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The Basics Behind Color Genetics

Understanding where rabbit color comes from is critical to a successful breeding program. It will also assist you in avoiding such things as "charlies" in Holland Lops. The article below was written by Lisa Smith. Lisa is President of the National Jersey Wolly Rabbit Club. We've read many articles on genetics and often find ourselves more confused after reading them than when we began. Lisa's article does a great job of explaining the basics behind color genetics, and in a way that is easy to understand. Thank you Lisa for your permission to use this article. Be sure to visit Lisa's website for other great articles at bcwooly/


The thought of genetics and the relationship to color can be daunting; but it doesnít have to be. Having a basic understanding of the general color rules can open up a breeding program to unlimited variations in order to produce the best-typed rabbit. It allows you to "break the conventional rules" therefore looking more at type and less at color.

Some things to remember: when looking at a rabbit there is a color you see, and a completely different colored rabbit you donít see. In fact, each rabbit is actually two! The colors you see are dominant, those that you cannot see (we call "hidden") are recessive. Color genetics apply to every breed. For instance the color string for a Siamese Sable Netherland Dwarf is the same as for a Jersey Wooly or any other Siamese Sable colored rabbit. Now with that information in mind letís continue.

Dominant / Recessive   

I thought I would discuss one way I explain dominant/recessive to newer breeders, in regards to the Agouti, Tan, and Self rabbits. Stay with me, you may be surprised how simple it is!

I am going to use "people" to represent each of these patterns. Remember that Agouti, Tan, and Self are not colors but the pattern of the color. For instance, for those of you who sew you have your pattern in front of you and then go on to place your colored material according to the pattern.

First we have the large person; he will represent the Agouti patterning. Then we have the medium sized person; he will represent the Tan patterning. Lastly, we have the skinny person representing the Self-pattern. Okay remember, large = Agouti, medium = Tan, and skinny = Self.

If we have a large (Agouti) person standing in front of us we wouldnít know whoís hiding behind him. It could easily be a medium person (Tan) or a skinny person (Self) or he could have another large person. We donít know which; we just know that because this person is large he can easily hide someone equal or smaller. But what if we have the medium person standing there? The large person canít be hiding behind him, right? Meaning Tan pattern can never, ever hide the Agouti pattern. This medium person could have another medium person hiding behind him, or a skinny person. So your Tan rabbit can either have another Tan or Self-pattern hidden. How about the skinny person? Who can hide behind him? No one else but another skinny person! If a medium or large person tries to hide behind the skinny one it just isnít going to work. Skinny (Self) can never hide large (Agouti) or medium (Tan). Got it?

Breeding Questions

One of the most commonly asked questions is "what color can I breed to my new rabbit?" My extremely basic answer to this is as follows: it is generally recommended not to breed Agouti to AOV (Pointed White) or to any shaded rabbit, including Siamese Sable Marten and Smoke Pearl Marten as these are both "shaded Tans". Black and Blue Otters and Silver Martens can be bred to Agouti.

Tan pattern animals should not be bred to AOVís (Pointed White). With the exception of the Tort, Blue Tort, Sable Point and dilute Sable Point I am comfortable breeding all varieties of shaded to Tan. All Shaded can be bred together. I like a good Black or Blue rabbit, as I will breed these to anything at all. I tend to see a good Black or Blue as I do a black evening dress - goes with anything! Why do I make an exception for the Torts? Because the Tort is genetically not a shaded rabbit. Sure, it appears shaded, however the shading is produced by a different color allele and is genetically a full color animal. Although the Sable Point and dilute Sable Point (previously referred to as Blue Cream) are genetically shaded animals they also have this particular color allele as the Tort, which limits the black coloring of the rabbit. I do not suggest breeding the Torts or Sable Point to your Tan pattern animals unless you are able to recognize the consequences that may arise.

There are exceptions to be made to the previous paragraph. For instance my feeling that a good black or blue can go with anything would not be true if the black were hiding the AOV. Breeding this black to an Agouti would give you some Agouti patterned AOVís (not recognized), or breeding it to a Tan would give you Tan patterned AOVís (again, not recognized). If your black were hiding the shading allele then breeding to an Agouti would also produce unrecognized colors. The same goes for breeding Black Otter to Agouti: if the Black Otter hides a shaded rabbit then you will get unrecognized colors.

With this said, do not let the possibility of unrecognized rabbits in a litter throw you overmuch. Too many people confine their breeding solely to pairs that are guaranteed to produce an entire litter of recognized animals. Unfortunately this also means they are limiting their potential to attain the best type from their herd.

Rules of the Ruby Eyed White: your REW cannot (nope never just canít happen) carry (hide) pointed white or shaded - no matter how many times you see these on the pedigree. However, the REW can carry (hide) the Agouti or Tan pattern. For this reason you should be careful breeding with the REW. It would not come out very well if you bred your REW to your lovely Smoke Pearl only to come up with a litter of shaded Agoutis! This is one example of why you should make the effort to Understand some basic color rules and which color can hide what. The REW can also carry the Tort/Sable Point color allele.


Having a good understanding of color genetics can open up a whole new world of breeding for you. It will cut the restraints when breeding for type. If you understand what colors and patterns your rabbits are hiding then you can feel much freer in selecting your breeding pairs. I have been known to do some crazy breeding, however I do this with an awareness of what I should see in the nest box. Understanding how colors work together can allow you to cull for type, instead of tossing away that marvelously typed rabbit simply because it is an unrecognized color.

The question "what goes with what" is a controversial one. It can only be answered satisfactorily by a personal effort to learn the ins and outs of color genetics. I have been asked, "how did you learn this stuff?" I began by purchasing a color genetics book, a relatively inexpensive one. I was told by the author (Glenna Huffmon) not to turn to page two until I thoroughly understood page one. This is excellent advice. Color genetics reminds me a bit of algebra; it is very important not to miss any steps when you are learning about them.