Sunday, October 26, 2008

What is a Grand Champion?

Another post from the old blog. Please be patient while I switch them all over!:-)

Today I thought I would write an entry to try to answer the question of what a 'Grand Champion' is and what significance should be attached to this title. I suppose this is a topic that may be viewed as political and in some ways it certainly is, but since there are many people who are new or looking to purchase new stock for the first time in the rabbit world, it is important to understand what 'titles' and 'legs' mean, and how important they are in assessing the quality of a rabbit line.

First of all, a Grand Championship can only be earned when a rabbit has had 3 wins which have earned him/her 3 legs. A 'win' qualifies as a 1st place in any class, or a 1st place out of several classes combined, as in the case of BOV (Best of Variety), BOS (Best Opposite Sex), and BOB (Best of Breed). A 'leg' can only be earned toward the Grand Championship (GC) if there are at least 5 rabbits in any class being shown by at least 3 exhibitors. IF there are less than this number being shown in a class OR in the whole show, a rabbit can still be awarded 1st place or BOB and proceed to the Best in Show table, but the win will not technically 'count' and the rabbit will not be able to earn a leg towards the championship with it.

There are many instances in which a GC may be earned or 'engineered' (for lack of a better word), and it is very important to keep this possibility in mind when looking at the pedigree of a prospective purchase. A GC is NOT necessarily a superior rabbit, and a rabbit who readily earns a championship in one area may not necessarily be able to accomplish the same feat in a location with more competition or a higher level of quality in the breed.

Since Angoras are relatively uncommon in the US there will naturally be certain areas where they are numerous, and other places where they are practically non-existent on the local show circuit. The ethics of this practice may be controversial, but there is no rule against entering unregistered rabbits in a show under more than one name, so 'competition' can often be artifically created when 1 or more breeders enter their animals in such a way as to qualify the winning rabbit for a leg. I am not attempting to pass judgment on this practice, but merely pointing out that it is certainly possible to manufacture impressive pedigrees without actually showing an animal under rigorous competition. Always be sure to question breeders as to what the level of competition normally is at their shows, and whether or not there were more than 3 exhibitors physically present at the shows where their Champions were produced.

Indications of the true quality of a line can be observed in the following situations:

1-The breeder's animals regularly win or place in the top half of sizable classes with large numbers of exhibitors in local shows.
2-The breeder's animals regularly win or place in the top ranks of their classes at National shows, particularly the ARBA Convention.
3-The breeder occasionally or frequently wins Best in Show in the Open class (which is awarded out of every breed of rabbit in a show)
4-The breeder consistently shows quality stock and places well in stiff competition with different animals, not just the same rabbits week in and week out over several consecutive show seasons.

Again, I do not want to insinuate that people who do NOT show in highly populated areas do not have animals of high quality, OR that people who do not show or earn GCs at all are not raising excellent rabbits. Indeed, there are some breeders whose rabbits have never been shown, granded, or even registered who often have better stock than the breeders who show every weekend and have very fancy pedigrees. It is purely a matter of preference whether a person chooses to submit their rabbits to showtable evaluation or not, and when push comes to shove the true measure of quality is in the general reputation of the breeder and the quality of the animals they breed. A reputable breeder will always answer questions directly and will never knowingly misrepresent their stock. For those who DO show, the good thing about winnings on a pedigree is that the buyer can use this information to dissect a line further and interpret the meanings of titles that were assigned.

In conclusion, there will always be honest breeders, and not so honest breeders:(. Research sources for stock by contacting breeders with relevant questions. Speak to people who can refer you to reputable rabbit raisers, and use common sense when faced with a situation (or breeder) who does not seem altogether truthful. It is important to strive for as many GC quality animals as possible in your breeding program, but be aware--also--of what a title means and doesn't mean. Do not be fooled into thinking that a highly decorated animal is necessarily any better than the one who has rarely been shown or has never seen the outside of a barn. In the final reckoning it is the overall quality of a line that counts, not the number of awards or legs a certain rabbit has accumulated. EVERYTHING is relative, remember. Especially in the show world:^).

Also, here are some current events before I finish this post:). I have been busy grooming mature coats this week and culling my herd down to final numbers before the next litters come, and I took several pictures of some of the keepers. My oldest juniors are now approaching 5-6 months of age with the rest being younger, and I've bred 3 more does for PA Convention jrs. Also, speaking of conventions! The big National ARBA Convention starts this week and I'm sure people are frantically getting ready and grooming their bunnies before the judging starts, <:-O. Obviously I am still at home and not one of those people, LOL, but I may attend 2010 and will most definitely be at 2011, since it should be swinging back to the east coast by then and there will be no excuse not to go, LOL.
This is a beautiful Fawn buck out of Morwenna's last litter who I went back and forth about selling but who I have now decided to keep because of his great balance and type.
And this is a horrible picture of a Chestnut buck tentatively named Angelo. Sorry about the blue lines. Argh!
And this is one of two Pearl does out of Oomi who are so close in quality that I kept them both to see how they develop:
And this is the very best doe/rabbit that has come out of last summer's breedings. I don't know what her senior coat will look like so I may have to eat my words yet, LOL, but as of now she has the best type, balance, and wool out of everyone, and I am hoping that she'll do well in the future. Her name is Spang's Magdeline:
And next here, believe it or not, is an F3 NZ/FA cross doe in her first Sr. coat! She has not grown it in all the way yet and I don't think her texture is as perfect as it should be, but she should make nice babies for the next generation, and she will be ready for the showtable if her coat looks good in a few months.

And last of all is the pick of Morwenna/Oberon's last litter, a very promising Tort doe at 4 months of age.

