By its size alone, the Checkered Giant breed is one of the largest accepted breeds shown today in the United States. A true giant, there is no maximum weight on a Checkered, and Sr bucks start at a minimum of 11 pounds, Sr does at 12 pounds. In the US, they come in two recognized colors - black and blue - though at one time the breed also sported fawn, red, chocolate, and tort. In homeland Europe the breed is recognized as well, usually under the moniker "Giant Papillon," French for "Giant Butterfly" (the marking found on their nose). The European version still comes in almost every color recognized in Europe, and has different side markings than their American cousins, having a series of graduated spots on each side, similar to the American English Spot. The American CG is required to have only two patched on either side - no more, no less. There are a few people now working on bringing back the chocolates to the USA, but it will no doubt be years before these come into the forefront of the public, much less become streamlined enough to pass into acceptance.
The standard cliche surrounding Checkereds is as follows: They are mean biters and too big to handle. Only old men breed and show them. This, of course, like most cliches, is wholly untrue. I admit, most of the people raising and showing them are older, or at least of the male variety, but I myself am a point in the favor of young women! As for the personality cliche, well. I've come to the conclusion over the years that if you aren't a calm dopey Mini Lop-type breed, you're labeled something offensive. Rather, the more difficult breeds are just that - more difficult, but just as rewarding and worthwhile as any of the more common breeds running across the show tables and in pet shops.
It's like comparing a Jack Russell or a Greyhound to a Golden Retriever or Labrador. They are two totally different things, and to try and squeeze them in the same box is not only unfair to all breeds considered, it shows lack of understanding on the part of the box constructor. CGs are extremely intelligent - and for this reason, you can't swing anything past them and expect them to let it go. If you do something to them that they don't like, they have no problem letting you know exactly how they feel. And since they don't have mouths with which to talk, this leaves them with what they do have: teeth and claws.
For example, if you cuddle and squeeze a Checkered close to you, they will no doubt struggle and within a second, sink their teeth into the nearest human appendage in attempts to be let go. Make no mistake, this is not a mean animal. This is an animal that is bred to be naturally active - they run on the show table and minimally handled only to check for disqualifications - and REALLY dislike being constrained. On the same token, you cannot be scared or tentative with a Checkered Giant. You will never get anywhere. Because of their fearlessness, intelligence and stubbornness, they will take advantage of you if you are timid around them. A firm hand and voice is required for them, but it MUST be couple with respect to the rabbit and their natural tendancies.
In the last two years I have had many people have bring me Checkereds, in various states of condition, and they seem delighted to dump their 'problem rabbit' on me. Yet I seem to have no problems once I start working with them. In fact, most of them are loving and downright sweethearts, leading me to conclude that the owner was not fit for the rabbit, not the other way around. But then, I don't go into the relationship expecting a Checkered to be a cute, cuddly, fluffy, calm rabbit, either. I treat them as I would a working dog. Smart, and respected like a partner. A little patience and respect goes a long way with a Checkered Giant. Do that, and you'll end up with animals like my Oddball, who veritably craves my attention (see me cuddling her, Picture #4). She will not only allow me to cuddle her - for short periods - but she prefers to stay near my feet when I let her run around the house, return to me like a yo-yo at any strange sound, and jump into my lap of her own accord to sprawl out. Typically, any Checkered in my barn will come right up to the front of the cage for a head-rub, ear scratch, or to quite animatedly ask for (aka, demand) a treat (they LOOOOOVE raw sweet potato).
This attitude is exactly what makes this breed a great Agility or Hopping rabbit, however. They learn quickly because of their intelligence; they are fearless so they will go conquer new obstacles quite easily; and they are bred to run and move - so they do this quite quickly and easily in the showring. Checkerds are also quite easy to leash-train, and in fact make great 'walking' rabbits. Many breeds will lie down or not move at all on a leash. Checkereds love to move around! They look particularly striking against greenery in park or on a campus. Just keep in mind that they still have the stubborn streak, so just like training a dog, make sure to not let them get too smart and stubborn for their own good!
Now, on to the other things that require extra work for a Checkered Giant. Being so large, Checkereds require a very stable flooring, and a very large cage to be able to run and stand in comfortably. This usually means a solid floor, rather than a wire floor with drop pan. This means that bedding and regular frequent cage cleaning is imperative. Most Checkereds do a very good job of keeping themselves clean and not lying on dirty bedding, which is good since they have so much white on them. I prefer two layers of bedding - shaving or paper shreds on the bottom, and then a layer of straw or long industrial paper shreds on top. Paper shreds are both cheap and easy to find, as well as being less dusty than shavings. This bottom layer is to soak up the urine, which you will have to clean every 2-3 days. The top layer can last longer and keeps the rabbit off the wet stuff underneath, so you only need a full clean once a week.
