Saturday, June 28, 2008

Variation in Pearls

Pearl (or 'Point', as it is known in other breeds) is one of the most beautiful varieties of Angora, in my opinion. There have always been lots of Pearls around here because 1) I love them so much, LOL--and 2) they are steel-free, which has been a great help to me in my quest to strip that gene out of my herd. In this last round of breedings I have been using my oldest buck, Spang's Pierre, quite a bit. He is over 4 years old now and a nice Sable Pearl with some excellent traits that he seems to pass on very readily, so before it got too hot I decided to use him on every compatible doe I had, and I've gotten quite a few Pearls (mostly Sable) in the litters as a result.

Pearl is a color that can either be very dark, or so light that the coat is practically White for all intents and purposes. It is a clear DQ for a Pearl to have pure white body wool, but the standard otherwise describes this variety as having the "Light or dark marking color of Sable; Black, Blue, Chocolate, or Lilac, on-nose or mask, ears, feet, and tail, shading rapidly to a pearl or very light color. Undercolor to be white". According to the Rabbit Genetics list and other books I have read the 'ideal' Pearl is considered to be the very light but not-quite-white version. In my own barn, I have always favored the heavily shaded Pearls with lots of ticking and clear demarcations in the nestbox.

There have been both very lightly shaded Pearls and very dark bunnies born here this spring:). Today I made a project out of trying to photograph some, but as you can see most of the pictures did not come out clearly, though you can still see the markings I was referring to (I think my camera may be starting to bite the dust in today's entry, but it will have to survive a little longer, LOL).

These first two pictures are of some very well-marked Pearls in Echo and Pierre's litter. Even though the picture is blurry you can still see that there are lines of obvious shading on the side of each baby in addition to the normal mask and ear color (much like a good Tort, which is essentially a 'Reverse Pearl':)). The very lightly marked Pearls that are sometimes born do not have these demarcations, just the mask/ear color only. Without exception they all develop into adults that are showable under the standard, but who do not display the kind of shading and ticking that is evident on these babies below, who will grow up to be much darker and more heavily 'marked'.

This next picture below is of one of the babies out of Sadako and Pierre's last litter (age 6 weeks), who is NOT heavily shaded. Unfortunately the marks that are so easy to see in the nestbox tend to get more and more difficult to see once the wool begins to grow in. At this point even a good photograph would have difficulty exposing the difference, though it is still clear with the naked eye in good light during the day. This baby has shading only on the face and ears for the most part, but it is still perfectly showable. The baby BELOW it is a Pearl out of Neva and Dijon's litter who had very discernible shading from the beginning, and even today is basically 'frosted' with Sable tips from head to toe:

(Note: These babies are not posed on a grooming table, but given the temperatures today it wasn't a good idea to move anyone without a compelling reason, so all were snapped in-house instead:)).
In the previous entry where I posted pictures of my older Juniors there were also examples of 'light' and 'dark' Pearls. Spang's D'Artagnan was a very dark color as a baby and continues to have deep shading, while Spang's Savarna was very light, as is evidenced by her present wool color.
These are just a few observations about the color Pearl in Angoras. Once my Sable/Pearl line is established I will probably begin routinely selecting for dark shading in this color. While 'Pointed' could theoretically become too dark in a short haired rabbit, the fact that Angoras elongate their color can give us a great deal of leeway in determining how deep it could actually go in a long-haired rabbit (IMO). Although I do not spin, I imagine that the richest yarn would also result from the darkest rabbit, so it seems like a desirable trait to breed for.
More again next time as we wait for the temps and humidity to go down (soon, I hope) and two more litters to pop up out of Oomi and Evariste, due July 1 & 2.
Have a great weekend!:-)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Herbs for Prego Moms

In keeping with the kindling/litter/pregnancy/breeding season subjects of the past week, I thought I would post another entry on the care of pregnant does. This one has to do with herbs that are beneficial during pregnancy, post-birth, and weaning, and since many of us have 'bunny borders' in our gardens at this time of year, it seems like a good topic to address.

Spring is the optimal time for getting does bred and kindling successful litters, and most everyone in the barn is ready for babies and doing what comes naturally as a result.
Since we have such a huge garden and a large variety of herbs at our fingertips, I have been using them more and more heavily during the breeding season, particularly for pregnant and nursing does.

There are lots of plants and herbs out there that benefit rabbits, but some are especially excellent for pregnant and lactating does. There are a few vitamins/minerals that are important for does and developing litters DURING pregnancy, some that are helpful AFTER kindling, and some that work to dry up a doe once the litter is weaned.

Before pregnancy, always make sure that the doe is in good condition. She cannot be woolblocked, experiencing health problems, or physically compromised in any way. She should not be fat or routinely overfed either, because overweight does build fat deposits around the reproductive organs that can hinder conception and litter growth. A vitamin that is critical at this time is Vitamin A, particularly since levels of this nutrient tend to fall off during the winter in pelleted feed and leave a doe deficient when it comes time for spring breeding. The PRIME source of Vitamin A in herbs/plants is unquestionably Dandelions, which contain 14,000IU of the vitamin in every 100 grams. Another good source is Comfrey.

Dandelions are easy to find and EXTREMELY palatable to most bunnies. I usually give 4-5 leaves to pregnant does every other day during gestation, and 2-4 leaves to every other rabbit at the same time (just for the other benefits it provides). Comfrey should be given more sparingly since studies have indicated the presence of carcinogenic properties in the leaves when they make up 33% of the diet, but it is still a beneficial plant as long as you feed it less often (about 1X a week) and rip it up finely so that it doesn't stick to the rabbits' wool.

The second most excellent herb to give pregnant does is probably Parsley. The wonderful thing about Parsley is that it is an appetite stimulant, it is good for woolblock, AND it is an excellent source of calcium which pregnant and nursing does need and can experience severe to fatal health problems without. I give 2-4 sprigs of Parsley to my does every other day as well:).

Another supplement to mention which is NOT an herb but is nonetheless helpful to gestating moms is an Electrolyte solution. AcidPak is an excellent product for this purpose (available at Klubertanz and other cage or livestock companies), and can be added to the water to keep systems balanced under the strain of kindling and nursing. I give 1/4 tsp. per gallon to does for 3-4 days before kindling and 3-4 days after. I continue to supply it every other day afterward, particularly in hot weather.

Directly after kindling the regimen changes and every doe who has just had a litter is given 4-5 leaves of raspberry, blackberry, or strawberry as a tonic for the reproductive tract and to soothe inflammation. Dandelions are eliminated from the diet entirely at this point because they boost milk supply and feed/supplements must be restricted the first few days to prevent too much milk from being forced in too early. Since dandelion stimulates milk production it may be helpful to does who are NOT good nursers and need extra help 3-4 days after kindling, but a good milker will need all stimulants eliminated completely until at least the 10th day when kits are beyond the danger of being overfed and the supply begins to dramatically increase. If a litter is large (7 or more kits) I begin adding it again around the 2nd week and certainly during the 3rd week when milk production is at it's highest and the doe needs all the help she can get in the heat of summer:).

Other herbs that stimulate milk production are Borage (both the leaves and flowers) and Fennel.

Once a litter is weaned it is time to dry up the doe and get her system back to normal. Some does wean babies naturally around the 5th or 6th week, but to be honest (more often than not), I have seen litters still nursing at 7-8 weeks, so do not assume that a doe is dried up and needs no special care because the babies are older.

Mint and Sage are excellent herbs for slowing down milk production, and can be given every day as soon as the last 2 babies are weaned. In addition to these, I take pellets away completely for 2 days and feed water and hay only, then slowly build the ration back up to pre-pregnancy levels. It is important to check the bellies of lactating does frequently to make sure that the milk is indeed drying up. If the stomach/chest is flat then the doe is fine and ready to go back to a normal feed ration. If you still feel puffiness/ lumpiness underneath keep the pellet level low and continue to feed herbs. Sometimes a doe who is a heavy milker will take longer than average to dry up----a doe I owned named Chartres routinely took 7 days to go all the way back to normal after weaning 8 week old litters, so be sure to check undersides every day:).

