If I may state a humble opinion, I think that the most under-appreciated breed in the United States is the Silver. Nope, not the Silver Marten. Not the Silver Fox. The Silver.
I got my first Silvers in 2004. Since then, I have met many rabbit exhibitors who are not aware that this breed exists. I’ve seen them missing on lists of breed on different websites. Sometimes, if I mention that I raise silvers, people take it to mean Silver Foxes or Silver Martens. Those are both cool breeds, but I’m talking about something entirely different. It weighs about five pounds. It comes in three colors, each interspersed with glittering white hairs. It’s built like a rock; feels like no other rabbit I’ve touched. Its fur is short and sleek and snappy. It’s a Silver. Would you like to see one?
A Rare Breed In Danger
Despite the fact that the Silver has been known as a breed since the sixteenth century, in America today this unique rabbit is in danger of extinction. The Silver is recognized as threatened by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. This means that there are currently fewer than 100 annual registrations in the United States and estimated global population is less than 1,000. [Source: ALBC]
I’ve served as the National Silver Rabbit Club’s webmaster for over six years. Seeing this club from the inside, I’m even more concerned about the future of this breed. The Silver, yes absolutely, has a following of die-hard breeders. The problem is, most of these breeders are in their 60’s and 70’s. I don’t see much of a younger generation raising this breed. The heritage breed enthusiasts in this country are eagerly promoting rare rabbits such as the American and the Blanc de Hotot, but the Silver seems to slide under many people’s notice.
Silver-Fox-Marten: Is there a difference?
So what are the differences between the three breeds with “Silver” in their name? Let’s start by setting aside the Silver Marten:
The Silver Marten is easily told apart from the others by its color. While the other Silver and Silver Fox are a solid color ticked all over with white hairs, the Marten is a solid top color (without ticking) with a white (silver) belly, chest, underside of tail, insides of legs, feet, chin, nostrils, eye circles, inside of ears, and a silver triangle at the nape of the neck. It has a little silver ticking around the markings, but none over the back. A truly beautiful marking pattern, it is identical to that of the tan breed, except that the markings are white instead of red. Unlike the other two silvered breeds, the Marten color is not caused by the silvering gene, but by the tan pattern gene and the chinchilla gene. The Silver Marten has a different weight and fur then the other breeds. (The Silver Marten color is also recognized in breeds such as the Netherland Dwarf and the Jersey Wooly.)
Now let’s compare the Silver and the Silver Fox.
1. Color: The Silver Fox and Silver have about the same amount of silvering, with the Fox generally having a little more. The Standard specifies an ideal amount of silvering for the Fox, where the Silver just needs calls for the ticking to be even, with no ideal heaviness given.
The base color of the Silver may be black, brown (chestnut), and fawn. Blues are also recognized in the United Kingdom. The Silver Fox is currently only showable in black; blues and chocolates are in development.
2. Type. the Silver and Silver Fox have very different body types. The Silver is smaller (4-7 pounds) and is a medium-length rabbit. It is not a compact rabbit, and is posed just sitting in a natural position, without being pushed together like must compact or commercial type breeds. The length of body and bone would make it difficult to push up a silver. The Silver still looks like the depictions of show rabbits from the 1800’s! It is the only breed in this country that has retained that type.
On the other hand, the Silver Fox has a meaty commercial type. It is larger at 9-12 pounds.
3. Fur. A huge difference between the two breeds is the fur. The silver fur is one of the shortest, close-lying, snappiest coats that exists. The fur “flies back” to its normal position when stroked against the grain, faster even than on a New Zealand. On the other side of the spectrum, the Silver Fox is the only breed with a “standing” coat, that when it is stroked towards the head, it should remain as upright, as perpendicular to the body as possible, only returning to original position when flattened by a hand.
4. Temperament. Silvers are active, athletic rabbits. They need room to move around, and like to play. They may not be the best for a child, but are not aggressive. Silver Fox breeders tell me that their Foxes, however, are very low-key, just-sit-there kind of rabbits. The breed is called the “teddy bear of the rabbit world.”
5. History. Sometimes I have had people ask me if the silver, since they have never heard of it before, is an unrecognized breed, or a new breed. Actually, according to Bob Whitman’s Domestic Rabbits and Their Histories, the Silver was one of the very first domestic breeds, introduced to England before 1600! The book mentions Sir Walter Raleigh as their possible importer. This rabbit first appeared in the United States with the hares during the “Belgian Hare Boom” of 1900. When the forerunner of the ARBA, the National Pet Stock Association, was founded in 1910, the Silver was one of the originally accepted breeds.
The Silver Fox, while still older than many breeds, is a new breed by comparison to the silver. Developed here in America, it was accepted as a recognized breed in 1929. It’s believed that the first Foxes were crosses of American Blues and Champagne D’Argents (which, might I add, were developed from silvers).
Each One Special
All the silvered breeds are different, all are unique. All can be fun to raise. But the slogan of the National Silver Fox Rabbit Club could be used for each breed (with a date change):
“ONE OF A KIND since 1929!”
The Silver breed as we know it is recognized in only one other country, the UK. However there are about 15-20 different breeds with silvering around the world.
The Silver Fox breed is not known outside of the US. However, the breed/color known as “silver fox” by British standards is the same color as our “silver marten.”
There are actually 4 breeds showing the silvering gene that are recognized by the ARBA: the Silver, the Silver Fox, the Champagne d’Argent, and the Creme d’Argent.
Links to breed specialty club websites: