Belgian Hares are not really hares, but rabbits. True hares are born with fur and their eyes and ears open, like most wild rabbits. They are beautiful and graceful rabbits that require special housing, a lot of attention and care. They were originally known as the "Race Horse of the Fancy" but are now known as"King of the Fancy".
HISTORY AND ORIGIN
European Hare European Rabbit
Belgian Hares originated from "Leoporines" which were developed in the early 1700s in Flanders, in Eastern Europe. They were developed by breeding domestic "Old World" or "European" rabbits to wild European Hares, mainly for meat. The "Leporines" were imported from Belgium and Germany to England in the 1870s. There they were bred with two goals in mind. One goal was size and the other to make them look more like wild hares. The ones bred for size were called "Patagonians", which are now known as Flemish Giants. The others were named Belgian Hares. The "Leporines" that were redder colored were used for the Belgians to get the color that more resembled the wild hares. Early breeders selectivly bred to make the Belgians look more and more like their wild hares. The aim was to produce a meat rabbit that was beautiful and practical.
Soon the breeders were competing to see who had the best rabbits and in 1882 a standard was written. By 1889 the focus had changed from a meat rabbit, to a show rabbit with a more lean and racy appearence and the standard was changed to reflect this. It was in 1888 that Belgian Hares first came to America and were shown at small fairs and stock shows. During the next 12 years large rabbitries were built, mainly in California, and many were inported from Europe. It was very expensive to this as each one could cost between $500 to $1,000. But their popularity continued to increase and The American Belgian Hare Club was organized. They held their first exhibition in 1900.
The club had written two standards for Belgian Hares. One was for "Standard Fancy", 8 pound with a thin, fine boned and racy appearance, and the other for "Heavy Weight" or Commercial Hares, 11 pounds full breast and heavy boned.
By the 1920s the importing boom had stopped as there were plenty of home grown hares to be had for much less money and their popularity started to wane. Some people feel that the introduction of the "Heavy Weight" standard and going back to breeding them for meat contributed greatly to the decline. For many years after this, the decline in popularity decreased even more and when the American Rabbit Breeder's Association was formed, only the "Fancy Standard" remained. Also, during the depression, their large space requirements , difficulty in breeding and serving no other purpose other than showing, their numbers in the US rapidly dwindled. However, since the turn of this century, they are again growing in popularity and more and more people are enjoying breeding and showing these beautiful rabbits.
Belgian Hares are a high arch breed with a flyback type coat. They are long and narrow rabbits with a back line showing a continuous arch from the nape of the neck to the tail. They have a long head, long ears and long legs. Their flanks are muscular and have well rounded hind quarters. Belgian Hares are fine bones with a straight long tail, long fore feet and straight, fine, long and flat hind feet. Their eyes are large and bold and are surrounded by light circles which give them a wild, alert expression.
The color of Standard Belgian Hares is a rich chestnut shade with a brillant black, wavy ticking over their back and hips. Ideally they weigh between 6 and eight pounds. Belgian Hares are very graceful in their movements and they prance around more like a ballet dancer, than the normal hopping rabbit. When shown, they should be posed in their natural pose with their ears erect, on their front toes, body showing its beautiful arch, with eyes wild and alert. You will see this pose over and over when they are at home, getting them to pose on a judging table at a show takes time and practice.
TRAITS AND TEMPERAMENT
Belgian Hares are considered to be a high strung breed and can react unexpectedly to being startled or scared. However, they can have a very sweet and loveable temperament. They are one of the most intelligent of rabbit breeds. They are sociable, learn their name and are easily trained to use a litterbox. They are a very energenic breed and are very active rabbits. They have a very fast metabolisim rate requiring a lot of exersize and are almost always in motion. They love to move and prance around. They are not generally suited for young children due to their large size and speed and nervous disposition. They require a lot of patience and care.
Our hares are raised in a rural but sometimes nosiy environment and are used to dogs barking, trucks, cars, and many other noises from birth and due tend to have a calmer disposition. We have found the bucks seem more sedate than the does, but then again it depends on how much they are handled and what they are exposed to while growing up.