There comes a time in any breeding program where you need to search for an outcross naturally the best option is to source a well bred, good example of a British Smoke Pearl that is sufficiently unrelated to your own stock. However due to the small gene pool we have to work with and the limited number of breeders keeping the breed this may prove to be very difficult. So below I have outlined some of the other options that have been suggested to me over the years as well as a quick summary of their pros and cons of using them.
Sable - Our known parent breed, sables have a wide gene pool to choose from and generally finding a rabbit with a coat or type to complement and improve your line should be fairly straight forward. However the drawback is that your first generation crosses will all be sables (which can be somewhat disheartening), you will need to breed these crosses back to a smoke pearl which will then produce a mix of both sables and smoke pearls.
Smoke Pearl Satin - Smoke pearl satins generally stem from smoke pearls at some point so may not provide the new blood required in an outcross, but the main drawback is the availability (harder to find than normals) and are often not of the same quality.
Ivory Satin - Ivory satins certainly carry a lot of benefits in their coat and type, and depending on the background may even produce normal smokes (or sables, sable agoutis) first generation. However you will introduce the recessive satin gene into your line which can and WILL hide for generations, so if you do not want to randomly be popping out satins in your normal litters in the future, satins are best avoided.
Beveren - Some have suggested that using a beven would be a good outcross as it is believed beverens were used in the creating of the smoke pearl and passed on some of their coat qualities. As a dilute it means introducing less undesirable colour genes but the two breeds are vastly different types. I have not seen the outcome of this outcross.
European Zobel (blue or smoke pearl variety) - Another option open to us now is to import a smoke pearl from another european country. This has the added benefit of completely new blood to the gene pool and babies produced will be smoke pearl straight away. Consideration should be given to the difference of standard for type and coat and further selection then can be taken, but many positive qualities can be found here (especially to improve colour).
Lilac - I’ve heard a number of fanciers say that lilacs used to be a popular outcross for smoke pearls. Personally i’m not convinced that it would be a good choice as the breeds differ so much in coat and type and it would also introduce the undesirable chocolate gene into smoke pearl lines and i’m sure a more suitable outcross from the list above could be located.
A number of years ago now, I got into an interesting discussion with a well known rex judge at the London Championship show. We were talking about the progress of the breed, and in particular my line. I had some nice rabbits on show that day and was pleased with them, however still concerned with how far they had to go to reach the standard. I remember saying that it always felt like one step forward and two back.
He then extolled the virtues of ‘the old rex way of breeding’, explaining that I was trying to correct too many faults at once and that I would progress faster by focusing on the individual aspects of the breed. This involved starting with my best rabbits and basically outcrossing them, then selecting from the youngsters those with the best coats and those with the best colour. Using these rabbits with each other two separate lines could be created, one selected for their colour attributes and one for their coat. Once the features were fixed the lines could be combined.
I went away and spoke to other fanciers and found references to this technique in various books and old fur and feathers. So off I went, I started selecting two separate lines and often wondered to myself what on earth I was playing at… Well 5 years later, I thought it was fair to report on what i’ve found during that time.
My coat line developed quickly and was the easiest, I used outcrosses to sables and then bred back to the smokes, without worrying too much about the correct shadings on the rabbit, I have found that I can now consistently produce really good, dense coats that feel exquisite.
The colour line was harder to establish - I think mainly because there were less options for me to select from to begin with. However over the years i’ve seen dramatic improvements each generation in the rabbits selected purely for their colour. I did my first little happy dance when the fawn belly colour came through, and another when the saddles started appearing - i’ve since been selecting for the best shadings and depth of colour on the saddle, and feel that I am finally starting to make progress in this area - although I’ll be the first to admit, there’s still a long way to go.
I was pleased to recently cause a judge a dilemma by presenting him with one of my best examples from my coat line and another very pleasing youngster from my colour line. While he happily expressed his surprise and appreciation of the features that have taken so much work to achieve, he also despaired over the fact they occurred on two separate rabbits - which brings me to my final point.
I feel that I have progressed on both aspects of my line and I’m now ready to start trying to combine them - that however is easier said than done. My first crossing of the two lines produced just two babies - one a white and the other a young smoke doe, who developed into the worst coloured and coated rabbit I have ever had the misfortune to breed.
I will be continuing to cross the lines going forward in the hopes that genetics may be kinder next time around, as well as continuing to develop the lines separately. My plan is to choose the best from the crosses and then breed these back to whichever line they need improvement upon. I’m hoping that with this method I will eventually get a rabbit with the beauty of both lines rather than the faults. However if any well meaning ‘old school’ breeders want to offer any further advice on the combination of these two lines - i’m all ears.
In recent months I have been asked many times by new breeders and aspiring judges just what it is they should be looking for in the ‘perfect’ smoke pearl, too often the wrong qualities are praised and pushed.
Colour is the single most important feature of the breed with a massive 45 points allocated (there are only 2 other fur breeds that equal or exceed this the New Zealand Red and the Pointed Beveren). The flanks of the rabbit should be a beautiful pearl-grey to beige shade, the more delicate the better, maintaining this colour while also successfully producing the desired shadings is a constant challenge for breeders.
The smoke pearl is a shaded rabbit and needs to display beautiful smoke grey saddle and points. Unfortunately the saddle is almost completely absent in the breed at present, but breeders are striving towards it. The saddle should be the same shade as the nose, ears and feet and stretch from the nape of neck to the tail. Some breeders are now beginning to produce exhibits with the start of saddles, however at present these are what would be considered a short saddle and are often held back by judges in favour of a rabbit with no saddle at all, which I feel is a backward step for the breed, surely a short saddle is worth more points than an absence of one. While on the note of saddles I find they are also often lacking in depth of colour, a trick I was shown by a well respected rex judge was to lay the rabbit’s ears flat, the saddle should match the ear colour, in most cases I find the saddle is still much lighter. So we still have plenty to develop on our saddles.
