Flemish Giant Rabbits - Are The Gentle Giants In the Rabbit World
The opinions differ as to where the Flemish Giant Rabbits originated. It is also undisputed that Flanders, the origin of its present name, was the country of its adoption and spread throughout Europe and eventually made an appearance in America. Europe has no records of how or when the Giant Rabbits appeared there. It’s known to have been bred there on a larger scale during a period of several hundred years, and for a long time was called the Patagonian rabbit.
A study of historical events during the 16th and 17th centuries gives strong support to the belief that the original Patagonian was the wild rabbit of Patagonia in the Argentine Republic. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Dutch were trading with the West Indies, Central and South America. It’s very likely that they would take back to Europe the rabbit itself, not just the name and tack it on to the rabbit of Flanders. They would name the rabbit after the country from which it came from.
There was no record of the Flemish Giant Rabbits when the Dutch was trading with South America. However, that was when these rabbits first became known. Even today the rabbit of Patagonia has the same typical appearance of the Patagonian rabbit of Flanders as it existed there several hundred years ago.
It seems likely that either this rabbit was taken from Europe to Patagonia or from Patagonia to Europe. Since there are no records to support the findings, it seems fairly obvious that this rabbit did originate in Patagonia.
In Patagonia, the rabbit has remained wild. In Europe and America, the rabbit has been breed selectively for the past thirty years and this has produced the superior rabbit known today as the Flemish Giant Rabbit.
In 1860 was the earliest authentic record of the Flemish Giant Rabbits. In England, stories were being told by travelers of an enormous rabbit being raised in Flanders and parts of France. The weight of this rabbit was told to be 18 to 20 pounds, but in reality they weighed 12 to 14 pounds.
Rabbit meat was being imported into England at this time in enormous quantities, millions of pounds, and the local breeders could not fill the demand. The meat rabbits weighed around 7 to 8 pounds, so it was a short time later that breeding the Flemish Giant Rabbit was first introduced.
Mostly “middle class” people populate the British Islands and rabbit breeding as a fancy and as a means of reducing family expenses was looked upon as a necessity more than a hobby. It was a short time before the Flemish Rabbits made its appearance at some of the rabbit shows held in England, periodically.
The first Flemish Giant Rabbit exhibited was impressive in size but not in appearance. The color was a dirty iron gray with sandy or white bars on its legs; long ears bent over at the tips and a general uncouth appearance. It was a brief period before the first Flemish Breeders’ Association was formed for the purpose of improving the new breed. Various experiment and crosses with other varieties worked a wonderful change in the former homely specimen and it eventually became that no show was complete without a large display of these giant rabbits.
The weight and colors improved over the years. The winner of the leading British rabbit show, the Crystal Palace of London, weighed 16 pounds and was designated as steel gray. The front leg still showed the sandy bars and the belly color was pure white. Today the British standard still calls for the same white belly and the same weight.
It wasn’t until 1910 that these Giant Rabbits were exhibited at the leading poultry shows throughout the country. This is when these gentle giants were soon established as a favorite for their enormous size and beautiful colors. Today the Flemish Giant leads in numbers at all the principle shows and is sold at the highest prices recorded since the early 80’s.
To read more on these gentle giants, you can visit the National Federation of Flemish Giant Rabbit Breeders website, www.nffgrb.com.
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