Friday, April 1, 2016

New Zealand Meat Rabbits

Believe it our not, the original color of the New Zealand rabbit is red (NZR), not white. Although the New Zealand White (NZW) was recognized by the American Rabbits Breeders Association (ARBA) in 1920. The published ARBA Standards of Perfection book in 1920 only lists standards for the New Zealand Red and no other color of New Zealand rabbits. There are currently only four ARBA recognized colors: white, red, black, and broken. Cross breeding of any of the colors still produces a genetically equivalent rabbit, the more common color variations are Gold Tipped Steel, and Chestnut Agouti. As I mentioned although red was the original color, the New Zealand White has become the standard color that most people associate with this breed.

New Zealand White (NZW)

Mr. William S. Preshaw of California began the development of the New Zealand White sometime around 1916, when one of his New Zealand Red does had four albino (white fur with pink eyes) kits. Mr. Preshaw then took these 3 albino does and 1 buck and began to develop the NZW. At the 1919 Stockton country fair in California it is said that Mr. Preshaw presented his new variety of NZW's which he began to sell as “pure white rabbits”. The ARBA recognized the NZW as an official breed color of New Zealand rabbits in 1920.

The NZW was further developed and bred over time to become a commercial breed primarily for meat production and laboratory testing purposes. Its round compact body type make it just about the perfect meat rabbit and it is used by 90% of commercial meat producing operations.

New Zealand Black (NWB)

Not as common as the NZW or NZR, it is believed that Dr. Alfred DeCastro developed the this bloodline of rabbits now know as NZB's that began to turn up at county fairs sometime around 1924. The ARBA recognized the NZB as an official breed color of New Zealand rabbits in 1958.

The Brokens

Broken patterned New Zealand's are either white and black, or white and red. The colored portions (10 to 70 percent) of the rabbits fur should be evenly balanced and occur in a patched or a blanketed pattern with white fur in between. Ideally, a broken should have a balanced marking on its nose (no preference is supposed to be given for a full butterfly). The ears should be totally colored and the front feet should be white. The fur around the eye should be appropriate for the color of the rabbit, uninterrupted with white. The ARBA recognized brokens as an official breed/category color of New Zealand rabbits in 2010.

Breed Facts

New Zealand's are large rabbits with mature bucks weighing 9 pounds and does at 10 pounds. They are a hardy breed, docile in nature, produce large litters and are typically good mothers. Fryers make marketable weight fairly quickly and are easily kept on wire bottom hutches.

Status: Thriving
Use: Meat, Laboratory Testing
Adult Weight: 9 – 10 lbs
Temperament: Docile

What To Look For When Purchasing A New Zealand:

The following attributes for New Zealand Rabbits comes from the Standards Of Perfection book from the ARBA which lists the primary characteristics or “standards” of the breed that are used when the rabbits are judged at rabbit shows throughout the United States. While we do not show rabbits here at TAP rabbitry, we strive to maintain the primary characteristics and show quality of the breed.

Head and Ears

The head should be full with a moderately round face with a slight curvature between the eyes and nose. It should set close on the shoulders with as short a neck as possible. The rabbits ears should be erect, and set well on the head with a good heavy ear base. The ears should be well shaped, with good fur coverage and be rounded at the tips. Ear length may vary, but should be in direct proportion to the head and body (approximately 4 ½ to 5 ½ inches in an adult rabbit).

Body Shape and Size

The body should be well developed and uniform of shape (commercial type) with well rounded meaty hips, a well filled meaty loin, and ribs that carrying forward to combine with the shoulders. The body should be of medium length, with equal depth and width throughout the entire body. The shoulders should blend smoothly into the midsection of the rabbit which then should blend smoothly into the hindquarters.

When viewed from the side, the top body line should start immediately at the base of the ears and rise in an upward curve to the high point over the center of the hips, and then fall in a smooth downward curve toward the base of the tail. When viewed from above, the sides should taper slightly from the shoulders toward the hindquarters.

Fur Color and Condition

Regardless of the color, the fur when stroked it should return quickly (fly back type) to it's natural position and should lie smoothly over the body. The undercoat should be fine soft and dense.

New Zealand Reds (NZR) – The color should be a bright reddish sorrel, and carry as deep down the hair shaft as possible. The coat on the belly should be the same approximate as the top color. It may be somewhat lighter in shade, approaching a deep creamy cast, but should not be white. White on the underside of the tail, or on foot pads is normal, the eyes should be clear and brown.

New Zealand White (NZW) – The color should be pure white with no hairs of any other color noted on the coat. The eyes should be clear and pink.

New Zealand Black (NZB) – The color is to be jet black throughout without and white hairs noted. The coat on the belly should be a dark slate blue. The eyes should be clear and dark brown.


As mentioned, we strive to preserve the best qualities of the New Zealand rabbit in our breeding program. Any offspring that do not meet the ARBA guidelines are placed in the freezer and we eat them, which was the primary function of this breed. While we currently do not offer pedigree's for our New Zealand meat rabbits, we are rotating new livestock into our herd so that eventually we will offer pedigree's for all of our New Zealand's as we do for our American Blues. Having a pedigree does not ensure you get a better rabbit, rather developing a pedigree helps us to determine which rabbit came from a particular bloodline so that we can re-breed certain qualities into our stock, and weed out any poor quality traits.

So remember when purchasing a rabbit look at the rabbits characteristics first, and then look at the pedigree if the breeder has one. A quality, non-pedigreed rabbit will produce more healthy kits for you than a pedigreed rabbit that has poor body and fur qualities. Pedigrees are nice, but they are no guarantee of quality, they are simply a road map of the rabbits potential future. Eventually All of our New Zealand's at TAP rabbitry will be sold with a pedigree at no additional cost to the customer.

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Other Related Articles On Our Blog:

The American Blue Meat Rabbit


ARBA Standards Of Perfection

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