Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nestbox Talk

-another post from the old blog

There are several kinds of nestboxes available for use with bunny litters, and all have their benefits and drawbacks according to purpose, season, and management style. Here are a few basic types that are easy to find, though there are other choices and a few models that are actually improvised with found materials, etc.


In my barn I use stainless steel nestboxes because I have access to some that are really well made from my meat processor, but I also keep them indoors 24/7 except for bringing them out for feedings, so temperature considerations are not an issue.
The first kind of nestbox that you ordinarily think of when breeding bunnies is all wooden. Years ago these were made of solid wood, but nowadays they are often constructed of plywood, and are easily made at home. The benefit of a wooden nestbox is that it is extremely warm for fall and winter litters, and quite durable if well made. They are relatively inexpensive, especially if made of plywood, and are heavy enough to stay in one place. The disadvantages of wooden boxes is that they are sometimes too hot in the summer (not as practical in warmer areas), and they are difficult to clean thoroughly after litters have lived in them for 3 weeks. The belief used to be that wood did not sanitize as easily as metal, but articles I have read recently indicate that wood DOES perform fairly well in that area, as long as it is cleaned thoroughly in all the nooks and crannies, disinfected, rinsed clean, and left to bleach in the sun whenever possible. Another downside to wood is that many rabbits find it irresistibly chewable, and a box that started out with nice smooth edges in the beginning may end up very jagged and splintery----a potential problem for wool coats.


If you decide to go with wooden nestboxes when first starting to breed, always make sure that the floor is either removable for easy cleaning OR there are good sized holes drilled into the bottom for drainage. One of the biggest dangers to newborn litters is the buildup of bacteria in a nestbox that does not get cleaned often enough and remains damp and moist for days or weeks at a time.


The second most popular type of nestbox is the stainless steel box. Steel boxes are useful in hot climates because they tend to be cooler, and they are extremely easy to clean and disinfect when a litter is finished with them. Most metal nestboxes come with removable floors which makes them easy to disassemble and scrub out, and they also tend to weigh less, which is an issue if you have a large breed with many babies per litter or you move your boxes in and out of the house.


Removable floors tend to be made out of a variety of materials, and there is one company that even sells them with solid metal floors, but that is a poor option because there is no drainage in a situation like that, and the use of it is asking for an immediate buildup of dangerous bacteria. I used to use layers of cardboard and newspaper, etc, in my nestboxes (after removing the original floors first), but the boxes I currently use have pegboard floors, which work wonderfully in terms of staying clean and keeping litters healthy. I used to get crusty eyes now and again with cardboard and other materials, but at this point I put a thick layer of hay on top of the pegboard and that is usually enough to keep everyone clean for 2 weeks along with wool that the doe pulled, and then a clean layer of bedding is added for week 3 which lasts until the box is removed altogether. Eyes are always open all by themselves by day 12, and there is never any dampness in the nest.



Another type of nestbox that is often used is called a 'drop box'. A drop box is a nestbox made of wire that is literally built into the floor of a large doe cage. The biggest advantage to a drop box is that it mimics the natural nesting conditions for a rabbit in the wild (which are underground), and it provides greater than average protection for kits who get pulled out of the nest after feeding because they simply crawl around the wire until they 'drop' back into the box. The disadvantage to this type of nestbox is that it is a permanent feature of the cage, and is thus unremovable without cutting up the floor and patching or replacing it. Another problem is that it cannot usually be used with stacking cages unless there is a wider than average space between each cage and the pan rests lower down beneath it. The best rabbitry setup for drop boxes is the single line of suspended cages such as one would find in a meat operation where does are bred almost constantly and there is no interference with any cages located below or above them.



Other options that people use when expecting litters consist of heavy cardboard boxes (which need to be secured because they tip easily though they can be discarded later), cat boxes and plastic tote boxes (which also need to be secured with wire and tend to retain alot of moisture), and homemade 'above' floor wire boxes. The primary considerations for any nestbox are that it be solid, heavy enough so that the doe cannot tip or flip it over while nesting or jumping in and out, it has excellent drainage, and it is easy to clean. Some boxes have metal or wooden lids on top that partially cover the box for greater privacy and protection from drafts, and others are completely open. Does sometimes have a greater preference for one over the other, so you have to watch your herd and experiment.



