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Breeding Steel Dutch - A Revised Approach

by Kevin Hooper

They say you are never too old to learn something new. Well, I'm not sure if I have learned something new or just finally learned it?
I started raising Dutch in 1975 when I was nine years old. I, like most people, started with blacks, then blues. the first blacks were just rabbits. The first blues were good animals purchased from good area breeders. After a few years, I purchased my first gray, an outstanding gray junior buck at our county fair - for $4.00! I even asked the owner of he really wanted to sell that buck for four dollars?
I bred that buck to a black doe several times. The litters always had blacks, grays, and one steel per litter. It was logical that black and gray made steel, just as red and blue make purple.
I then started breeding steel to steel, and I got mostly steels and blacks, with some grays. I started looking at the genetic aspects of the steels, referring to the old article in the ADRC Guidebook. My goal was to produce more steels. I looked at all of my old breeding records (which date back to the early to mid eighties - yes I still have the old breeding cards and pedigrees - all of them!)
What I found was that the steels were produced with the combination of the steel extension genes (one of them), and at least one agouti gene. That method proved true in looking at the pedigrees of all of my past steels. So, I bred that way. I bred dark steels to grays, blue steels to grays, steels to steels.
Now, I have been producing many steels. But, like I do with every other color, I look at all of the animals in the variety to see what I need to improve. What I found was that overall; I needed to improve the color on my steels. After determining that was what was needed, and finally having the time this fall, I pulled out a genetics book that I had purchased about two years ago.
This book, Rabbit Coat Color Genetics by Glenna Huffmon, covers all colors of rabbits. I skimmed the basics, to get to the section on the steel gene. There are several different breeds with the steel variety. Most of those other breeds have or recognize what they call, gold tipped steels. Our standard, although not by name, calls for the silver tipped steels (as they would be know in other breeds). The gold tipped steels are to be faulted in our breed.
Now, knowing that other breeds have both, I wanted to know what differentiated the two. Since most breeds recognize both, they probably don't care which one they get, while we obviously do. Also, a few years ago, I knew of two blacks which were bred together and produced steels. These blacks had no steels in the background for six generations! Why?
Well, I was right, while I was also......right? My original steels (black to gray), were both nice (silver tipped steels), and too brown in color (gold tipped steels). The difference lies mainly in the agouti gene. This gene comes from our grays who are agoutis. Remember, all of my data showed that the steel gene, when combined with at least one agouti, produced steels. This is true it does, but, what color are those steels? The majority of these were lighter colored steels (gold tipped), with few nicely colored (silver tipped) thrown in. The difference was in the agouti gene. Our steels can be produced without the presence of an agouti gene! These will come out like our Standard calls for, more of the silver tipped steel. The agouti gene will make the gold tipped coloration more present, while two agouti genes may make it even lighter.
So to make this long story longer, now I have figured a new plan to produce steels which are the color we want, while also producing many steels.
The plan calls for blacks or blues which do not carry the gene for chocolate or torts; to be bred to nicely colored steels, or blue steels (to black that does not carry blue). How does this give us more steels? Well, if the steels are nicely colored (no agouti present), and are bred to a black, all you will get are blacks and steels (silver tipped)! Before you would also get poorly colored steels and grays, some which would have ring color and some which would not. So, now you will get two colors, black and good steels. (The key here is that you need to start with either steels with no agouti gene, or the offspring of a steel to black, that has the nice silver tipped steel coloration.)
You will get some that have more ticking. This, from what I understand, is from the presence of the wide band gene. Now, as long as they have the proper color of ticking, it should be a nice, even colored steel. We often see steels with a dark dorsal (over the top of the back) stripe. Could this be due to the lack of the wide band gene?
Notice that I am not breeding any grays now into the steels, at least not to produce steels. As I get some litters, I will have a better handle on how to proceed with the wide band breeding.
Hope this helps you in raising more nicely colored steels!

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