Farm Barn 2 Rabbits
It may appear that we are extending our Rural Architecture to an undue length, in noticing a subject so little attended to in this country as Rabbit accommodations. But, as with other small matters which we have noticed, this may create a new source of interest and attachment to country life, we conclude to give it a place.
It is a matter of surprise to an American first visiting England, to see the quantities of game which abound at certain seasons of the year in the London and other markets of that country, in contrast with the scanty supply, or rather no supply at all, existing in the markets of American cities. The reason for such difference is, that in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, every acre of the soil is appropriated to some profitable use, while we, from the abundance of land in America, select only the best for agricultural purposes, and let the remainder go barren and uncared for. Lands appropriated to the rearing of game, when fit for farm pasturage or tillage, is unprofitable, generally, with us; but there are thousands of acres barren for other purposes, that might be devoted to the breeding 312 and pasturage of rabbits, and which, by thus appropriating them, might be turned to profitable account. All the preparation required is, to enclose the ground with a high and nearly close paling fence, and the erection of a few rude hutches inside, for winter shelter and the storage of their food. They will burrow into the ground, and breed with great rapidity; and in the fall and winter seasons, they will be fat for market with the food they gather from the otherwise worthless soil over which they run. Rocky, bushy, and evergreen grounds, either hill, dale, or plain, are good for them, wherever the soils are dry and friable. The rabbit is a gross feeder, living well on what many grazing animals reject, and gnawing down all kinds of bushes, briars, and noxious weeds.
The common domestic rabbits are probably the best for market purposes, and were they to be made an object of attention, immense tracts of mountain land in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the New York and New England highlands could be made available for this object.
Some may think this a small business. So is making pins, and rearing chickens, and bees. But there are an abundance of people, whose age and capacity are just fitted for it, and for want of other employment are a charge upon their friends or the public; and now, when our cities and large towns are so readily reached by railroads from all parts of the country, our farmers should study to apply their land to the production of everything that will find a profitable market. Things unthought of, a few years ago, now find 313 a large consumption in our large cities and towns, by the aid of railroads; and we know of no good reason, why this production and traffic should not continue to an indefinite extent. When the breeding of rabbits is commenced, get a good treatise on the breeding and rearing of them, which may be found at many of the bookstores.
As the rearing of rabbits, and their necessary accommodation, is not a subject to which we have given much personal attention, we applied to Francis Rotch, Esq., of Morris, Otsego county, New York, who is probably the most accomplished rabbit fancier in the United States, for information, with which he has kindly furnished us. His beautiful and high-bred animals have won the highest premiums, at the shows of the New York State Agricultural Society. He thus answers:
I now forward you the promised plan from Mr. Alfred Rodman, of Dedham, Massachusetts, which, I think, will give you the information you wish upon these subjects.
Rabbits kept for profit in the vicinity of a city, and where there are mills, may be raised at a very small cost; and when once known as an article of food, will be liberally paid for by the epicure, for their meat is as delicate as a chicken's, and their fat mild, and very rich.
I am surprised they are not more generally kept, as a source of amusement, and for the purposes of experiment.
There is, I think, in many, a natural fondness for animals, but not easily indulged without more room than is often to be found in city residences. Fowls, and pigeons, trespass on our neighbors, and are a frequent cause of trouble. This objection does not hold good against the rabbit, which occupies so small a space, that where there is an outhouse there may be a rabbitry. English children are encouraged in their fondness for animals, as tending to good morals and good feelings, and as offering a home amusement, in contradistinction to street associations.
Drawn from life, by Mr. Francis Rotch.
Mr. Rotch continues:
I have just finished the enclosed drawing of a 'fancy rabbit,' which I hope will answer your purpose, as an illustration of what the little animal should be in form, color, marking, and carriage, according to the decisions of the various societies in and out of London, who are its greatest admirers and patrons. These amateurs hold frequent meetings for its exhibition, at which premiums are awarded, and large prizes paid for such specimens as come up to their standard of excellence. This standard is, of course, conventional; and, as might be expected, is a combination of form and color very difficult to obtain—based, it is true, on the most correct principles of general breeding; but much of fancy and beauty is added to complete the requisites of a prize rabbit. For instance, the head must be small and clean; the shoulders wide and full; the chest broad and deep; the back wide, and the loin large. Thus far, these are the 317 characteristics of all really good and improved animals; to which are to be added, on the score of 'fancy,' an eye round, full, and bright; an ear long, broad, and pendant, of a soft, delicate texture, dropping nearly perpendicularly by the side of the head—this is termed its 'carriage.' The color must be in rich, unmixed masses on the body, spreading itself over the back, side, and haunch, but breaking into spots and patches on the shoulder, called the 'chain;' while that on the back is known as the 'saddle.' The head must be full of color, broken with white on the forehead and cheeks; the marking over the bridge of the nose and down on both sides into the lips, should be dark, and in shape somewhat resembling a butterfly, from which this mark takes its name; the ear, however, must be uniform in color. Add to all this, a large, full dewlap, and you will have a rabbit fit to 'go in and win.'
The most esteemed colors are black and white; yellow and white; tortoise-shell and white; blue and white, and gray and white. These are called 'broken colors,' while those of one uniform color are called 'selfs.'
