It is understood that marked rabbit breeds are the most difficult to raise for the show table. Arguably, the most complicated of them all is the Harlequin.
In the 1800’s, these rabbits originated in France and were then introduced from there to the United States. There are four Harlequin varieties, black, blue, chocolate and lilac, which are then split into two classes of colours: Magpie and Japanese.
In combination with white, the magpie is one of the varieties, while in the blue and lilac cases, the Japanese is one of the varieties in combination with a heavy orange or a diluted fawn hue.
The purpose seems clear enough – the rabbit is supposed to look like a checkerboard. Stripes can be around the body, or alternating bars can be patterned.
The face should have ears alternating from the face in colour, and the legs should all alternate as well.
This is really hard to do, however. In one area, most rabbits are excellent and bad in another, the perfect Harlequin is extremely rare, and as a seasoned Harlie breeder, I myself have only seen one or two that came close to perfecting the Harlequins ARBA Level of Perfection.
The commercial body type is allocated to Harlequins, although a true meaty Harlie is hard to come by with 60 percent of points aimed at the markings.
Some experienced and proven breeders are currently experimenting in New Zealand and California to increase the quality of meat by breeding bloodlines. They range from one end to the other of the scale.
In Harlequins, there are usually two “body types” One is a leaner body form, big boned with large ears, while the other is a little thinner but dense with tiny bones. Of course, with such a diverse type and lack of consideration to the characteristics of meat and fur, there are also several size variations.
Full grown harlequins can range from 5 to 11 pounds, depending on the choice of the breeder, but most are about 8. I’ve heard the brood hits 13lbs.
In mothering and gentleness, no breed surpasses Harlequins. These rabbits are my go-to for foster mothers, and new 4-H members are always recommended. They have exceptional personalities, making the badly marked offspring suitable for the pet industry.