Brazilian Rabbit Info

Page Created Feb 20, 2008, Page Updated May 30, 2008
See new yahoo group for Brazilian Rabbit

(Brazilian Rabbit mom with litter, showing most colors that occur in Brazilians
Photo:Kathleen Blair, Sep 2007)

The Rabbits From Brazil

(or “zils” to their friends!)
by Kathleen Blair, Ph.D

Hello, and thanks for your interest in the Brazilian rabbit breed!
Here is their story.

I was in the Peace Corps from 1978-1980 stationed in Pico da Bandiera National Park near the small town of Caparao in the Serra do Mar mountain range. Many of the families there are very poor. Most were tenant farmers with the entire family (including the small children) working for large landowners tending the trees and picking the coffee beans you probably had for breakfast.

The diet is almost entirely rice, beans, sugar and coffee. Some fruit grows at that elevation and most had little garden plots and a couple of chickens. But there were not a dozen people in the whole valley that were rich enough to have a milk cow. A few lucky older children might have a goat they led around on a string and let graze on the roadside so they could get milk sometimes for themselves and their smaller brothers and sisters. Few even owned a change of clothes or a pair of shoes. Their coffee cups were often tin cans with the edges carefully smoothed.

An American was a novelty that was straight from Disneyland as far as they were concerned and the kids would come to visit me in the park even if they had to walk 2-3 miles (one way) to do so. They also came to play soccer with a large grapefruit or a ball of rags in my yard as it was the only “terreiro” in the valley not dedicated to drying and curing coffee beans.

I had left a pet house rabbit back in the states and had picked up another (long story) while in Brazil. The kids were utterly fascinated by Pipoca (the house rabbit = yet another story).

One day I happened to notice that about half the kids had disappeared. When I asked where they were I was told they had gone home for lunch. I asked why everyone had not - was the game that good? They looked at me puzzled and said “it is not our day to eat lunch. We will find some fruit in the forest or wait until supper to eat.”

My grandfather had owned a commercial rabbitry in southern Missouri that sold to Pel-freez, a commercial rabbit meat processor. I knew rabbits would fit into this terribly tight food web and put protein on the tables without competing with the kids (kids eat the beans, rabbits eat the pods; kids eat the corn, rabbits eat the shucks; kids eat the couve [kale], rabbits eat the weeds.) So I went to the local farmers and the weekly markets looking for meat-type rabbits.

There were breeds such as New Zealands and Dutch but they were associated with the thriving commercial meat and pet markets around the large cities (besides, I don’t do white rabbits with pink eyes – too spooky). Then, I came upon a breed common to the farmers and small markets in the mountains and backcountry they all called a “Rustico” (pronounced “Hus’tico”. It means “rustic”). Hardy, solid, calm, happily eating sugar cane with just a string tied around their middles. This was what I wanted. Back I went to the park and started raising rabbits in a old milking shed. The kids would come up and go to “rabbit school” – learning how to house them without using wire or nails ( no money), feed them a balanced diet from garden scraps and the forest ( no money), treat their ailments with first aid and herbs and even charms as long as it worked! (no money.)

(Brazilian rabbit doe, broken pattern with no nose marking or "butterfly"
Photo:Rabbitgeek, Feb 2008)

The Peace Corps nurse sent a book on Brazilian herbal remedies, I found a book on rabbit diseases written in Portuguese, and I cheerfully drafted the local farmers, curandeiras and Candomble Pai-do-Santos. When the kids “graduated” I would ride down the mountain on the horse and give them a breeding age trio in a gunnysack (uh, coffee sack).

By the time I left a couple of years later, there were many functioning rabbitries in that valley putting at least a few more meals on the table and fewer kids who did not have to take turns eating. Oh, yeah – and when I came home – a pair of Brazilian Rusticos came with me – Pipoca and Poppy. They must have joined the Mile-High Club – 30 days after arrival there were 15. All the Brazilians in the USA have come down from that original pair in 1980.

Now, this Brazilian rabbit breed has several odd characteristics compared to what we are used to in the States. No one knows how long the breed has been in existence or which European breeds went into their origins. The Brazilian farmers insisted that they “had always had them”. They are generally the old European body type, not our new commercial types – but the bucks and does look very, very different from each other.

(Brazilian rabbit doe, looking down at body shape
Photo:Rabbitgeek, Feb 2008)

The Brazilian rabbit bucks are thick and blocky as a brick, about 7 1/2 lbs while the does are more mandolin shaped, go 7-10 lbs (and many seem to grow slowly their whole lives long somehow – these guys have several odd traits as you will see).

(Buckwheat, Brazilian rabbit Buck
Photo:Kathleen Blair, Sep 2007)

The Brazilian people’s love of bright, pastel colors is evident as the breed is fixed for dilution and for melanin (black) pigment but occurs in nearly all possible colors and coat pattern variations in the dilute black family – blue is the most common, along with opal, blue chin, blue frosted white, blue steel, smoked blue pearl, tortoise-shell, blue fawn and all these in self, broken and Californian patterns. A single litter often looks like a patchwork quilt. Other than in the Californian pattern they all have blue-grey to hazel colored eyes. They have heavy bones and thick, well furred ears that they often carry open and canted forward.

