(photo by Christine Carter (Bonreiki Stud)
BRITISH GIANTS - Nikki White (Reguli Cavy & Rabbit Stud)
This is the largest breed of rabbit we have in this country. There are bigger breeds, namely the Continental Giant, but they don’t exist here. They were developed after the period we were allowed to import rabbits from Britain ended. The British Giant is a Fur rabbit and there is no maximum weight, only a minimum one. Until the advent of the Continental Giant, the British Giant was the one found in the press or the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s biggest rabbit. Unfortunately, many of these rabbits were deliberately overfed so as to be record-breakers which is the reason the Guinness Book of Records stopped having a world’s biggest rabbit category a few years ago.
The original lines imported into this country were Brown/Greys most of which came through Salmon Stud in Western Australia in the early 1990s. British Giants only come in a limited number of colours if bred to BRC standards. These are Red-Eyed White, Blue-Eyed White, Black, Blue, Opal, Dark Steel Grey and Brown/Grey. So those British Giants you see advertisements for which are Orange, for example, are not British Giants. They wouldn’t even cut it as American Flemish Giants as ARBA doesn’t accept Orange in them either.
The BRC standard for the British Giant calls for a large, long and roomy body with broad fore and hindquarters with firm flesh and bold eye. The minimum weight requirements for this breed are 5.67 kg for bucks and 6.123 kg for does which is greater than for its nearest rival, the Flemish Giant (which is a Fancy not a Fur rabbit). The coat, as is to be expected in a fur rabbit, should be very dense and full (2cm to 2.5 cm in length) and thick to touch. It should not be too harsh nor too soft.
Faults include black heads and feet on Dark Steel Grey; bagginess and excessive fat; narrow heads; pale undercolour on Blacks, Steels and Greys; woolly coats; white toenails in Blacks, Steels and Greys; bunches of white hairs, though a few are allowed
The British Giant was developed in the 1940s from Flemish Giants using American Flemish Giants which come in other colours beside Steel Grey (it was felt limiting the colour only to Steel Grey had kept the weight down). The breeders formed a British Giant Club which was successful for six or seven years then was disbanded
Meantime, another strain had been developed by Dick Kirk and his parents and grand parents from European Flemish giants and other continental giant breeds, both brought in from Europe, where they breed in a number of colours not just Steel Grey. This was before quarantine and sailors brought them in through Bristol and other ports. This was during the 1950s and 60s. This Kirk strain is behind all modern British Giants. In 1981 a new club, the National British Giant Association, was started up and a new standard recognised..
SO, A BRITISH GIANT, THEN?
Called a ‘gentle giant’, the British Giant makes a wonderful pet. being docile and placid yet strong and big enough to hold their own with small children's rough-housing. If abused, they can bite or scratch quite painfully but this is rare. They are intelligent and if given plenty of attention they make affectionate pets, though some of them can sometimes be moody. Mature bucks seldom spray and like many bunnies, they can be litter-box trained. They have good tolerance for the cold but don't much care for heat and must be kept in the shade in the summer. They are very vigorous and healthy and easy to care for.
An instance of their intelligence was one of my bucks, Petite Yokozuna. I put him in the cat enclosure with the Abyssinian, the Somali and the Bengal. When I looked out next, he was up on the topmost tunnel, running after the Abyssinian. I do mean running – he ran just like a cat with first the right legs, then the left legs (only cats and horses move like that). It had been a case of “Bunny, see, bunny do”. He’d seen how they had climbed the cat-tree to reach the tunnel which is how he got up there, 180 cm above the ground, and then he copied how they moved.
The doe should be bred at 8 to 9 months or when she is 6 kg. She should be bred as soon as she reaches maturity because she can get too much fat around her ovaries and have difficulty conceiving. She can have from six to 18 kits in a litter but the ideal is eight or less, otherwise they will be small and less developed when they reach maturity.
They need exercise to prevent boredom and becoming overweight. They even can be trained to walk in a harness. Mine do and I have seen others do likewise with their British Giants..
The British Giants we have today do not make particularly good meat rabbits. They have been bred away from that to become purely exhibition or pet rabbits. They do not develop quickly enough. They take 18 months to reach their full growth and they are not efficient eaters.
CARE & HANDLING
Needless to say they need plenty of room. David Taylor recommends a hutch for outdoor rabbits 180 x 75 x 75 cm minimum and for indoors 153 cm2 . However, one local breeder had a cage 2.4 metres long for the doe which could be divided into three sections and allowed her plenty of room when she had litters.
So you need a yard with plenty of space or else an uncluttered house for your big friend to dash about in. They mustn't be cramped because they need room to exercise to prevent boredom and obesity. The hutch should be well ventilated but not draughty (the above mentioned hutch had shutters that could be put over the window areas in bad weather). The floor can be covered with wood shavings, paper-based litter, carpet or whatever you prefer, with a litter tray at one end. A good heavy ceramic bowl for food, a water bottle and a hay rack complete the furnishings.
They thrive on a large percentage of greens and roughage but don’t actually eat more then a Chinchilla Giganta despite being bigger. They like good clover, meadow hay, roots and leaves from the greengrocer or you can grow chicory, kale, kohlrabi, mangolds and swedes for them. These should be supplemented with pellets and mix. Like all rabbits they should have plenty of fresh water.
Adapted and updated from an article which I originally wrote for Rabbit Droppings August 2001.
British Rabbit Council, Standards of Rabbit Breeds 3rd ed. 2011-2016.
Russell, Geoff, Mini Encyclopeda of Rabbit Breeds & Care. Dorking, Interpet Publishing, 2008
Sandford, J.C., The Domestic Rabbit 5th ed. Blackwell, Science, 1996
Taylor, David, Rabbit. HarperCollins, 1999
Verhoef-Verhallen, Esther, Encyclopaedia of Rabbits and Rodents. Lisse, Rebo Productions, 1998
Vriends-Parent, Lucia, The New Rabbit Handbook. Hauppage, NY, Barrons, 1989
Whitman, Bob D., Domestic Rabbits & Their Histories: Breeds of the World. Leawood, KS : Leathers Publishing, 2004
Williams, A.E. Ted, Rabbit Breeding for Perfection. Melbourne, AE Williams, 1992.
National British Giant Association
And if you want to look at Continental Giants, Singleton Stud in Lancashire has a good website http://www.british-giantrabbits.co.uk/