It may seem counter intuitive, but the best way to save a heritage breed is to consume it. This week Broad River Pastures Rabbitry had its beginning with the purchase of Cassanova and Francesca, critically endangered Silver Fox rabbits.
I first got an itch to raise rabbits a couple years ago when I listened to Neal Foley’s gastrocast on the topic. I listened to it in the car and then tried to talk Jon into letting me raise some in the back yard or basement. That didn’t go over very well, but with 11 acres at my disposal and my new career as agripreneur, all obstacles have been removed. I’m finally in the rabbit business! When I asked Neal via twitter what kind of rabbits he raised, he told me about his very rare Silver Fox rabbits. I did some research and fell in love with the breed. There are several reasons why. These include their heritage status, personality, functionality, and sustainable qualities.
The Silver Fox is the second oldest American rabbit breed, and is considered “critical” by the The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy due to the low number of breeders who are raising them. After 14 years of breeding, W. B. Garland of Ohio developed this new breed that was recognized in 1925 under the name “American Heavyweight Silver.” The name was changed to Silver Fox Rabbit in 1929. According to Sustainable Table, 190 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide within the last 15 years alone. This threat to our genetic diversity is frightening. Heritage breeds are those raised by farmers in the past prior to the development of large agricultural corporations. They are well adapted to sustainable methods on a small family farm without the need for climate controlled housing and the use of antibiotics. These livestock breeds serve as an important genetic resource. When heritage breeds become extinct, their unique genes are lost forever and can’t be used to breed new traits into existing livestock breeds. By raising heritage livestock breeds, sustainable farmers not only maintain variety within our livestock populations, but they also help to preserve valuable traits within the species so that future breeds can endure harsh conditions. Slow Food USA praises the tasty meat quality of this breed and the importance to preserve it for future generations.
The National Silver Fox Club Guide Book says that “Silver Fox are a gentle breed and have been dubbed the Teddy Bear of the commercial type. The does are easy breeders and are excellent mothers. They seem to adapt to any climate and sudden changes in temperature do not appear to bother them. They are easy to handle and they like attention. A high dress out percentage with a predominantly small boned carcass makes them a very desirable meat breed.” They have been traditionally been raised as an all-purpose rabbit for meat, fur, and show. These features are especially important to me as a small farmer. I need livestock that is manageable and easy to handle. Today, especially, adaptability to weather changes is essential. We’ve gone from 52 to 32 with a strong wind today at it will be in the teens the next few nights, then up to the 50s again. The doe is certainly an easy breeder and readily accepted our buck on the second attempt. They seem to enjoy each other’s company and hang out together in their roomy next-door cages. They have ample room to stand erect and hop around and we can watch them from the kitchen window. Breeding in the winter is useless, though, without a good mother who will prepare the nest, provide milk, and keep the kits warm. I can report Francesca’s progress in about one month on those respects. Once the kits are raised, meat quality and a high dress out percentage will help make my labors as profitable as possible.
I want to recognize the nice rabbit people who helped get me started. Besides Neal who informed me of the breed, I want to thank Gloria and Loretta Hayward from Garden Gate Rabbitry for providing my initial stock. Charles Bryant of Wooleyboogers allowed me to tour his rabbitry and then custom built some awesome cages for us to keep the rabbits comfy and healthy. In order to add some genetic diversity into this very rare breed, we plan to get another trio of rabbits in January from William Morrow of Whitmore Farm when Jon is in the area for business.
So, when you are shopping at your local farmer’s market, please ask the farmer about the breeds of meat he is raising. Support the heritage breeds whenever possible, or they may be gone forever.