Genetics is the study of heredity. According to the dictionary, genetics is “the tendency of like to beget like.” Genetics explains the factors that enable the rabbit to pass on the familiar characteristics of its species.
For rabbit breeders, the purpose of studying genetics is to produce better rabbits. This is achieved by selecting the best rabbits for breeding and discarding the worst and sometimes by crossing different breeds to produce the best features of both. Some of the basic methods of breeding that employ a knowledge of genetics are inbreeding, where close relatives are mated; linebreeding, where all progeny can be traced back to a common ancestor; and selective outcrossing, where rabbits that are not related are mated.
The basic hereditary characteristics of the rabbit are evident; they include ear length, coat quality and the rabbit’s general appearance and body type. In addition to the characteristics that are visible in each rabbit are the hidden characteristics. For example, a black rabbit is obviously black. However, he also carries unseen traits that may show up in his offspring. Some hidden factors appear only rarely in the offspring.
If the rabbit fancier familiarizes himself with the fundamentals of genetics, he will be able to determine to a great extent the way his stock progresses. Improvement within a particular breed will be easier to attain, and time and money will be saved. Please note that the study of genetics is very complicated, and here we are covering only the barest of fundamentals.
A young rabbit receives its external characteristics from both its parents. The egg of the female and the sperm of the male each carries a nucleus. Within the nucleus there are tiny bodies called chromosomes. The chromosomes, which in rabbits number 22, are elongated in appearance.