Sunday, July 24, 2016

Breeding For Brokens and Charlie's

In this article we are talking about breeding New Zealand's (NZ) for specific patterns, not necessarily for color. In order to do that we need to know exactly what defines a solid, broken, or charlie pattern. According to the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) there are only three sanctioned solid colors of New Zealand Rabbits: red, white, and black (blue is not yet an approved color). Solids rabbits are generally considered 'self' colored rabbits, as they all carry the (aa) allele pairing. The one exception in NZ rabbits is the New Zealand Red (NZR). The NZR, while not only being the original color of the breed is actually an agouti, which means that it carries either the (AA or Aa) allele pairing. (For more information about genetics and allele pairing see my three articles on NZ color genetics). However, when it comes to breeding for patterns, the NZR is considered a solid.

According to ARBA there are only two sanctioned broken colors of New Zealand Rabbits: red & white, and black & white (blue & white is not yet an approved color). A quality broken pattern is one in which both ears colored, with color around the eyes, and on the nose. The body pattern may be spotted, with individual colored spots or patches over the back, sides, and hips: or a blanket pattern with color starting at or near the neck, and continuing over the back, sides, and hips in an evenly balanced pattern. Toenails may be white, colored, or any combination of the two.

Charlies are the red-headed step children of NZ rabbits when it comes to the ARBA as they are not recognized for show purposes. In appearance, a charlie looks like a broken 'lite' if you will (meaning it has a similar, but a lot smaller color pattern due to their different allele pairing (EnEn). While they are not shown much love by ARBA, for breeders however, charlies are an important part of their breeding and livestock sales as many people are looking for good quality charlies. Of the three patterns (solid, broken, and charlie) the charlie pattern is the least common.


A solid black or white New Zealand (NZ) rabbit should be the same color all over, however that is not exactly true for all of the other colors of the breed. For example, The New Zealand Red (NZR) has a red upper body coat, while the fur on the belly is a lighter shade of red or tan/cream color. For show purposes, the one thing that all NZ solids (except reds) have in common is that their coat should not be interspersed with any color of fur. When judging show rabbits even one small hair of a different color located between a toe can cause a rabbit to be disqualified.

Keep in mind that a 'solid' or 'self' colored rabbit may also be referred to as 'steel tipped' if it carries the (Es_) allele. In rabbits with this allele, the color of some of the hair on the fur will have silver to orange coloring on the tips of the hair shaft. Other than being 'steel tipped' If the rabbit in question has any pattern in which one color is interspersed with another (red and white, black and white, or blue and white) then it is classified as either a 'broken' or a 'charlie'.

Broken Pattern

A NZ rabbit with a broken pattern will be one of three color patterns (red & white, black & white, and blue & white). The primary colored portions of fur occur in a patched or blanketed pattern on the face, ears, and nose of the rabbit. Ideally, a rabbit with a broken pattern should have a balanced marking on its nose (full butterfly). The ears should be totally colored and the front feet should be white. The fur around the eyes is generally the base color of the rabbit with some white interspersed. Overall, the amount of colored fur or 'broken pattern' on the rabbit should be evenly distributed, however the actual amount of color may vary from 10 to 70 percent.

Charlie Pattern

A NZ rabbit with a charlie pattern will be one of three color patterns (red & white, black & white, and blue & white). Similar to brokens, a charlie has it's own specific type of pattern. A charlie may look like a broken, but there are specific patterns that are looked for in charlies that brokens do not have. A distinct marking that generally stands out on charlies is their abbreviated patch of color on their nose. It is quite a bit smaller that the full 'butterfly' mustache of a broken, hence the nickname “charlie” because this distinct nose marking is similar to the 1920's comedic actor Charlie Chaplin. Later, we will discuss how Charlies are genetically different from patterned rabbits, and they often look like sparsely patterned brokens, often having less than 10% color on a field of white fur. While some brokens may look like Charlies, Charlies are a distinctively different rabbit genetically. If the rabbit in question has a parent that is solid, then the rabbit cannot be a Charlie. In addition, if a rabbit that is suspected to be a Charlie and during breeding it produces even one solid offspring, it is not a Charlie, it is a broken. This will all be made clear when we examine the gene that is responsible for these patterns, the English spotting gene.

