Chestnut agouti Netherland dwarf
A castor is a chestnut agouti. The castor looks different because of the lack of protruding guard hairs.
There are three main factors that contribute to a good castor: color, bands, and fur. I will discuss each one and have pictures to show what to look for.
Remember, type and fur are just as important as color. In fact, they carry more points than color.
According to the standard, the surface color of the body should be a rich, red-brown, lightly tipped with black. The undercolor should be slate-blue.
The castor color should not be too light.
A castor's fur has bands of color: slate-blue next to the skin, an intermediate castor band, and black at the tips of the hair shafts.
The slate-blue and castor bands should each be about 50% of the hair shaft. The black tipping should also not be too deep down the hair shaft.
In this picture you can see that the castor band on this rabbit is less than 50% of the hair shafts.
A castor's fur also affects the color. If it is uneven, or has protruding guard hairs, this will have a negative impact on the color.
Compare the guard hairs in this picture with the chestnut agouti Netherland dwarf.
Other factors include markings and claws.
The belly of the castor should be white to creamy tan, with a slate blue undercolor. They will have dark lap marks. The eye circles, jowls, nostrils, and underside of tail should be white to creamy tan. The claws should be dark brown.
Castor-You can’t beat the original!
When I heard from Linda that this issue was going to be dedicated to castors, my heart skipped a beat. “I’ve been waiting for this!”, I thought to myself. As a kid, my parents really didn’t like or appreciate the idea of raising animals. I have two brothers, and in an effort to be fair, my parents divided the limited cage space between the three of us. Although I raised Holland Lops, my youngest brother had Chocolate Rex. It wasn’t until the following year that I saw my first Castor Rex. I was immediately enamored with the color, and not knowing any better, I bought a doe to breed to his Chocolates. It was not long after that, he began losing interest and of course I jumped at the opportunity to take over his cages for my Holland Lops. Over twenty years later, and I am now enjoying the Castor variety in my barn!
A Rose by any other name…
Where did the name ‘castor’ come from? Castor is actually German for ‘beaver’. The first Rex were discovered in Europe, although there are conflicting reports as to the location, and they were an instant hit with rabbit fanciers and furriers. ‘Rex’ means king and the plush, even coat of an agouti Rex looked remarkably similar to shaved beaver pelts. Beaver pelts were very sought after at that time, so the less expensive rabbit pelts were a cost effective faux beaver alternative. Castor is actually what would be referred to as ‘chestnut agouti’ in most of our breeds, the same variety as our common wild cottontails here in the U.S. Sandy, brown, wild grey, copper, and castor are all breed specific terms applied to describe the chestnut agouti variety. Different coat types can alter the expression of color, and the Rex fur lends a striking hue to our variety. There are many ways to describe correct castor color, but perhaps my favorite is, “…like a mahogany table. A dark surface with a rich red hue peaking up through the surface.”
The Mini Rex standard specifically addresses the correct bandwidth to be 50% rich rufus red intermediate band and 50% slate blue under color. This is as far as I am going to go with regard to dissecting the Standard of Perfection. My focus is intended to be breeding for correct castor color. Although many varieties work well together, castors stand alone. After many years of raising English Lops, in 2002 I decided to take on a new challenge. In the fall of 2003, I was very fortunate to be able to purchase a pair of castors from Dae Williams (F and Mardi Gras Girl), a doe from Pat and Val Commack (Kate Moss), and a buck from Sandy Lowry (Justin). Virtually every castor in my barn is the result of strategic breedings from these four animals. I have since purchased additional castors (EZDaes, Cresthill, Buresh, Compart, and Fossati), but the core of the herd remains the same. You may hear theories about breeding reds, brokens, REW, or other varieties into your castors; but I could not disagree more. Castor being such a common variety (wild type-black agouti), they will pop out of many different breeding combinations. Although there may be rare exceptions, consistently correct castors are the result of ‘castor to castor’ breedings. Even the best colored castor, when bred to any other variety, will most likely produce mediocre or poor colored castor offspring. When I see a ‘salt-n-pepper’, grayish, or lemony castor on the table, I know that it is not a “true” castor. Can you correct the color on these crop-out castors? You can correct the color, but it will likely take multiple generations to do so. Keep in mind that anytime we breed a superior animal to an inferior animal, not only are we breeding up the inferior, we are also breeding down the superior animal.
