THE FLEMISH GIANT RABBIT
The Flemish Giant is a
type rabbit with its back arch starting back of the shoulders and
through to the base of the tail giving it a "mandolin" shape. It is one
the largest rabbits recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders
The minimum show weight for a Senior (older than 8 months) doe is 14
and the minimum weight of a Senior buck is 13 pounds. It is not unusual
to see a 22 pound Flemish Giant, and specimens weighing 28 pounds have
been reported. A comment heard from many individuals seeing a Flemish
rabbit for the first time is, "Wow, its bigger than my dog!"
The body of a Flemish Giant Rabbit should be long and powerful with
good muscular development. The hindquarters should be broad and
Bucks have a broad, massive head in comparison to does. Does may have a
large, full, evenly carried dewlap (the fold of skin under their
The fur of the Flemish Giant is glossy, dense and full of life and
When stroked from the hindquarters to the head, the fur will roll back
to its original position. Seven colors are recognized by ARBA: black,
fawn, light gray, sandy, steel gray and white. At many rabbit shows,
of the recognized colors can be observed, but the sandy color (the
color) seems to be the most popular.
The origins of the Flemish Gant rabbit are uncertain. Some say that the
Flemish Giant rabbit is the modern
the Patagonian rabbit of Argentina which was brought to
Europe by 16th and 17th century Dutch traders. However, Whitman in ths
book Domestic Rabbits & their
Histories (2004) points out the the Argentina Patagonian
rabbit is actually a Cavy and association with the Flemish Giant is
very doubtful. Whitman conjectures that the Flemish came from
combinations of a number of giant breeds from the old Flemish region
possibly including the Steenkonijn (Stone Rabbit) and the European
"patagonian" breed (now extinct). He further says that near
the end of the 19th
Century, the Flemish Giant as we know it today was developed in eastern
Europe and the first standards were written by Albert Van
Heuverzwijn in 1893. On the other hand, Wilkins (1896) wrote that
the Flemish Giant was developed from the Leporine imported into England
in the middle 1800s and shares its ancestry with the
The Flemish Giant was imported from England and Belgium to America
in the early
1890s. It received no special attention until about 1910 where it
appearing at small livestock shows throughout the country. Today, it is
one of the more popular breeds at rabbit shows because of its enormous
size and its many and beautiful colors. It is promoted by the National Fwderation of Flemish Gioan
Rabbit Breeders which was formed in 1916. The reader is
encouraged to consult the web site of the National Federation of Flemish Giant
Rabbit Breeders <http://www.NFFGRB.com> for further
informarion on the breed and to identify nearby breeders.
RAISING FLEMISH GIANTS
Flemish Giants are true giants of the rabbits world. They can grow to
size, reaching four or more pounds in 7 weeks, and maturing up to 18
in 9 months. Although they are large, they are docile and not wild or
to handle. That is why they are called "The Gentle Giant."
Flemish are also called "The Universal Breed," because they are fast
developing rabbits suitable for either meat or fur production. They
on a large percentage of roughage and green feed reducing total food
Because of their large size, they are ready for market as fryers as
as they are weaned; they do not require feeding or "development" for
market. It is not uncommon for a Flemish to produce 35 pounds of
bunnies in 8 weeks. On the down side, Flemish have larger bones than
commercial breeds and command lower prices from processors.
Best of all, they make wonderful pets. They are large and strong
to hold their own with small children, but are docile and gentle.
when abused, they can scratch or bite painfully! Like many rabbit
they can be trained to use a litter box, making them ideal, lovable
Mature bucks seldom spray. Flemish also have a good tolerance for the
outdoors if you don't want them indoors. The only thing they do not
well is extreme heat. It is essential that they be kept in the shade
the summer. If the temperature exceeds 90, evaporative coolers can be
in barns to keep them cool; fine water sprays can be used outdoors.
especially appreciate a large plastic pop bottle, filled with water and
frozen in the freezer, to snuggle against when the temperature
A word of advice to those contemplating letting their pet rabbit
their house freely. Rabbits seem to have a fascination with lamp cords.
They will frequently chew on a cord, damaging it and injuring
Owners are advised to keep excess lamp cord out of the reach of their
Flemish Giant rabbits are usually very vigorous, healthy and easy to
They are very big and require very big cages. The smallest cage that
be considered for single animals should have a floor 30 inches by 48
Brood cages for a doe and her litter should have a floor 24 inches by
inches. Cage height should be no less than 24 inches or else they may
carry their ears erect. Because of the considerable weight of these
wire floors should not be used, because sore, bleeding, hocks can
result. Some breeders use solid floors bedded with straw, shredded
paper, or wood chips. Others use wood slat floors. The slats comprising
the floor of such cages are usually 3/4" x 1 1/2" spaced at
5/8". The rabbits will chew on these slats, but they will last long
that chewing is generally not a problem. Recently, light weight plastic
flooring has been being offered by some rabbit equipment
While this type of flooring may be suitable for smaller breeds, our
experience is that the Flemish will quickly decimate it.
