South Texas Rabbits

The Rabbit Breeding & Teaching Program at TAMUK

Director: Mr. Remigio de la Torre

                   TAMUK Farm Manager (E-mail: Jose.DeLaTorre@tamuk.edu


 

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Important Announcement: The rabbit program has a new director, Mr. Jose ("Remigio") de la Torre, who is the farm manager at TAMUK. Dr. Lukefahr is no longer affliated with the rabbit program at TAMUK. Please contact Mr. de la Torre for any questions or placing orders for breeding stock. Thank you.

Breeds of Rabbit

General Note: We generally sell young rabbits (2-3 months of age) for $35 each at the door. Usually there is a waiting list of orders because of the high demand for our stock. We do not ship.  Inquiries can be sent by e-mail to Mr de la Torre: Jose.DeLaTorre@tamuk.edu . If you send him an email, please provide your name and tell him where you are from. If from out of state, also indicate how you plan to collect the rabbits once your order is confirmed.

Texas A&M University-Kingsville develops and maintains breeds of meat rabbit that are suitable for backyard or commercial meat production. We do not have fancy- or show-rabbit stock. If you are in the need of fancy bred rabbits for your local rabbit show, please contact area show rabbit breeders or your county Extension agent. The Breeding Objective for our breeds (NZW and Composite) is to conserve genetic integrity or quality by managing a low ratio of does to bucks (<3:1), conducting random matings (except for close relatives), and practicing no further selection to maintain genetic variation for high performance.

New Zealand White - The "Tamuk" line of the New Zealand White (NZW) breed, specifically developed for the commercial meat rabbit industry, was developed in the mid-1980's involving the crossing of commercial lines from Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana. This composite maternal line is especially well adapted under hot and humid conditions. Too, there is little to no fancy or show NZW breeding in this line. Does exemplify desirable maternal characteristics, such as early maturity, large litters, well developed nests, good milking ability, and strong maternal instincts, for which commercial selection has been applied. The recommended breeding management regime involves first mating at 4-1/2 months of age and a 14-day breed-back system that allows for 8 litters per doe per  year. When purchasing NZW stock, always ask to see production and pedigree records. Avoid show stock when breeding meat rabbits for home or commerical use.  Do not be impressed by show ribbons and trophies. Moreover, our lines and breeds have a good reputation for heat resistance and steady litter and(or) meat production. Show-bred rabbits typically are not selected for production traits and have short coupled bodies, thick fur coats, short ears, excessive flesh, etc. These and other imperfections make such rabbits both less productive and less capable of being heat resistant, which affects production for the serious meat rabbit producer. Our NZW line has been very productive for both families with small backyard operations and large commercial operations in many states.

 

Composites - A new breed - About 30 years ago, Dr. Lukefahr began crossing different breeds for backyard meat production to feed his own family. Another objective was steady production, which is enhanced by hybrid vigor due to crossbreeding. Yet another aim was choosing breeds that harbor major genes for coat color. As a result of crossing seven breeds over the years (in chronological order: New Zealand Red, Siamese Satin, Californian, New Zealand White, Dutch, Champagne d’Argent, Harlequin, and Havana), this composite breed now possesses all of the major genes for coat color. In the photo to the left, nine rabbits from the same litter are each of a different color! Examples of colors in this population include agouti and black, blue, chocolate, and lilac, creme and opal, seal and siamese, chinchilla, himalayan and albino, and steel, harlequin (japanese and magpie), and red. In the photo to the right, a seemingly rare magpie-californian rabbit is shown. As a family activity, this color feature will hopefully pique the curiosity and active interest of children. Also, the skins can be tanned using the natural colors (without dyeing) and made into products that can be sold, for example, at farmers markets. Lastly, this population was recently crossed with our commercial Tamuk NZW line to infuse genes for production for vital traits such as fertility, litter size, milk production, and growth, while adding some additional hybrid vigor as a boost to performance. It should also be pointed out that these rabbits are heat tolerant with adaptive characteristics that include long ears and thin fur coats. Several breeders now in different states are reporting good production success with this new breed. However, an important point is that this breed better suited for small-scale backyard production. It is not a commercial breed. Also, some breeders place order for only white (albino) animals if they are selling fryers commercially where a premium is paid for white body fur. Try a breeding trio!

