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.