So this is a bit about nestbox 'pros and cons' (LOL). If you leave your litters outside all the time and breed over the winter, a wooden box may be the best choice. If you breed for meat and have a large herd operation, a drop box may be ideal. If you keep your boxes inside all the time except for nursing, metal may be the best choice for ease of transport and cleanliness, but everything depends on what your goals are and the kinds of management techniques you employ

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bunny Stuff

After getting some much needed grooming in today between all the baking, cooking, decorating, gingerbread house building, and normal daytime school stuff (LOL!), I snapped pictures of a couple of buns who are busy growing coats.

This first shot is one that was taken of Anton (a Sable Pearl buck) months ago when he was just a baby. The second is how he looks today, a whole lot bigger and growing in his very first Senior coat:).





These next two pics are of the best baby that was born here during the Fall breeding season. She is a little Tort doe that I will probably name Nadia if she ends up keeping all her great qualities:). She is 5 months old today and came out of a breeding between Margaux and Giacomo.





Btw, there were also two more litters born this week for a total of four boxes now sitting in my living room! Margaux had a litter of 7, and Yvonne (my F3 NZ/FA cross doe) delivered a litter of 8 REWs with Akeno as the sire.

More again next week, but until then have a wonderful, WONDERFUL holiday and may all your bunny wishes come true for the New Year!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Testing Your Stock'

---This is another post from the old blog. Sorry about all the older posts lately, but December is a busy month and I do want to get all the old posts transferred so that they will be readily available in the archives. Have a great week and stay warm!:-).



The best way to know what your rabbits carry genetically is by looking at what they produce in the nestbox. Of course, it is a great help to know what colors the parents were because alot can be ascertained that way, but breeding a rabbit several times and recording the colors that result can make it much easier to formulate a genotype for the sire and dam.


The basic rule of genetics is that a rabbit can only pass on what it carries or expresses to it's offspring, and since each offspring inherits half of each pair of genes from it's dam and the other half from it's sire, the colors that result will depend on how those genes interact with each other.


Some genes are dominant, which means that they will always express themselves first if the other half of the gene pair is recessive. In order to express itself (be visible in the nestbox) a recessive gene has to be paired with another recessive gene. If a certain recessive is always paired with a dominant gene in a particular herd it may never have the chance to express itself, which is why some colors can 'hide' themselves for many, many generations before finding like recessives to pair with and reproduce themselves.


A good example to use in describing how genes get passed on is the color White (or REW). White in rabbits is represented by a lower case 'c', and it takes 2 lower case 'c's to make a white rabbit in a litter. Since 'c' is a purely recessive gene, it is entirely possible for a Colored rabbit (such as a Chestnut or Self, for ex.) to be carrying it with no surface evidence whatsoever. If you were to breed that 'c' carrying rabbit to another rabbit though (White or Colored) that also carried a recessive 'c', then the result will be at least a few REW babies in the nestbox. There is a great deal of White in the majority of the Angora breeds because REW is a very competitive color in Angoras, but some non-wool breeds consider the gene a serious liability because White is not a recognized color in every type of rabbit.
If two colored parents are bred and REW babies appear in the litter (even just one), then you can be 100% certain that both parents carry the 'c' gene. Similarly, if both parents are Selfs (or one is even a REW) but you get one of the 'ee' colors in the nestbox (that would be Fawn, Red, Cream, Pearl, Tort, or Ermine) then you know that each parent must carry a recessive 'e', and so on.


To determine what color a REW really is under the white 'sheet' (because there is always a different, 'real' color in those rabbits), the best thing to do is breed it to a Self and examine what comes up in the litter. If you find Agouti babies in a nestbox out of a Self/REW breeding then you can be certain that the REW parent must be an Agouti under the White because the Agouti gene is dominant and could never have come from a Self (which is recessive too). Conversely, if you get nothing but Selfs in a good sized litter then you can be fairly certain that the REW must be Self underneath too, and you can use that information in future breedings to produce fewer unrecognized colors.