Well, that's it for today. We are winding down here after a hectic week with lots of active children running around (8 of whom are boys, LOL!), and now I will be looking forward to getting life back to normal and kicking off a fun and productive summer vacation. More again next time!:^)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Just a Quick Post----

I just wanted to post something quickly regarding the discussion on the Angora Rabbit List regarding BEW genes and a particular breeder's line. An entry was posted regarding a quote by a particular breeder that I misread and responded to this morning, and I would like to ask anyone from that list who reads this blog to disregard the posts I wrote and accept my apologies for jumping the gun and misunderstanding what the poster was originally trying to say. I posted this apology to the list but the thread was terminated before it turned up so I figured I would post it here instead. There are 9 children currently running through the house on vacation here this week making my faculties decidedly less sharp than usual (LOL), and I have not been reading mail as carefully as I usually do.

Other than this, that is about all:). More stuff on Wednesday regarding bunnies and other things, and have a wonderful but cool week.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kit Stuff

Another previously published post:

I have 3 new litters this week----2 all REW litters out of Chartres and Calista sired by Marcel, and 1 litter of 2 (originally 3) out of Edelweiss, who had 1 REW and 2 Chestnuts by Emil. Anja, my Black doe, lost a litter of 9 the other day when she kindled overnight and failed to pull any wool (this was her first litter and by the time she pulled a pile the next day it was much too late:( ). I've already repeated her breeding and also gone ahead and fostered Edelweiss' babies over to Chartres since Chartres had only 4 this time and needs litters of 6-8 considering the amount of milk she produces. When I pulled the box out this morning all 6 of her babies were filled to bursting, so I may foster a few more over from Calista if it seems like she could use the break over the next couple of days, LOL.

There are several kit behaviors I have noticed over the years that make it easy to tell whether a litter has been fed well or not. I am normally one of those breeders who takes all nestboxes indoors and only brings them out for a feeding until the babies are 3 weeks old, but there are times when I have a doe who does not jump into the box right away and takes her time getting around to feeding. In those situations I need to leave it out longer and check babies periodically to tell whether they have been fed and the box can be brought back in:).

The reason I bring my boxes back and forth is two (or three) fold. First of all, I like to be present when feedings are taking place to avoid kits dying of exposure after being dragged out of the nest. With some does this hardly ever happens but with others I am almost guaranteed to find one or two on the wire after every feeding, so I always hang around to put everyone back in. Second, since we live near the woods in a very rural setting, the chance of predators invading the barn at night to snatch babies is a very real possibility, so I avoid that by having everyone safe in the house after dark. Thirdly, I don't like to take chances that baby feet will get caught in the floor wire, so lately I have kept litters in the house in hay padded carrying cages or rubbermaid tubs until 3 weeks of age, when their feet are usually big enough to be safe and they are ready to eat solid food and live with Mom in the cages full time. Keeping litters indoors also allows me to keep closer tabs on the babies, and they are handled more often by people as a result.

Babies who have just been fed will typically be very fat, and they are often wet with urine (which usually happens right after feeding). Right after they have eaten and the doe leaves the nest they begin digging away at the nesting material in an effort to fluff up the wool and dry the nest. This is when you hear frantic scratching noises (from older babies, especially), after which the entire litter settles into a pile and goes to sleep. Well fed babies are dopey and sluggish in much the way human babies (newborns) are right after they have nursed or finished a bottle.

Babies who have NOT been fed have thin and wrinkled stomachs, and when you stick your hand into the nest they immediately begin squirming, squealing, and "popping" up in an effort to find food (remember that newborn kits are blind and locate food by warmth and smell). If I have not looked at anyone's stomachs but the babies are jumping left and right when I stick my hand in, it is a pretty fair guess that they have not been fed.

Sometimes you will have a litter that has not been fed very much, (or enough to fill their bellies completely), and they will still be active after a feeding. Situations like this typically resolve themselves about 2-3 days after birth when the doe's real milk comes in and a regular nursing pattern gets established, but if you find that the litter is not quite full you can bring the box back to the doe again later in the day. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't, but either way the baby/s should catch up quickly over the next day or two.

