THE DUTCH RABBIT - Nikki White (Reguli Cavy & Rabbit Stud)
"If there was to be a Rabbit Breeds Evening Ball, the Dutch wouldn't need to hire a tuxedo" says Claire of Rabbit World. This smart-looking little bunny with its distinctive white blaze in a coloured face, white shoulders and chest contrasting with coloured hind-quarters and half white and half coloured back legs has always been popular both as a pet and at shows for over a century. Indeed, when many people think of a rabbit, the distinctively marked Dutch comes to mind. When I first got the rabbit-habit, they were often to be seen in pet shops around town but not long after I started showing they disappeared off the show bench locally. However, they seem to be making a come-back with a couple of breeders showing them with some degree of regularity. Their popularity, such as it is, seems to come in cycles. Shame really as they are a smart looking rabbit with nice personalities.
They are not the easiest rabbit to breed for the show table as it can be a job to get the pattern correct as well as the type, coat and colour. However, at least rabbits have the genes for it. Pity the poor guinea pig breeder who has to work with just the spotting gene to get a Dutch cavy as cavies don't have that extra gene.
The BRC standards require a compact, cobby rabbit with firm flesh and a glossy coat. The ideal weight is between 2.041 kg and 2.26 kg. The ears should be short and strong, the eyes bold and bright and the cheeks should be rounded. The blaze should be wedge shaped, carrying up to a point between the ears. The line dividing the white fur from the contrasting colour in the saddle (middle of the body) should continue round under the body (called the undercut at that point) in an even and straight line. Foot stops, that is the white markings on the hind feet, should be about 3.17 cm in length and cut cleanly round the foot, similar to the saddle and undercut on the body.
They come in Black, Blue, Steel Grey, Chocolate, Yellow, Tortoiseshell , Brown Grey and Pale Grey. There is also the Tri Colour Dutch which is classed as a different variety. Everything is the same as for the Dutch rabbit except that one cheek must be orange, the other black The ear on the orange cheek side should be black and the ear on the black cheek side should be orange. The saddle consists of alternating bands of orange and black.
Faults include uneven saddle and undercut, uneven foot stops, undercut too far forward, foot stops too short, narrow blaze, chinchillation (speckled fur like a Chinchilla) in Yellows, cheeks too high or too low, racy body. Disqualifications include wrong colour eyes, discoloured or wall eyes, speckled eyes, coloured fur on the white parts and white patches on the coloured parts, trimming and other attempts at alteration to correct faults in the pattern, malocclusion and mutilated teeth.
Despite the name, the breed really originated in England, though using rabbits originally from the Netherlands or Belgium. In the 1830s a number of rabbits were imported as carcasses or live for the meat market from the Lowlands, among them a rabbit known as the 'little Brabancon' as it came from Brabant in Flanders, an extremely old breed which often showed Dutch markings. The breeders in England worked on these to produce today's Dutch. Interestingly, the Brabancon was also the ancestor of the Beveren, a fur rabbit popular in Britain but not much seen here. The Dutch is one of the oldest breeds as it was developed around 1864, indeed the United Kingdom Dutch Rabbit Club was founded in 1879. During World War 2, in Britain, the Dutch rabbit was crossed with larger breeds for meat production. It has also been used in the laboratory.
SO, A DUTCH, THEN?
The Dutch is a hardy, docile rabbit which makes an excellent pet because of its temperament. The does are very good mothers and are often used to foster kits of other rabbits (even of a different breed). However, it is not very fair to keep a Dutch doe solely for the purpose of fostering orphaned kits, or kits whose mothers have all the maternal instincts of a door-post.
They present a challenge in the exhibition world because of getting type, fur, colour and pattern correct or as near to correct as possible so are not a breed for the faint-hearted or the impatient.. However, they can be examined for quality while in the nest and the mismarked specimens rejected. Those that make the grade have a long show life.
Arthur Colbeck recommends selecting babies which have one or two very good points, such as good head and foot stops rather than going for the 'balanced' rabbit, that is one who is just OK in all departments. From these bits and pieces it is possible to 'build' a champion. Blacks can be bred with Blues or bred like to like but Steels don't breed true and must be combined with other Colours. Colbeck considers the Steel Dutch at its best the finest exhibition rabbit of them all and that it will outlast others as a show rabbit. He believes Brown Greys to be the most rewarding for the beginner. The Tortoiseshells are not easy to get right because of the shading but will breed true. Chocolates are a challenge (Colbeck, "Can you resist the challenge of the Fancy breeds?", Fur & Feather, Mar. 15, 2001). He also recommends not sacrificing colour for markings as colour should be your objective.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
This depends on what you want the rabbit for. If as a pet, you need not be overly concerned with things like uneven or jagged saddle and undercut, too short foot stops or the odd small patch of colour in the white or vice-versa. Such rabbits are still pretty and Dutch-like. If you intend to breed, type and coat are important. Colbeck recommends ensuring that the rabbits come from stock which produces champions rather than being champions themselves . The rabbit should be cobby, not racy, alert, with firm flesh.
HOUSING AND CARE
The Dutch is a medium rabbit so requires a hutch either 110-120 x 50 x 50 or 80 x 80 x 60. Feed is as for other breeds - pellets, mix, fresh fruit and veg, as treats. Don't over feed. Their coats can be brought to a fine sheen by brushing with your hands and/or a piece of silk or satin cloth or mitt. Like all rabbits, they should be brushed with a slicker brush or comb in moult and given plenty of roughage (meadow hay or lucerne) during these times. They are basically an easy care rabbit provided you observe commonsense as outlined above.
United Kingdom Dutch Rabbit Club
American Dutch Rabbit Club
Ambrose, T. J. Dutch Rabbits (revised by J. Barnes). 3rd ed. Midhurst, West Sussex, Beech Publishing House, 2002
British Rabbit Council, Standards of Rabbit Breeds 3rd ed. 2011-2016.
Colbeck, Arthur, "Can you resist the challenge of the fancy breeds?", Fur & Feather, Mar. 15, 2001
Colbeck, Arthur, Dutch. East Cliff, Preston, Lancs., Winckley Publishing, 1987
Read, James, The Dutch Rabbit. Chattisham, Fur & Feather for Coney Publications, 2011 (c. 1942)
Russell, Geoff, Mini Encyclopeda of Rabbit Breeds & Care. Dorking, Interpet Publishing, 2008
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