Smoke Pearls are a stunning normal fur breed. They are a traditional british breed that is now, unfortunately, very rare. They are a medium size (similar to a dwarf lop) and have very soft thick coats in a stunning blue-grey colour. Their temperaments are exceptionally laid back making them an excellent pet for young and old alike as well as a stunning exhibition animal.
History of the Breed
The smoke pearl was origionally developed in scotland in the late 1920s by Mr Lawrie Stenhouse (Mr Stenhouse is also credited with the creation of the now extinct squirrel, using his new smoke pearls and the chinchilla breed). It is believed that they appeared out of sables (possibly with the introduction of blue beverens or blue polish). The breed was first shown to other fanciers in 1926 and was known as the smoke beige, a name it kept untill 1932 when it was accepted by the British Fur Rabbit Society (the forerunner to the British Rabbit Council), the name was changed to smoke pearl. The breed was favourably recieved by the fur trade and its pelt became highly prized with the breed reaching in boom years in the late 1930s sadly after the second world war the breeds popularity had dropped, the smoke managed to escape extinction (unlike its close relative the squirrel) and kept a small but dedicated following in the show world. However sadly over the last decade their following has slowly dwindled, and at present this beautiful breed is in the hands of only a few fanciers, with an uncertain future.
Although the standard only allocates 15 points out of a possible 100 to type, i'm going to deal with it first, as without the good correct type, the thick coat and colour are not shown to their full potential... and in my opinion is the first thing that should be fixed into a breeding program. The standard calls for a medium sized breed (5 to 7 lbs) with a neat (neither slender nor cobby) body and a slightly arched back. Then head should be 'rather' long, not square or snipy (longer than broad and not flat faced).
Next up is the coat, allocated 40 points in the standard, but this is what really makes a smoke feel fantastic, running your fingers through a good smoke coat is like touching water, its cool and silky soft, the standard required is to be very dense and soft, while exquisitely silky. The length should be around 1 inch. Generally the thicker the coat and silkier the undercoat the better.
And finally with a whopping 45 points allocated to it in the standard is the smoke pearl's beautiful colour. The points (face, ears, feet and tail) and saddle (along the back) should be a deep smokey blue colour shading to the base colour of a beautiful, delicate pearl grey beige on the flanks chest and under. The saddle is often lacking in many of todays smokes as it something that deffinatly needs to be improved. The breed comes in two patterns, the siamese as discribed above and the marten, which has the same beautiful shadings but with white trim, the chest, inside of ears, small triange at the nape of the neck, nostrils and feet should be brilliant white, with ticking on the guard hairs over the flanks. Shading in both varieties needs to be gradual and any blotches or patches are undesirable.
The smoke also comes in two other colours which are not suitable for showing but are invaluable in the breeding pen, these are the dark smoke (which has the dark blue grey colour instead of the light grey colour) and the red eyed white. When these two varities are mated together full litters of the correct colour are produced with better shadings than mating the medium to medium shades. (see the breeding section)
But in my opinion the breeds most desirable characteristic is not even mentioned in its standard and that is the breeds gentle nature, they are extreemly laid back, exceptionally friendly and a very people loving breed, making them an excellent choice as a pet for the very young to the very old.
When selecting a pair of smokes for breeding care must be taken to ensure that they balance each other in type and coat qualities, if one falls short of the ideal in a certain area the potential breeding partner should excel in this area, pairing up rabbits to get the best out of them ensures a firm future for the breed. The next consideration is to colour, mating your best coloured animals together does not neccisarily produce the best coloured youngsters... by mating two medium shaded rabbits together only about 50% of the litter will be the medium shade, around 1/4 will be dark and the remainder white... these colours should not be discarded as the dark shaded rabbits are excellent for breeding, whenever the shadings are becomming too light by breeding in a dark brings them back to their former splendor, the whites in the litters often have superb coats and can be used to a dark to produce beautifully coloured animals with superior coats. However as the smoke is still very rare care must be taken to ensure that in 'perfecting' that beautiful coat and colour the already narrow gene pool is not weakened. The smoke has the benefit in the breeding pen, in that it does not suffer from herriditary or genetic weaknesses like many of the smaller and more popular breeds.
Mating smokes is not difficult, they are gentle natured and the buck and doe can be left together for a fortnight or so before returning the doe to her own pen to kindle. (remember to always put the doe into the bucks hutch not the other way around and supervise them for an hour or so on first meeting).
Smokes require little specialist care during pregnancy, they are a hardy breed and its often very difficult to be sure if they have taken, however they breed well and rarely miss. Ensure the doe has a good quality supply of as much hay as she wants during pregnancy, and try not to be tempted to up her rations as this will only serve to make her overweight and therefore she may struggle to pass the kits.
Once the litter has arrived there is little for you to do untill the babies are older at this age just check the nest, most does will thin litters down on their own to an average of four (smaller litters always fair better than larger ones) do not discourage this. If your doe was well handled before mating, she will not have a problem with you checking the litter, at this stage the doe can be given unlimited pellets, and a few greens daily to help with milk production.
Basic selection can be done at an early age those with poor, thin type can be spotted at a young age and rehomed to pet homes around 8-10 weeks, however the promising youngsters should be run on untill 4-6 months old, only at this age can the beauitful coat and colour be fully assesed.
Because smoke pearls are gentle rabbits and enjoy each others company it is possible to raise them in a colony set up, (my own does are kept in pairs with only one of the pair raising a litter at any given time) this works very well as both does help to raise the youngsters which means that less is taken from the mothers, assisting an older, experienced doe is an excellent way for younger does to 'learn the ropes'.
Smokes are a beautiful breed to show, they require little training and even less grooming to be presented on the show table, they adjust to the stresses of showing exceptionally well. The efforts you put in in the breeding pen can be rewarded on the show table.
Training for exhibition starts as young as 4 weeks, ensure you handle your kits every day, get them used to being handled and sitting on a cloth, encourage them to remain still for short periods of time, gradually increasing this each day. Although smokes are not required to sit in any particular pose, in my opinion a rabbit that sits up with its head held high shows itself off much better than one which flattens itself to the table.
From the age of about 12 weeks you can start taking young smokes for short trips in the car to get used to this new sensation.
Although the BRC allows rabbits to be shown from the age of 12 weeks, really there is little point in taking a smoke out before 16 weeks when they will start to look their best, their shadings filling in and their nest coat has moulted out.
If your rabbits are fed a good diet of unlimited quality hay and good pellets your rabbits should already be in good fit condition. Smokes are naturally clean animals and if you remove the soiled shavings each day they will keep themselves in immaculate sparkling condition... then all that is required is to gentle rub your hands through the coat a few days before the show to remove any dead hairs and give it a nice shine, i reccomend using a small amount of rain water, or spit (or dog slobber) on your hands while grooming to really help them shine.
Smokes certianly do not need any potions or powders to present them well, nor any brushes or combs, careful stock management is all that is needed to show your animals at their best.
The Future of the Breed
Sadly as has already been made clear the smoke pearl has been declining, their future is in doubt with an ever declining gene pool, if we do not act now to save our smokes it may be too late. This is why i am dedicating my time and efforts to this exceptional breed and why i will always have the beautiful smokes in my shed. Fortunately things are starting to look up for the smokes, in early 2010 the breed club has been regenerated and we are looking forward to our first stock shows for several years, fingers crossed this will help give the breed a much needed boost.