Occasionally you WILL get a doe who never gets milk due to genetics, sickness, or poor mothering ability (which is usually genetic as well). In a case like this you have no choice but to foster the litter to another doe who has been bred to kindle at the same time. If the doe in question is a first timer you may want to breed her again to see if the problem reasserts itself, but if you have tried 3 or more times with the same result, cull her out and think twice about keeping any of the babies she produced. It is a good idea ALWAYS to breed 3-4 does at a time because you will need extra mothers to foster babies to in the event of an emergency, and if you only breed 2 there is the chance that one of them won't take. Fostering is a very simple procedure that requires no paraphenalia----just take the babies out of one nest and place them into the pile of babies in the other nest several hours before bringing them to the doe. By feeding time they will all smell exactly the same and she will never know the difference. It is the simplest solution for orphaned babies:). If you need to foster babies of the same color together (REW, for example), take a black Sharpie and mark the inside of one or both ears for identification, redrawing them every day or two to keep things clear and legible until weaning.

Once the first 5-6 days after birth have passed, everything seems to fall into line and nursing becomes a regular task that the moms take care of casually and expertly. At the age of 3 weeks babies are out of the nest, beginning to eat, and displaying signs of normal rabbit behavior. Mom lays off to the side and patiently allows the little ones to climb and sleep all over her, nursing as needed until they are ready to wean.

Back to the here and now, there were three new litters born last week out of Pascha/Pierre (1 REW and 1 Sable), Neva/Dijon (2 Torts, 3 REWs), and Echo/Pierre (4 Sables, 4 Pearls, 5 REWs). All are doing very well except for two or three in Echo's litter, who I wouldn't be surprised to lose considering the size of the overall bunch. Work is over for the summer so I will be getting back to a normal blog schedule now starting Wednesday. It should be a productive summer what with the breedings going on and working to renovate my website (long, long past due, LOL). It will all be lots of fun and hopefully result in lots of fabulous babies, which is always a good thing:).

Best of luck getting those girls bred, and have a wonderful week!:^)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lots and Lotsa Babies:)

Well, I finally got everyone out for a good photo session today and figured I'd introduce the keepers out of this spring's litters:). There are three 4 week old litters in the barn that will hopefully add more guys and gals to the roster and 3 does due this week also, so the breeding schedule for 2008 is definitely in full swing.

This is a (very fuzzy) picture of a baby I am keeping out of Evariste and Dijon. This is Spang's Natalya--8SP27

Below are some babies out of Juno and Dijon's litter. I was going to sell the Fawn doe but then decided to keep her at the last minute. This will be Spang's Mimosa--8SP11

This is a Black Pearl buck with wonderful size and density out of the same litter.

Spang's D'Artagnan--8SP12

And this is the pick of the litter and the best buck out of all the babies this spring---Spang's Giacomo--8SP14

This is Giacomo's sister--Spang's Arcadia--8SP15

And these two babies below are the keepers out of Echo and Pierre's litter. The first is a Sable doe named Spang's Benin (8SP17). Benin's Sable brother (recently named Woodstock) went home with Elaine Harvey last week as a trade back for Echo, who is a CCR rabbit:).

This is Spang's Savarna--8SP21, also out of Echo and Pierre, and by far the most beautiful baby born this spring:). I've included 3 pictures of her here because she has such incredible type and wool. She and Giacomo are the top picks for 2008 so far---I will probably breed them together in another 6 months or so.

And speaking of Savarna, here is a quick shot of Elaine and her traveling friend Judy looking her over last weekend. We had a great time checking out bunnies that day. It is always great to have another set of eyes and hands in the rabbitry to prevent barn blindness from rearing it's ugly head (as it is prone to do in a heat wave, LOL!:)

The babies shown below are a week younger than those above (at only12 weeks), and are out of Morwenna and Dijon. The first bunny shown is the best of this litter, a doe I named Spang's Sabini (8SP43)

And here is a REW buck out of the same litter with fabulous density and balance that I am calling Spang's Fabrice--8SP42

So this is about it so far! I am relieved to be expanding the herd again, to tell the truth, because I have been relying on too few bunnies during the breeding season. My next project will be to branch my herd off according to colors and begin breeding like variety to like variety in order to improve the color quality of my herd, and create several distinct lines so that when I need 'new blood' from time to time I will be able to take it out of my own barn, LOL. I have been breeding my FAs very tightly for the past year or so, but now I am going to branch out a little in order to expand the bloodlines and create more depth in the herd. It will take several more breedings to get enough bucks and does of each color to get this started, but it should work well once things get underway (I hope:^)).
Have a great week and a Happy Father's Day!:) I'll be back again next week and then more often now that the school year is over this Mon. Best of Luck with the buns!!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Litter Facts

