BREEDING LIGHT GRAYS
by Juan A. Pérez
Stunning. Eye catching. Impressive. Appealing. Those are a few of the words I have heard when people see Light Gray Flemish for the first time. In my 22 plus years of raising Flemish Giants, I have yet to have a single day where my eyes do not wander toward this most beautiful of Flemish colors. This variety is one of the original colors accepted by the National Federation of Flemish Giant Rabbit Breeders in 1916, along with Steels and Blacks.
As with any article about Flemish, I must offer the potential breeder a word of advice: when it comes to color, this variety offers a challenge that is way up there with the Blues, Steels and Blacks. Our Standard calls for a uniform light gray surface color with ticking of black tipped guard hairs. The under color shall be slate blue next to the skin, with an intermediate band of off-white. Being an agouti pattern, the Light Gray Flemish has distinct bands or rings that should be visible when blowing into the coat. You can see the composition of these bands or rings by taking a closer look to an individual hair shaft, which will reveal the colors slate blue, white and black. The belly color shall be white with slate blue under color, and the underside of the tail should be a continuation of the belly color. The eyes should be brown.
When breeding light grays, it is advisable to keep your crossings confined to those varieties that will enhance or improve your actual color. Please do not forget that type is very important, and do not be tempted to introduce a good colored animal that has poor type, for that is a step backwards. I prefer the light gray to light gray crossing myself, but have at times used White Flemish for two main reasons:
1. The whites keep the ring definition in check (especially the intermediate off white band);
2. Usually the Whites out of the cross end up with an adequate length of fur, as opposed to the
“wooly” fur that sometimes Whites get.
A word of caution: if you use too many Whites in your breeding program, keep an eye out for white toenails in your Light Grays.
Some breeders believe that crossing Steels with Light Grays is a good way to produce Light Grays. Although I have done this in years past, I personally do not believe that the Steels contribute as much to the cross as you would expect. My rationale is that Steels tend to either have or hide colors in their ancestry that might hamper your breeding program. The only time I did the Steel x Light Gray cross was when I had a very good colored Steel buck of great type, which in turn came from grandparents and great grandparents that were all Light Grays.
There is a small set of breeders that believe that there is benefit to be had from introducing Blacks into their Light Gray breeding program. These breeders believe that Black Flemish will keep “in check” the black bars that Light Grays have in their feet and that sometimes lighten up after a few generations and crosses. Another potential benefit of crossing blacks is for ring definition and lack of black tipped guard hairs, faults that you will see in Light Grays that are extremely light. If you decide to use Blacks in your Light Gray breeding program make sure that the animals do not have any Blues in their ancestry.
When breeding this variety, don’t get discouraged if you get a smoky fuzziness in your babies’ coats. It will-and should-go away within the first 3-4 months. Some breeders assert that most Light Grays with smoky coats have great type.
There have been great breeders of light grays over the history of the Flemish Federation. In the last 25 years the ones at the very top include Bill Higginbottom, Fred Russell, Dale Gearhart, Lenny Smith, John Long, Joe Squittieri, Bob Bolyard and of course, the legend among legends, Mr. Harold May.
When working on your Light Grays do not forget that your herd buck has a lot of influence in your breeding program. A bad colored buck can ruin years of effort. Make sure you select a stud buck that has good color, fur and of course, good type.
As with any enterprise in life, success is the result of hard work, dedication and continuous learning. Don’t expect to cross two rabbits and be successful overnight. And don’t expect to succeed by buying so-so stock, either. If you want to succeed in raising Light Grays (or any other Flemish color) make sure you acquire good stock from reputable breeders and be prepared to pay accordingly for such animals.
I would also encourage you to do your homework and study the Flemish standard, visit, call, e-mail or write to other breeders. If possible, when purchasing animals compare littermates, ask to see the sire and dam, ask about show winnings at major Flemish shows. Make sure you listen when consistent, successful breeders give advice.
This is a wonderful and most beautiful variety that can bring plenty of reward and satisfaction as long as you are willing to work hard on it. Best of Luck with your Light Grays and remember, don’t give up!