Why is it important to know what a REW is underneath in the first place? Well, the worst color combination that can be performed in rabbits is usually the Agouti/Shaded combination. Babies out of these pairings will often be a complete mishmash of color and can be so jumbled phenotypically that they cannot even be identified. They can never be shown, registered, or even sold very often because the majority of breeders will not accept unrecognized varieties into their gene pools. Even if they could be sold as pets or woolers there is always the chance that someone will take it upon themselves to experiment and breed 2 rabbits together just to 'see what happens' and end up producing an even larger cache of unrecognized colors that are unshowable, unregisterable, and unsellable.


Testing a REW first to know what color truly lies beneath the blanket allows you to use that rabbit according to it's real color in future breedings. If a White rabbit is genetically an Agouti, then you know that you can use this rabbit only with other Agoutis or Selfs, and should never use it with a Shaded. If your REW is genetically a Self then you have greater flexibility and can use it with other groups without fear of strange colors turning up. Combining 2 REWs can ONLY result in an all-White litter so you would not know what either parent carried in that case, but since REWs cannot carry Shaded genes (the 'c' being completely recessive) you would not be adding those genes to your pot to begin with.


Note: Breeders of other breeds are often mortified at the rate at which Angora breeders mix colors, and IMO they have a very legitimate point. The best and truest color comes from breeding pairs of the same variety together over several consecutive generations, and we in the Angora world would do well to imitate that policy if we want to weed out most of the color issues that plague our breed. Since wool animals are often raised by spinners as well as showpeople the desire for variety in color is strong, but the best way to achieve both variety and quality is to focus on each color separately and improve it slowly over time.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Baby Time Again

Two litters were born this week to Spang's Natalya and Spang's Kimba:). Juno's breeding did not take which wasn't a surprise given her age, and Althea (my Black 'plucking' doe:)) was not pregnant either, which will earn her a trip to the 'retirement' home of my local friend who has a fiber business and uses angora in her products exhaustively:). Given the fact that Althea is young and could not conceive twice under normal conditions means that she will not be fertile/ dependable enough to stick around here, especially if she is not a show rabbit and cannot earn her keep some other way. She will now live the rest of her life at a 'luxury' bunny house where her new owner will use her wool and happily keep an FA who molts on a regular basis:).

Margaux will be due in approx. a week and half and is definitely prego (carrying hay around like there's no tomorrow:))----and Yvonne is due around the same time, though it is harder to tell what is happening with her because she never carries hay or begins building nests until the Day Of, LOL.

Below are two pics of the new litters snapped earlier today (at 2 days of age). The first is of Natalya's litter with 3 REWs and 2 Blacks, and the second is of Kimba's bunch consisting of Black, REW, Tort, and Sable. Kimba is a Sable F4 FA/NZ cross and this was her first litter. She kindled a day early with 11 kits so all her Sable babies (the little Blue looking things in the first picture:)) were promptly moved to Natalya's box because Natalya had only 5 and I wanted to be extra sure that the Sables survived. Kimba was bred to Giacomo (a Tort) since he was the best choice at the time to produce more Sables, but next Spring she will be bred to Anton (a Sable Pearl buck) which will definitely produce more Sables and Pearls to get my Sable/Pearl line off the ground:).







Other than this not a whole lot is happening at this time of year with cold weather and the holidays:). Since there are no shows at the moment there is nothing to do but breed and gear up for the PA Convention in Feb, along with growing out coats for the 2010 Spring Season, which looks as though it is going to be nice with a great selection of buns.


Btw, for those of you who don't know (and I will be posting about it again in a few weeks:)) the United Angora Club (UARC) will be hosting TWO Specialties at the PA Convention this year on Feb. 6 & 7---a Saturday and Sunday. This year's PaSRBA show is expected to bring in over 12,000 rabbits, which is only 1,000 shy of the entry at this year's ARBA Convention in San Diego! The official catalog for the PA Convention is not available yet, but it will be posted mid-December on the PaSRBA Website at http://www.pasrba.org/.

