Culling and Judging Polish Rabbits: Current Issues and Concerns.
By Ellyn Eddy. www.RabbitSmarties.com
*Please ask permission before reprinting this article* Originally published by the ARBA District 8 newsletter.
I’ve loved Polish as long as I’ve loved rabbits: their cute eyes grabbed me right off the page of the Standard of Perfection. If you are a Polish lover, too, or would just like to learn more about the breed, join me in this friendly discussion some of the fine points on judging the Polish rabbit.
What is a Polish? When judging fancy breeds, I think it’s important to keep the “total package” in mind. With our breed, you’re not looking for standout feature such as spectacular markings or drop-dead body type. You’re after a “little aristocrat”: a compact rabbit on a finely-built frame, with rich glossy color and eyes that scream “I’m cute!” The correct look of a Polish is distinctive, and when your Polish start to resemble any other breed — perhaps a Havana, Netherland Dwarf, or Brit Petite — you’re off target in one way or another.
Handling and Posing the Polish Rabbit.
The Polish should be posed like most other compact breeds, such as a Dutch or Havana. It’s okay to set your hand over the Polish head when you are posing it; in fact, you should! With one hand over the head, make sure all four feet are set squarely on the table and gently tuck up the rabbit’s hindquarters. Please, don’t push! Most Polish can be squished into having a 5-inch long body, but you’re only fooling yourself when you do this. You should breed for rabbits with compact bone structure, so that they will appear short even before a judge who does not tuck them up at all.
One of the famous lines in the Polish standard says that you should not penalize the more active animal, and my thanks goes to the judges who are very good about this. But this admonition leaves our breed vulnerable to a couple of problems that we breeders need to take responsibility for:
1. High head mount. The standard is explicit that the Polish head is “not to be set highly on the shoulders.” Instead, the correct position for the head is low to the table, like on a Mini Rex. A Polish with a high head set simply does not have correct type because the topline can’t very well rise from the shoulders like it should. Judges and breeders, watch those Polish that fight to be posed; sometimes they just “don’t like to be touched”, like Clovis from the Apple Dumpling Gang. But resisting a regular pose can also indicate a head that is set too high on the shoulders. A Polish should never be encouraged to sit up like a Netherland Dwarf.
2. Vicious Rabbits. Forgive my use of the word, but nasty attitudes has occasionally been a problem in our breed. Most of the Polish I’ve met have been fun and friendly: I had a buck that would follow me everywhere like a dog. But I have had a few bad apples and it’s the breeder’s job to keep them out of the showroom and breeding program. No matter how nice the type is, we are only hurting ourselves if we let our lines get a bad reputation. The Polish breed is very popular with 4-H’ers, and it’s not right to sell kids rabbits that will bite. Judges, if you see lunging, biting, or aggressive behavior on your table, please disqualify it. Unfortunately, that’s the best way to keep it from happening again.
Though Polish should not be penalized for being active, we breeders still need to teach them table manners. By regularly training your show stock to sit correctly with their ears up, you’re giving them the best chance in competition. Once I had a doe that would even scoot herself into position the instant she was touched.
Quoth the Standard: “All-important head, ear, and eyes”
The first feature to consider in our breed is the head, ear, and eye combination, which together is worth 45 points. That makes the head/ear/eye almost twice as important as the body, which is given only 25 points! Both breeders and judges can struggle when putting this into practice, because it’s hard to call any rabbit great that doesn’t have a hot body. So breed for great bodies, but don’t make my mistake and let the head/ear/eye slip. A Polish without a nice head, no matter how hot the body, just isn’t enough of a Polish to take top honors. If you put pictures of your rabbits on a website, it’s okay to put up a picture with your hand over the head to show the body…but make sure to include another picture showing the head and ears, because really that’s more important.
The Correct Polish Head
Probably the biggest area of confusion in our breed is the correct head shape. However, the standard is clear that the head should be short and full without being too round or blocky. A good head has medium width between the eyes and full, rounded cheeks with a slight taper to the muzzle — don’t lose that taper or you have a head that is too round. Above all, avoid the extremes: a blocky, flat face like a Netherland Dwarf or a very long, narrow head with a pointy nose and flat space between the eyes. The dwarfy head is more of a stumbling block for breeders than a long, snipey one because it is more likely to be found on a short body. But don’t fall for it. It’s not Polish.
Polish eyes are worth 15 points, equal to the head and ears. A big bright eye is pretty well fixed in the Polish, but rabbits that aren’t up to par should definitely be faulted. The Polish eye should be very large and expressive.
