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What Do You Think?

Steel Color In Dutch: What I Have Learned so Far

by Theresa (Kortbein) Schwandt

The steel Dutch is a very challenging and genetically interesting variety. The steel variety is actually the result of a genetic mutation or "man-made" gene in the Extension of E Series of genetics. "Es" stands for the steel gene. It is the most dominant of the E series genes. What is most intriguing about the steel gene is that it does not produce color; instead it alters whatever gene color the rabbit already is. This is why we can have black steels, blue steels, chocolate steels and so on, granted these are not all recognized varieties in Dutch. Only the black based steel is an accepted variety. The steel gene is more of a color modifier than a color producer. If you take a gray and add the steel gene, it will pull the slate blue under color up the hair shaft and cover up the medium tan intermediary band. It will also pull the slate blue under color of the belly up the hair shaft making for the darker belly color. The effects of the steel gene are less with blacks as there is no intermediary band to cover up and no light belly color to darken. What the steel gene does to a black is cause ticking. It is important to note that when you "steel a black" so to speak, these are the steels that typically have less ticking over the back.
The genotype for a steel Dutch can be shown as aaB-C-D-Es- (black based steel) or A-B-C-D-Es- (agouti based steel). The difference is that the latter genotype contains the "A" agouti gene which some say makes for more even and usually heavier ticking of steel color. In my opinion this is where steels are the most challenging. The standard calls for "a black animal with uniform disbursement of off-white or cream coloration on some of the hair tips". A problem arises when you have a black steel that lacks the agouti gene, there tends to be a lack of ticking over that back, sometimes referred to as a black dorsal stripe which is a fault of the variety. On the other had, when you have a steel with the agouti gene, they may (or may not) be more brassy or yellow in color which is also a fault. With this said, there is a fine line to walk to get good steel color. This is why many Dutch breeders refer to steels as one of the most challenging varieties and not ideal for beginners. When you think that you have steel genetics figured out, you don't and you are always learning more (especially when the steel gene "tricks" you.)
A interesting tidbit about steels is that if an animal has 2 steel genes (aaB-C-D-EsEs) the steel will actually "hide" itself. When two steel genes are paired together, you will end up with what is referred to as a "self steel" or a solid rabbit. It will look like a black that may or may not have scattered white hairs, but it carries steel and will pass it on to it's offspring. This is why it is usually best to breed steel to black and occasionally throw in gray and blue.
In my experience, steel color can be (again I say can be, but not always) produced by breeding gray to black, steel to black, and steel to blue. When breeding gray to black, the steels produced are a good start, but will usually have heavier ticking due the presence of the agouti gene as mentioned previous. This is how I got into steels since I didn't want to purchase a steel to breed into my rabbitry. By breeding gray to black, I produced some very nice steel does for a basis to my steel breeding program. Since then, I purchased a nice black buck that has steel and blue in the background to use with these does. I also have used a blue buck to breed to my steel does with good outcome as well. It is important to note that using too much gray in a steel breeding program can produce steels with ring color which is a disqualification. Keep in mind that grays produced in a steel breeding program will probably not carry good ring color and if this is the case, should not be used in a gray breeding program. With the intermixing of the blue variety, one will possibly produce blue steels which are not recognized, but can be helpful to a steel breeding program.
My advice to the prospective steel breeder is, as with all of the other varieties, when breeding for steel put body type first and then work on markings and color. Make sure to read up on coat color genetics and look to experienced breeders for advice, because with a good understanding of how basic genetics work; you will have a good background to start with for working with the steel variety. On a personal note, I really enjoy the fact that I need a little of this and a little of that (meaning black, steel, gray, and blue) in my rabbitry to have a sound steel breeding program. It gives me a little extra "color" in the rabbitry to appreciate.

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