More again next week, and hopefully everyone is fully winterized and holed up for the coming winter!:-)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nutrition and Feed Labels

--another post from the old blog


I took a close look at the nutrition labels on my feed bags the other day, and did a little reading up on what types of information a breeder could expect to glean from the 'Guaranteed Analysis' and 'Ingredients' list.


First of all, different feeds have different formulations depending on what the intended use is. Commercial Meat operations normally require a high protein feed that supports fast growth and an intensive breeding schedule (about 18%), while Wool herds require a high level of protein coupled with high fiber levels to encourage healthy gut motility and maximum wool growth (usually about 17-18%). Pet rabbits or rabbits who are not being bred or stressed in any way generally just require a 'maintenance' formula, which can be lower in both fiber and protein (15-16%). While ingredients and amounts on assorted labels may vary, the essential nutrients can be grouped into the following categories:


Protein
Carbohydrates
Fats
Minerals
Vitamins


These components are listed on feedbags in various orders, usually followed by (min) or (max) to show how much or how little of the ingredient is included. In the book 'Rabbit Production' a clear description of how to read a feed label is included:


"By law, a feed tag must provide certain information, varying somewhat by state or province. Crude protein is usually listed as "minimum" or "min." In other words, the feed manufacturer can provide more protein than listed on the tag. The manufacturer is not likely to consciously do so, as protein is expensive. Similarly, the crude fiber is listed as "maximum" or "max." Again, this is to protect the buyer. Fiber sources are generally cheaper than grains. By stating a maximum fiber level, the manufacturer assures the buyer that cheap, low quality fibrous feedstuffs haven't been added to dilute the feed. If the feed has less than the maximum fiber content listed, it means that higher cost ingredients have been used. As a result, rabbit feeds generally have protein contents very similar to the tag values, whereas crude fiber levels are often lower than listed. This regulation has caused misunderstanding by some rabbit raisers, who may want their feed to contain a particular fiber level. They would prefer that the tag read "minimum" for crude fiber. However, this is not required by feed regulations.
It is impossible to look at a feed tag and say conclusively that the feed is good or bad. The information provided is insufficient to allow a judgment to be made. Crude protein is not a measurement of protein at all, but a measure of nitrogen. There is no indication on the tag of the quality of the protein (its content of essential amino acids). There is no indication of the digestibility of the protein. A crude Protein analysis does not distinguish between soybean meal and shoe leather. There is no information on a feed tag about the energy content of the feed or about the specific level of minerals and vitamins." (pgs. 150-151)


Since we cannot get specific information from the 'guaranteed analysis' itself, it often helps to look beneath at what is contained in the ingredient list. First, the best source of roughage in rabbit feed is generally considered to be Alfalfa meal. While Alfalfa is an excellent source of high fiber, it is also significantly high in a type of protein that is well digested by rabbits. It is also an excellent source of phosphorus, calcium, and potassium, and contains indigestible fiber which is helpful in preventing enteritis. In addition to this, it contains vitamin A and carotene. Considered altogether, the virtues of Alfalfa usually make it the very first ingredient in high quality rabbit feeds.


Significant sources of grain (carbohydrates) are Corn, Wheat, Milo, Barley and Oats. Corn, wheat, and milo are high energy grains, while barley and oats tend to be on the lower end of the spectrum because of their fibrous hulls. Corn (especially) is not recommended for use in hot climates or during the summertime because of the possibility of gut imbalances leading to diarrhea, and barley and oats should be scaled back during the warmer seasons as well. Oats and corn are highest in fat content, while barley is the highest in fiber content. Corn is considered to be the highest energy grain available.


The best and most reliable source of protein in rabbit feed is Soybean meal. Soybeans (heated/roasted, never raw) are palatable to rabbits, have high digestibility, and are well balanced in amino acids. Other supplements for protein found in rabbit feed include Cottonseed meal, Sunflower meal, Rapeseed meal, Safflower meal, Linseed meal, and Peanut meal.