“I get so sick of castors, everyone has them. I prefer the challenge of breeding the ______ variety. To win with a _____ is a real challenge.” If only I had a nickel for every time I heard the above statement. Granted, the castor variety has been around since the breed’s acceptance over twenty years ago. Castor is a well developed and competitive variety, but don’t be fooled; castor is one of the most challenging varieties to breed. Not only do we observe the surface color, we have the intermediate band color, intermediate band width, evenness of the band width, as well as evenness of the band color. Slightest variations in any of these areas make a significant change in the overall appearance of a castor. I am not going to go into grand detail on all aspects of color, but more the biggest variable- The intermediate band.
And the band played on…
You can breed two castors together, both with even intermediate bands of 50% band-50% under color, and you can get any range of variations in the offspring. The best way to evaluate ring color, width and definition is to place ones hand on the lower hindquarter, slowly stroke the coat from tail to neck, stopping periodically to blow on ones own hand (not the fur). By blowing on ones hand, you will note that it opens the entire coat along the hand, not just a pinprick dot that one finds when blowing directly into the coat. Ring width may vary over the back, sides, and flanks. While noting band width, also check the color intensity. The Standard of Perfection calls for a ‘rich rufus red’, note the intensity of the intermediate band as well as any variations on different parts of the body. Castors tend to breed toward narrower bands and lighter shades of red, so maintaining ideal color can be a real challenge. If there are failings in uniformity of band width/color, it is usually that bands become narrower over the top and the intermediate band color washes out at the sides/flanks. When looking at weanlings, one can start checking them at about 4 weeks. Band color will not be even remotely accurate, so don’t even take that into consideration. Baby coats are fuzzy, thin, and not representative of the mature coat color. The only factors taken into consideration are band width and uniformity. I check the hindquarter, sides, and top for band width and uniformity. The first thing I do after sexing the litter is to blow into the belly. Castors with no slate blue under color in the center of their bellies will be wider banded castors. Wider intermediate bands go hand in hand with under color failure on the belly. This is a fault, but not a disqualification; and again, may help to correct narrower banded animals in ones herd.
When evaluating stock to retain for breeding/show, I am much more forgiving on does than bucks. An exceptional doe with a narrower band may make the grade if her band color remains red, clearly defined, and uniform. A doe with a wider band (over 50%) may make the grade if it is red, clearly defined, and uniform. Muddy (indistinct, washed out, or dusty) banded animals are culled from the very beginning. Bucks that have washed out color, or uneven intermediate bands are culled immediately. Knowing that castors tend to narrow in their bands, I will keep a few does that may be a bit wider in their bands for breeding. If I had a consistent problem with narrow bands in my herd, I would keep a buck with a bit wider band to correct the problem. Unless a castor is relatively finished in coat, do not even attempt to evaluate color along the hair shaft. With the new coat coming in, there is no discernable way to accurately evaluate color. Surface color is very dependent upon the relationships of intermediate band color, definition, width, and uniformity. Some may comment on preference of ‘light or dark’ castors. From my own experience, I have a tendency toward what I call a “black cape” over the body with the rich red peaking through as you handle the castor. The rich red is more apparent along the neck, chest and sides.
In general, castors from strong foundation stock tend to breed true and consistent. Castors are usually known for their strong type and condition. I have noticed that castors do not tend to be as ‘heavy’ coated as what I have found with the brokens, blacks, and REWs. Keep in mind that castor was the first variety accepted by the ARBA over twenty years ago when the breed was accepted. I would like to thank Ken and Mona Berryhill for their hard work in developing the Mini Rex breed, as well as the breeders who have worked tirelessly through the years to bring the variety to it status of prominence today. Mini Rex have won Open BIS twice at the ARBA National Convention, both were castors!