THE ENGLISH RABBIT - Nikki White (Reguli Cavy & Rabbit Stud)
(photos courtesy of Christine Carter, Bonreiki Stud)
This is a beautiful rabbit but a devil to get right - like the Dutch only more so. So they don't really fit this age of instant success and instant gratification which is why there seem to be so few around. They have virtually disappeared and those you do see are too heavily marked on the body, more like a Butterfly then a true English . You need patience in order to achieve that winner but it is patience well rewarded. Oh and please don't call them "English Spot". That is an Americanism and not appropriate.
The BRC standard is mainly concerned with body markings. On the head a perfect butterfly and eye circles, cheek spots clear from the eye circles, ears clear from white and not over 10.16 cms long. Body markings: the herringbone (centre stripe on the spine) should be unbroken and clear of white hairs. It should run from the base of the ears to the tip of the tail, tapering slightly at either end. The body or loin markings should be nicely broken up and not catch in the saddle. Chain markings are to be as even as possible on each side. There should be one distinct spot on each leg and six belly or teat spots. Markings on both sides of the rabbit are to be equally balanced. The only colours accepted for the markings are : black, blue, tortoiseshell, chocolate or grey. The rabbit should weight between 2.7 and 3.6 kg and have firm flesh, a short, tight coat with short dense fur. The rabbit should be alert and fit.
The English is a fairly old breed, first described in 1849 in A Complete Directory for the Proper Treatment, Breeding, Feeding and Management of All Kinds of Domestic Poultry, Pigeons, Rabbits, etc. They were popular in the 1850s and 1860s and kept as a novelty for their fur. They then dropped out of sight until the 1880s when blacks were reintroduced, then blues, chocolates and greys. It is a British breed created especially for its attractive coat in contrast with the usual aim of the time to create a sound commercial rabbit for meat or fur. It was developed by selecting spotted rabbits of non-pedigree stock which bore a resemblance to the Lotharinger, a large rabbit with a similar spotty pattern found in Belgium and Holland. (The New Rabbit Handbook has a different account from all other sources of their origin claiming they were derived from Flemish Giant, English Lop, Patagonian, Angora, Silvers, etc. which sounds more like Heinz Variety to me). The Americans call them English Spot or English Butterfly. On the continent there are other similar rabbits such as the Rhinelander, found in Germany and the Giant Papillon, originally from France. The English has always been popular in Britain as a pet or for show and the National English Rabbit Club was founded in 1891. They have been used for meat and in the laboratory.
SO, AN ENGLISH, THEN?
They are hardy, affectionate and docile and make excellent pets. They are gentle yet spirited. They like to show themselves off and they like to run, jump and do twists. Some can be highly strung.
You need patience and be prepared to wait for success as you can get litters full of mismatched markings. As it is you will get 50% English pattern (even if mismarked), 25% self coloureds and 25% charlies (usually white rabbits with a few random spots and broken or small smuts). The mismarked ones can easily be seen at birth. So you will have a lot of 'wasters' to go as pets. But this is no different to the Dutch. The does make good mothers, having good maternal instincts and arse often used as foster mothers.
Williams suggests crossing blue into your black lines every so many generations to liven up the colour which can get a bit dead. Black can be used as an outcross in blues to keep the colour a good dark blue. Grey and grey can be bred together but don't get any grey into your black lines, though black can be put into the grey lines with advantage as it can in chocolate. Tortoiseshells donít need any other colour introduced.
It is suggested your buck should be the best marked and the closest to the standard as you will be using him the most and the littermate to the champion, rather than the champion is a better bet. He should have a cleanly marked head with no stray spots or drag on the eye circles. Does should have desirable inherited traits even if they are not outstanding show animals. Type and head are most important as it is harder to fix messy heads and poor body types than mismarked spots.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The English is a medium-sized rabbit, not cobby nor racy, and well proportioned. The fur is important as is body type as it won't show well if it has poor fur and flesh. The fur should be short and dense with short guard hairs. It helps to brush it by running your hand back and forth to get the loose guard hairs out (as is done with Rex). The flesh should be firm. The markings should be even, the smut or butterfly complete; there should be no white hairs in the coloured parts; the spots should be well defined.
CARE AND HANDLING
This 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.
National English Rabbit Club
American English Spot Rabbit Club:
British Rabbit Council, Standards of Rabbit Breeds 3rd ed. 2011-2016.
Brown, Meg & Richardson, Virginia, Rabbit Lopaedia. Lydney, Gloucestershire, Ringpress Books, 2000
Prior, Peter E. The English Rabbit. 3rd ed. Chattisham, Coney Publications, 2012
Russell, Geoff, Mini Encyclopeda of Rabbit Breeds & Care. Dorking, Interpet Publishing, 2008
Sandford, J. C., The Domestic Rabbit. 5th ed. Oxford, Blackwell Science, 1996
Verhoef-Verhallen, Esther, Encyclopaedia of Rabbits and Rodents. Lisse, Rebo Productions, 1998
Vriends-Parent, Lucia, The New Rabbit Handbook. Neptune City, NJ, Barrons, 1989
Whitman, Bob D., Domestic Rabbits & Their Histories: Breeds of the World. Leawood, KS : Leathers Publishing, 2004
Williams, A.E. Ted, Rabbit Breeding for Perfection. Melbourne, AE Williams, 1992