1. Docile and Family-friendly
The Livestock Conservancy refers to Silver Fox rabbits as “known for their gentle and docile nature”. Having bred and raised hundreds of these, I can confirm that that is true. As a mom with 5 kids and a lot of farm visitors, friendly rabbits are essential.
One caveat: As with most domesticated animals, proper handling makes all the difference. We try not to man handle young kits. We talk to or pet all our breeders on a daily basis. (For more information on raising friendly rabbits – check out this post where I go into details on my methods).
2. They are a good multi-purpose rabbit
Silver Fox rabbit fur resembles that of a beautiful grey fox. When we started raising them I had visions of craft and cub scout projects involving hide tanning… I’ve only tanned one batch of rabbit hides so far and it was not very successful. It’s a skill that I want to work on, but not a priority in the current whirl of family life.
Silver Fox rabbits have one of the best “dress-out” rates of any meat rabbit. They weigh 9-12 lbs and about 65 percent of that is meat. The most economical time to butcher a fryer is around 12 weeks old. The meat is very lean and high in protein. Over the years, I have found that I like it best when frozen in a marinade or pressure canned with bacon. (See my favorite rabbit recipes here). Their meat is all “white” meat. We don’t waste any of the rabbit. Our LGDs eat all the parts that we do not. Raw meat and bones are safe for them and the fur helps keep their teeth healthy.
Show or Pets
Silver Fox rabbits are a low maintenance show rabbit or pet. Their fur does not require special grooming, nor do their teeth. Their nails should be trimmed every couple months, but that’s about it. They are an American breed and were critically endangered for a time. The Livestock Conservancy now lists them as “recovering”. Silver Fox rabbits do well on a leash as pets and can be litter box trained.
3. Excellent mothering skills, fabulous foster mothers, and large litter sizes
This reason encompasses so many important aspects of rabbit raising! Silver Fox does are usually wonderful mothers. The most critical aspect of breeding rabbits (other than getting them to breed in the first place) is MOTHERING skills — especially nursing their babies. Rabbit milk is so concentrated that it is nearly impossible to replicate. Rabbits are a prey animal cannot hang out with their babies. They only return to their nests to nurse their kits twice a day for about FIVE minutes. If your mama rabbit doesn’t feed her kits, bottle feeding them is intense and you only have about a 10% chance of success for your efforts.
Another aspect of rabbit mothering is whether or not they pull fur and kindle (birth) their kits in the nest box. Our Silver Fox does usually do an excellent job of pulling fur and making a nest, even the first timers. First time does often have a hard time getting the hang of using a nest box. Usually, after that first litter they figure things out. If you have a first time mama who scatters her kits on the wire, warm them if chilled, and then place them and their mama’s fur in a little hollow inside the nesting box. [Note: For more tricks and tips on helping your rabbit mamas (does) out check out this post]
Silver Fox does sometimes have very large litters. I have one who regularly kindled 10 kits per litter. Usually, 6 kits is the norm. I always breed at least 2-3 does on the same day so that in case something goes wrong, a foster doe can nurse the kits. When a doe has more than 8 kits I usually foster off the extras with another litter so that they can get enough to eat. Silver Fox does are wonderful foster mothers and I have never had one reject a kit that was not their own.
Beware of Lemons!
All that being said, I have to add the caveat that some times you get a doe or buck who is a poor representative of the breed. One of our first two does was a “lemon” — she was not a good mother and never bulked up the way she should have. She hemorrhaged and died after her second litter was born. Sadly, we had to cull all of her descendants as they showed similar poor traits. Those were HARD lessons to learn and work through so early in our rabbit raising efforts. Looking back, I am grateful for them. I learned quickly that we have a responsibility as breeders to work toward improved quality within the breed by culling the ones that have less desirable traits.
It’s very hard to tell what a newly weaned 8 week old kit will be like when they are grown. We guarantee all of the rabbits that we sell, in case one happens to be a “lemon”. We also usually grow out our rabbits for about 16 weeks before we make decisions about which ones to cull. It’s not the most economical way, but it allows us to manage our breeding lines well and choose the best breeders for future litters.