Have a great week and best of luck to all the Convention goers!!!!:^)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rabbit Personalities

(the above rabbit is Spang's Evariste, one of my favorite does and definitely in the 'Inquisitive' category, LOL. She is friendly, happy, and a wonderful breeder and mother, proving the author's point in the article below:-)

I recently read an article that talked about the personality of a doe and how it seemed to directly relate to mothering ability. This was an excellent example of observation on the breeder's part because I have noticed similar patterns in my own herd and have spoken to other people who have noticed these characteristics as well.

Basically this article addressed 4 distinct personalities. The first profile typed the really aggressive doe (not necessarily a biter but a rabbit who is high strung and ferociously protective of her nest and babies). According to the author, this type of doe tends to be a very attentive mother, but is also more likely to trample babies out of stress, cannibalize them, or simply hurt the litter out of fear (like during a thunderstorm, for ex.).

The second type is the kind of doe who is very timid. This kind of mother can either be great or terrible, depending on whether she stays calm enough to do her job or allows her 'emotion' to get the best of her. If this type of doe gets frightened or feels threatened, she may neglect her litter entirely.

The third personality is the 'lazy' doe. According to the author of this article this is the WORST kind of rabbit to use simply because it does not care about breeding, kindling, mothering, or much of anything when it comes right down to it. These are the rabbits we work hard to get bred for months (or even years) but who refuse to cooperate, and these are the ones who drop babies on the wire with total disregard for the nestbox, and who refuse to care for them in general (in my own experience, these does often never get milk at all).

The 'lazy doe' personality type is the worst to have in the opinion of the author. This animal is simply not worth having because it is impossible to use for breeding, and apathy in this area is not something to perpetuate in future generations.

In the Angora breeds, the 'lazy doe' personality type is fairly common. Without pointing a finger or mentioning any specific breed, there are certain lines of Angora that have been selected for such docile personalities that they have completely lost the desire to do anything 'rabbit-like' such as breeding and raising litters. These animals, though they make excellent pets and woolers for certain people, are very often disastrous for breeding programs because they refuse to breed, kindle well, or nurse. No matter what the quality of any animal is, it should be culled immediately if the genetic material that makes it so wonderful cannot be extracted and easily reproduced.

The 4th doe personality type is what is called the 'Inquisitive' rabbit. According to this breeding article this is the most desired and excellent of all doe personalities. This rabbit is friendly, curious, and outgoing. She does not mind the breeder fiddling in her cage or with her litters, and is always pleased to see people and be cared for. She is not fidgety, nervous, or aggressive, but has a healthy attitude toward her surroundings and caretakers. These are those RELIABLE does we love so much!!:).

Anyway, I thought these classifications were really excellent, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. Aggressive rabbits are never preferred even when they don't actually bite, but they do tend to conceive well and raise healthy litters. Timid does can do the same as long as they are calm, and theirs is the personality type that thrives best with a predictable managment schedule. Lazy does have nothing going for them in any breeding program for the most part, and should either be culled or slated for the pet/wooler market. Inquisitive rabbits are undoubtedly the best animals, and I have correlated this type in my barn with the best and most reliable producers, too.

French Angoras in general tend to have more active personalities than the other Angora breeds, but they are also known as superior breeders and mothers, so I do not think this is a coincidence. It also seems clear that since a commercial bodied angora is dual purpose by definition, it is just as important for them to produce meat as it is to produce wool. The French, Satin, and Giant Angoras have commercial bodies, and this versatility is key to their survival, IMO. FAs continue to be popular because they are low maintenance, vigorous, and highly successful in the breeding/meat department, and commercial standards are acceptable because they are capable of high production and rapid gains in type and wool quality.
More again next time, and enjoy the Fall weather!:-)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Selection For and Against Traits

According to the same book I've been discussing for the last three entries (Rabbit Production), certain traits have certain degrees of heritability. On pg. 326 the authors say that,

"In general, traits related to fertility and disease resistance are lowly heritable (<15>40 percent)".

Improving traits that are lowly heritable is accomplished by establishing culling levels rather than by direct selection. In other words, to breed better mothers or does who conceive more readily with fewer misses, simply cull out does who do not take care of their babies or continually fail to conceive.

Improving traits that are moderately to highly heritable, on the other hand, is best achieved through Direct Selection. For example, if you are trying to improve the density on your FAs (a moderately heritable trait), then you should select and breed only those rabbits who display superior wool/density, and gradually your herd will improve in that area.

A place where much more specific selection must take place revolves around the color genetics of a herd. In this case, rabbits are born with specific genotypes (genetic codes), and when we breed them together those codes are combined in various ways in the offspring. Selective culling to get rid of certain color traits will not work in this instance, because simply getting rid of a baby who is a Chinchilla will not eradicate the Chinchilla gene in the parents or your herd. In order to completely get rid of certain genes in an offspring they must be selectively and intentionally bred out. Even Direct Selection will not eliminate undesirables, because choosing to breed only those rabbits who are NOT Chinchilla won't work. The gene can be carried even though the rabbit does not express it. Genes may lurk for generations until specific breeding combinations bring them out, and this is especially obvious in the area of color .

If I am looking to eliminate Chin from my litters completely (just as an example), the only way to do it would be to breed a Chin Carrier to a REW, and the resulting babies will then be devoid of 'chd' because of the contribution of a small c from the white parent. In color genetics, rules of selection apply that do not come into play with other traits.

There are many ways to select for and against different traits in a rabbit herd. Although methods may vary, the most important thing to remember is that breeders need to select clear goals for their herds and then stick to them! Circumstances change and goals alter whenever we learn something new, but as long as you choose your methods of selection and stand by them for the long term, your herd will progress. I once asked a very well known rabbit breeder what she considered the most important factor in developing a winning herd and she said, "Consistency". Understanding how trait selection works goes a long way toward increasing the quality of your herd, and is well worth the effort and research:).