributed to the breed that would bear their name, the establishment of the New Zealand Rabbit is now understood to be a completely American story, since the breed arose in multiple locations concurrently across the USA, with or without any New Zealand imports.

The New Zealand White Rabbit…… As far as being documented, it is believed that Mr. William S. Preshaw of California began the development of this new variety, now known as the New Zealand White rabbit (NZW). Around 1916, four albino bunnies showed up in a litter of seven kits in the nest box of a New Zealand Red doe. The sire is thought to have been an Angora. The fact that one kit was a buck and three were does must have looked to the breeder, Mr. Preshaw, like a gold-embossed invitation for the development of a new variety – The White New Zealand. 

Approximately two years later, in 1919, Mr. Preshaw presented his new variety at a county fair in Stockton, California.  There was a lot of interest taken in this new solid white rabbit with pink eyes and he soon began selling his “Pure White Rabbits.” 

In the 1920’s rising popularity for this new breed began. These White New Zealand rabbits bore only slight resemblance to the NZW Rabbits of the Twenty-First Century. In 1920, NZW rabbits were stocky and white, but they tended to pose in a modified arch much like their progenitors, the Belgian hares. This New White breed became well known and was soon imported into the UK after the Second World War in 1945.

Over the years, NZW rabbits have now become the number one meat rabbit in the United States. The NZW rabbit has now become the breed of choice when it comes to most commercial rabbit operations.  In fact, it is estimated that 90% of all commercial rabbits farms in the U.S. use the NZW. These white rabbits have become the most popular for meat production because of their large, broad, and muscular bodies; plus their fur can be dyed to other colors. 

Another advantage the New Zealand White has, is it  also reacts similar as humans do to certain medications and diseases. Therefore, NZW rabbits are now used in labs for certain developments and drug testing for cancer and heart disease. NZW rabbit serum, or blood which has been cleaned, is blood that is close to a humans blood and therefore in very high demand for cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis research.  For this reason, NZW rabbits may one day be responsible for saving a lot of human lives. Skin cream, cosmetics, and food additives have also been tested on NZW rabbits. There is a high global demand for this wonderful breed of rabbit. The New Zealand White Rabbit, because of its meat, fur blood, rapid weight gain and ability to reproduce so quickly, make it special above all other breeds for commercial production.

Other New Zealand Rabbits……

Black New Zealands first occurred around 1924. However, today’s New Zealand Blacks were bred by Dr. Alfred DeCastro with Black New Zealand sports from California breeders. The variety was accepted by the ARBA in 1958.

Broken New Zealands are the newest recognized variety of New Zealands in the USA. As of February, 2010, New Zealand varieties are:

  • Red (Bred to a separate and different standard in the UK)
  • White 
  • Black
  • Broken

It is our understanding that a breed called Blue New Zealands are being developed through a Certificate of Development from the ARBA.

Today, New Zealand White Rabbits have been bred nearly to perfection. 

  • There is no resemblance in today’s New Zealands to the Belgian Hare breed.
  • New Zealands are now the epitome of a meat producing breed – firm, meaty, full depth and breadth of hindquarters and slightly less so in the shoulders. They are posed flat to the table rather than arched.
  • New Zealand senior bucks weigh 9-11 pounds; NZW does weigh 10-12 pounds
  • New Zealand Whites are the breed of choice for most commercial rabbit operations. White fur is preferred as stray hairs would be less noticed against the pale meat. Additionally, white fur can be dyed to a color of choice, if desired.
  • NZW Rabbits can have numerous litters, (4 to 10), per year.
  • Fryers gain weight rapidly, reaching 5 pounds by 8 weeks or close to it. 
  • Their average litter size is 8-10 kits.

New Zealands have enjoyed rising popularity since the mid 1920’s. This is due to a lot of years of breeding, line-breeding and at times, in-breeding.

As a result, traits like…..

  • mothering
  • siring
  • numbers of kits per litter
  • milking
  • fryer vigor
  • feed to gain ratio

have been carefully maximized and built in to many commercial herds. Some commercial operations look for the addition of hybrid vigor by crossing their NZW’s with a second breed, or even a third, utilizing Californians, or Altex, a new breed designed to be a terminal cross within a commercial herd. (Note: Altex are not recognized by the ARBA.) 

If you’re thinking of raising meat rabbits or starting a commercial rabbit herd, you may want to consider the New Zealand White. 

PLEASE NOTE:  In order for us to provide healthy and disease free New Zealand White rabbits, we maintain a CLOSED RABBITRY.  Potential buyers will, however, be able to view enough of the building’s interior to observe the rabbits and the conditions they live under.  We’re sorry, but no outside rabbits, dogs or cats may be brought onto the property.   Thank you for understanding.

THANK YOU for visiting the Crossroads Rabbitry web site; home of Quality New Zealand White Rabbits.

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