Just posting another old article as I muck my way through the last crazy week of school. More pictures and stuff will be coming up soon as I revert to normal bunny life in a week or so. Thanks for being patient!:-)

Now that Spring is on it's way (we hope) and many of us will begin to breed in earnest over the next couple of months, I thought it would be a good time to post an excellent description of 'Parturition and Maternal Care' found in the 'Rabbit Production' book, 8th Edition, on pg. 254. Many of us die-hard rabbit people already have this book on our shelves, but I find that I refer to it again and again, especially the Chapter on 'Rabbit Production', which is concise and well-written:). Here is an excerpt:

"During the last week of pregnancy, the corpus luteum secretes prostaglandin, which destroys the corpus luteum and markedly reduces progestin secretion. There is also an increase in the hormone prolactin, which stimulates the behavior known as nest building. Nest Building is seen a few days before parturition and involves building a "material nest" of hay, straw, or whatever nest material is provided. In the day or so prior to kindling there is a loosening of the hair on the belly, thighs, and dewlap. The doe pulls this hair and interweaves it with the material nest to form the "maternal nest". The quality of the maternal nest and the time at which the nest building occurs depend on the breed of the doe, her previous experience (the quality of the nest tends to improve with successive litters), the nesting material available, and the season of the year.

Parturition occurs in response to a decrease in the progestin levels (which maintain the uterine muscles in a quiet state during pregnancy), and an increase in estrogen and prostaglandin levels, and the sudden release of the hormone oxytocin from the posterior pituitary. The exact stimulus for this release is not known. Oxytocin, estrogen, and prostaglandin stimulate contractions of the uterine musculature, which force out the kits. Reflex contractions of the abdominal musculature also assist in the birth process.

Parturition in the rabbit normally occurs in the early morning, taking about 30 minutes, with individual kits born at intervals of 1 to 5 minutes. The doe crouches in the nest and licks each of the young as it is delivered. This dries the kits, removes blood and tissue debris, and stimulates blood circulation. The firstborn kits generally begin nursing before the rest of the litter is born. This may assist in the birth process, since the suckling stimulus will result in further release of oxytocin. The entire litter is generally delivered at one time, although it may be spread over one to two days. Occasionally a single fetus will be delivered a day or more before the remainder of the litter. The kits are hairless, blind, and deaf at birth.

When parturition is complete, the doe eats the placenta and dead kits. This is common behavior among animals, even noncarnivores like the rabbit. Since the waste material may attract predators or act as a medium for the growth of bacteria, such behavior increases the chances of survival of the young.

Pg. 256

Some does, especially those that are young or exceptionally nervous or those that are disturbed during kindling, may give birth outside the nest (scattering) or may eat some or all of the young (cannibalism). The causes of these abnormal behaviors are not known, although they are most often seen with does that build poor nests. A doe that persists in either behavior for several successive litters should be culled. Scattering of the litter often results in loss of the kits because rabbits, unlike other species such as cats, do not return kits to the nest.
The doe normally nurses the litter only once each day for about four or five minutes. Prior to her arrival, the kits move to the top of the nest material to facilitate reaching the nipples. The kits change nipples very frequently during the early part of suckling, remain relatively quiet through the middle of the period, and then begin moving rapidly toward the end. At the end of suckling, the doe deposits several fecal pellets in the nest box and abruptly leaves. This is independent of whether the kits are still nursing. The kits are stimulated to urinate by wet or cold, so because of the dampness from nursing, they all urinate. They begin a pattern of behavior that includes digging through the nest material for 15 to 30 minutes. This serves to fluff and dry the nest. After this, the kits form into a group and remain quiet for about 22 hours when they again move to the top of the nest material to await the doe.

Contrary to popular belief, the doe does little to maintain the nest or the kits. she may lick one or more of the kits during suckling, but this appears to be for recognition rather than for stimulation of urination and defecation as previously thought. There is no evidence that the doe needs to lick the kits for stimulation of either of these functions."

'Rabbit Production' is a wealth of information for rabbit raisers simply because it is scientific but simultaneously easy and interesting to read:). It is a bit on the pricey side in the cage catalogs (approx. $40.00, I believe), but it is well worth the price in better knowledge of your rabbits and their needs. Many breeders, both Angora and otherwise, refer to it as much as any other book they have, perhaps more:).