The bigger the cage, the better, even for youngsters. You want to give young rabbits a chance to stretch their legs and build their muscles and joints for good strong running on the table or in the Agility ring. A minimum of 2'x2'x4' (heightxdepthxlength) for a single adult, and 2'x2'x6' for a doe with litter is best. In a pinch, wire floors and smaller cages can be used, but only for short-term, and know that you are chipping into your rabbits' success as well as their healthful vitality. At the bare minimum, if you decide to choose wire flooring anyway, you MUST brace it every 12" with a wooden slat, to strengthen the floor and prevent bouncing.
As a larger breed, Checkereds will eat and drink larger quantities as well. One Checkered isn't going to be noticed much on your food bill - but if you start breeding, when you get 4 or more adults and especially with litters, you'll start noticing your feed bucket level dropping drastically with much speed. Checkereds have an extremely high metabolism. Because of this, they require a very high % of fiber in their feed. I look for a minimum of 21% fiber in my feed. To compare, most super-stores like WalMart will carry rabbit feed that has 12-15% fiber; regular rabbit feeds that showers and breeders use usually have 18-20% fiber. I use Heinhold red bag @ 21%, or MannaPro red or purple bag (21% and 24%, respectively). If you do not have enough fiber in a Checkered's diet, you will be able to tell after ONE DAY. All it takes is ONE DAY of a missed feeding for me to run my hand over the rabbit and notice a lack of flesh condition. That is how SUPER-FAST their metabolism is. At about THREE DAYS of unsuitable feed, a fairly inexperienced owner will notice a difference. At a week or a month, you'll have animals dropping ounces like they shed hair, and though your animal won't be on death's door, they certainly won't be in good shape. For someone on the show table, this will mean constant misses for that 1st place or "Best of" award, even if your animals have the superior type and markings. Hay is a good supplement for every rabbit, and as it is fiber, a running breed like Checkereds love it. However, you might very well be giving a flake a day to each adult Checkered and still notice lack of flesh condition, should you try an all-hay diet. Hay really won't decrease your feed costs much, with a Checkered. On the flipside, once you get adequate feed, a Checkered will quite easily and quickly bounce back into shape, due to that super-fast metabolism.
Checkereds are not only difficult for their personality, intelligence, and maintenance. What if you want to breed Checkereds? Because of their large bone structure, they don't really make an adequate meat rabbit. Fryers are the typical meat sale, which are 10 weeks old. At this age, a Checkered is all knobbly bone and stringy meat. Not good for the cooking pot. You can eat an adult, but by the time you've put so much money and effort into them, why would you eat them? Definitely not to turn a profit.
That leaves you most likely breeding for the show world - either under the ARBA table circuit, or the Agility/Rabbit Hopping show ring. Agility and Hopping do not require any breed specifics to compete, but the ARBA very much does. Only correctly marked animals may compete on a show table. This requires a full butterfly (nose marking), eye circle and cheek spot on either side of the head, fully colored ears, an unbroken spine marking from the base of the back of the ears all the way to the tip of the tail (one break of no more than 1/4 inch is acceptable), and two patches of color on either hip. The best animals will have medium-heavy markings, and be balanced from side to side (a symmetrically marked rabbit). Sounds tough, right? Well, it gets even tougher. A Checkered Giant doesn't just give you marked babies in a litter. No, you get three types of babies: Charlies, sports, and markeds. A Charlie will have extremely little color on it; usually only a partial spine and ear marking, and a Charlie Chaplin-like mustache on the nose. A sport is a solid-colored baby. This is genetics. So every litter you will theoretically only have 1/3 showable babies to begin with. And then in your markeds, you *hope* they are correctly- and well-marked. That's only to get them on the table. On top of *that*, they need to have good type and extension and size....You begin to see why breeding Checkereds for the show table is a lengthy endeavor.
It is for this reason that most show-quality Checkered Giants will cost you a minimum of $50 for a young Jr. "Show-quality" simply means the animal has no known DQs (disqualifications). It doesn't mean the animal has good type or will place well at all. In fact, the animal could be a piece of crud on the show table. But that animal is still worth at least $50 as an 8-week-old baby, and $100 as a year-old adult. Many breeders will cull at birth to maximize their production and revenue, meaning they separate out the unshowable babies and dispose of them humanely. This allows the showable ones the best chance at a good start in life. One very successful breeder I know breeds three does at once, takes the best showable babies and gives them to the first doe; rebreeds the second two. Then takes their showable babies and gives them to Doe #2. Breeds Doe #3 again, and by this point Doe #1 is ready to wean her litter so he rebreeds her; when they are born, these go to Doe #3. This way he always has a steady stream of only showable babies coming out of his barn, and maximizes his time for the profit he will get.
All in all? A great breed. Hands down. I may never have very many of them at once, but I ADORE my Checkereds. They are so, so unique in the rabbit world, and require just as unique people to care for them. As with any breed, do your research before choosing a Checkered Giant, especially if you're planning on having it as a pet. Find a breeder if at all possible, and ask to have a month or two of a trial-run, wherein the breeder will take it back and refund your money if it doesn't work out.
Are you one of our unique Checkered people? Contact me to find out!