07/13/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT
For generations kids have known it as a warm, cuddly creature, but most people think that the rabbit has little more practical purpose than brightening an Easter or spicing a stew. Enter Bill Schultz, 34, owner of Southern Oregon Greenhouses in Grants Pass. For the past 15 months the horticulturist has kept his hothouse just that with 450 snowy white New Zealand rabbits. Schultz corrals his herd in metal cages in a room next to his 20,000-square-foot greenhouse, then pumps the hot air they generate into the area where the Boston ferns, African violets and tropical plants are cultivated. Just in the conduct of their ordinary affairs, his furry creatures—with their 101.5° F normal body temperature—generate 180,000 BTUs an hour, enough bunny watts to heat several average American homes.
The cost of rabbit power is nothing to twitch your nose at: Schultz's bunnies have enabled him to shave 12 percent off his $1,000-a-month fuel bill. But cheap energy is only one commercial use of the versatile rabbit, according to the former instructor in horticulture at L.A.'s Pierce College. "The rabbit is an all-purpose animal," Schultz rhapsodizes. "Two hundred rabbits will provide as much table meat as a thousand-pound steer. You can sell the fur for artificial fox and mink, the blood for medical testing and the innards for fertilizer. Not to mention the feet for good luck charms."
Every two weeks Schultz ships his surplus four-footed heaters off to market, where they bring him some $460 a month—and chagrined looks from his daughters. "The girls would like them sold as pets," he says. "On market day if a fryer doesn't make the minimum weight and is put back, the girls are apt to give out a loud cheer."