The Belgian Hare Department
North Dakota is a major agricultural state, but while people might think of sugar beets, wheat or soybeans, they rarely think of rabbits. However, North Dakota has a history of commercial rabbit production for food and fur. Rabbit was common menu fare until the increase in beef consumption in the 1960s.
One of the most popular rabbits in the early part of the century was the Belgian hare, bred to closely resemble the wild hare. It was first bred in Belgium by crossing domestic and wild hares. The breed was shown for the first time in the United States in 1877. They quickly became very popular, and Belgian Hare Breeding Clubs were formed.
On this date in 1900, a column appeared in the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican called “The Belgian Hare Department.” This was during a period known as the “Belgian Hare Boom.” Rabbits were selling for spectacular prices, some of them for as much as 500 to 1,000 dollars. In his column, author W.F. Cushing countered rumors of a decline of the rabbit industry and impending disaster. There had been reports of breeders in California simply turning their rabbits loose in the wild. But Cushing said his California correspondent reported that such was not the case. Cushing acknowledged that there were badly bred rabbits being promoted as the genuine Belgian hare, and these were worth very little, but he asserted that the true Belgian hare was a highly successful breed, and the business was growing every day.
However, by 1917, the breed began to fall out of favor. Belgian hare expert James Blyth explained, “Belgian hares are naturally very athletic, and attempts to turn them into a meat rabbit were unsuccessful.” The Flemish Giant, a very large animal, became the meat rabbit of choice. While a Belgian hare averages 8 pounds, a Flemish Giant averages fifteen pounds.
It is difficult to determine the scope of the modern rabbit industry in North Dakota. The domestic rabbit is not considered livestock by the United States Department of Agriculture. Because of this, the value of the rabbit industry is unknown. It is difficult to determine just how many rabbits are raised each year in North Dakota. But a quick search on the Internet will turn up many commercial breeders, including those who still raise the Belgian hare.
Dakota Datebook Written by Carole Butcher
American Belgian Hare Club. "http://www.belgianhareclub.com/belgian_hare_history.html" http://www.belgianhareclub.com/belgian_hare_history.html Accessed 15 September, 2015.
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Belgian Hare Column.” 13 October, 1900.
United States Department of Agriculture. “U.S. Rabbit Industry Profile.” 2002.