NOTICE: In my barn, there is no such thing as a "Rare Heritage Silver Fox." While they are a heritage breed, and they are still rare in some areas (in fact, if you are not in North America, you probably have to import from the United States), this term is nothing more than a sales pitch. Lately, many breeders have become disappointed to purchase the American Silver Fox with the goal of preserving a rare breed, only to discover it is not actually rare at all in the local region. As for the heritage portion, any breed developed within the United States by a previous generation is part of our heritage, and they are by no means more special than any other heritage breed. The mere definition of the word classifies common breeds such as the Satin and the Californian as heritage breeds, and therefore tends to be very misleading. If you see the words RARE HERITAGE in the context of making sales, please beware, as I have found it most often used in the context of trying to sell at top dollar animals which may not be worth the price the breeder is asking. The top breeder in the nation at the moment (has been winning Best In Show and usually wins BOB and BOSB at the national-level shows) refuses to use this term, but it still remains extremely popular among certain groups of breeders to describe animals which have never been crossed with the chocolate lines (as with the top herd in the nation, which is only black / blue line). I myself only distinguish between "original black / blue" lines and "chocolate lines" (lines which have chocolate ancestors at any point, even off the pedigree).
The Silver Fox, in its original form, is a black or blue rabbit with silver ticking evenly spread across its body. The modern version of this bred, according to the Standard of Perfection, is a large, nine to twelve pound (cat-sized), animal of commercial body type with long fur that stands on end when brushed backwards from tail to head. They are known for their calm, gentle temperament, and can be classified as a multi-purpose fur breed. A good choice of breed whether you are looking for meat, fur, pet, or show animal, the Silver Fox was originally invented with the purpose of producing THE imitation fur for the animal Silver Fox - hence its name. When synthetic fiber was invented, this lovely and endearing breed nearly went extinct, and at one point there was only a handful of breeders across the US. But thanks to the efforts of such people as Patsy Butcher (Hillsides Rabbitry), who spent 40 years working to ensure that this 100% American-bred animal did not go extinct, the breed was preserved, and is now growing in both numbers and popularity with people across the nation. This is probably largely due to the temperament and the versatility. Despite its size, I have found Silver Foxes easier to handle than breeds half the size, and highly recommend them for families with children interested in 4h projects, as in recent years they have improved tremendously in overall quality and physical consistency and are now capable of producing respectable meat pens for fairs, sometimes even champion-quality meat pens. Also, they seem to thrive in a wide range of environments under many different systems of maintenance, and good lines seem to be little affected by any sort of weather. I do not experience problems such as lazy bucks, and the does tend to be eager breeders and good mothers. If you are having any trouble getting your doe bred, there are many tricks you can try that you will find extremely effective for getting an animal in the mood. If these do not work, the doe should be culled so as not to have a negative impact on the productive value of the breed. Reports as to litter size are all over the board, but my average is 7 to 9, and most does lose no more than two kits from each litter. Smaller or larger litters do occur, but keep in mind that double digit litters tend to have a lot of losses and slower growth rate.
The exact origins of today's breed remain unknown, but it is generally recognized as having been the accomplishment of Walter Garland of Ohio, who developed the version of the breed known as the American Silver Fox around 1929. He was extremely uptight about the crosses and genetics behind his development of his breed, wishing to be the sole person who could be credited with creating the rabbit breed capable of creating the imitation fur which was in such impressive demand at the time. While the breed we know and love today is not quite the same, this is the one on which the fur standard of the modern Silver Fox has been based. The type, originally a mandolin, however, has changed, along with a few other things, but this breed really is still, as the National Silver Fox Rabbit Club's motto says, "one of a kind".
When raising this breed, keep in mind that you will run into a lot of variations of it. At one time, there had been many varieties of Silver Fox breeds, and I personally suspect that this one breed is really just a conglomeration of all of them. This theory could be supported by the fact that a couple purebred herds are occasionally popping out torts, which could easily be a remanant of the breed known as the "Arctic Red Fox", also created by Walter Garland. This wasn't a true red, but a chocolate based tort with high rufus factor - the color that the Cinnamon breed is today.
In the end, the only things all these breeds had truly in common were the color and the words "Silver Fox" included in their names. They didn't even all have the same fur type. So while the breed is making a lot of progress both in quality and consistency, some weird surprises do crop up from time to time, as in other breeds that have undergone recent standard changes. These are fairly easy to overcome, if you breed together animals with complementary strengths and cull both carefully and heavily. Do not be afraid to ask the input of both judges and successful breeders, they will be able to tell you what you need to know, and can give you valuable insight into your breeding program.
In the meantime, you can check out the links below for more information on this breed.