Category Archives: Astrex

Astrex Grading System

Astrex kit bred by Annamarie Scott-Coomber of the UK in 2013.

Astrex kit bred by Annamarie Scott-Coomber of the UK in 2013.

I’ve detailed some of the struggles and questions that have come up in trying to figure out how to get a curly bunny. There are several people internationally who are working to get Astrex recognized as a breed – this means that we’re all learning together how to isolate the gene and hopefully get it to breed true.

 

The greatest resource for all of this has been the Facebook group, Astrex, Curly Coated Rabbit. One of the members there recently developed a grading system that will help everyone dealing with Astrex in the future have an idea of exactly what they’re looking at genetically… or as least a better idea than we have right now!

 

We have personally made a decision to put breeding for Astrex on a back burner for now. We have sold all of our Astrex stock expect for one trio… I just couldn’t pull the trigger on having them gone completely! Over time it’s quite likely we will breed for them again, particularly if we have an opportunity to get unrelated stock to what we have right now.

 

When that time comes, we’ll have a good idea of how to rank our curl! The grading system is outlined on the brand new Astrex website, also put together by the same member who came up with the grading system, Sarah Roche!, but I’ll share it here as well:

 

Kits are often born with curl, only to have it molt away. Sometimes it comes back, and sometimes it doesn’t. Kits are sold as “Astrex” or “Astrex carrier” (even though curl is made up of AT LEAST three genes, not one), and it can be really hard to tell whether you are getting a curly bunny that will go through and eclipse coat and re-emerge with curls, or one where the curls will most likely disappear never to return.

The Astrex Grading system is not a measure of how curly a rabbit is, but how likely it is to keep that curl throughout it’s lifespan and how likely it is to pass it down to it’s offspring. A rabbit’s number isn’t fixed and will change throughout it’s lifetime; in fact, it’s impossible for a junior to have a score higher than “Grade 4”.


Grade 1: Rabbit is over six months old and curly, and has produced offspring that are over six months old and curly.

Grade 2: Rabbit is over six months old, curly, and has produced curly babies. Babies lost their curl and it didn’t return after six months of age.

Grade 3: Rabbit is over 6 months old, and curly.

Grade 4: Rabbit is/was a curly junior. BOTH parents are over six months old and curly.

Grade 5: Rabbit is/was a curly junior. Both parents were curly as juniors, but both of them are not curly adults.

Grade 6: Rabbit is/was a curly junior. Neither parent was ever curly.

Grade 7: Rabbit was never curly, but came from at least one parent that is over six months old and curly.

Grade 8: Rabbit was never curly, but came from at least one parent that was curly as a junior.


Example:

Let’s say a breeder suddenly get a curly junior out of non-curly parents. It would be a Grade 6.

At six months old, the rabbits curls molt away and make no sign of re-appearing, so it remains a Grade 6.

However, at two years old, the rabbit molts again and the curls return (this often happens between 18-36 months of age). Because the curls have re-emerged, the rabbit is upgraded to Grade 3.

The rabbit is bred, and the babies are curly. It is now a Grade 2, as we still don’t know if the babies will keep their curl.

If the babies keep their curl (or have it shed out and re-emerge), the rabbit is promoted to a Grade 1.

Exploring Genetic Generations

I hesitate to call our Astrex program an “Astrex program,” but for lack of a better term, that’s what I’ll use as a descriptor! This search for the curl gene has taken us on a massive learning curve, one which we are still exploring today!

One topic I’ve had to learn more about is simple genetic generation labeling. What on Earth does F1 mean? What about F2?! Here’s what I’ve discovered. (And, this is all new to the gal who barely passed biology in college. If I’ve gotten this wrong, please let me know in the comments!)

We discovered the curly coat in a litter out of two mini Rex, Bushy x Inca. Here are some baby coat vs. junior coat photos of two of those babies:

Grommet

Grommet

KickFlip

KickFlip

As you can see, the curly and baldness of their 4 week — 6 week age went to pretty straight fur into their 2nd and 3rd months.

These two rabbits are called F1 generation because they are the first generation of our Astrex program, put in another way, they are F1 generation because they are the immediate offspring of the original parents.

Here are some more photos of how the coat seems to be developing in the babies of our program. These photos are of a Bushy x Butterscotch litter, again, they are mini Rex. I’ve highlighted one of our favorites, Vanilla Icing:

10 days

Bushy x Butterscotch, 10 days

21 days

Bushy x Butterscotch, 21 days

Vanilla Icing, 21 days

Vanilla Icing, 21 days

Vanilla Icing, 5 weeks A

Vanilla Icing 5 weeks

Vanilla Icing, 5 weeks B

Vanilla Icing, 5 weeks

Now, what comes next after the F1 generation? Well, creating an F2 generation, of course! An F2 generation is created when you breed two F1 rabbits together. The offspring of the two F1 generation rabbits are automatically F2 generation.