When making or purchasing these large cages be sure you can reach the
back corners of the cage for cleaning without having to put your
and shoulders in the cage. If you do, cage cleaning can be a less
Flemish seem to require roughage as well as pellets as feed. We feed
quality alfalfa, free choice, and one large tuna fish can of 18%
pellets. About a week before a show, we will feed about a tablespoon
of black sunflower seeds daily to shine up their coats. Be careful, too
much sunflower seed can make a rabbit fat!
The Flemish Doe should be bred at 8 months or 14 pounds, whichever
first. Does usually reach maximum growth weight at 10 to 14 months. Do
not breed a doe earlier than 8 months or 14 pounds because it can have
difficulties kindling. If does are not bred as soon as they reach
they can accumulate too much fat around the ovaries and have difficulty
conceiving. Once fat develops around the ovaries, we know no way to
The doe is always brought to the bucks cage and never vice versa.
them carefully and remove the doe after she is bred once or twice; that
should take less than 5 minutes. Separate them immediately if the doe
nipping at the buck he may be injured. A second breeding 6 to 8 hours
the first can increase the number of kits born.
Some does are frantic for a nest box after 3 weeks of pregnancy;
are interested only during the last 20 minutes before kindling. We
give the nest boxes at least 3 days earlier unless they become frantic.
Our nest boxes are 14 in. x 14 in. x 24 in. and are made of plywood or
board. They have partially covered and have a board across the front to
"detach" kits holding on to mama as she leaps out of the box. We have
that these nest boxes may be slightly too large, as they seem to
the does to lounge in them. The next batch will be 2 in. Smaller in all
Before placing a nest box in a cage, the bottom is covered with 2
of cardboard or 3/4 of white wood chip for moisture absorption and
and it is filled with clean bright straw. The doe will create a pocket
in the straw and line it with fur "at the appointed hour." In cold
we have not found it necessary to use "bunny warmers"; however, we
will use an infra-red light bulb at a distance of 24 inches to provide
some warmth if the temperature drops near 0 F. In hot weather, we
some of the fur from the nest box to prevent the kits from getting too
The chips and straw are removed and replaced with clean material each
for 6 weeks. At 6 weeks we remove the nest box, because allowing it to
longer seems to promote wet eyes among the kits. Sometimes, if the
is bitter cold, we will clean out the nest box and turn it on its side
give the bunnies protection from the wind and cold.
A Flemish doe can have anywhere from 6 to 18 kits. However, the
should be thinned down to 8 or less. If more are saved, they will tend
to be smaller and will be less developed when they reach maturity.
We wean the bunnies at 8 weeks, and separate the young rabbits when
we observe the bucks trying to mount the does. At that time, we save
best and cull the rest.
The does are bred back at 6 to 8 weeks after kindling, depending on
the condition of the doe. Breeding back too soon repeatedly will cause
the doe to fail to produce large litters or fail to conceive at all.
Handling Flemish Giants
Even if the Flemish Giant is large and strong, it has a very "laid
disposition. They are docile and tolerant of considerable handling. A
trick at 4-H and Youth rabbit shows is to "hypnotize" a Flemish Giant
placing it on its back and stroking it gently. However if abused, they
can inflict painful and possibly serious injury with their razor sharp
teeth and powerful hind legs. Since they can take care of themselves
some people will let their pet rabbit roam their well fenced back yards
freely. Remember, if you are contemplating leaving your rabbit roam
back yard, rabbits are burrowing animals and can burrow under fences if
no special precautions are taken.
Another consequence of its large size and strength of the Flemish
is that it consumes more feed than other breeds. Some commercial rabbit
meat operations occasionally cross Flemish Giants with the usual
breeds, e.g., New Zealand and Californians, to produce a larger meat
However, the lower feed efficiency inherited from the Flemish Giant
such crosses uneconomical in many cases.
One might think that a huge, docile and attractive rabbit has much
as a pet, and many people do, indeed, seek them out as pets and love
There are others who complain that the Flemish Giant is too laid back
docile and turn to breeds that show more physical activity.
Obtaining Breeding Stock
Those interested in acquiring breeding stock should
consult the web pages of the National
Federation of Flemish Giant Rabbit Breeders to locate a nearby
<>Judging the Flemish
This material was taken from handouts
a presentation by Rabbit Judge Tom Keyes at the ARBA District 1 Judges
conference held at Ellensburg, Washington on June 20, 1997. It is used
on this web page with permission and has be edited for form and
When judging Flemish Giant Rabbits, important factors that need to be
include, but are not limited to:
The following should be kept in mind when considering each of these
- Weights and measurements.
- Common and not-too-common disqualification.
