White rabbits with beautiful clear blue eyes have been found in some breeds for many years - breeds such as Beveren, Netherland Dwarf, and Polish. Other, newer breeds, such as Jersey Wooly, Holland Lop, American Fuzzy Lop, and Mini Rex have also recognized a blue-eyed white variety for quite a few years. Blue-eyed white was listed in the Angora Standards for many years before the animal even existed! Another variety, ermine, was often mistaken for, and shown as, a blue-eyed white.
A lot of people like a white rabbit, or white wool, but don't like a red eye. The blue eye is beautiful, and appeals to most people. The gene which causes the pure white coat color, and blue eyes, is called the Vienna gene.
Because the Vienna gene wasn't present in Angoras at all, and wasn't going to just appear on it's own, in order to make a BEW English Angora, I had to cross to a breed that did have the Vienna gene. (All colored Angoras come from crosses to other breeds, many years ago, to get the colors.) I choose a BEW Netherland Dwarf buck to breed to my best ruby-eyed white English Angora doe. That first cross was made in September of 1987.
About every two generations, I bred in a pure English Angora, which improved the wool quality, and increased the weight and furnishings. There is still some variation, as in most herds, but in general, the wool, furnishings, and body type are very good. I have been very selective in choosing new individuals to introduce into the BEW breeding. They have come from some of the top show breeders. After the Dwarf influence was off the three-generation pedigrees, and they all looked like English Angoras, they were considered purebred. Those early BEWs were pretty inconsistent, and a few were even ugly, but over the years, there has been a lot of improvement.
The Dwarf buck did not have a dwarfing gene, so I didn't have that factor to breed out. Still, it took several generations before most of the BEWs would mature above minimum weight for English Angoras (5 pounds).
A few other people started the cross to make BEW English Angoras, but as far as I know, none have stayed with it. I think I was the first person to keep breeding, and improving for an extended number of years. I never kept large numbers of rabbits, and haven't sold stock to many people who have kept up the breeding. The real BEW English Angora is still very, very rare. Today, I have a very small herd of English Angoras, and breed a few times a year, for a limited number of BEWs, to sell and keep my herd going.
DiAnn Boehm, from Nebraska, created a BEW French Angora by using a white Beveren with French Angoras. She was extremely successful, and has produced some top quality BEW French Angoras. Several other breeders are having great success with her stock, including Kim Gay from Georgia, who also has a few BEW Satin Angoras. Several people are breeding BEW German or Giant Angoras.
Some people have what they think is BEW, but it is really the color "ermine". Ermines are completely different genetically, almost always have a few dark hairs (usually on the nose or face, or as ear lacing), and their eyes are blue-gray, blue-gray with brown flecks, or brown. Some ermines have really blue eyes when they are very young, but they turn more gray or brown as the rabbit gets older.
The Vienna gene, which makes BEW, is not one of the five major color genes, and acts differently than the other genes. A BEW, bred to any other color, including ruby-eyed white, will produce colored rabbits the first generation. These are sometimes called "Dutch marked," because they almost always have some white on them, in the same pattern arrangement as a non show-quality Dutch breed rabbit. Most have a white blaze or spot on the forehead and/or nose. Some have one or two white feet. I have even had a few with more white than color. A few may have a pretty good Dutch breed pattern, even though the Vienna gene has no relationship to the Dutch gene at all.
I prefer to call these "Dutch marked" rabbits, "Vienna marked", so there will be no confusion in terminology with the Dutch rabbit breed. Some Vienna marked rabbits have all blue eyes. Some have eyes that are part blue (a distinct section of the iris) and part brown, or blue gray (in the case of dilute colors). This variation in eye color, is another similarity with the Dutch rabbit breed.
Notice the blue in the lower part of the iris in the eye of this Vienna marked rabbit. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Moore.)
These Vienna marked rabbits are good for breeding to get BEW, but aren't showable, because of the white markings and off-colored eyes.
Once in a while, a bunny is born that has one Vienna gene, but is normal colored, without any white, and with normal colored eyes. This is the exception, rather than the rule. I like to call these rabbits "Vienna carriers", because they do have one Vienna gene, but it doesn't show. They are a dual purpose animal - breeding stock for BEW, and showable too.
Vienna marked should not be confused with the broken pattern. Brokens are now showable in French Angoras, and probably will be in a few years in English and Satin Angoras. Also, any colored rabbit may have a white spot on the nose, forehead, feet, etc., without having a Vienna gene, and these are not Vienna marked either. Some people call Vienna marked and/or broken, "party" colors. I think this is a term from the show dog world, and should not be used to apply to rabbits. Others call the Vienna marked rabbits, "sports". Again, a term which I do not think applies in this case.
Vienna marked rabbits have one Vienna gene, and one normal gene. It takes two Vienna genes to make a BEW. When two Vienna marked rabbits are bred together, there is a 25% chance of getting BEW, a 50% chance of getting more Vienna marked rabbits, and a 25% chance of getting a normal colored rabbit (two normal genes - no Vienna gene). When a Vienna marked rabbit is bred to a BEW, there is a 50% chance of getting BEW, and a 50% chance of getting Vienna marked offspring. If two BEWs are bred together, there is a 100% chance they will produce BEW.
The exception to the above, is if the rabbits have albino genes (which produce ruby-eyed white), or himi genes (which produce pointed white). That lowers your chances of getting BEW. A rabbit may have two Vienna genes, which would normally make it BEW, but if it also inherits two albino genes, two himi genes, or one of each, those genes keep the color in the iris of the eye from forming, making the eyes red/pink. These rabbits look exactly like a ruby-eyed white. Even if they have two himi genes, they will look exactly like a ruby-eyed white. That's because the two Vienna genes keep any color from forming in the areas where a himi normally has color (nose, ears, feet, tail).
Blue-eyed white English Angoras are beautiful, extremely rare, and an interesting genetic challenge to raise. I encourage any serious rabbit breeder to give them a try, and will give them all assistance possible to increase the numbers of this rare variety.
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