PLAYMATE OF THE MONTH - Nikki White

This might just has well have been entitled Land of the Giants because we turn our

attention to the Mega-Thumps of the rabbit world, the FLEMISH GIANT and the BRITISH GIANT. Often confused with one another, the Flemish is a Fancy Rabbit only available in Steel (according to the BRC standards) while the British is a Fur Rabbit, available in a number of colours. These are the largest rabbits in the fancy. There is no maximum weight. Indeed, the largest rabbit in the world, according to The Guiness Book of Records is a white British Giant who is a metre long and over 10 kg in weight. These rabbits don't take no shit from no dog!

The BRC Standard for the Flemish Giant calls for a large, roomy, flat body, with broad fore and hindquarters. The legs and feet should be in proportion to the body and strong in bone, large and straight, velvety, dark and ticked, the ticking to show when the coat is rubbed back. The head is to be large, full and shapely, the eyes bold and dark brown in colour, ears erect. The coat should be full and short, the body firm in flesh and moderately thick. The colour should be dark steel grey with even or wavy ticking over the whole body, head, ears, chest alike except belly and under tail which should be white. Disqualifications include not being dark steel grey and having any grey, steel, sandy or other shade on the belly or under tail except a streak of grey in each groin. Faults include excess white hairs and a chopped off rump. The minimum weight is 4.974 kg for a buck and 5.44 kg for a doe. There is an Intermediate Flemish which is a smaller version of the Giant and which has a maximum weight of 4.98 kg (bucks) and 5.44 kg (does).

The BRC standard for the British Giant calls for a similar body to the Flemish, that is large, long and roomy with broad fore and hindquarters with firm flesh and bold eye. However, the minimum weight requirements for this breed are greater, being 5.67 kg for bucks and 6.123 kg for does. Also the coat, as is to be expected in a fur rabbit, should be very dense and full (ĺ inch to one inch in length) and thick to touch. It should not be too harsh nor too soft. They come in White, Black, Dark Steel Grey, Blue, Brown Grey and Opal. 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.

HISTORY

The Flemish is an old breed, originating in Flanders (part of Belgium), probably near Ghent. It is believed that they are descended, at least in part, from the Patagonian, a rabbit brought back by Dutch traders in the 16th and 17th centuries and raised as meat. The earliest reference to the Flemish Giant is around 1860 when English travellers told of the enormous rabbits raised in Flanders. These rabbits were shorter than the current breed with a finer bone structure and their great weight (7.7-8.1 kg) made them misshapen and unable to move around. Indeed, the emphasis was all on size and weight and not much on shape or type. The breed in its present form is generally attributed to the English (though a book by a Dutch author attributes the breed to German breeders!) namely one Christopher Wren (no, not the bloke who designed St. Paul's). The Flemish Giant was imported into the United States in the 1880s.

The British Giant was developed in the 1940s from the Flemish, using American stock as they are bred in different colours in the United States, not just Steel Grey. The breeders formed a British Giant Club which was successful for six or seven years then was disbanded. In 1981 a new club was started up and a new standard recognised. Some fanciers in Britain felt that confining the Flemish to Steel Grey has kept its weight down. Just recently, the BRC put the Flemish Giant on the rare rabbits list as so few people breed them now in Britain.

Both breeds have been used as meat rabbits. In some ostrich farms in Europe, the young ostriches have Flemish Giants as nannies, companions to keep them happy and content. (Dwarf rabbits are used when the ostriches are chicks).

SO, A GIANT, THEN?

Called "gentle giants" both breeds make wonderful pets, 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.

The doe should be bred at 8 months or when she is 6.35 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 (and a bunny this size wouldn't look as daft as some poor, wee, dwarf breed trying to keep up with a human).

As meat rabbits, they are fast developers, suitable for market and as fryers as soon as they are weaned. They can even be kept as house bunnies.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Ted Williams recommends starting small and buying one good doe, as good as you can afford, rather than say three poorer does. He also suggests you mate her at the stud you got her from and if possible mate the offspring back to the sire. If that isn't possible, buy a good buck. Colour in the Flemish Giant is worth 30 points so is important. If you work from poor stock it will take years before you get anywhere. You want a good, solid, not baggy or flabby rabbit, good type, firm flesh, and the right colour.

For breeders of purebred British Giants see Breeders Directory. Beware of advertisements for British Giants which are in any colour but the accepted BRC ones, especially Orange. These are not British Giants but large crossbreeds. They may  make nice pets but they can't be shown as British Giants.

HOUSING AND CARE
Needless to say both breeds 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 8 feet 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 sawdust, wood shavings, 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 donít 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.

 

ORGANISATIONS

National British Giant Association

National Federation of Flemish Giant Breeders (USA)

And a website of Singleton Stud, breeders of British and Continental Giants in Lancashire.