PLAYMATE OF THE MONTH - Nikki White
Now the spotlight falls on the thick, shiny fur of the SATIN rabbit. These medium-sized, cobby bunnies with their soft, dense fur and placid disposition have been called "teddy bears" or likened to pajama bags. They are a Fur rabbit whose chief feature is the semi-translucent hair shaft which gives their coat its distinctive lustrous sheen. Like rexing, satinisation is a mutation and a recessive gene. The hair shaft in a Satin coat is transparent so the pigment granules show through more intensely and the glasslike quality of the hair reflects the light. Satinisation occurs in guinea pigs as well as rabbits but not in cats. In both rabbits and cavies the satin factor has been put through a wide variety of breeds so both can boast a Satin Rex, for example and there have been attempts to breed Satin Lops (and there are Satin Shelties and Satin Abyssinians in cavies).
The BRC Breed Standard for a Satin requires the rabbit's coat to have an "exquisite satin-like texture and sheen. The hair length should be 2.54-3.17cm but sheen, texture and density should be more important than length." The coat should roll back when stroked in the reverse direction. The adult must weigh between 2.72-3.62 kg. A somewhat cobby rabbit with a slightly arching back, it should have a broad head of medium size on a short neck with medium length, well-furred ears carried evenly and in proportion to the head.
Faults are woolliness of coat, white hairs in coloureds and white patches in all Agouti Satins. Disqualifications include flyback coat and being overweight in under 5 months classes and underweight in the adult classes. This last can be a problem when your Junior becomes and Adult as they are often not the required weight. I've had to retire one of mine until he gets up to speed, weight-wise.
Satins come in the full range of colours with the "Ivory" (that is, either a red-eyed White or a blue-eyed White, so called because the fur has the creamy tinge of ivory) being the most popular here, at least. This is the colour that has the density and is useful for putting back through your coloured lines to improve the coat. Orange, Blue, Black, Opal and Castor are also seen from time to time here. Density and softness are as important as sheen and the coat is worth 40 of the 100 points with colour and pattern accounting for 30 more and type 20. I had a Sooty Fawn Satin doe a few years back who had lovely satinisation but a somewhat open, flyback coat, lacking density. The Castor buck I put over her has a much denser coat but still not as dense as it could be but made up for this with good satinisation, type and colour. Consequently, none of their kits were going to be very brilliant. They made beautiful pets, though, as they came in many colours. So I sold her as a pet (she had a very gentle nature) and bought an Ivory doe with a very dense coat and their offspring has a lovely dense coat and satinisation.
In 1932, Mr W. Huey, of Ohio, USA, who was breeding Havana Rex, found a darker litter than usual which seemed to have a glow about them. He asked the advice of two other breeders of Rex and as a result the Satin potential was recognised and seized. Experimentation revealed the satin factor could be created with other colours in other rabbits. So an Orange Satin was made from a Havana Satin. Rexes appear to have played an important part in developing the Satin as a New Zealand White, bred from an Ermine Rex sire and a Californian dam, was mated to a Havana satin to produce white.
The Satin did not appear in England until 1947 when some Ivories were imported. Ivory still remains the most popular colour over there.
WHY A SATIN?
Satins, despite what the non-fancier will tell you, are only a medium sized rabbit, not a big one, as was amply demonstrated when Queenie was placed next to King. No one accused him of being a big bunny then! They are soft and shiny and the sheen in some colours such as Black or Orange can be absolutely stunning. The Castors gleam like burnished chestnuts. They are inclined to be a somewhat soppy rabbit - you can do almost anything with them. There are exceptions, of course, just ask Christine about the holy terrors she had to board once. They will sit happily in a child's lap like a cat and many breeders recommend them as children's pets. They are usually patient and friendly and less fragile than some of the dwarf breeds whom the very young children can startle, overtire and half strangle in their enthusiasm. To parents who might object that their little darling can't pick up a Satin as easily as a Netherland dwarf, the answer is: "Can they pick up the family cat or dog?" A rabbit this size can teach respect in handling it, just like a cat or a dog.
Satins may be gentle but they aren't boring. All of mine have definite personalities, from the somewhat in-your-face King to the ladylike Scribonia who would not cooperate if scooped up in a net but came if you just picked her up, to the strong-minded Mummie who knew exactly what she wanted and when she wanted it (bucks take note), and the stunning Calpurnia who thought she was a guinea pig when she was a kit (being born and raised next to the caviary). Then there was Cloelia who liked to stack her crockery one bowl on top of the other and throw her litter tray around and young Pius who thought human fingers were part of the menu, especially if you weren't quick enough dishing up the mix but who was a big blue teddy bear who loved a cuddle when not being intimidated by certain Ivory does. More recently there is Rose of Sharon who persistently drags her litter tray across the cage and buries her bowl. She also parks herself right in your face in the centre of the cage in front as if to say, "I'm here, now where's my dinner?"
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
A good dense coat with no woolliness which doesn't fly back when stroked the wrong way but falls back into place slowly. There should be plenty of coat at the nape and it should be of an even length. The coat should also be evenly shiny and not just in patches. They are a chunky, short-necked rabbit and should not be long and snaky like a Rex nor should they be too fat nor too small. Beware of excessive dewlaps in the does and rolls of fat round the body.
Very occasionally a pet shop will have them but you won't know their provenance or how they will turn out so it is better to go to a recognised breeder. That way you get after-sale service and good advice on what to look for, any faults, etc. especially if you want to breed them. There are a number of Satin breeders in the Club. For further details see the Breeders Directory.
HOUSING AND CARE
A Satin is not a small rabbit nor particularly large and it is not a terribly active rabbit, being built for comfort, not for speed. I keep some in cages 120cm long by 70cm by 70cm and others in cages 110cm by 60cm by 50cm. 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. Also watch that they don't get hot - their dense fur makes them more susceptible in the heat than many other breeds. They are basically an easy care rabbit provided you observe commonsense as outlined above.
National Satin Club (UK). see British Rabbit Council website as they don't seem to have a website (August 2012)
American Satin Breeders Association