New Zealand white rabbits are a breed of rabbit, which despite the name, are American in origin. In 1916, W.S. Preshaw bred the first litter of New Zealand white rabbits with a plan to produce a rabbit that would be excellent for meat and fur trade. The original breeds that were used are unknown, but Angoras are believed to have played some part. (Verhallen 23-35)
New Zealand white rabbits were bred for their meat and fur, but their body type helped to contribute to them becoming the favorite breed of domestic rabbit. New Zealand whites have well-rounded bodies; slender and muscular faces with round cheeks; large, long back feet; and small, short front feet (Rubins). They have long perforrated ears that stand straight up. Unlike the thick, snowy fur on their bodies, their ears have shorter fur that allows the delicate pale pink of their skin to show through (Rubins). The most noticeable characteristic of New Zealand white rabbits is their bright eyes, which range in shade from pale pink to bright ruby red (Rubins).
New Zealand white rabbits have large, broad, and muscular bodies. Bucks (males) weigh between 8-10 pounds, while the does (females) weigh between 9-12 pounds (Verhallen 23-35). In addition to their greater size, females are distinguished by the presence of a dewlap, which is flap of fur below the chin that is pulled for a nesting box during pregnancies.
New Zealand white rabbits have a genetic deviation called albinism. Albinism is caused by a lack of melanin, which is a vital pigment that gives all creatures, including humans, their skin/ fur/ hair/ eye color. The snowy coat of a New Zealand white rabbit is a normal length like other rabbit breeds.
The diet of a New Zealand white rabbit is no different than for any of other rabbit breeds. A high quality feed pellet (protein ~ 15-16%), along with unlimited timothy hay and fresh water and exercise will maintain a healthy individual.
In the beginning New Zealand white rabbits were not bred to be a domestic pet. Instead they were bred for their excellent fur and meat. Fryers are slaughtered at two months of age and older rabbits are sold as roasters. The rabbits with high grades of fur are used to make fur coats and fur trimmings. The lower grades are used to make felt hats and glove linings ("Commercial Rabbit Raising"). New Zealand white rabbits are the number one meat rabbit in the United States (Bare 63-65).
Along with commercial purposes, New Zealand white rabbits are also used for laboratory purposes. Over one million New Zealand white rabbits execute roles during laboratory testing. Rabbits react similarly to humans to diseases and medications. This reaction allows them to be used at pharmaceutical laboratories, the U.S. Public Health building, cancer research centers, and university hospitals. New Zealand white rabbits have been used to develop tests and drugs for diseases like diabetes, diphtheria, tuberculosis, cancer, and heart disease. The effects of skin creams, cosmetics, special diets, and food additives have also been tested on New Zealand white rabbits. (Bare 63-65)
A female rabbit (doe) is fertile all year long. The gestation period is around 28–31 days. A few days before birth, a nest box should be provided for the new mother. The doe will pull fur from her dewlap and, along with hay or other materials provided, will create a nest. The young are called kittens and are born hairless with their eyes closed. Fur begins to grow in by day 5 or 6 and after 10 to 12 days the kits' eyes will open. At the age of three weeks their mother will begin to wean them off milk, meanwhile the kits will begin to eat hay and pellets. The average number of kits per litter is six but can range from two to twelve. Because rabbits are induced ovulators a doe can become pregnant by the simple act of mating if conditions are right. A doe can get pregnant soon after birth.
Cannibalism is rare but can happen. In the wild it is a defensive mechanism to remove all blood and dead tissue from the nesting area to avoid detection by predators. If young are stillborn or die after birth, many times the doe will ingest the remains. Males (bucks) rabbits have no part in raising the young. In the wild, bucks will kill litters to induce the female to mate with them, therefore passing along his genes. (Rabbit Production, Cheeke et al.)