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Fancy Rabbits

The graceful fall of the ears is the first thing that is looked to by the fancier; next, the dewlap, if the animal is in its prime; then the colours and marked points, and, lastly, the shape and general appearance. The ears of a fine rabbit should extend not less than seven inches, measured from tip to tip in a line across the skull; but even should they exceed this length, they are admitted with reluctance into a fancy stock, unless they have a uniform and graceful droop. The dewlap, which is a fold of skin under the neck and throat, is only seen in fancy rabbits, after they have attained their full growth: it commences immediately under the jaw, and adds greatly to the beauty of their appearance. It goes down the throat and between the fore legs, and is so broad that it projects beyond the chin.

The difference between the fancy and common rabbit in the back, independent of the ears, is sufficient to strike the common observer. Fancy rabbits fetch a very high price; so much as five and ten guineas, and even more, is sometimes given for a first-rate doe. If young ones are first procured from a good family, the foundation of an excellent stock can be procured for a much smaller sum. Sometimes the ears, instead of drooping down, slope backwards: a rabbit with this characteristic is scarcely admitted into a fancy lot, and is not considered worth more than the common variety. The next position is when one ear lops outwards, and the other stands erect: rabbits of this kind possess but little value, however fine the shape and beautiful the colour, although they sometimes breed as good specimens as finer ones.

The forward or horn-lop is one degree nearer perfection than the half-lop: the ears, in this case, slope forward and down over the forehead. Rabbits with this peculiarity are often perfect in other respects, with the exception of the droop of the ears, and often become the parents of perfect young ones: does of this kind often have the power of lifting an ear erect. In the ear-lop, the ears spread out in an horizontal position, like the wings of a bird in flight, or the arms of a man swimming. A great many excellent does have this characteristic, and some of the best-bred bucks in the fancy are entirely so. Sometimes a rabbit drops one ear completely, but raises the other so neatly horizontally as to constitute an ear-lop: this is superior to all others, except the perfect fall, which is so rarely to be met with, that those which are merely ear-lopped are considered as valuable rabbits, if well bred and with other good qualities.

"The real lop has ears that hang down by the side of the cheek, slanting somewhat outward in their descent, with the open part of the ear inward, and sometimes either backwards or forwards instead of perpendicular: when the animals stand in an easy position, the tips of the ears touch the ground. The hollows of the ears, in a fancy rabbit of a first-rate kind, should be turned so completely backwards that only the outer part of them should remain in front: they should match exactly in their descent, and should slant outwards as little as possible."

The same authority asserts that perfect lops are so rare, that a breeder possessing twenty of the handsomest and most perfect does would consider himself lucky if, in the course of a year, he managed to raise twelve full-lopped rabbits out of them all. As regards variety and purity of colour an experienced breeder says:

"The fur of fancy rabbits may be blue, or rather lead-colour, and white, or black and white, or tawny and white, that is, tortoiseshell-coloured. But it is not of so much importance what colours the coat of a rabbit displays, as it is that those colours shall be arranged in a particular manner, forming imaginary figures or fancied resemblances to certain objects. Hence the peculiarities of their markings have been denoted by distinctive designations. What is termed 'the blue butterfly smut' was, for some time, considered the most valuable of fancy rabbits. It is thus named on account of having bluish or lead-coloured spots on either side of the nose, having some resemblance to the spread wings of a butterfly, what may be termed the groundwork of the rabbit's face being white. A black and white rabbit may also have the face marked in a similar manner, constituting a 'black butterfly smut.'

"But a good fancy rabbit must likewise have other marks, without which it cannot be considered a perfect model of its kind. There should be a black or blue patch on its back, called the saddle; the tail must be of the same colour with the back and snout; while the legs should be all white; and there ought to be dark stripes on both sides of the body in front, passing backwards to meet the saddle, and uniting on the top of the shoulders at the part called the withers in a horse. These stripes form what is termed the 'chain' having somewhat the appearance of a chain or collar hanging round the neck."

"Among thorough-bred fancy rabbits, perhaps not one in a hundred will have all these markings clearly and exactly displayed on the coat; but the more nearly the figures on the coat of a rabbit approach to the pattern described, the greater will be its value, so far, at least, as relates to colour. The beauty and consequent worth of a fancy rabbit, however, depends a good deal on its shape, or what is styled its carriage. A rabbit is said to have a good carriage when its back is finely arched, rising full two inches above the top of its head, which must be held so low as for the muzzle and the points of the ears to reach almost to the ground."


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The Book of Household Management (1861).

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