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Silver Tip Flemish, Silver Black Giants or just Tweeners?

Posted on July 31, 2015 at 9:05 PM

Silver Tip Flemish, Silver Black Giants or just Tweeners?

Silver Tip Flemish, Silver Black Giants or just Tweeners?

A Look at the History behind one of our lost Varieties

by Juan A. Pérez

Recently my son Ian and I were evaluating a litter of Steels and Light Grays, and stumbled upon a few “Tweeners.” For those of you not familiar with the term, a Tweener is usually a light gray that is too dark (usually with poor ring definition and heavy ticking), a Steel that is too light in surface color and/or dark in belly color or a Black with a sizable amount of light gray or white hairs.

Since Ian’s experience with Steels is not too vast-and mine was brief in 1999 and 2004-we decided to seek the advice of our friends and experienced Steel breeders Roger and Brian Hoornbeek (NY) and Larry Rishel (PA). Both the Hoornbeeks and Larry advised us that a Tweener ought to be kept if: 1. the animal has great type; and 2. the animal is a doe. I immediately thought of Harold May’s memorable advice about breeding Steels:

“Just a word in closing. Don’t be afraid to keep those lightly ticked Black does for brood does. They can be very useful. However, make sure that they are big, and have very good type, with a good quality coat of fur. Bucks of questionable color and fur quality should never be kept beyond weaning age.”

Harold May was obviously referring to a Tweener when he wrote “lightly ticked Black does.” The Hoornbeeks and Larry reaffirmed the advice of the greatest breeder and exhibitor in the history of the Flemish Giant breed.

I looked at the litter of Steels and Light Grays again and asked myself: is it possible that the Tweeners are descendants of the Silver Tip, also known as Silver Black Giants? I then embarked on a lot of asking, reading and theorizing.

The Silver Tip, also known as Silver Black Giant, was a short lived variety of the Flemish Giant breed. Its existence is well documented, with show catalogs having the variety included as early as 1918. The National Federation of Flemish Giant Rabbit Breeders’ (NFFGRB) website lists the period of 1919 to 1921 as the timeframe of the variety.

As far back as 1920, John C. Fehr covered the Silver Tip variety in his book The Flemish Giant for Pleasure and Profit. On page 38 of the chapter Color Breeding he openly expresses his opposition to their breeding, and considers the Silver Tips not a variety but a Black Flemish with equal distribution of white hairs over the entire body, head, ears, feet and tail. Fehr admits that they are beautiful but warns strongly about crossing them with blacks and light grays:

“For you may produce a beautiful black or gray out of silver tips, and he or she may in turn produce stock that is all sprinkled with white hairs, probably not in the first generation, but rest assured it will come out in the second or third generation. ”

In 1920 F.L. Washburn also presented a similar thesis about the Silver Tips in The Rabbit Book. He describes them as sports from the Black Flemish, having black fur with silver or white hairs over the body. He states that if the variety were to be standardized, it will be the source of beautiful fur.

Twenty years after Fehr and Washburn dismissed the relevance of the Silver Tips, the variety received some national attention. According to the NFFGRB’s 1940 Convention report, the variety was recognized between the 1920s and 1930s:

“Soon after this we discovered the appearance of silver tips, a Black Flemish full of gray hairs now known as Silver Black Giants. Breeders crossed these with their Steels and Grays, and soon our Steels and Grays were full of pure white hairs. This was one of the biggest set-backs the Flemish had and the Federation was compelled to disown the Silver Tip, even though a standard had been provided and approved in one of our early Year Books.

The parent body was asked to also change the name of said Silver Tip Flemish to Silver Black Giants, and eliminate this color from the Flemish classes; and through efforts of the Federation, the breeders were soon persuaded to breed this animal by itself, and by discarding many fine specimens, especially bucks, the gray hairs were finally bred out of the Steels and Grays, and today we are practically free from this trouble.”