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Theories of Breeding

Tonight I am running another old article from my previous blog. Hopefully no one is profoundly disgusted by the fact that I am doing this (LOL!), but I have some great info. sitting here in my files and I would like to get it into the archives here ASAP so that it is accessible from this blog as well. I am extremely busy at work right now with end-of-year meetings, reports, and testing, etc. but once the 16th rolls around it will all be over and I will be back to gabbing and raising bunnies full time:). I took lots of pictures of babies this weekend and have pretty much decided who I am going to keep out of the oldest litters, but I will post those pictures in the next entry so as not to bore you out of your skull with another monotonous slew of baby photos (it seems like I have been gawking at these cutiepies too much lately:-). I am going to post 2 pictures of Oomi however, because she was absolutely beautiful before I clipped her yesterday. Just to brag for a minute, this rabbit has great wool but an even better body underneath it---one of the best bodies I have ever bred here in fact, LOL:). I bred her to Pierre yesterday for a first litter, and I am hoping that she can pass that type on to her babies.

More next time!

Theories of Breeding:

I have been doing alot of reading lately about various breeding systems, and not surprisingly there seems to be more than one idea on how to improve the quality of a rabbit line over time:).

Okay, LINEBREEDING is a system of breeding where rabbits are repeatedly bred back to other family members (uncle to niece, daughter to grandfather, granddaughter to grandfather, etc. etc. and so on down the line). The advantage to this type of breeding is that you are (assumably)concentrating superior genes and minimizing variation in a gene pool to make the breeding results more uniform and predictable. The disadvantage of this method is that when you practice it for a long period of time the overall vigor of your herd tends to decline as the animals become more homozygous, so that it becomes important to either: keep a very large herd in order to substantially widen your gene pool, or periodically introduce unrelated stock to invigorate and extend the life of your line. Linebreeding is critical to the success of any serious breeder, and the only real way to produce consistent, high-quality stock.
INBREEDING is the mating of brother to sister in order to force recessive genes to express themselves OR increase the homozygosity of a herd to the point where the GOOD qualities are so firmly set that there is an excellent chance that the traits will be passed down, even when the rabbit is bred to an inferior quality animal later and again to it's own offspring. Inbreeding is a tool to use when you have linebred for a long period of time and want to set your good traits as firmly as possible. It is also good to do when you have been diligently culling out recessives over time and want to see what remains to weed out. It's sort of the culmination of a good breeding program, in a way:).

Now, there also seem to be opposing theories as to how to go about improving the specific qualities of your line. Once school of thought says that you need to breed together animals who are virtual 'opposites', for ex. a rabbit with wide shoulders and a narrow HQ to a rabbit with narrow shoulders and a full HQ, to improve the offspring. The other theory says that you should breed only good quality to good quality, otherwise the pedigree will carry a greater variety of faults that the offspring will be much more likely to pass on, and the litters will be a grab bag of mixed results. This theory says, 'you cannot create or improve a trait that doesn't already exist in a rabbit'---you cannot breed out a quality that isn't present to begin with. To use an example, if your rabbits lack density in their coats, all the linebreeding in the world is not going to improve the problem if none of your rabbits carry genes for thick wool to begin with. Density is a quality that must be brought in from outside and purposefully injected into the line. IF you breed rabbits who have compatible but opposite traits according to the second theory (overly soft wool to overly coarse wool, etc.), you are not going to produce a rabbit with perfect medium texture, you will simply produce rabbits with large numbers of either one or the other. According to this philosophy you cannot blend an apple and orange and get a combination of the two because genes do not blend as a rule. It is the same concept with rabbits. If you want to start a quality line, you should first go around and collect various rabbits that express the traits you want in your line, and then practice intensive linebreeding to isolate and reinforce those desired traits, making the herd homozygous enough over time that all the same traits appear on all the same rabbits. It is a long and arduous task according to long term breeders, but well worth the effort when you are turning out the kind of stock that you originally pictured to begin with.

Well, so that's a little info. on general systems of rabbit breeding. Linebreeding systems are truly fascinating when you sit down and study them---they make it possible to get results that 20 years of haphazard breeding could never produce, and separate the men from the boys in terms of high quality breeding stock:).