The History of the Wild Rabbit, How it was Introduced, and How it was Farmed
Its' hard to imagine most of European landscapes without the wild Rabbit. They have become a common feature to our fields and roadsides, most people believe that they have been around forever. The truth is that European bunnies were entirely introduced by man. They originated for the ‘lberian peninsular’ (a small section of the west of Europe), before we saw its many tasty uses and its lush fur.
There is a big debate on who is responsible for introducing the rabbits to Britain. Many believe it was the Romans adding to their larders. This is easy to believe when you take into account they introduced pheasants. On the other hand, many believe they were introduced by the Normans.
What we do know, is that the Normans had a very effective way of farming our most famous pest. Thousands where kept in enclosures and then harvested for their meat and fur using the amazing tried and tested Normandy methods. The tiny breeding machines were used as a mass source of clothing from gloves to caps, the demand was nearly endless. Commercial warrens appeared all over Europe and made great use of the lands sandy soil.
It’s easy to see the appeal of this farming. The value of the fur was twice that of the meat (which was a very valued source of winter food). Not forgetting the mindblowing breeding speeds that the animal has. A doe (the female) breeds at 6 months of age. Each doe can have six litters a year, with possibly five young per little. Half of those will also be does, which will go on to breed the same year. Meaning masses of good eating!
The warrener’s life was not an easy one. He had to ensure that all his stock was safe (from thieves and predators), that they had enough to eat and that he used the correct methods of slaughter. It was very important that they were mostly does, leaving only the strongest bucks (the males). It was common that the farmer would cull the bucks using long netting or ferrets once a year. Rabbit farming was a highly respected and sophisticated form of farming. If only they knew what damage it would cause!
It was of course only a matter of time before the livestock started to get away. As they spread people found nothing but joy as the wild counterpart had far tastier meat and its fur was much richer in oils. It wasn’t long before every village had a rabbit catcher. Ferreting or long netting was used to keep the numbers under control. Tempted by this rich industry colonists took the wonder animal to Australia and New Zealand. Australia was over run in a matter of years!
It was not long before catchers replaced warrener’s. The land for warrens was turned to farm land and the wild rabbit was used in its place. The population of the pest increased massively during the Second World War due to ‘mass farming’. Until the Myxomatosis virus was introduced
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