Three Little Ladies Rabbitry, Jersey Wooly
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Crossbreeding Rabbits, Its Dangers and Benefits

The word crossbreeding brings up a variety of thoughts and emotions in various breeders. To understand why such controversy, one must understand exactly what crossbreeding is. Simply put crossbreeding means the mating of rabbits of two separate breeds.

Crossbreeding To Create New Breeds

The term is simple enough to understand, but its application is what brings so much controversy. Some breeders will cross breeds to produce another new, entirely different breed. Here are some examples of breeds produced as a result of crossbreeding:

  • The Holland Lop started as a cross between Netherland Dwarf, French Lop and English Lop.
  • The Jersey Wooly started as a cross between a Netherland Dwarf and a French Angora.
  • The Thrianta is a cross between a Tan, English Spot and Havana.
  • The Silver Marten was a cross between a Standard Chinchilla and a black Tan.
  • The Californian is a cross between a New Zealand White, Himalayan, and Chinchilla.
Other breeders will crossbreed in order to improve their breed. Crossbreeding to create a new breed does not create much controversy, however, crossbreeding to improve a breed can be a serious issue.

Crossbreeding to Improve Rare Breeds

Crossbreeding typically does not occur in breed that are very popular. Holland lops for example, if you need to improve the confirmation of your herd to breed standards, you simply find a rabbit from another breeder that fits the need of your rabbitry. The problem is breeds that are more rare, where do you get additional stock for your herd? Many breeders have turned to crossbreeding.

Crossbreeding to improve confirmation is not a bad idea in and of itself. After all, many breeds started from some sort of crossbreeding. However, before one crossbreeds they need to understand the very rigid standards that the breeder had to follow when introducing the new breed (see our article Introducing a New Breed). The breeder introducing the breed had to prove the standard could be held up over three generations. Any breeder doing the same with an existing breed should at a minimum use the same three generation rule.

Problems of Crossbreeding

The problem with crossbreeding lies in the genetics of each breed. By crossbreeding there is a great deal of risk that a genetic default could be brought into the breed. Although the first breeding may produce an animal that conforms, it may actually carry a recessive gene that later appears in subsequent generations. The result if careful and vigorous culling does not occur is a breed that is harmed rather than helped by the crossbreeding.

For a rabbit to be registered with the ARBA, it must have three generations of the breed on its pedigree. However, since you donít have to show a pedigree at the show table, many breeders will show their crossbred rabbits. The judge must judge all rabbits based on the Standard of Perfection. This is the only guide they can use in their process of judging. Crossbreeding, and other concerns cannot be used in the judging process. The judge, despite an suspicions they may have, cannot request to see the rabbits pedigree. As a result, it is possible for a crossbred rabbit to actual win on a show table, but not be registered.

The biggest problem with crossbred rabbits is not really at the show table. The biggest problem is the sale of rabbits within the crossbreed, and its two generations following it. Often the breeder will not disclose the crossbreeding to purchasers of their rabbits. This can be very frustrating to those that purchase the rabbit, especially when some recessive genetic trait shows up in their herd.

Conclusion on Crossbreeding

Breeders that use crossbreeding should give prospective purchasers information regarding their program. They should explain the inherent risks of using their rabbits in their own breeding program. Of course, if done properly they can also explain the benefits towards confirmation of the breed. If done properly, crossbreeding can be helpful in reestablishing rare breeds. A long term commitment and honesty with customers are a must.

Rob Usakowski
Three Little Ladies Rabbitry