To add another level of confusion, in our breeding program, Bushy, Inca, and Butterscotch can all be termed P1 generation, or “pure parent generation.”

My understanding is that you have to breed through F8 generation before you’ve really recreated something separate and distinct that is able to match up to the hybrid vigor produced in the F1 generation. That gene can only be stabilized through careful selection for the trait you want – in each litter the odds are you will only have a handful of rabbits that have the curly coat you’re seeking (although technically all in the litter should be carriers).

I’ve also found references in several areas that the F2 generation typically has unstable genetics and may not produce consistent or vigorous results. Here’s another way someone stated the difference between an F1 offspring and an F2 offspring: “When (working with) F2 stock, the idea is to search out the better phenotypes, and clone them so in future you only work with the best genetics of the bunch. With F1 stock, you should have more uniform (animals) that all perform similar, and if the breeders done his job correctly, this should be as close to the original description that tempted you to (the animal) in the first place!”

Clear as mud? I know. It’s confusing to me, too. But I will say I’ve learned an awful lot about marijuana seeds, fish, and cats while doing this research! Who knew?

Let’s see if these diagrams can give us one last look at how to make sense of all this genetics stuff. Here’s a Punnett Square. I promise I won’t be testing you on your answers, but if you take a look at it you can see in a simple way how you might get traits passed in various percentages to offspring:

Basic Punnett Square using blue chickens. Aren't they cute? See how the colors change?

Basic Punnett Square using blue chickens. Aren’t they cute? See how the colors change?

Punnett Square using more variations. Don't panic - if you stare at it long enough it begins to make sense.

Punnett Square using more variations. Don’t panic – if you stare at it long enough it begins to make sense.

Now. Rabbits and generations don’t show up quite as well on a Punnett Square, so you can use the same concept in a Pedigree visual:

Pedigree Punnitt Square

Pedigree Punnitt Square

In a pedigree diagram, every row represents a single generation, and these are labeled with Roman numerals (or F1, F2, F3, etc.). Couples within the generation are listed from left to right across the line, and horizontal lines connect the reproductive partners. Vertical lines that descend from these pairs are indicative of offspring from the two parents. Individuals demonstrating a specific phenotype are indicated with filled shapes.

I got some help when a friend gave me this visual of trying to get the chestnut color in a rabbit:

"Take a pedigree and count as far back as you can without reaching another breed. Draw a line to the left of that other breed and count the columns. Here is an example. This is a fake pedigree, crossing Breed A (which comes in black and blue) to breed B (which comes in chestnut) to make chestnuts in Breed A."

“Take a pedigree and count as far back as you can without reaching another breed. Draw a line to the left of that other breed and count the columns.
Here is an example. This is a fake pedigree, crossing Breed A (which comes in black and blue) to breed B (which comes in chestnut) to make chestnuts in Breed A.”

All you definition lovers, here is the way the Lionhead website defines their breeding programs:

“General Genetic Shorthand and Terms –
F1 is a purebred Lionhead crossed with a rabbit of a different breed. Mostly Netherland Dwarf, Polish. In addition some Britannia Petites, Florida Whites, Holland or Mini Lops and Mini Rex have been used. You may also find almost any other breed listed including Dutch, New Zealands and Rex!
It is questionable if a Lionhead hybrid without a mane can be considered a F1 generation because – to be considered a generation the offspring must look like the breed, meeting basic breed requirements. Many Lionhead breeders do count non-maned rabbits that are produced in a F1 Lionhead cross.

F2 is a F1 crossed to a Purebred Lionhead or another hybrid that is F1 or F2. It denotes another generation of Lionhead breeding.

F3 is a F2 bred to a purebred or a F3 or another F2. It denotes you now have three generations of Lionhead breeding before another bred shows on the pedigree.

F4 is the same as purebred. A F3 bred to another F3 or a purebred would produce bunnies with four generations of Lionhead on the pedigree. This is what is required by the ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) to be considered for registration as a PUREBRED if the Lionhead was a recognized breed.

* Some people denote their crosses with percentage number such as 1/2 Lionhead or 3/4 Lionhead but the F system is recognized but almost all animal breeding materials, and is the form most commonly used.
HYBRID is a Lionhead that has rabbits of a breed other then Lionhead showing on a four generation pedigree.
PUREBRED is a rabbit that meets specific breed requirements and has a four generation pedigree showing individual information on each rabbit on the pedigree.
* Currently Lionhead breeders also consider Lionheads imported form overseas as purebred even though most do not have a complete pedigree.”

