|Hundreds of thousands of rabbits are imprisoned in bare wire cages all over Australia, millions more worldwide (approximately 865 million) just to be slaughtered for their flesh and fur.
Rabbit farming is one of Australia’s fastest growing new industries, and is now legal in all states except Queensland. Touted as a profitable and virtually problem-free enterprise, it is often promoted to inexperienced farmers by cage manufacturers and the suppliers of breeding stock.
The truth is that farmed rabbits suffer in just the same way as other intensively reared animals. These rabbits will never experience fresh air, grass under their feet, or the chance to run, jump or dig.
Many people do not realize that the rabbits exploited for meat and fur are the same breeds as the cuddly companions they may share their own homes with.
Wild rabbits are highly social animals who live with their families in intricate underground warrens. They can hop faster than a cat or a deer can run. On the factory farm, bucks and does are usually kept in solitary confinement except for breeding and the suckling of young. Breeding adults have 0.56 sq metres of space per rabbit, while youngsters aged 5-12 weeks endure a pitiful 0.07 sq metres each.
The inmates may have fur rather than feathers, but an intensive rabbitry is no different from a battery hen operation. Cramped and barren cages restrict movement so that all a rabbit’s energy is directed towards reaching slaughter weight as rapidly as possible. Wire mesh floors make cleaning easier for the “farmer” but are a painful and inadequate substitute for earth and grass. Rabbits will never see natural daylight, and artificial light is maintained up to 16 hours a day to stimulate breeding. Fastidiously clean by nature, most farmed rabbits live surrounded by their own waste.
Young rabbits destined for the meat trade are killed at just 8-10 weeks of age, and sometimes their fur is used for low quality products. Those bred specifically for their fur will be killed at 6-7 months.
In industry parlance, breeding does have a “use-life” of about 18 months or 10-12 litters, after which they are killed.
Diseased and Neurotic
Many rabbits do not even get to live out their short life spans in the rabbitry. The industry admits to a 10% mortality rate from disease, heat stress and inadequate diet; other sources have put this as high as 24%.
Factory farm conditions result in health problems such as ulcerated hocks and broken toes from the wire flooring, spinal damage from overcrowding, eye and respiratory irritation from accumulated dust and ammonia, and high susceptibility to bacterial infections.
Restriction of movement and natural behaviour can cause severe stress and psychological disorders such as fur plucking, ear biting and even cannibalism. One visitor to a rabbit farm found “cage after cage of rabbits with no ears” and was told that the mother had chewed them off. Cannibalism results from the stressful and boring conditions or because the mother cannot provide enough milk for all her young.
Does are kept on an endless cycle of reproduction 2 or 3 years of constant pregnancy, during which time a single doe may give birth to over 100 young. Does are often re-bred just 14 days after giving birth, whilst still suckling their young.
Rabbits are normally slaughtered in specialist “packing houses”, and may endure long hours of transport on the way to their deaths. They travel in crates between six and eleven inches high which are crammed with as many as 8 rabbits. Like chickens, they are then stacked on a truckbed with hundreds of others. Throughout the journey they will be deprived of food and water and subjected to extremes of temperature. Many will suffer injuries from rough handling, extreme overcrowding, and attacks from panic-stricken cage mates.
Stunning prior to slaughter can be via cervical dislocation or through a blow to the base of the skull. Like all stunning methods, effectiveness varies according to the skill of the operator and the pressure under which they must work. There are many reports of rabbits remaining alive and conscious when they are strung up by their hind legs, their throats are cut, and they are left to “bleed out”.
Claims that rabbit fur is a by-product of the meat industry are a myth. In order to be profitable, the sale of fur and meat are both essential to the farmer. Fur from rabbits killed primarily for their meat is not seen as good quality and will be used for cheap products. Most “high quality” rabbit fur comes from rabbits bred specifically for that purpose.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Rabbits have individual personalities just like dogs and cats
• They make lifelong bonds with other rabbits and are affectionate and loyal towards human companions
• Rabbits can be house-trained and learn to respond to their names
• Rabbits communicate through body language, and thump their large hind legs to warn other rabbits of danger
• Rabbits love to play together and groom each other
• Wild rabbits live in colonies with a sophisticated social hierarchy
• Females create nests lined with leaves, grass and their own fur in which to nurture their babies
• Rabbits enjoy taking dust baths to keep their fur clean and free of parasites
The rabbit is a popular scapegoat for environmental destruction in Australia, and is consequently viewed as “vermin” against which any outrage may be committed. In reality, damage done by rabbits to the Australian environment and wildlife pales into insignificance compared to the harm done by humans and their hard-hoofed “food” animals. Rabbits are not responsible for their presence in this country, and are not inanimate objects to be disposed of as we please.
Like all animals exploited by humans, they are sentient, feeling beings with lives which matter to them and the capacity to suffer when they are treated solely as means to our ends.