Next, the shadings, if the desired amount and colour has been achieved on the nose, ears, feet, tail and saddle, the colour must then gradually shade to the pearl-grey colour as described above. The change needs to be even and free from blotches and streaks, unfortunately moult lines and watermarks are all too common in this breed - and even more common in a correctly coloured specimen than one without body shadings. On top of this the rabbit needs to be free from white hairs and patches - pay particular attention to the ears and nose area as these do seem prone to go ‘frosty’ as is often the case with dilute series rabbits.
The three shades of smoke pearl: the light version (this is the colour most commonly seen shown today), the medium colour (this is what we should be aiming to produce, a correctly shaded rabbit although I have yet to be so lucky) and the dark variation or slate (not suitable for showing but can be put to use in the breeding program).
The under colour on the smoke pearl should match the top colour as closely as possible throughout the rabbit, the further down the hair shaft the better. I have known some rabbits in the past to suffer from pale or almost white undercolours. The only exception to this is the on the belly of the marten rabbit, when blown into the white fur should reveal a warm fawn-beige colour not white or grey - this again is another breeding challenge to produce, but I am starting to see this come out on the table.
Consideration should be given however to the fact that smokes develop their shadings gradually, U/5 rabbits will not be fully coloured up,the points up to their eyes and ear bases are usually not coloured until 5-6 months old.
In the marten pattern the rabbit should have white around the eyes, inside the ears, under the jaw, inside the nose, legs and feet as well as a white belly and underside of tail. The white triangle behind the ears should be as small as possible. The marten pattern itself seems to be well understood as it replicas that of the marten sable and silver fox breeds. Two additional points of note however are to the nose flash. What would be considered a serious fault in the breeds mentioned above (a small white flash on the nose) is perfectly permissible in the smoke pearl, I’ve seen many a good rabbit pushed down the table for this acceptable feature. The standard does say that excessive white flash is a fault, and it is left up to the judge to determine what is excessive. Another marten feature is the white ticking which should be present along the flanks, chest, rump and feet. This is often restricted purely to the feet on a Smoke Pearl and as breeders we should be striving to extend the range of the ticking to bring it in line with the standard.
Once we have fully appreciated the colour of the Smoke Pearl next we turn our attention to the fur qualities of this breed, the standard allocates 40 points to a description that takes up just over 3 lines of text. The description of the texture and density of fur is exactly the same as found in the sable standard, so this should be our aim when breeding. The only difference is that the smoke pearl’s coat is listed as slightly shorter (1in as opposed to the sable’s 1-1½ in). The coat should be very dense, silky and soft. The coat should move slowly and not fly back, the overall impression should be exquisite. The breed does have a tendency to sway towards shorter coats and sometimes a little harsh (often in the siamese pattern). It is not often that a smoke displays the wealth of coat found on a sable, but when they do combined with the beautiful colouration they really are a sight to behold.
According to the standard the final consideration is type and condition, allocated a mere 15 points, however I feel still vitally important when assessing stock, a correctly typed rabbit will display the coat and colour to perfection. The smoke pearl has a ‘chunky’ but ‘moderate’ appearance free from physical extremes. It is generally described as medium bone, medium size, moderate length. The breeds slightly arched back is best shown off when the rabbit is trained to sit up on its front legs rather than lay flat to the table. The head should not appear snipy but also should not have a shortened or flat face, the ears should be small but proportionate.
One of my main bug bears is so many judges discount a rabbit for being too small, when it is in fact within the desired limits of the breed. At just 5-7 lbs the smoke is a rather small rabbit within the fur section. The current trend is often for placing rabbits nearer (or even in excess of) 8lbs. I prefer my smokes nearer 6lbs and favour fit over fat. But for judges, before penalising a rabbit for its size, perhaps check its weight… as surely a rabbit of 6lbs (right in the middle of the ideal weight) is more correct than one of 7½lbs and over the ideal limits.
Faults described in the standard have mostly been covered above with the exception of a few type faults like, lopped ears and excessive dewlap. The last thing to consider but what really makes the rabbit stand out is condition and presentation, a rabbit that is fit, finished and shown to perfection really will sparkle.
So i'm going to try to get back into blogging, so thought this was an ideal opportunity to start.
Yesterday I judged a members young stock show at one of our local clubs. Meaning a show held alongside a normal BRC show, open only to members of the club and for rabbits under 5 months of age. I was very excited to be asked to do this show as I was judging all 4 sections (fancy, fur, lop and rex) - normally for BRC shows I only get the opportunity to judge fur & rex breeds. I really hope to eventually become a all-round judge, but as my speciality is with fur rabbits I'll have to work harder with the fancy breeds.
The show was overwhelmingly filled with dutch, there was a dutch stock show being held at the same venue, so lots of rabbits out. I had 26 dutch in total - which was rather daunting. I managed to go over them all and pick out my winners in each colour class. My overall BOB dutch was a beautiful little brown-grey (who I would happily have taken home), followed by a black then a blue. The brown-grey dutch also was my best fancy exhibit beating out the silvers, a belgian hare, english. Only 2 lops entered but there was a really gorgeous baby mini lop, a little stunner who easily won best lop, best junior and was my eventual reserve best in show.
Only 3 rex but they were headed up by a super ermine, with a gorgeous coat, which went on to take best in show. In the fur section I got to enjoy some very nice showy sables, some baby continental giants, an alaska, vienna and some satins.
All in all a really enjoyable day with some super rabbits on show. I was very proud of my dutch judging when I compared my placings with the stock show placings - all of my top 3 were cc winners under the specialist judge, and I picked out the same BOB (who was also out for the best in show challenge in the open show.).