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Though this animal is an inhabitant of most temperate climates, it does not reach so far north as the hare. The wild rabbit is a native of Great Britain, and is found in large numbers in the sandy districts of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. Its flesh is, by some, considered to have a higher flavour than that of the tame rabbit, although it is neither so white nor so delicate. The animal, however, becomes larger and fatter in the tame than in the wild state; but it is not desirable to have it so fat as it can be made.

The Common or Wild Rabbit

Warrens, or inclosures, are frequently made in favourable localities, and some of them are so large as to comprise 2,000 acres. The common wild rabbit is of a grey colour, and is esteemed the best for the purposes of food. Its skin is valuable as an article of commerce, being used for the making of hats. Another variety of the rabbit, however, called the "silver-grey," has been lately introduced to this country, and is still more valuable. Its colour is a black ground, thickly interspersed with grey hairs; and its powers as a destroyer and consumer of vegetable food are well known to be enormous, especially by those who have gardens in the vicinity of a rabbit-warren.

Varieties in Rabbits

Almost everybody knows that a rabbit is a furry animal, that lives on plants, and burrows in the ground; that it has its varieties as well as other animals, and that it is frequently an especial favourite with boys. Among its varieties, the short-legged, with width and substance of loin, is the most hardy, and fattens the most expeditiously. It has, besides, the soundest liver, rabbits generally being subject to defects of that part. It is also the smallest variety. There is a very large species of the hare-colour, having much bone, length and depth of carcase, large and long ears, with full eyes, resembling those of the hare: it might readily be taken for a hybrid or mule, but for the objection to its breeding. Its flesh is high-coloured, substantial, and more savoury than that of the common rabbit; and, cooked like the hare, it makes a good dish. The large white, and yellow and white species, have whiter and more delicate flesh, and, cooked in the same way, will rival the turkey. Rabbits are divided into four kinds, distinguished as warreners, parkers, hedgehogs, and sweethearts. The warrener, as his name implies, is a member of a subterranean community, and is less effeminate than his kindred who dwell upon the earth and have "the world at their will," and his fur is the most esteemed. After him, comes the parker, whose favourite resort is a gentleman's pleasure-ground, where he usually breeds in great numbers, and from which he frequently drives away the hares. The hedgehog is a sort of vagabond rabbit, that, tinker like, roams about the country, and would have a much better coat on his back if he was more settled in his habits, and remained more at home. The sweetheart is a tame rabbit, with its fur so sleek, soft, and silky, that it is also used to some extent in the important branch of hat-making.

Fecundity of the Rabbit

The fruitfulness of this animal has been the subject of wonder to all naturalists. It breeds seven times in the year, and generally begets seven or eight young ones at a time. If we suppose this to happen regularly for a period of four years, the progeny that would spring from a single pair would amount to more than a million. As the rabbit, however, has many enemies, it can never be permitted to increase in numbers to such an extent as to prove injurious to mankind; for it not only furnishes man with an article of food, but is, by carnivorous animals of every description, mercilessly sacrificed. Notwithstanding this, however, in the time of the Roman power, they once infested the Balearic islands to such an extent, that the inhabitants were obliged to implore the assistance of a military force from Augustus to exterminate them.

The Rabbit-House

Rabbit-keeping is generally practised by a few individuals in almost every town, and by a few in almost every part of the country. Forty years ago, there were in the metropolis one or two considerable feeders, who, according to report, kept from 1,600 to 2,000 breeding does. These large establishments, however, have ceased to exist, and London receives the supply of tame as well as wild rabbits chiefly from the country. Where they are kept, however, the rabbit-house should be placed upon a dry foundation, and be well ventilated. Exposure to rain, whether externally or internally, is fatal to rabbits, which, like sheep, are liable to the rot, springing from the same causes. Thorough ventilation and good air are indispensable where many rabbits are kept, or they will neither prosper nor remain healthy for any length of time. A thorough draught or passage for the air is, therefore, absolutely necessary, and should be so contrived as to be checked in cold or wet weather by the closing or shutting of opposite doors or windows.

The Hutch

Hutches are generally placed one above another to the height required by the number of rabbits and the extent of the room. Where a large stock is kept, to make the most of room, the hutches may be placed in rows, with a sufficient interval between for feeding and cleaning, instead of being, in the usual way, joined to the wall. It is preferable to rest the hutches upon stands, about a foot above the ground, for the convenience of cleaning under them. Each of the hutches intended for breeding should have two rooms, a feeding and a bed-room. Those are single for the use of the weaned rabbits, or for the bucks, which are always kept separate. The floors should be planed smooth, that wet may run off, and a common hoe, with a short handle, and a short broom, are most convenient implements for cleaning these houses.


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The Book of Household Management (1861).

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