First allow me to start with a brag - Vinnie, my choc torte French buck I am using to improve color, body type, and wool in my Otters is now "Grand Champion" Fancy That's Vincent. Woo Hooo!!!!
I'm going to first fill in some background on myself and my Otter program. I first joined ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) back in 1972, when I was 11. I joined as an adult because I wanted to compete with adults and I wanted to be able to vote in elections and other matters. At that time, I raised Roan Abyssinian cavies and was quite successful at it. My parents bred prize-winning Guppies (yes, people breed and show all sorts of fish just like we do rabbits, dogs, horses, and such), my Dad in fact founded the Three Rivers Guppy Assn. So I was exposed to breeding startegies for color, shape of fins, and body type at an early age. My mother developed Asthma and the cavies had to go, however I was able to buy a registered Doberman instead. I was entralled with the Tan pattern in Dobermans. Not much information was available on genetics, though. Eventually we moved out to the country so I could have horses, too. Many of my friends bred rabbits, especially New Zealands, so I kept in touch with those people and sort of bred rabbits vicariously through my friends, LOL! One of my friends liked to use White NZ's to improve the body type in her Reds, and it was always amazing to see what color babies would come out of such crosses. I've also always had a fascination with the color red, and even studied the genetics of red in cat color. Did you know "solid" Orange (which actually has stripes since it is a tabby color) is only found on males, females are always Calicos (or Tortoise Shell, if you're in Europe). However, the very similar solid Red (also a tabby color) is found in both sexes. Just a bit of trivia I remember from way back then. I'm sure there's a lot more to it... I continued studying color in horses for many years into my adulthood.
In recent years, I had rabbits as pets, but didn't get into breeding them until I got interested in Angoras. In college, I had worked at the campus' outdoor museum, and had watched ladies demonstrate the washing, carding, and spinning of wool. I always wanted to learn to do that. Now with a partner who is animal-friendly, I can indulge in my interests that have laid dormant for so long.
The Otter Angora program came about mostly from from an act that was meant to be a joke. I had gotten Bob a pair of Tans because he loved the color and the way the breed looked. He found out, however, that he did not like the temperament, especially that of the doe. One day as he was fussing over my black German hybrid doe, Angel (his baby), I remarked that it really was too bad we couldn't produce the Tan color in an angora. Angel wound up being plopped in with Ember, the Tan buck, and the two chased each other around for a minute or so, at which point my brain kicked in and I decided this wasn't a good idea at all, and out she came. We never saw them connect. However, 31 days later... 9 little otter colored wigglies came into the world. I decided to keep a pair and breed them and see what happened. I liked what I got, and have since bred the Tan doe to a Giant buck and did the same with a pair of her babies. So I have two lines of Otters going right now. Breeding German into them dilutes the color, so I selected the French buck mentioned above, Vinnie, to enrich the color without resorting to using another short-haired breed and losing so much wool quantity and quality. I like the results I got, but will be using Germans and/or Giants in the future to improve the wool.
I still would like to intensify the color more, but until recently did not have any really good options for that goal. I could breed more Tan into the lines, but would lose out in body type and wool. I have heard of people breeding red Germans and Giants, but so far have been unable to locate one. Then I found out another breeder is using a Thrianta buck to develop red English Angoras.
Thriantas are a European breed recently accepted into ARBA. Genetically, many of them are Tans with the non-extension gene. They are very solidly built, friendly little guys with a complete set of rufus modifiers.
A complete set? Yes. What I mean by this is a current theory on rufus held by many Europeans that is beginning to circulate here. Judy Le Marchant explained it to me over dinner one evening at the ARBA convention in Indy. Rufus is known to be cumulative, but there is more to it than that. Not only do you need a lot of rufus modifiers to get a really red rabbit, they also need to be in the right locations. Say the rufus locations are A, B, C, D, and E. You have rabbits that have rufus in A and B. You can breed your reddest rabbits together forever and not see improvement. If you bring in a rabbit that has rufus in C, D, and E, even if its color is not any better that your rabbits' color, you should see improvement in at least some of the offspring. If one of them gets a full set, that is rufus in all 5 locations, you should get a significant improvement in color. How do you know what locations your rabbits have rufus in? You don't, unfortunately. At this time I do not think there is any way to determine this other than outcrossing to another line or breed and seeing if that results in improvement.
There is a group in Europe that is studying Thrianta color and what genetic combo seems to produce the best color. Judy has graciously promised to keep me updated on its findings, and I will pass them along when I get them.
So breeding the reddest to the reddest may not be enough, outcrossing to another line or even another breed may be necessary to get a full set of rufus modifiers. Thriantas, Belgian Hares, and New Zealand Reds have complete sets of rufus, and have been used in other breeds to improve color very successfully. I like Thriantas because of the stout way they are built, their relatively tight skin compared to meat and pelt breeds like NZs, and their cheerful personalities. When my friend is finished with her Thrianta buck, she is willing to make him available to me. While it does mean a new generation of shorthairs, I will not lose the Tan pattern (assuming he is genetically a Tan), wideband, body type, or the nice, tight skin my current Otter Angoras possess. Well worth dealing with a dominant gene that is easy to breed out, IMO. I'll also have the occasional red pop up because of the non-extension gene, but I very much doubt I will have any problems finding homes for those babies!
So between using the Thrianta buck for color and Germans and Giants for size, temperament, and wool, I hope in a few years to have something worth getting a Certificate of Development for from ARBA. I hope that developing this color in Giants will spark more interest in this glorious breed and get more of them on the show table!