Do you hear what I hear…
…about Polish ears? Probably, because there’s general agreement about the best Polish ears. They stand erect, in keeping with the alert appearance of the Polish. They touch each other all the way up. Any crossing is a fault called scissoring; V-shaped carriage is also a fault. The ears should be of good “substance”, meaning that they feel sturdy between your thumb and forefinger. Ears that are too thin are often “bowed”, meaning that one or both seem to bend outward when viewed from the front. The ears should be short, as the whole rabbit should be short, but “balance” is the keyword when evaluating ear length. A slightly longer rabbit should have slightly longer ears. Polish ears should not be as short, thick, and round as possible, like on a Dwarf. It’s possible to have Polish ears that are too short to balance with the head and body, but long thin ears is a much more common problem.
Weight, Length, Bone, and Body
Weight isn’t a worry for Polish breeders, because most winning rabbits hit near the 2 1/2 pound ideal weight, and the maximum is way up at 3 1/2 . A 3 1/2 pound Polish usually doesn’t happen, and if it does, it probably has a dewlap and ears way over the 3-inch max. Length is a much greater concern. The best Polish bodies are very short and round. Again, you are looking for a structurally close-coupled animal, not one that can be pushed into it. Allowing your rabbits to play naturally in a pen is a great way to spot the animals that are truly close-coupled.
But in breeding for short and round, we need to avoid rabbits that are too blocky or dwarfy. A Dwarf is supposed to have thick chunky legs and bone, and though a Polish’s legs should be short, the bone should be much more refined. I think it’s interesting to note that the Polish was not originally a dwarf breed. When the club-that-became-the-ARBA was formed in 1910, the dwarf gene had never been seen, yet Polish was one of the original breeds. Can you imagine trying to breed as small an animal as you could without the dwarfing gene to help? You’d breed for fine bone, by all means! Today the dwarf gene makes it easy to keep the size down in Polish, but also threatens our breed with blocky heads and heavier bone.
The correct Polish body type is similar to that of most other compact breeds, such as a Havana or Florida White, only in mini form. The topline should rise out of the shoulders and peak at the top of the hips. Many Polish have toplines that peak too early and slope down to the table, but this is a definite fault because it destroys roundness. Roundness is more important than depth in a Polish, because you are trying for a “look” — not a meat-producer. When the Polish is viewed from the top, the hips should be wider than the shoulders. Rough hips or pinbones, pinched hindquarters, and any hollow or flat spots are faults. The best way to learn what those things are is just to put your hands on as many animals as possible and talk to breeders who know.
The Three C’s
Coat, Color, and Condition are given 25 cumulative points on a Polish — that’s as much as the body. The fur, worth 10, should be a snappy flyback. A flyback coat is short and snaps back to the original position when stroked from tail to head. The longer fur gets, the more time it takes to return to its natural position. When the fur gets so long as to seem to “roll” back to position instead of “fly” back, it’s a disqualification. This is another difference between our breed and the Netherland Dwarf; Dwarfs should have rollback coats. Don’t feel bad if a judge disqualifies your rabbit for having a rollback, because they are only doing what is best for the breed. A rollback coat seems to be most often found in broken colored Polish.
Polish fur should be glossy and full of life. It should be dense enough to feel rich. When you put your palm on the rabbit’s back and push the hairs backward, the less skin you can see, the thicker coat. Very heavy density can also interfere with flyback qualities–but you’re pretty lucky if you have fur that thick.
The color on black, blues, and chocolates should be very dark and glossy. The color should be even all over the rabbit, including the underside. Rusty patches or uneven color caused by molting is a fault. Whites should be…well, white. Stain on whites or brokens is a fault toward both color and condition. Brokens must have between 10 and 50 percent color to avoid disqualification. Scattered white hairs is a common problem on the colored varieties. A few scattered whites is only a fault, but excessive scattered whites should be disqualified. Occasionally you get a Polish with so many scattered whites that it looks almost like a silver. You’ll know it when you see it, and I always cull these animals. But don’t worry too much if your rabbits just have a few scattered white hairs when you have bigger type problems to work on.
I’m a believer in setting a goal for your herd and trying to improve it piece by piece. I’ve found that you progress more quickly that way than buying a bunch of “ingredient” rabbits and trying to fix different things on different animals. Once you have fixed the desired trait in your herd (linebreeding is the best way to do it) move on to the next goal. Feel free to contact me if you would like more information on this process, or if you have any questions or opinions about this article!