with permission from the September/October 2006 issue of the
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy newsletter.
Rhinelander rabbit, as the name implies, hails from Germany,
having made its appearance in the rabbit world at a show in
1902. The breed was
developed by postman and rabbit fancier, Josef Heintz of
Grevenbroich in North Rhine-Westphalia, which would explain
Heintz’s choice for the breed’s name. The new breed was an
instant success. In
1905, the Rhinelander was recognized and given a standard in
Germany under the name of “Rheinische
1908, at the West German Rabbit Association Exposition,
seventeen Rheinische Schecken were exhibited.
In 1924, the first pair arrived in Holland and then
England. At this
time, one won the Grand Prize at Germany’s famous Drachenfels
Exhibition and within the next few years the Rheinische Schecke
reached its heyday.
The sensation of the breed, however, soon died.
Color markings and fur varied greatly in these rabbits.
Changes to the standard resulted in a large drop in
membership because the breed now required more selection and
breeding skill than most breeders possessed.
Also, in 1930, breeds of rabbits were separated into
classes of fancy, hobby, and economy.
The Rheinische Schecke, being slim and athletic, like all
rabbits of the racy group, did not exhibit a meat rabbit body
conformation and thus few breeders remained. After World War II, breeders immediately began to rebuild the
Rheinische Schecke population, and in 1978 it became the most
popular spotted breed in Germany.
Rheinische Schecke rabbits were brought to the United States
from Germany in 1923, and were accepted by the National Breeders
and Fanciers Association of America in 1924.
They were first imported by E.W.C. Arnold of Long Island,
New York. By the
time the 1930 Book of Standards was published, the breed was
being known as the Rhinelander, but the breed would vanish from
American soil by 1932. It
is not known whether the standard set for the breed was too
difficult to achieve or if there was a lack of interest by the
fanciers of the day, who were much more interested in the
popular Checkered Giant.
In February of 1975, Robert “Bob” Herschbach of Watsonville,
California, was in Germany attending a national show. There, he
saw the beautiful Rhinelanders and purchased four of the
prize-winning animals to bring back to his rabbitry in
Whitman coined the slogan “The Calico of the Fancy” and
called interested breeders together to form the Rhinelander
Rabbit Club of America in 1974.
The breed was, once again, given recognition by the
American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) and was accepted
into the Book of Standards in 1975, after a 44-year absence.
Ten animals were shown in the 1975 National Convention.
Old-time breeders were again involved with the breed, but
many were limited by time and travel distance to national
conventions. (ARBA conventions are held each year in a different
part of the country) Numbers
of Rhinelanders continued to slowly rise.
Carrol Clements was a strong breeder in Kentucky, while
George Sutherland pursued the breed in southern California.
George Sutherland was an old time judge and rabbit breeder and
Rhinelanders were one of his five breeds.
He was my mentor in the mid-80’s when I started
showing. At that
time breeders were few and far between and many judges were
unfamiliar with the breed.
With such a small gene pool on the West Coast, line
breeding was producing smaller animals, lacking vigor, and
increasing malocclusion (improper meeting of the upper and lower
teeth). George felt
the breed was struggling to survive again.
A veterinary friend and I imported two does from Holland
to add new blood. My
doe died while kindling (giving birth), but the remaining doe
was placed in George’s rabbitry where she produced three small
Meanwhile, many breeders were going in other directions to add
vigor and new blood to their stock using Checkered Giants or
the Holland blood was slowly spreading on the West Coast, Lisa
Saunders of North Carolina had gone to Germany and brought back
a trio. These
animals expanded the gene pool and were generously shared
throughout the country. Within
a few years the breed had expanded and the quality of the
animals was showing remarkable improvement.
In 1994, Terry Carter and judge Joey Shults helped rewrite the
breed Standard, to clarify judging, thus enabling judges to pick
the correct animal. More
and more judges were seeing the breed in various parts of the
country and interest was growing.
Of the 45 breeds of rabbits listed in the American Rabbit
Breeders Standard of Perfection, the Rhinelander is one of the
five “running breeds,” and the only tri-colored breed.
The animals are judged on a basis of three qualities: Type,
color, and markings. Senior weights are 6 ½ to 9 ½ pounds for bucks, with does
weighing 7 to 10 pounds. The type must be muscular without
heaviness and well arched, showing daylight underneath.
The does may have a small dewlap, which usually gets
larger with age – thus limiting show life.
The color is a white ground with black and bright
golden/orange markings carried to the skin.
The markings are to be clear and distinct and in a very
strict marking pattern. Colors
range from “show marked” to “charlies” (mostly white)
and “sports” (no white, brindled brown/orange).
The “charlies” are usually inferior, being less
robust, so are sometimes discarded from the breeding program.
The “sports” tend to offer good size and body type
and can be carefully used with animals needing more color.
Kits are usually put up on the show table at about 12 weeks of
age, but have a short “show life” as the does tend to be
non-receptive to breeding if left idle too long and break down
once in the breeding program, losing their robust muscling and
continue to be shown successfully.
Thus, one is faced with the decision to keep a doe “on
the table” past a year and risking no litters, or to put her
into production and discontinue showing her.
a “running breed,” Rhinelanders are shown by moving up and
down a carpeted show table.
This shows body and tracking movement, as well as
stretching out flank markings. As they are an “arched” breed, meaning they are slim,
athletic, and well up on their front legs, daylight must show
when looking at the animal from side profile while in its pose.
The ideal show animal moves well down the table, stops,
turns, poses, and moves back, allowing the judge to observe it
from the side, front, and rear – all of this without
assistance from the owner or judge.