So, as I understand it, our Astrex program is going to go through some challenges for several generations as we try to stabilize the curly gene. It looks like anyone working with them is going to need a lot of patience and a long term vision!

As I’ve heard before.. I’m sure that all means something! Ha!

Now, what would you add to this short foray into genetics?

Astrex Update – Who Wants One?!

We’ve had three litters of Astrex born around here! They’re pretty cute. I wouldn’t say they’re healthier or sicker than the average litter – so my non-scientific understanding of how the Astrex gene works and whether it’s an indicator of any healthy issues in inconclusive.

 

Two of the litters have had kits with eye issues, however. My current theory is the eye is irritated by a curly hair hitting the lens. Again, can’t prove it so I don’t know whether to believe this or not without more litters to research.

 

They are very cute, however! Here are the most recent pictures:

 

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The Originals (Inca x Bushy DOB 4/29/13)
Left to Right: Grommet (B), KickFlip (B), Zulu (D)

 

Butterscotch x Bushy DOB 6/13/13 Left to Right: Who (B), What (B), Where (D), Why (D), When (D)

Butterscotch x Bushy DOB 6/13/13
Left to Right: Who (B), What (B), Where (D), Why (D), When (D)

 

 

Inca x Bushy DOB 6/26/13 Left to Right: Narabeen (D), Crankin' (B), Gidget (D), Boogie (B)

Inca x Bushy DOB 6/26/13
Left to Right: Narabeen (D), Crankin’ (B), Gidget (D), Boogie (B)

 

I’m hoping to get these guys out to other people who want to raise Astrex. There’s a wonderful family that will be doing a driving vacation of the US in August. I’m hoping interested people will be able to utilize his services to transport some bunnies their direction!

 

When Good Bunnies Go Bald

These little Astrex babies are a hoot! We came home from the show and three of our curly-haired babies are almost completely bald!

 

Although they’re really, really ugly right now because God made rabbits to have hair for a reason and that is that a hairless rabbit doubles as Stephen King’s muse, I’m excited to see how their new fur comes in. The hairlessness is apparently closely related to the curly gene in Astrex and I’ve heard a rumor a bald bunny comes in even curlier when that molt is finished.
Can’t wait to see.

 

In the meantime, just in case you need a few photos to haunt your dreams, here are a few before and after pictures I’ve found from our own rabbits and the Astrex Facebook group:

 

This photo is of Kojak, from Rainbow Rex Rabbitry. See how his hair grew back so nicely?!

This photo is of Kojak, from Rainbow Rex Rabbitry. See how his hair grew back so nicely?!

 

This little beauty is from Soft Paws Haven and I'm hoping will come to our house in the next few weeks!

This little beauty is from Soft Paws Haven and I’m hoping will come to our house in the next few weeks!

 

Finally, some before and after photos of our Epic:

Epic, pre-balding molt.

Epic, pre-balding molt.

 

Epic, doubling as a finger puppet.

Epic, doubling as a finger puppet.

 

Escapee!

This is Grommet, one of our Astrex mini Rex:

Grommet, our Astrex mini Rex baby buck.

Grommet, our Astrex mini Rex baby buck.

And this morning when I went outside to take care of the rabbits I saw a black and white blur that scared the *ahem* out of me.

 

Grommet was loose.

 

It’s unclear how Grommet got out of his cage but my gut instinct points to our number 2 child who is just tall enough to unlatch the cage… and not quite tall enough to be certain it’s securely locked again. But regardless of who was to blame, there was no doubt we had a problem and that problem was small, speedy, and nimble.

 

Our rabbitry is set up outside in hutches that look like lean-to’s. There are three sides that go down to the ground. We’re also fortunate to have several pine trees the hutches nestle against. We keep our carrying cages in the rabbitry area, which is enclosed by chain link fencing that keeps the dogs out and the rabbit fairly undisturbed.

 

What all this adds up to is a rabbit on the loose with several places to hide.

 

The girls and I tracked that rabbit across the rabbitry for the better part of an hour, with no luck. We ended up laughing quite a bit because all of us would jump and scream whenever the rabbit made a break for it.

 

It was a mighty battle, ended when the poor, tiny rabbit high centered itself on one of the concrete blocks supporting the hutches. Quick like a bunny (ha!) i was able to snatch it up, brush it off, and return it to its mother, no worse for the wear.

 

Lesson learned from this whole debacle? DON’T LET THEM OUT! And, if you do… drink about six Mountain Dews so you can speed your reflexes up. You’ll still be too slow for the loose rabbit, but sometimes the secret’s in the surprise!

 

Wishing you the best in all your rabbit-catching endeavors…