Photo courtesy of Alyssa Stenchever of Faithful Farm Rabbitry...2012 BOB from ARBA Convention.
To the left is a photo of a Cinnamon, the breed closest to resembling the "Red Fox" as it would appear when I get it to standard. This variety once existed without the silver ticking as a separate breed from the Silver Fox, but with the same fur type. Unfortunately, there was never much interest, and they ended up just becoming extinct...or so goes the story, until torts started popping up in Silver Fox litters recently, possibly as a remnant.
While whether the project will be successful is still up in the air until I actually have a good base of animals featuring the color AND the Silver Fox fur, it's something that has been discussed by the groups repeatedly, so I thought it was high time someone worked on it.
The Arctic Red Fox...yet another breed that Walter Garland helped to create, and little seems to be known about it, other than that it was probably developed from the Silver Fox and definitely rather short-lived. In more recent years, however, there's been a good deal of talk about bringing it back. Early talk led to discussion about crossing in Thrianta and recreating it from that. I, for one, was a huge opponent of this plan. The Thrianta, being half the size and not even beginning to compare to the Silver Fox in mothering ability and productivity, would have created more problems in the cross than it was worth. I got pretty vocal against the idea, as there are still a good many Silver Fox herds in which the animals struggle to make weight, and the Thrianta would have made that problem far worse than it already was, even maybe ruined some of the work of people who have managed to overcome it. That being said, I looked into other possibilities. I even considered using the Cinnamon breed itself, it's already rather close to the standard I want! As it was, once I learned I had the genetics I needed within my own herd, I settled for a different option...just using my own red Satins, as the type and size standards for the Satin breed are already nearly the same as for the Silver Fox, and it was more practical to work with something I already had at my disposal and was familiar with.
Another discussion which arose when the topic of recreating the Red Fox cropped up was whether it would be true red or whether it would conform to the same standard that Walter Garland's original did. Being that I had to make the decision myself if I was going to get started, I chose to go closer to the original standard. The reason being, the true red is an agouti, and the agouti gene alone would result in so many possible color variations when crossed with the other Silver Fox colors that going down that road only causes me to envision one big scary mess. The original standard, on the other hand, is a chocolate based tort with high rufus factor - not a true red, but it would be far easier to work with in a self breed, and only add one color and four variations thereof rather than a whole long list of them. The standard would permit the black, blue, chocolate, and lilac variations to ensure that people who worked with the tort wouldn't get too many non-showable animals, but tell the judges to favor the chocolate when evaluating color so that anyone working with it also would. The reason for the favoritism? Well, the chocolate just makes better tort and red color. Cleaner with less smut, and it has a tendency to enhance the rufus factor. So I'll have an easier time getting the results I want if the color is chocolate based.
That being said, I've had people get nervous and hammer me with questions as to their concerns regarding my crossing in of another breed, namely of a multi-colored one. Satin breeders are thought to do a good deal of color crossing, which concerns a lot of Silver Fox people because it is believed that the resulting problem would be a whole bunch of weird recessives and variations. Aside from the fact that this is not true (being part of the Satin community, I can attest to the fact that Satin breeders are far more paranoid about color crossing than Silver Foxes are) and the fact that red doesn't cross well with most stuff, so it's not likely to be crossed with other colors in most breeds, I might point out that a whole bunch of weird recessives is unlikely to be a concern with a true red. This being first because the agouti in the red is so dominant and the self in the Silver Fox so recessive that if I were to cull all agoutis on the first generation, I would never have to deal with the gene again, and second because the other genes which create the red are so recessive that a red can't carry anything else on either locus. These genes are the non-extension gene (e), which turns a self into a tort, and the wideband gene (w), which adds the rufus factor and has absolutely no effect on a self. The only locus that might have an unwelcome surprise is the C locus, and most of the possibilities wouldn't be there, since it's well known, as a rule, that they would ruin the reds. The most likely occurrence would be albino, which already happens in the Silver Fox breed. As for the Satin fur...any undesirable recessive can be culled out if you keep around animals exhibiting it and use them to genetic test and find carriers. Once you cull the carriers, you have completed the process of removing the undesirable recessive from the line.
So what is the process involved in me creating this new variety? Well, to start, I have to cross the Silver Fox and the Satin. I use the best Silver Fox line, and a chocolate-based red Satin doe to start the process. In this case, the chocolate-based Satin is a broken, so when I go through the culling process, I will be culling anything broken, agouti, or (if they show up) steel, and selecting for type. I will probably have to repeat the breeding (sire is a grand champion Silver Fox buck that throws a champion into nearly every litter) in order to get the starters I want. Once I do that, I will have to breed the F1's together. Yes, that means littermates. This is another breeding I'll have to repeat an awful lot...it's going to be hard to get the exact color I want on a typey animal with the correct fur, and many animals will go to freezer camp before my work is done, but it will be well worth my while to make sure I do that correctly on the F2 generation, because it will make my work a lot easier from that point forward.
