American Chinchilla rabbits were added to the Vernal Vibe Rise rabbitry in 2013, and I bred and raised this breed for five years. The choice to add American Chins was easy, as they are the only rabbit breed listed on The Livestock Conservancy’s critically-endangered list, and are closely related to the Giant Chinchillas, which I had enjoyed raising at VVR for a number of years. Although the American Chins appear to be consistently higher-strung than their Giant relatives, they are lovely rabbits and I found that they could thrive in a pasture-based system.
Although I am not currently raising rabbits on Vernal Vibe Rise, when I did, the rabbits lived on pasture, in field houses, year-round. This enabled them to eat organic grasses and other greens as they grew while still maintaining safety for themselves and their young. I am happy to consult with beginning farmers or homesteaders, or any others who may be considering adding American Chinchillas or other pasture-based rabbits to their system.
The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity shares these details about the American Chinchilla breed: “The original Chinchillas from Europe were rather small at 5 to 7 1/2 pounds, so American breeders set out to produce a larger animal that would be better suited for meat and pelts. Through selective breeding for larger size, fine bones, and a good dress-out percentage, a breed standard was issued for the Heavyweight Chinchilla. It was a larger form of the Standard Chinchilla, with the same shape, color and genetic make-up. According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, the American Chinchilla is critically endangered. Though widely popular from the 1920s to the 1940s, today it is the rarest of the Chinchilla breeds. It is found only in the United States, with the largest concentration in the Midwest. Its small population is largely due to the demise of the rabbit fur industry in the late 1940s. Despite the breed’s fine meat producing qualities, today producers prefer an all-white rabbit for the meat market. The American Chinchilla rabbit is medium boned with a deep loin and broad shoulders that produce good meat proportions on finished rabbits. They are easily dressed and their meat is considered to be of good quality and taste.”
The Livestock Conservancy offers the following information about American Chinchillas on their website: “The first Chinchillas were created by a French engineer M.J. Dybowski and were shown for the first time in April 1913 at Saint-Maur, France. The new breed took the rabbit world by storm as the ideal fur rabbit, which so greatly resembled the South American Chinchilla lanigera. A Mrs. Haidee Lacy-Hulbert of Mitcham Surrey, imported the first of the breed to England in the summer of 1917. A British exhibitor presented a shipment at the New York State Fair in 1919. After the show, he sold all the stock to Edward H. Stahl and Jack Harris. The original Chinchillas were rather small at 5 to 7 1/2 pounds, and American breeders set out to produce a larger animal that would be better suited for meat and pelts. Through selective breeding for larger size, fine bones, and a good dress-out percentage, a breed standard was issued for the Heavyweight Chinchilla. It was a larger form of the Standard Chinchilla – the same shape, color, and general make up. In 1924, both Chinchilla breeds were adopted into the standards book and shortly thereafter, the Heavyweight Chinchilla was renamed the American Chinchilla.
There is no single person that can be credited with the development of the American Chinchilla, though the breed can be credited with making a large impact with rabbit keepers and other rabbit breeds. Between November 1928 and November 1929, no less than 17,328 Chinchillas were registered through the American Rabbit & Cavy Breeders Association (American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc.) – a record that has yet to be broken. The Chinchilla rabbit has contributed to the development of more breeds and varieties of rabbit worldwide than any other breed of domestic rabbit. Sports from the Chinchilla have created the Silver Martens and American Sables in the United States, and the Siamese Sable and Sallander breeds abroad.
The American Chinchilla is the most rare of the Chinchilla breeds. Its small population is largely due to the demise of the rabbit fur industry of the late 1940’s. Despite the breed’s fine meat producing qualities, producers of today prefer an all white rabbit for the meat market. The American Chinchilla is a large, hardy and gentle animal, with mature bucks weighing in at 9 to 11 pounds and does at 10 to 12 pounds. They produce large litters, have good mothering instincts, and fryers reach market weight quickly.”