Breeding English Spots
English Spots are a challenging breed to raise because not all English Spots are marked and it is very difficult to get an English Spot that is marked very well. Marked Spots may have marking disqualifications. Markings (as well as type, fur, and color) can be improved by careful selection at breeding and thoughtful selection of breeding stock. Because there are 7 recognized varieties of English Spots, breeding can become more complicated when unrecognized colors or Spots with poor color are part of the litter. Eventhough they can be difficult, the challenge of deciding which rabbits to breed together and the excitment of looking in the nest box to see what the doe has makes them a lot of fun. Their playful and active temperment also makes them fun.
In my experience Spot does are very good mothers - they produce a lot of milk for the babies, make good nests and take good care of the babies. Most of mine have large litters (6-9 babies) and the does are very good about taking on foster babies.
English Spots are either Solid, Charlies, or Marked. A Solid is a colored rabbit with no white. A Charlie is a mostly white rabbit with colored ears, a partial butterfly (like a moustach), and some other partial marking like a thin spine marking, cheek spots, and sometimes a few side spots. A Marked Spot usually has a full butterfly marking and a spine marking that extends all the way to the tail. A Marked Spot is not necessarily showable. Spots are only showable based on their markings when they meet all the requirements in the Standard. Although Solid and Charlies are not showable, they can be useful in a breeding program. A very plainly marked Spot is not a true Charlie - Charlies has very little color. A true Charlie in a breeding program will never have a Solid baby.
You can predict the percentages of Solids, Charlies, and Marked Spots in a litter of English Spots - at least theoretically.
Marked X Marked = 50% Marked, 25% Solid, and 25% Charlie.
Marked X Charlie = 50% Marked & 50% Charlie
Marked X Solid = 50% Marked & 50% Solid
Solid X Charlie = 100% Marked
Charlie X Charlie = 100% Charlie
Solid X Solid = 100% Solid
Eventhough you can predict the percentage of marked babies (genetically), individual litters vary. When 2 Marked rabbits are bred together it is certainly possible to have an all marked litter or a litter with no marked babies at all.
Because English Spots are most known for their markings and the markings are worth the most points when showing, it is tempting to breed rabbits based on their markings regardless of color. Pairing rabbits with incompatible color can cause problems in later generations - it could increase the chances of geting unrecognized colors and could ruin the quality of the color. Even though color is not worth a lot of points, poor color can detract from the general appearance of the rabbit or make markings look less defined. Even worse - you may have to cull some very well marked Spots from your breeding program because they are an unrecognized color or they have a color disqualification.
When choosing breeding stock and making decsions about mating, it is important to look at the colors in the rabbits' pedigree and not just the color of the rabbits you want to breed. The following referrs to color lines, not solely the color or the rabbits being paired. Although the colors in the pedigree give you an idea what colors rabbits likely carry, it does not tell you what colors the ancestors' siblings were. For instance there may be no dilutes (ie. Blue, Lilac) in the pedigree, but the rabbits could carry the gene and there are probably siblings of the rabbits in the pedigree that have been dilutes. Be wary of Chocolate in the pedigrees of Greys - if a Grey carries Chocolate, even when bred to Black it can produce Ambers (chocolate greys/chocolate agouti). Blue and Lilac apper to be similar colors, but if you compare good Blues and Lilacs, they are a very different color - they are just both dilutes (Blues are the dilute of Balck and Lilacs are the dilute of Chocolate). Crossing Blues and Lilacs will lead to poor blue color and lilacs that are bluish.
The following are the most compatable color line pairings:
Blacks can be paired with all other colors
Blue & Black
Chocolates & Blacks or Chocolates & Lilacs
Gold & Gold
Grey & Black
Lilac & Chocolate
Tortoise & Black
Incompatible colors can be bred together by experienced breeders to improve a marking or type problem in a line.
Type is very important in Spots and should always be consided when deciding which Spots to breed together. Avoid breeding Spots with the same type flaws together, epecially the common type problems in English Spots like chopped hindquarters, short legs, and compact body types.
In my experience improving a marking problem through culling is easier than improving a type problem through culling. It can also be difficult to make the decision to cull a very well marked rabbit that does not have good type.
My Experience Breeding Spots
Many English Spot breeders cull all of their solids and charlies and never use any in the breeding program. I started out with a charlie doe and I have used both solids and charlies in breeding. It worked out well when I was first starting because I was able to keep breeding stock that I raised for use in my breeding program and I did not have to buy a lot of unrelated breeding stock to get started. I have gotten the best show rabbits from line breeding, as it takes a few generations when completely unrelated stock are bred together to get consistency in marking and type in litters.
When using solids and charlies, I find that it is best to keep breeding stock from litters with well marked and uniform littermates. It is also important to raise the solids and charlies to an age where you can evaluate their type and pick out the best typed only. Solids tend to have very good type, usually better than the marked in the litter - never keep a solid that does not have excellent type. Charlies in my experience grow well, but never have the best type in the litter. There are some breeders that think charlies are prone to problems with their digestive track. I did have one buck that suddenly died and felt like he had an enlarged colon. To be on the safe side, I now only keep charlie bucks, as I am nervous about a doe having a digestive problem while she is bred or nursing a litter.
When I was a Youth raising Spots, I was told by a very good breeder that be got his best marked Spots from solid/charlie crosses. So far, I have only had a couple solid/charlie litters and they seemed to be of the same quality as marked babies in a marked/marked litter - just more marked ones to pick from. I have bred solids and charlies to marked Spots and had very good luck. Of all of the grand champions in my barn right now, all but 1 has at least one solid or charlie in its 3 generation pedigree.
I find that markings are random in regards to how many spots a baby has. If you look at the range of babies a doe has over several litters bred to the same buck, two parent Spots with the ideal number of spots will have babies that range from heavily marked to plain. A heavily marked pair will still normally have a very plain baby and a very heavily marked baby. And vice-versa, a plain pair can have a heavily marked babies. With regard to side marking I breed for round & distinct spots, with graduation in the sweep pattern.
I try to balance the boldness and size of markings. Spots with very refined head markings tend to have smaller side spots, narrower spine markings, and cleaner, more crisp head markings. Spots with larger bolder head markings tends to have wider spine marking, larger side spots and sloppier head markings. I try to cross the Spots with refined marking with the Spots with the bolder markings to get the more ideal size markings.
I have used marked spots with stray head spots in breeding and I have found that a parent with a stray head spot was not any more likely to have babies with stray head spots than a parent with no stray head spots. I would not breed two rabbits that both have a stray head spot together though and I would not keep a rabbit with a stray head spot if one of the parents also had a stray head spot. Although the stray head spots are recessive, I do not want to promote them by breeding rabbits with strays to other rabbits with strays. I do keep track of how many babies my bucks and does produce with stray head spots to determine if they have more than an occasional baby with stray head spot/spots.
The above informaton is my personal observations and suggestions about breeding, raising, and showing English Spots based on my experience over the years, as well as my interpretation of the English Spot Standard of Perfection and listening to judges evaluating Spots at shows.
You can learn more about English Spots by joining the American English Spot Rabbit Club and by reading the English Spot standard in the American Rabbit Breeders Association's Standard of Perfection and the American English Spot Rabbit Breeders Association Official Guide Book.
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