Rabbit, the Common, or Le-pus cuniculus, L. a well-known .animal resembling a hare ; though it is smaller, has shorter hind-legs, and its ears are thinly covered with hair: it was originally introduced into Britain from Spain.
These animals are reared either in warrens, or in hutches; in the former state, they are permitted to roam at liberty, where they burrow and breed. The best places for such purpose are sandy hills, or those which consist of a loose soil; but it will be necessary to inclose them either with a stone or sod-wall ; and at the same time to bore horizontal cavities for the passage of these quadrupeds, till they have formed their own burrows :—the most proper shrub to be planted in such situations, is the juniper-tree, the leaves of which are eagerly eaten by rabbits, and impart to their flesh a delicate, spicy flavour. As warrens are infested with Kites, pole-cats, eagles, and other freebooters, it will be advisable to set traps on the stumps or tops of old trees, or on artificial hillocks of a conical form; in order to catch these depredators, as they usually alight on such places.
If rabbits are designed to be reared in a tame state, the hutches must be kept constantly clean ; as, otherwise, these creatures will be frequently attacked with diseases. —The mules, or bucks, should be parted from the does, or females, till the latter kindle; at which time one of the former may be allowed to six or eight of the latter; and a sufficient quantity of fresh hay should be provided, for the construction of a led, or nest.
The females begin to breed, when about six months old ; being very prolific, they bring forth, seven times in the year, from four to eight conies at a litter, after a gestation of thirty days; and, in the course of six weeks, the young rabbits are able to seek for their own food. The provision of these animals ought to consist of grass cabbages, carrots, endive, clover-hay, and similar vegetables, which should be given them frequently, in a fresh, though not wet state; and, as soon as the young conies begin to disagree after being weaned, it will be necessary to separate them.
Rabbits are chiefly subject to two disorders, which, if they be not timely attended to, generally prove fatal: 1. The rot, which is occasioned by feeding them with too large a proportion of green vegetables, or with such as were gathered before the dew or rain was evaporated. It may, however, be prevented by strict attention to their food, and especially by mixing a certain portion of clover, or other hay, with green or moist plants. 2. A species of madness, which may be ascertained by their restlessness ; as these animals roll themselves on the floor of their hutches in an uncouth manner, and hop about in odd postures. Such distemper generally arises from rank feeding, and may be cured by keeping them low, and giving them tare, or spear-thistles, the Car-duns lunceolatus, L.
The usual modes of catching wild rabbits are, by what is called purse-nets, and by ferrets ; though they are sometimes coursed with small greyhounds, or with spaniels trained up to the sport. Another method consists in smoking them out of their burrows, by burning sulphur and orpiment at the entrance. The deleterious fumes of these articles compel the animals to rush into the net spread for their reception; but, as their flesh may thus be rendered unwholesome, and a long time must elapse before other rabbits can be induced to enter the holes, such fetid ingredients ought never to be employed. The rabbit is one of the most useful quadrupeds reared by mankind : its flesh is tender, and nutritious, and consequently well calculated for the food of convalescents ; but they ought to be killed by a large wound in the neck, so that the blood may be speedily discharged ; an operation which renders their flesh whiter and more delicate.—Their fur constitutes a principal article in hat-manufactories ; and such part as is unfit for this purpose, may with advantage be employed in the stuffing of beds and bolsters, being little inferior to feathers.