Once I get a couple F2 animals which conform as closely to the standard I want as possible (and yes, it's possible to get the Silver Fox fur as well...I can attest to this because a friend and I have done experimentation with crosses in the past already), I will be crossing them to my other Silver Fox lines. The first cross will be a 75% generation focused on covering the main faults that I wasn't able to eliminate in the original cross. In this case, I'm anticipating that those faults will mainly be a need for better width in the lower hindquarters (which means I'll be using Trinity Hallow's Simbelmyne, a white doe that can double as a test for undesirables on the C locus) and need for better fur texture (which means I'll be using Beren, my main herd buck). Now, when I do this cross, I have no doubt there will be further objections, but seeing as I'd get a whole bunch of showable rabbits, I would show them to be certain they stacked up with the rest of the breed. It's not worth dodging the repercussions of making people mad if I'm relying solely on my own judgement to be certain my variety development is going in the correct direction, rather than making sure I get several outside opinions to back that judgement as sound. I believe this may have been one major mistake made in the development of the chocolate Silver Fox which led to its current difficulties becoming a recognized color, so I intend to avoid that path and show my "red" carriers.
Upon acheiving success with the quality of the 75% animals, I will cross the lines back together (both littermates and cousins breedings, possibly breeding back in the previous generation to some degree) to come up with a new generation of "red" fox rabbits that will be even closer than the previous one to what I intended them to be. Once I have succeeded in this portion of the task, I intend to cull all generations prior to the F2 version of the 75% generation to shift the focus back to the color I was working on and to a higher level of purity. From here, I'll branch out, crossing the F2 75% generation to various black line Silver Foxes which will enhance the quality and turn the linebreeding focus back to the original breed, and crossing the carrier offspring back to each other and the foundational generation to bring in a replacement generation of "red" fox that has a higher level of both genetic diversity and purity, showing the carriers, and culling the previous generations yet again in favor of better descendants more capable of passing on the genetic qualities I want. I intend to repeat this process for yet another generation, until most of my base animals are the F2 version of the 88.3% to 93.75% purity generation. At this point, the plan is to cross in throw in a couple purebred lines of torts I have recently found and develop the color through work using the two lines. This would settlle the purity in at an average of approximately 94.2% to 96.9% purity, rendering the amount of Satin in the line negligable.
Now that I have mentioned the use of purebred torts, you may be wondering why on earth I just described myself as going through such a massive effort to get them developed from outside the breed when I could have started within the breed. The reason is simple. While the torts in the breed are torts, they are black-based and lack the rufus factor that the standard of the color in mind calls for. So in order to ensure that the color will come out right, I have to bring in the sole color from outside the breed that will reliably encourage the wideband factor for me - red. And developing the lines separately entirely from the tort line as it appears within the breed will ensure that when I use the purebred line, it will entirely be fresh enough blood to prevent the inbreeding from being too tight off the bat, another problem which I see within the chocolate line. Which leads to my answer to the next probable question...if I'm going to make my torts chocolate based, why don't I just use the chocolate Silver Fox? Well, simply because I don't feel the chocolate has as of yet achieved the standard that it needs to in order to be viable for an outcrossing project with another breed. That requires superior animals of the best purebred lines available in order to work properly, and the chocolates are still in the category of a developing variety that's still being worked on. Undoubtedly I'll eventually be inter-breeding the torts and the chocolates, but until then, I would be giving both lines their sweet time to develop independently of each other. And the nice side of making the torts chocolate-based...I'll be able to outbreed my chocolates nicely, as they will produce extremely unrelated litters of chocolate kits for me when bred to my chocolates.
Hopefully I haven't made people's heads spin with this article and the whole explanation, but before concluding, I wanted to throw in a final note...don't kid yourself into thinking that you should jump head-first into your own version of this project if this is at all confusing to you. New breeders should NEVER try this, as it is very easy to screw things up and have a negative impact on the breed. Also, you should also enter such a project with a thorough understanding of genetics and how they work. If genetics confuse you, don't even try something like this. You'll end up taking the same course with this project that a new breeder would. However, if neither of the above applies to you, feel free to give it a shot! The more independent lines develop, the better, and the less likely it is that inbreeding will become a serious concern. Just please be sure to follow these rules:
1. When selecting a breed to cross with, try sticking with something that has the same type and size and the full range of genetics necessary to make the desired color. I most recommend the following: Red Satin, New Zealand Red, and Cinnamon (which eliminates the need to cull for agouti on the first cross). Palominos may also be acceptable, although I'm not completely familiar with their genetics; however, I am certain they possess the ability to throw torts, I mainly am not certain as to whether they are black or chocolate base colors, and whether or not they have the gene which causes rufus factor in their genetics.
2. Always use your best animals in your crossing program to ensure that you are encouraging quality genetics. It's not worth it to cheap out on a new variety just to save your purebred animals for purebred breedings. If you are going to work on a new variety, it's going to take full commitment.
3. Cull like crazy. Do not be afraid to put any animal in the freezer at any point, even if it means scrapping the project and starting all over again. It's worth it to be patient and take your time. Remember, you're crossing to another breed. That means you are dealing with a whole new genetic can of worms, and you have to deal with removing any genetics that will cause the project to backfire on you in the end.
4. Be honest. While I personally have a problem with exceptional animals not getting back into the gene pool and am not opposed to crossing in general (they're just rabbits, for goodness' sakes), I do have a problem with people crossing stuff in and not telling anyone. It's important that you practice full disclosure and be open about what you are doing even if it means that you will get yelled at from time to time for crossing stuff. Remember, people won't be as angry about what you are doing if you give them full opportunity not to buy based on what MIGHT crop up than they will be if they find out later, if oddball genes crop up, that you knew that was a possible surprise and you didn't warn them about it. Besides, how else will you connect with others who might work with you if you on this project if you keep it to yourself? If you're going to do a crossing project that involves creating an isolated line from an outcross, then you most definitely need to be in contact with people so you can gain outbloods from time to time that will counter weaknesses within your line.