Secretary Griffin did not elaborate on how the Silver Tips got here; he said “discovered the appearance.” It is plausible that the Silver Tips were animals with too much ticking, good size and type, and breeders added them to their breeding program.

I also want the reader to go back to what Harold May, Larry Rishel and the Hoornbeeks said: “Keep a doe, never a buck.” Isn’t that in line with Secretary Griffin’s statement “by discarding many fine specimens, especially bucks”?

The following reference is another example of how established this variety was between 1920 to the 1940s:

“Some believe that the Silver Black Giant was nothing more than a Black Flemish Giant with white hairs distributed through the body creating the “silver” coloring. Unlike the Silver Fox of the time, the white hairs on the Silver Black were full white hairs, not white tipped hairs and breeding between the Silver Giant and Silver Fox was discouraged.

Since no records exist as to the breeding lineage of the Silver Black Giant, the belief that it was a Black Flemish Giant can be neither proved nor disproved. The Silver Black Giants popularity survived from 1924 to the middle 1940s when interest in the breed began to decline. By 1950, the breed was removed from the “Book of Standards”, the official ARBA standards listing, and it has since become extinct.”

Please note that in the last paragraph, the Silver Black Giants were referred to as a separate breed, and it was apparent that it survived beyond the 1940s timeframe .

Secretary Griffin’s report underscores that the addition of Silver Tips damaged the color of the Steels and Light Grays, a setback he estimates to be 20 years. Harry Rice, one of the most respected Flemish judges ever, mentions that around the 1940 good color was relatively abundant in those 2 varieties:

“In the forties, there were plenty of good colored steels and light grays, but they were never as popular as the Sandies. Sure wish I had saved one of those light grey pelts so that I could show you young fellows what color they were then.”

Harry Rice writes in 1990 about the color the light grays were back in 1940, and it’d be

reasonable to say that he was referring to the real light gray color of the 1940s, not the color affected by the Silver Tips as described by Lewis Griffin. It is also possible that Rice was making a contrast between the light grays of 1990 and 1940. It is important to notice that he was as concerned about our colors as Griffin, Fehr and Washburn were.

As I write about this, I can’t help it but think about how important it is for us to guard the colors of our light gray and steel varieties. Not only was the Silver Tip experiment detrimental to the breed, every time we cross colors indiscriminately-even compatible colors-we have an effect on the breed.

We have work to do. As recently as the PA State Convention in February of 2013 we heard the judge admonish all of us light gray breeders for having animals too dark in color and lacking ring definition. As a matter of fact, some of us thought that the judge was evaluating Steels-and he was judging the light gray senior doe class! And it happened again at the 2014 PA State Convention! When I brought my light gray doe to the judge’s table, I saw 3 “Steel Senior Does” already there. A close friend said: “Juan, those are not Steels, those are light gray senior does. They look very dark-don’t they?”

With this in mind, I’d like to offer one final thought, also from Secretary Lewis Griffin:

“Now just a word of warning, let’s profit by our past mistakes. Our experience with the Silver Tips and German Patagonia Giants should be enough to put us on guard. Let’s guard our color, and use only very selective breeding from now on, and the only way this can be done is: Sandies and Fawns bred by themselves, and Steels, Blacks and Light Grays by themselves. So please remember a breeding takes months, yes years to undo, so watch your step. Only breed what you feel sure will get best results. ”

I invite all of the Steel, Light Grays and Black Flemish breeders to share their experiences on this topic. And in case you’re wondering, Ian and I didn’t keep any Tweeners, Silver Tips or Silver Black Giants-or descendants thereof.

I would be remiss not to thank and recognize the help of my dear friend Cathy Caracciolo. Cathy was instrumental in researching old Flemish documents via search engines. She also was kind enough to photocopy a series of references dating back to the 1920s. I also am indebted to the Federation’s Official Historian, Chis Stover, who added a good deal of information and gravitas to this writing via personal communication.

 

 

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