Photos of colors:    Blue-eyed white     Chocolate    Chinchilla    Magpie    Steel 

Altex - This is a commercial sire breed of rabbit that was first developed at Alabama A&M University and later at Texas A&M University-Kingsville by Dr. Lukefahr and his former students. Foundation breeds were Flemish Giant, Champagne d' Argent, and Californian.  The Altex was genetically selected for heavy 70 day market weights for over 20 generations. Color markings are that of a Californian (CAL), but weights are heavier ranging from 10 to 20 pounds. Altex x New Zealand White crossbred fryers typically reach market weight a week earlier than NZW purebred fryers. Another recommended cross is the mating from an Altex buck to a CAL X NZW crossbred doe.

It is emphasized that the Altex is a commercial-bred rabbit. They were not developed for exhibition at rabbit shows. Rather, these rabbits were selected based on performace and for long-bodies, large ears, non-dense fur, etc., so as to be more heat tolerant. The Altex was not selected to win blue ribbons on show tables. For more information about the Altex breed, the following paper can be read which was published in Domestic Rabbits Magazine (Sep.-Oct. 1996, 24(5):20-21). Development of a the Commercial Sire Breed: The Altex bullet Figure 1. Schematic representation of the breeding plan leading to the development of the Altex commercial sire breed bullet Figure 2. Genetic trends for unselected and selected lines for 70-day body weight bullet Photograph of an Altex rabbit bulletDr. James McNitt (retired Professor, Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, LA) developed a PowerPoint Presentation on the Altex.

Altex breeding stock:  The university is not in the breeding stock business, but rather has the mission of teaching students. We sold out the last of our Altex stock to commercial breeders several years ago, mostly so that we would have more cages available to initiate new projects. Here is a link to Altex breeders in Texas who have stock to sell: https://rabbitsforsaleintexas.wordpress.com/tag/altex-rabbits/page/2/. Another supplier of Altex stock is Stan Blocker. His operation is located near Fort Worth, TX. Stan's website address (www.cowtownrabbits.com) provides contact information. Stan may even be willing to ship animals! Also do a Google search to find Altex breeders who might already be in your area.

Genetically furless rabbits - A rare line of furless rabbits was maintained at TAMUK for a number of years. The original Mini-Lop rabbit, "Fuzz", who was furless (left photo), was owned by Harold and Melba Schuetze, who own The Pet Center in El Campo, Texas. The Schuetze's kindly loaned Fuzz to TAMUK. A month later, over 100 of his offspring were born to NZW does. About 6 months later, matings of his offspring (half-brother to half-sister) resulted in about 1 out of four furless rabbits, suggesting a recessive gene mode of inheritance. Although these rabbit's appearance is something that only a mother could love, our research demonstrated that furless rabbits were more comfortable and performed better during hot summer conditions in south Texas. Of course, they were house indoors, so there was no risk of the animals being sun-burned, which is a common question we are asked. Here is a link for more information from our research: http://users.tamuk.edu/kfsdl00/operation_fuzz.htm. In the summer of 2012, we sold all of our furless rabbits to a lab company (Sinclair) in Missouri.

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Additional Topics Useful to Backyard or Commercial Rabbit Raisers

bullet Appropriate breeding stock bulletBenefits of backyard rabbit production bullet Heat stress management

The Facility Design

A rabbit research program was established in 1994 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. The facility is 80 feet long and 17 feet wide. The building is narrow to help improve air flow to keep the rabbits cool. The barn faces a southeast direction to maximize the prevailing wind air flow for better circulation. Engineers have designed the barn to be 10 F cooler inside than the outside temperature. This facility has a metal roof with insulation underneath to help keep inside temperature cooler. These interventions are especially important with the extreme high temperature that do occur quite often in south Texas. During the cooler months there are adjustable plywood panels on both the southeast and northwest sides of the barn that can be lowered to protect the rabbits against drafts or storms. In 2015, necessary repairs were made to the wooden framed sides and center posts as this buliding is now over 20 years old. It only costed $15,000 to construct in 1994.

Rabbit Projects for Students

Teaching is a major activity of our rabbit program. Students learn about rabbit management. Each semester, students enrolled in the Livestock Management Techniques course are assigned a breeding doe at the beginning of the semester. In the first week of lab, does are bred. At the end of the semester, fryers are harvested and a potluck lunch program shares the fruits of their labor - a variety of cooked rabbit meat dishes. Students also prepare a term paper on their project. Throughout the semester, students take trait measurements during the preweaning and postweaning periods (e.g., litter size, survival, milk production, growth and feed efficiency). The theme of the rabbit project focuses on how rabbits can efficiently feed the world. Below are photos of students engaged in their projects. In addition, a learning module on rabbits is taught in the International Animal Agriculture course. Through integrative and sustainable practices applied to small farms, students learn how rabbit projects can alleviate world hunger and poverty.

Student with rabbit    Student with rabbit  Student with rabbit

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Updated: September 12, 2016