Celebrating 100 Years of the American Rabbit

Reader Contribution by Kenny Coogan
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In March of 1918 the American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc. recognized the American rabbit with an official standard. Lewis Salisbury of Pasadena, California developed the American Blue the previous year, and the breed immediately became enormously popular, with a breeding age doe priced at an unheard of $25. Accounting for inflation that would be over $520 today!

“It peaked in popularity around 1950 and was in danger of being dropped as a breed not too long ago,” Jennifer Tiemann president of the Breeders of the American Rabbit National Specialty Club (BARNSC) says. “We are still a rare breed, but our numbers are climbing due to a dedicated group of breeders around the country. The more members we have the more we can do to promote the breed.”

Tiemann, owner of 3T’s Rabbitry in southern Indiana, has been with the club for over eight years and has raised Americans for twelve years. Her son loves the blues, while her daughter fell in love with the white fur. Her daughter has one rabbit that will accept being scratched like a dog.

Photo courtesy Callene Rapp

“Americans are very versatile not only for show but can produce meat for the freezer. But unlike some breeds they are much easier to handle, have amazing inquisitive personalities and love to be at the cage for scratches. We have found they tolerate heat and cold with ease and are wonderful first time moms where some breeds we have maybe will get it on their third strike.”

According to The Livestock Conservancy the American rabbit is not only unique but restricted to North America. After it’s fall in the 50s the American has become the rarest of rabbit breeds in America. It is currently listed as threatened by The Livestock Conservancy.

“The goal of BARNSC is to help promote the breed and being part of the national club you’re a part of a network of breeders of the American rabbit all over the country that love the breed,” Tiemann explains. “We have a newsletter that goes out to members a few times a year, an exclusive Facebook group of club members and a breeders map on our website listing current members.”

Tiemann also says that the club receives questions regarding the breed, which is relayed to members across the country to better serve the public’s regional questions. If someone is interested in raising Americans, they look at the membership list to help get them started.

“We also sponsor awards for the National show, extra awards at the ARBA Convention and the annual sweepstakes awards,” Tiemann says.  “Like many people raising a rare breed we may be few in numbers, but we are dedicated to not only increasing the numbers of the breed but improving the type while keeping the “non-judgable” characteristics that made many of us fall in love with this heritage breed in the first place.”

Photo courtesy Jennifer Tiemann

She adds that attributes to the American include good temperament, good mothering, large litters, and heat tolerance.

The pelts were highly prized as being one of the darkest blue colors at the time. Tiemann invites breeders to carefully look at your rabbits’ fur.

“When the American was in danger of extinction a lot of things changed and we still see rabbits to this day with a very long fur, almost rollback fur. The correct fur for an American is flyback, not the rollback fur as you see on a Beveren or Flemish Giant. Also, we are seeing a lighter blue in some of the rabbits being shown; the deep clear, dark, slate blue with color as far down the shaft as possible is ideal.”

Flyback fur is a coat that lies smooth over the body and when stroked from tail to head, “flys’ back to the original position very rapidly. The length of coat, density and condition will all affect this characteristic. Rollback fur, also lies smooth over the body, but when stroked from tail to head will return to its position gradually.

Adult bucks weigh 9 to 11 pounds and does between 10 to 12 pounds. They are a hardy breed and produce large litters. Fryers make marketable weight quickly and can be kept on wire bottom hutches. The blue variety is the deepest blue color of any of the recognized breeds in America.

Photo courtesy Jennifer Tiemann

“Rabbits are a great addition to the homestead”, Callene Rapp, owner of The Rare Hare Barn from Leon, Kansas says.

“We have always been invested and interested in heritage breeds, and it seemed natural to continue to focus on them when we began. Eric, my husband, had been around rabbits since he was a kid learning from his grandfather, and several of the heritage breeds that were the most in need of conservation he remembered his grandfather having.”

We’ve always loved the Americans. The blues are quite striking, and the whites, even though their color is not as popular, are great meat rabbits, possibly even a little more consistent than the blues. Both have good dispositions, and are nice to work with.

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