It will be observed that Mr. Rotch here describes a beautiful fancy variety of lop-eared rabbits, which he brought from England a few years since. They were, originally, natives of Madagascar. He continues:
The domestic rabbit, in all its varieties, has always been, and still is, a great favorite, in many parts of the European continent:
In Holland, it is bred with reference to color only, which must be a pure white, with dark ears, feet, legs, and tail; this distribution has a singular effect, but, withal, it is a pretty little creature. The French breed a long, rangy animal, of great apparent size, but deficient in depth and breadth, and of course, wanting in constitution; no attention is paid to color, and its marking is matter of accident. The White Angola, with its beautiful long fur and red eyes, is also a great favorite in France.
In England, the rabbit formerly held the rank of 'farm stock!' and thousands of acres were exclusively devoted to its production; families were supported, and rents, rates, and taxes were paid from its increase and sale. The 'gray-skins' went to the hatter, the 'silver-skins' were shipped to China, and were dressed as furs; while the flesh was a favorite dish at home. This was the course pursued in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and many other counties, with their light sandy soils, before the more general introduction of root culture, and the rotation of crops, gave an increased value to such land. Since then, however, I remember visiting a farm of Lord Onslow's, in Surrey, containing about 1,400 acres. It was in the occupation of an eminent flock-master and agriculturist, who kept some hundreds of hutched rabbits for the sake of their manure, which he applied to his turnep crop; added to this, their skins and carcasses were quite an item of profit, notwithstanding the care of them required an old man and boy, with a donkey and cart. The food used was chiefly brewer's grains, miller's waste, bran 319 and hay, with clover and roots, the cost of keeping not exceeding two pence a week. The hutches stood under a long shed, open on all sides, for the greater convenience of cleaning and feeding. I was told that the manure was much valued by the market gardeners round London, who readily paid 2s. 6d. a bushel at the rabbitries. These rabbitries are very numerous in all the towns and cities of England, and form a source of amusement or profit to all classes, from the man of fortune to the day laborer. Nor is it unfrequent that this latter produces a rabbit from an old tea-chest, or dry-goods box, that wins the prize from its competitor of the mahogany hutch or ornamental rabbitry.
The food of the rabbit embraces great variety, including grain of all kinds, bran, pea-chaff, miller's waste, brewer's grains, clover and other hay, and the various weeds known as plantain, dock, mallow, dandelion, purslain, thistles, &c., &c.
The rabbit thus easily conforms itself to the means, condition, and circumstances of its owner; occupies but little space, breeds often, comes early to maturity, and is withal, a healthy animal, requiring however, to be kept clean, and to be cautiously fed with succulent food, which must always be free from dew or rain—water is unnecessary to them when fed with 'greens.' My own course of feeding is, one gill of oats in the morning, with a medium-sized cabbage leaf, or what I may consider its equivalent in any other vegetable food, for the rabbit in confinement must be, as already stated, cautiously fed with what is succulent. At noon, I feed a handfull of cut hay or clover 320 chaff, and in the evening the same as in the morning. To does, when suckling, I give what they will eat of both green and dry food. The cost to me is about three cents per week, per head.
I by no means recommend this as the best, or the most economical mode of feeding, but it happens to suit my convenience. Were I in a town, or near mills, I should make use of other and cheaper substitutes. My young rabbits, when taken from the doe, say at eight, ten, or twelve weeks old, are turned out together till about six months old, when it becomes necessary to take them up, and put them in separate hutches, to prevent their fighting and destroying each other. The doe at that age is ready to breed; her period of gestation is about thirty-one or two days, and she produces from three or four to a dozen young at a 'litter'. It is not well to let her raise more than six, or even four at once—the fewer, the larger and finer the produce.
Young rabbits are killed for the table at any age, from twelve weeks to twelve months old, and are a very acceptable addition to the country larder. The male is not allowed to remain with the doe, lest he should destroy the young ones.
Hutches are made singly, or in stacks, to suit the apartment, which should be capable of thorough ventilation. The best size is about three feet long, two feet deep, and fourteen inches high, with a small apartment partitioned off from one end, nearly a foot wide, as a breeding place for the doe. A wire door forms the front, and an opening is left behind for cleaning; the floor should have a descent to the back of the 321 hutch of two inches. All edges should be tinned, to save them from being gnawed.
Having now given the leading characteristics and qualities which constitute a good 'fancy lop-eared rabbit,' and its general management, allow me to remark on the striking difference observable between Americans and the people of many other countries, as to a fondness for animals, or what are termed 'fancy pets,' of and for which we, as a people, know and care very little. Indeed, we scarcely admit more than a selfish fellowship with the dog, and but too seldom does our attachment even for this faithful companion, place him beyond the reach of the omnipotent dollar.
The operatives, mechanics, and laborers, in other countries, seem to have a perfect passion for such pursuits, and take the greatest interest and pride in breeding and perfecting the lesser animals, though often obliged to toil for the very food they feed to them. Here, too, home influences are perceived to be good, and are encouraged by the employer, as supplying the place of other and much more questionable pursuits and tastes.
We here present the elevation, and floor plan of Mr. Rodman's rabbitry, together with the front and rear views of the hutches within them:
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