The Empty Cage

There are times that an empty cage is a blessing. Maybe you finally sold that doe you’d been wanting to get rid of. Maybe you’re making room to add some new genetics to the herd. Sometimes, that cage is more a physical representation of an empty spot in your heart.

When you raise livestock and are an animal lover, one of the biggest challenges can be learning not to get attached to your animals. Sometimes, you just can’t help it though. There are animals that have personalities you can’t help but fall in love with. There are others that represent important achievements or points of time. And no matter how well your animals are taken care of and no matter how much you try to avoid it, raising livestock means that, at some point, you’re going to have to learn to deal with loss as well, whether that means your favorite animal passing away or realizing it’s time to send a unproductive one off to market.

Yesterday, we had to put our oldest buck, Tundra, down. Tundra was the first rabbit that Jenna gave Nick. The first New Zealand that he showed. To be honest, he wasn’t that old; just barely 5 years, but since we moved about a month ago, he hasn’t been himself. He barely wanted to eat, he was losing weight, he was lethargic. Then yesterday morning we found him laying in his cage, alive, but unable to get up and move around and we knew it was time to let him go. Maybe it was the heat or the stress of the move. We don’t really know.

It was a sad day and Tundra will be missed in the barn. Luckily, he multiplied like, well, rabbits do and he has offspring and other relatives to care on his genes in future generations. And thanks to Jenna for coming to “do the deed.” Even when you’re accustomed to processing animals, there are some that you just can’t bring yourself to put down.

And any animal right activist who says that producers don’t care about their livestock, that they are “just property” to us, has never seen the tears shed over the animals that we’ve had to let go.

RIP Tundra…

Nick and Tundra at the 2015 Hillsborough County Fair.

Lop-Eared New Zealands?

You may take a look at the above picture and think, “When did you start raising lops?” Well, we didn’t.

According to the ARBA Standard of Perfection for New Zealand rabbits:

“Ears are to be medium thick, well furred, well shaped, rounded at the tips and be in proportion to the head and body. They are to be well set on the head, with a good heavy ear base, and carried erect.”

In other words, lop ears, or rabbits with weak ear bases, are undesirable on the show table and will be marked down appropriately based on the severity and judge.


Particularly since we added reds to the herd, we’ve had some babies show up with weak ear bases like the ones pictured, but what’s the cause of it? After doing some research and talking to other breeders, there are several reasons a rabbit breed with typically erect ears will have one or both ears lopped over:

  • Heat – Kits born during the summer, or during hot weather, will often have bigger ears. Bigger ears may lop simply because they’re heavier, but the hotter temperatures can also cause the weak ear base.
  • Growing too fast – In breeds that are fast growers, sometimes the ears will grow faster than the rest of them, and they just need some time to catch up.
  • Vitamin A Deficiency – A weak ear base or unnaturally shaped ears, can be a sign of Vitamin A deficiency, but usually this is accompanied by other more severe symptoms such as hydrocephalus.
  • Genetics – Sometimes, it’s just in the DNA. This is likely the cause of the weak eared kits we’ve gotten as they’ve been primarily out of one particular red doe.

What to Do About it

There’s not really a way to treat an unwanted lopped over ear. Prevention is the answer through better breeding and environmental conditions. Avoid breeding during overly hot times of the year and cull breeding animals who consistently produce kits with weak ear bases. Often times, especially if it’s due to the animal growing too quickly, the rest of the rabbit will catch up with its ears and they will hold them erect as an adult.

But, Does it Really Matter?

All in all, a New Zealand rabbit may not being considered as aesthetically pleasing with a lopped over ear, but it doesn’t affect how tasty they’ll be on the dinner plate. Any of ours with weak ear bases, unless they are phenomenal in all other traits, will likely end up being processed. We can guarantee though, that they are not crossbreds and we won’t be breeding true lops anytime soon.

I’m still cute, you know.