(This article has now been published in magazines and newsletters in over 20 countries around the world and translated into 7 different languages)
For a long time now I have been getting more and more worried about the crown position in most of the lop breeds. The crown position is vital to the correct carriage of the ears, and without the correct positioning the ears will not hang right. The may be ‘lopped’ but they are certainly not carried as to how the standard describes. The term ‘Slipped Crown’ was first used about 4 years ago by myself to describe better what I meant about the dreadful placement of ears on some lops. I have read many reports in the last few years where judges have made comment on ear drop or poor ear carriage but haven’t defined why the carriage is poor. I have said for a long time, and documented it in other F&F articles, that some judges critiques are just not enough to help the owners of the rabbits understand the good and bad points about their rabbits and have asked judges to elaborate more on their terminology and expand a little bit in areas where broad sweeping comments like ‘fails ears’ just aren’t sufficient to help the breeder progress and improve. To help explain slipped crowns, what they are and why they happen, along with what they look like, I have included a few image examples of correct and slipped crowns so that I am able to demonstrate this article a little better. I have used only my own animals as models so as not to offend anyone by using a picture of their rabbit showing poor crown placement and ear carriage.
Correct positioning of the crown can be seen easier from the side profile of your rabbit than from the front and this is the main reason why I feel slipped crowns have crept into our lop breeds over the last few years. Too many people place their emphasis on carriage when looking at the animal from the front, but fail to look or see the carriage from the side, thus resulting in no one noticing the crowns slipping off the top of the skull and down onto the back side of the skull and in some cases, into the neck. In this first image of a Blue Eyed White French Lop youngster you can see the prominent development of the basal ridge crossing the top of the skull to form the crown and how the ears hang perfectly straight downwards behind the eye. Not tilting forward or backwards, just hanging. If the crown is on the top of the skull, like the standard requires, this is the image you should see when you look at your lop rabbit in side profile. If we now look at another French Lop youngster you will be clearly able to see the difference between the two. The second rabbit, although sat at a different angle(the photograph was not taken for the purpose of this article, but still demonstrate what I mean) has a gap appeared behind the eye and in front of the ear. This is not caused by the rabbit having control of its ears but by the slipping of the crown off the top of the skull on to the back side. The crown no longer appears full and well developed and the ridge cannot be seen on this rabbit. In fact the only thing you see regarding the crown is the distinct lack of it.
Young lops tend to show the slipped crown slightly differently, especially the smaller breeds such as the Miniature Lop and often rabbits with slipped crowns get through the net and onto the show benches because unlike the bigger breeds they are not as clearly identifiable. These next two images are of the same rabbit. A Lop who’s crown is slipped, but for all intense and purpose, would be passable by a lot who bred it as a rabbit with good ear carriage. If we dissect in the image though and look further into it we can see just how the slipped crown is affecting this youngster.
There are actually two faults with the crown on this rabbit.1 it is slipped and 2. it is narrow (or pinched). The front on image shows two white horizontal arrows. The top one being the actual width of crown and the lower being the width it should be. The smaller black vertical arrows show where the ears are set onto the skull, and to create correct ear set, should be positioned next to the arrow heads of the lower white arrow, thus attaching the ears on the corners of the skull and not from a more central point on the head like at the moment. The side on image shows how the crown is sitting almost in the neck of this rabbit but because the ears are being held forwards and on a slant, it is giving the impression that there is nothing wrong as the ear is directly behind the eye. But it is not perpendicular and is following the natural position of a rabbit with a crown on the back of the skull/in the neck. As our lops grow up their skulls grow too and with this, some skulls do change shape quite considerably. The crown however cannot drag itself back onto the top of a skull if it is already fallen off. The next image (right) is of an adult Miniature Lop buck who’s head is huge. It has grown with him and developed really nicely. But his crown has stayed slipped and in fact has slipped further back from when he was a youngster. The skull grows outward, sideward, upward and backward - thus pushing an already slipped crown even further off from its correct position.
I think there is nothing more beautiful about the lop rabbit than correct head and ear set up. All set off by the crown. Had the crown been developed any other way we would not have lops looking the way we have today. The horse shoe shape drop of the ears, the big bump on the top of the head(crown), the chunky cheeks spreading across the face to touch the inside of the ears. All of this though only comes together when the crown position is correct. The next three images are of Ch. Ruskin’s Wilson. A buck which I recently lost prematurely at only 14 months, but one I still consider to be the best headed buck I have bred to date and also the one with the best crown position. From this crown ears are destined to hang in only one way - the correct way .From this comes something else which is not often seen in lop rabbits these days. And that is the non-fussing of ears by the rabbit on the show bench. When the crown is of correct width and position the rabbit’s ears will just hang. They won’t have flying ears. They won’t have anywhere near the amount of control some rabbits have and they won’t pull their ears forwards or backwards. The ears aren’t able to ‘fold’ or tense up so much and you won’t find you have to spend ages trying to get the rabbit to hold them correctly. They just will!
So now that I have pointed out where I think there lop rabbit is failing, and fast, what do we do to correct it? Well the answer is simple. If you don’t want to breed it out, DON’T breed it in. After studying my own rabbits over the past 4 or 5 years I have concluded that you CAN breed slipped crowns out of two rabbits without but you CAN’T breed a correct crown out of two rabbits with a slipped crown. So this indicates to me that the fault is a hereditary and recessive and once you have the problem fixed into your line, the only way to get rid of it is to outcross to a line which has the problem less, by using a rabbit with correct crown placement. There is no way forward using your stock with the problem. Often when we are at home with your own rabbits, giving them the once over or assessing them for what to keep and what not to keep we very rarely stand back and take a proper look. We are stood over our rabbits handling them on a day to day basis and cannot see all the faults immediately and we very rarely stand back and judge our own like they would be judged at a show. This is a must when getting the full picture of what you have in front of you. Along with doing this I take hundreds of pictures, from all angles of all of my rabbits through different growth stages and after assessing the rabbits in the flesh I also study the pictures to see if I have missed anything. This gives me a much better idea of what I am breeding and gives me the opportunity to see similarities of good points and also similarities of bad points creeping into my line. I can also use them for reference when assessing future litters to see exactly what I need to be looking for and at what stage to look for it. The memory is a funny thing and often does not recall history like you think you remember it. How many times have you said that the present litter you are running on is better than the last?- I bet you’re all laughing now because you know its true - we all do it, but is the present litter really better? Keeping all the photographic evidence allows me to judge them against each other. Knowing how the youngsters have developed into adults I can watch my present day litters grow with the knowledge that they should develop on just fine. It takes a lot of the guess work out of breeding and providing you are line breeding you should be able to take even more of the guess work out of it. Please let’s try and eliminate this problem which year after year I see getting worse, not better and hope that we can replace our crowns so the majestic lops we all love and breed really do look Majestic.