The English Spotting Gene:

The 'En' or English Spotting gene is the gene responsible for producing both broken and charlie patterns. As with color, breeding for a specific hair or fur pattern is simply a matter of genetics. Every complete gene is made of two allele's with each parent giving one allele to their offspring to make a complete pair. If you understand nothing else, then this is all you need to know, so I will repeat it, each parent gives one of their offspring one half of the allele paring that produces the rabbits specific color pattern or lack their of. Believe it our not there are only three possible combinations. The rabbit either has no pattern (enen) allele pairing, has a broken pattern (Enen) allele pairing, or has a charlie pattern (EnEn) allele pattern.

Normally allele pairings are written as two specific genes inside a set of parenthesis. For example the charile allele pair is denoted as (EnEn). To help make the concept of gene donation easier to understand, I will write these pairings with a comma between them to help those of you who are new to color and pattern genetics differentiate between the individual allele's. Keep in mind that each parent supplies one allele (or half) of the gene to make the allele pair of their offspring. Just remember that the correct way to write an allele pairing is (EnEn) not (En, En).

Broken Pattern (Enen) or (En, en)
Charlie Pattern (EnEn) or (En, En)
No Pattern or Spots (enen) or (en, en)

So let's look at some possible pattern combinations when we breed a:

Solid (en, en) to Solid (en, en) = 100% solids.
  • Solid to solid will give you 100% solids, no ifs or buts here.
Solid (en, en) to Broken (En, en) = some brokens (En, en), but mostly solids (en, en).
  • You will get the occasional broken here, but with three 'en' allele's and only one 'En' allele, the mathematical chance that you will get a broken in a liter is about 25%.
Broken (En, en) to Broken (En, en) = some brokens (En, en), some solids (en, en), some charlies (En, En).
  • This combination has the potential for the most variety. With an even number of 'en' and 'En' allele's you will get will get a higher percentage of brokens (about 50%), but you will get some solids and charlies as well (about 25% each).
Charlie (En, En) to Broken (En, en) = some brokens (En, en), and some charlies (En, En).
  • You will get the occasional broken here, but with three 'En' allele's and only one 'en' allele, you will get mostly charlie's (about 75%) while the mathematical chance that you will get a broken in a liter is about 25%. There is not possibility of getting a solid rabbit from this breeding.
Charlie (En, En) to Charlie (En, En) = 100% charlies.
  • Charlie to charlie will give you 100% charlies, no ifs or buts here.

Keep in mind that these mathematical percentages will bear out over time with multiple breedings. It is possible that in one breeding of broken (En, en) to broken (En, en) that you get all brokens and no solids or charlie's, that's simply the way genetics work. So keep that concept in mind when you breed. The only two breeding combinations that will give you 100% known outcomes are solid-to-solid and charlie-to-charlie. The rest of the time it is up to nature. However, keeping good breeding records and knowing which pattern combinations have the potential (mathematical percentage) to produce certain color patterns will help you to be successful in your pursuit of breeding or brokens and charlies.


When it comes to genetics, breeding for a specific color pattern (solid, broken, or charlie) is quite a bit easier than trying to figure out the individual color genome of each rabbit. After all, you only need to know whether the buck and or doe is a solid, broken or charlie. The rest is basic probability (mathematics), and nature will take care of that for you. You may not get the exact outcome you want with every breeding, but eventually with careful breeding the math works itself out and over time you will see that certain breedings will give you a certain percentage of broken or charlie kits that you desire. As always, if you have found this article interesting or informational please share it with your friends. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook or on Google+ for the latest articles on our blog related to raising your own meat rabbits.

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