(Brazilian doe, view of hindquarters
Photo:Rabbitgeek, Feb 2008)

The fur too, is odd and not what you might expect from a tropical breed – it has a guard hair that is rather long and coarse while the underfur is very thick resulting in fur that either stays erect when ruffled or rolls back slowly. The Brazilian rabbit youngsters look like dandelion puffs. This trait is sex linked, however, as it is most conspicuous in bucks and less so in does.

(Fawn colored Brazilian rabbit resting, notice the long guard hairs
Photo:Rabbitgeek, Feb 2008)

Another interesting trait is their personalities – they are intensely friendly and gentle – toward people, other rabbits and even other animals. What they want most in life is to be piled in a heap with each other, you or any other warm body they can find. The bucks will even go in and brood the bunnies on cold nights (OK – maybe they just want belly warmers, but they are also attentive and protective of babies).

I have never in all these year lost a baby that was the mother’s fault. PS – they’ve killed a few snakes, too. They seem to be able to eat anything and thrive on it. They are mostly very sociable and seldom fight, even as adults ( I frequently keep families or pairs together in cages with no problems – and I always have a bunch on the floor of the rabbitry. ( I run out of room for my snooty Rexes? Plunk, more floor ‘zils).

They are however, shy breeders as the bucks are very gentle. No problem, they do so love to play house. There is a reason for several of these odd traits, however. They have been bred and raised for uncounted generations in the backcountry of Brazil in colonies, even free-ranging colonies, similar to the conditions under which the species evolved in Europe. They are often allowed to roam the farm during the day like chickens, eating weeds and grass and whatever they can find. At night they are called in by the farmer (yes, they come when called when trained with a little food for a reward) or herded in along with the chickens and penned up for the night in sheds or small corrals.

(Blue Brazilian rabbit having a snack
Photo:Rabbitgeek, Feb 2008)

The Brazilian rabbit does dug burrows in the corrals or under the house or chicken coop (I had one dig under my garden, under the paved ally and come out 50 feet out in the neighbor’s yard.). Other colonies I saw were in small adobe or bamboo walled corrals. So this means that the natural environment had a lot to say in these rabbit’s traits as well as human selection.

In a situation with no electricity, the rabbits were butchered as needed, and you know who got culled out first – the mean ones, the trouble makers, the unthrifty ones. Predators still took the dumb ones and those that did not do well on rough food did not make it either. Their coarse, thick fur shed the rain and mud of the tropics well. Another thing I wonder about with the thick fur, even on the ears, is the parasite loads that the tropics impose – especially mosquito borne diseases. I have seen a cloud of mosquitoes around these guys that were unable to get through the fur to bite.

(Brazilian rabbit with unusual shading
Photo:Rabbitgeek, Feb 2008)

SO that is the story of my “funny looking South American rabbits” and thanks for asking about them! Here in the states they make great backyard , homestead type meat rabbits – or wonderful pets, Although I have worked up a breed standard I have not yet started the process to get them recognized by ARBA although several judges have seen them over the years and offered their suggestions. They are a rather whimsically variable lot – especially in color, but one day I will get it done.

Over 25 yrs of a closed gene pool does make them pretty unique.

Kathleen Blair, Ph.D
The Bluehare Rabbitry
Lake Havasu City, AZ 86404

Rabbitgeek photos taken during Arizona State Rabbit Club Convention, Feb 16-17, 2008, Casa Grande, AZ
Kathleen Blair brought her Brazilian rabbits for people to see. Thank you Kathleen!

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Genetic Testing for Brazilians?

Message from rabbitgeek:

I went to the Arizona State Rabbit Club Convention on Feb 16-17 2008.

There I had the chance to meet Brazilian rabbits. Owned by Kathleen Blair, she brought a pair from Brazil to Arizona in 1980 after a two year Peace Corps project. They are the common farm rabbit in Brazil. They appear to be the European domestic rabbit (oryctolagus cuniculus). You can read about Brazilian rabbits in the book "Domestic Rabbits & Their Histories:Breeds of the World" By Bob Whitman.

Speaking with Kathleen, she was told there are two strains of domestic rabbit. One originates in Spain and the other originates in Portugal.

Is there a way to get genetic testing to determine if these rabbits originate from Portugal? That would be a fascinating study if we could determine these rabbits are from Portugal. The Brazilian farmers say they have always had these rabbits. So did the Brazilian rabbits come to Brazil with the Portuguese explorers?

Is there two strains of Oryctolagus Cuniculus?

Can this be determined with genetic testing? Inquiring minds want to know.

Have a joyful day!
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aka "The Rabbit Geek" and may not be used without permission.

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