- Weights and Measurements. On seniors, the minimum body
20 inches from the base of the tail to the end of the nose. The minimum
ear length is 5 3/4 inches. The minimum weight for Senior bucks is 13
and for senior does, 14 pounds. Since Flemish Giants do not attain full
development until the age of 12 to 14 months, it is not unusual to see
inexperienced breeders presenting young seniors for judging that have
yet attained minimum weights and dimensions. These animals should be
- Disqualifications. Disqualifications that a judge should
in the Flemish Giant include the following:
Type. The description of type in the ARBA Standards
is based on fully mature animals, and an animal being judged,
of class, must by evaluated on the basis of this description. However,
the actual type seen in younger animals is somewhat different since the
Flemish Giant matures in a definite pattern. A judge needs to be aware
of this pattern to know what to look for in his evaluation of type
in younger animals. The general type you can expect to see is as
- Short, blocky body.
- Ears that turn over at the tips (bell ears).
- Cow hocks.
- Fine bone.
- Weak ankles affecting the straightness of the forelegs.
Color. The Standard says that a rabbit must be
other color than described in the variety description. This means that
an unrecognized color must not to be given an "unworthy of award;"
the animal should be disqualified.
- Pre juniors - Pre Juniors are shorter, like commercial type,
in the shoulders and loin.
- Younger juniors - These look "gangly"; stretched out but not
This is OK because you want good length of body and extremities. Look
good spread in the rib cage even though not filled out. Also look for
weak ear base because the ear base hasn't caught up with the weight of
- Older juniors - Older Juniors are generally very solid in flesh
smoother transition from shoulder through the midsection and into the
They might still be a bit protruding in the hips until the loin fills
over the hips.
- 6/8 - Intermediates should show good structure and depth at
may not have the massiveness of seniors.
- Seniors - Seniors should be large massive and long. Young
not fully developed and may not attain full growth until a year or so
Seven Varieties of Flemish Giants are recognized in the Standard:
Black, Blue, Fawn, Light Gray, Sandy, and Steel Gray.
Fur. Fur Should have roll-back type coat. If it flies
lacks density. There is no mention of texture in the Standard, but,
the better conditioned coat seems to have a very slightly harsh texture
as compared to, let's say, a Californian rabbit. The hairs themselves
to be a little thicker than any breed with the possible exception of
French Lop. I'm sure that this thickness makes sense. Since all parts
the Flemish Giant are larger than any other breed it stands to reason
even the individual hairs in the fur would be larger too.
Balance. Although the Standard of Perfection awards no
overall balance and proportion, it does offer a paragraph to emphasize
the importance of balance in the Flemish Giant. No other breed
offers a special paragraph on this subject. The word proportion (to
size and length) has been deliberately inserted in the description of
head, ears, feet and legs and even of the tail. Within these components
is where the balance points lie. Balance is most easily assessed by
back from the animal to see if all the parts appear to belong together.
If you find yourself thinking "good length of body, but the ears barely
make minimum length" or "this is a large animal but the bone seems a
thin to support the weight" or " I would expect to see this slightly
head on a shorter bodied rabbit" then you are identifying balance
Although these animals by definition should be large, remember that balance
comes before big alphabetically, and it also does in evaluating
the Flemish Giant.
- White, Black and Blue- The colors are typical self patterns
- Fawn- The Fawn color has typical wide band pattern. Look for a
straw color. Variance can range from an orange color to a color
yellow. The cast should be light, but when it gets yellowish it is too
light. When the color approaches orange it is too dark. It is difficult
to get good even color. Watch for smut anywhere on the animal and for
lacing. These are faults..
- Light Gray- The Light Gray has typical agouti pattern and is
if not identical to a slightly light chinchilla color on the surface.
Standard refers to "uniform" light gray on the surface. This implies
ticking as opposed to wavy ticking. Note that faults only refer to
color but I would not hesitate to reward well colored and well defined
base and ring colors at least by commenting about it. .
- Sandy- Sandy has typical agouti pattern and is similar to a
color more reddish where a chestnut is more brownish. Look for even
ticking but not too heavy as it hides the reddish color. Look for
and definition in the reddish intermediate color. Also look for well
black ear lacing.
- Steel Gray- Steel gray color has a black base color tipped with
guard hair. It's hard to get even color. Note that the standard calls
belly surface color and underside of tail to be as "white as possible;"
this is very unusual. This feature is, in fact, unique to the Steel
Giant. Watch for ring color over the back of the animal. This is a
It's OK for slight ring color on lower part of body.
A WORD ABOUT POSING. Yes, the Flemish Giant should be posed
elbows and hocks on the surface with rear toes lined up with the stifle
joint and front toes lined up with the eyes. This enables us to see the
graceful arch beginning from just behind the shoulders. It also allows
evaluation of the depth of body, smoothness of transition in the side
and fullness. But I also recommend allowing the animal to rise up and
about a bit. The purpose of this is to assess the strength of the legs.
This does not mean that the rabbit has to run the length of the show
Do not expect a Flemish Giant to pose on the tips of its toes like a
Petite or a Belgian Hare. It is not in their nature. But you also don't
want a rabbit which does a deep elbow bend like it's having trouble
itself. Keep in mind that the rabbit might be a little cautious about
around at first so give them a little time to demonstrate their