Netherland Dwarfs are often compared to Holland Lops, for reasons that are easy to understand. These are the only two breeds with compact body type that are posed with their heads off high off the table. One is the littlest rabbit; the other is the littlest lop. They both should be broad, medium-heavyset bunnies with short ears and bodies. People who raise one breed often seem to raise the other also. But the proper type of a Holland Lop and the proper type of a Netherland Dwarf are just not quite the same. A top-notch Holland, at least traditionally, is a lot more blocky in shape. It has a massive “mug shaped” head. In terms of body, the Holland standard calls for the topline to extend straight out form the shoulders to the hips, bringing to mind an image of dice with the corners knocked off. The Dwarf is different. It should be round, round, round. A ball head set atop a ball body: that’s a Netherland Dwarf.
At least, that’s a top-quality Netherland Dwarf. This breed is so widely raised that quality ranges greatly. Some purebred Netherland Dwarfs are long and lanky, indistinguishable from poorer quality Polish or perhaps even Britannia Petites. Also the term “dwarf” is often used by the public for any very small rabbit, regardless of its lineage. Babies are sold in pet stores as “Netherland Dwarfs” that are really of mixed or unknown heritage. So if you’d like to get into this breed as a show animal, be sure that the bunnies you purchase have full pedigrees and look as much as possible like the winners on ANDRC.com, the website of the American Netherland Dwarf Rabbit Club.
Of course, not every pedigreed Netherland Dwarf will be of show quality. The correct type is created in part by the dwarfing gene. Rabbits that carry one copy of the gene will be round and small. Rabbits that don’t have two normal genes instead of a normal and a dwarf gene will be larger with longer ears. These aren’t much good for show, but can sometimes be used as breeders. Rabbits that get two copies of dwarfism are very small and have a digestive disorder, so they seldom live past a few days. When you breed two show quality Netherland Dwarfs together, they can produce all three types.
Standards of the Netherland Dwarf
What are the standards for a Netherland Dwarf Rabbit?
Judges of Netherland Dwarf Rabbits look for a body that is short and compact. The shoulders should be deep and broad and the same width as the hindquarders. The topline should show that the depth of the shoulders is carried through to a deep, well-rounded, and well-filled hindquarter. The legs should be short in length and medium to heavy boned. The head should be large and of a size to balance with the body. It will be bigger in bucks than in does. The shape should be round when viewed from any directions and should be set as close on the body as possible. Ears should be short and well set on the top of the head with good substance and fur. Ears should be rounded at the tips with and ideal length of 2 inches. Eyes shoud be round, bold and bright and the eye color should be as described in the individual variety. Fur shoud be rollback fur in good condition, not too long, thin or in poor texture. A flyback type fur is undesirable. The fur and eye color is to be as described under each variety.
According to the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), there are 36 showable varieties of Netherland Dwarfs. Dwarfs are organized into 5 Groups:
Group 1 Self * REW Ruby-Eyed White * BEW Blue-Eyed White * Black * Blue * Chocolate * Lilac Group 2 Shaded * Siamese Sable * Siamese Smoke Pearl * Sable Point * Tortoise Shell Group 3 Agouti * Chestnut * Opal * Chinchilla * Squirrel * Lynx Group 4 Tan Pattern *Otter * Silver Marten * Smoke Pearl Marten * Sable Maren * Tan Group 5 AOV (Any Other Variety) * Broken * Fawn * Himalayan * Orange * Steel
In showing Netherlad Dwarf Rabbits, senior bucks and does 6 months of age and over are not to weigh over 2 1/2 pounds. Junior bucks an does, under 6 months of age must be a minimum of 1 pound, but not over 2 pounds. Juniors that exceed maximum weight limits may be shown in higher age classifications. Nor animal may be shown in a lower age classification than its true age.
Schedule of Points 35 for body conformation or type 15 for head 15 for ears 5 for eyes 10 for fur 10 for condition 15 for color 5 for condition
For specific Netherland Dwarf disqualifications and variety standards, you should obtain a copy of the ARBA Standard of Perfection. Another wonderful resource with color photos of the varieties is the Netherland Dwarf Official Guidebook from the American Netherland Dwarf Rabbit Club (ANDRC).
Netherland Dwarfs do not require much grooming. During times of heavy shedding (molt) a slicker brush can be used to remove excess hair and prevent a possible hairball. Rabbits will molt throughout the year but the heaviest molts usually occur in fall and spring. The owner can also wipe the rabbit with a damp cloth or hands to pick up loose hair. Rabbits should not be bathed because it can stress them too much. If your bunny has a dirty spot you can wash the spot or try using cornstarch to remove the stain. The pet owner will also need to trim toenails. It isn’t too difficult, unless your bunny does not like to hold still, in that case a towel or second person helps. Most rabbits will get used to being turned over on their backs and this is the easiest position to do the trimming. Light toenails are easiest because you can see the quick and cut below it. If you cut too far and into the quick it will hurt and the toe may bleed. Rabbits with dark nails take a little careful guess work or a flashlight held behind the nail to avoid cutting into the quick.
Breeding Netherland Dwarfs is very challenging, their small size produces an average of only 2-3 kits per litter. They are also prone to birthing difficulties, usually in the form of "stuck" babies. In addition to that we also face the typical problems all rabbit breeders have: weanling enteritis, Young doe syndrome, stillborn kits, to name a few. Being a small breed they can reach sexual maturity as early as three months of age, but breeders wait until they are at least six months old and fully mature before breeding them. Since there are so many different colors of dwarfs the breeder must also take care to learn about color genetics. Breeding incompatible colors can not only cause strange colors to appear in the litter but also affect future generations. Most breeders will also breed to the standard published by ARBA, this means only the best are bred together and any with genetic problems or deformities are removed from the breeding program. Breeders are also careful to breed only those with good temperaments, and not aggressive animals. Despite all the difficulties we might face, the joy of raising a litter of happy and healthy dwarfs makes it all worth it. Anyone who has ever raised or kept a Netherland Dwarf as a pet knows they are truly the "Gem of the Fancy".