The Silver rabbit is one of the most ancient domestic rabbit breeds that still exist. Its true origin will never be known, but it’s likely that a rabbit with silver hairs appeared as a black sport (mutant) of the European wild rabbit hundreds of years ago.
Historians say that Silver rabbits were first found in large numbers in Siam. Sailors then brought them to Portugal where the breed spread throughout England and Europe. An early reference says that Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) introduced Silver Grey rabbits to the Nappa warren at Askrigg in North Yorkshire. From there, Silver Greys spread to a number of other warrens throughout England, with the greatest stronghold being in Lincolnshire. Records also show that Sir Walter Raleigh did sail to Portugal in 1592 and brought goods back to England.
Silver Greys were well represented in England by 1631 as Gervaise Markham writes of them in A Way To Wealth – The English Hus-wife. On May 13, 1778, when a fleet of 11 ships left Portsmouth, England under the command of Captain Arthur Philip to colonize Australia, there were, among other livestock, 5 rabbits that were likely Silver Greys. It took half a century before Silver rabbits were found in abundance in both Australia and New Zealand. Silvers have been known under many names: Millers, Silver Sprigs, Lincoln Silver, Lincolnshire Silver-Grey, and Riche, meaning valuable in French. Large numbers of skins were imported into China for a particular class of mandarins and the fur was highly prized by Russian royalty.
It’s not known exactly when the Silver arrived in the United States. They were in America during the Belgian Hare boom in the late 1890s. All three Silver varieties – Grey, Brown, and Fawn – were recognized into the first book of standards. A number of years later, the Grey variety was renamed Black. Although rare today on both sides of the Atlantic, only in the United Kingdom and the U.S. is the original type of Silver being bred.
Silvers are considered a small to medium-sized breed. Mature weight is 4 to 7 pounds, and they have a very tight and snappy coat. There should be an even distribution of silvering over the entire body, including the head, ears, feet, and tail. Silver is a hardy breed that is a seasonal breeder during Spring and Fall. Litter size is around 3 to 6. Silvers are active but non-aggressive rabbits and are easily kept in all wire cages. They may, however, be better suited to being bred in free-range systems – colonies or warrens – as they were kept two centuries ago.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 190 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $1 million needed each year to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.