Additional ingredients found in rabbit feed are probiotics (to reduce growth of pathogens in the digestive tract), pellet binders (such as bentonite or lignin sulfonate), flavoring agents such as thyme or molasses, Salt (a necessary ingredient to satisfy sodium chloride and trace mineral requirements), Copper Sulfate (to inhibit growth of pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract), Yucca Extract (to reduce the release of ammonia into the air and keep odor down in the rabbitry), and enzymes such as those found in pineapple and papaya to break down hairballs in the wool breeds.


A well formulated pellet will ensure that herds are kept healthy and productive in every capacity, but a poorly formulated one can result in a range of health problems, some of which can be fatal. The storage of feed is also very important. Bags must be stored in a dry location that is rodent proof, and pellets must either be kept in the bag or stored in metal or plastic bins. The milling dates of all feeds should be checked upon pickup, and anything older than 3-6 months should likely be discarded due to loss of vitamin content and the increased likelihood of rancidity (mold or toxins developing in the feed). The best feed is a feed that is freshly milled with the highest quality ingredients. If you use your rabbits as a guide, the freshest feed is also the one that is most readily eaten, while older pellets tend to offend a rabbit's sensitive palate and are often left sitting in the dish.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quick Grooming Note:)

It's a simple thing that might seem obvious but after just having groomed a bunch of bunnies this week it is important to remember that the short hair on Angora faces molts too!! From what I see here it doesn't always seem to molt at the same rate as the body wool---especially if a bunny doesn't fully release to begin with, but it definitely does blow several times a year and it is important at those times to take a slicker and brush their little heads vigorously to get the stuff all off:). I groomed some bucks recently and couldn't get over how much fur was coming off their foreheads, so do make a point of grooming the WHOLE rabbit every time you take your bunnies out for maintenance!


Have a great week:-)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Stess, Timing, and Routine

---another post from the old blog


I have been thinking quite a bit lately about Stress in rabbits. I have always been a strong proponent of routine and consistency with animals, and I believe this idea translates to every other thing that we do in our lives. When I first got into bunnies I realized that the calmer the surroundings of the herd were and the more consistent their daily routine, the less health problems they seemed to have. I often heard (and continue to hear today) stories of problems people are having with their bunnies' health: breeding problems, conditioning problems, woolblock problems, eating problems, weight problems, etc. etc. etc. When you question them further about the details, it almost always comes out that some sort of inconsistency in management is taking place that the person often has no idea is having any effect on their herds. What exactly does 'inconsistency' mean? Let's use feed as an example. Say you buy a certain feed for your bunnies that is considered a 'quality pellet' for angoras, and begin feeding it. After a certain period of time you notice that the condition of your rabbits has not improved despite the fact that you have switched from a standard pellet to one that contains more protein to sustain and grow a wool coat, and you were told by breeders with excellent stock that you would get results. All other things being equal, it is now time to go beyond your feed and take a look at your feed routine. Begin by asking yourself these simple questions:


1) Do you feed your bunnies at the same time every day?

2) Do you feed your bunnies the same amount every day (measured)?

3) Do you continue to feed the same brand without switching to other feeds when you run out--substituting cheaper pellets to stretch the expensive stuff, let the bunnies go several days on hay and grain before picking up the next batch of feed, and so on and so forth?

4) Do you add lots of treats to the bunnies' diets that are not technically 'bunny approved'? For ex, do you allow 'human' foods such as processed foods or foods that contain sugar, artificial ingredients, and other additives? Are treats given often?

5) Do you supply fresh water daily?

6) Are parts of the bunnies' individual days unpredictable as a rule?



The point I am trying to make is that simply buying good products won't do the job in producing high quality show bunnies and excellent woolers. The ingredient that is much more important (that we neglect to mention or think about) is the importance of routine. Rabbits are flight animals, which dictates that they live in a constant state of alertness and experience chronic levels of stress. In Nature this is beneficial because it enhances survival, but in domestic rabbits it can pose serious problems in terms of achieving maximum growth, optimal weight, and most of all, good condition. In human beings Stress is at the root of serious health problems, and in children it has been connected with learning difficulties, psychological problems, and interference with physical growth in some cases. Rabbits are even more susceptible to stress than people, so in order to raise good stock we need an environment that is healthy and a routine that is consistent and regular.


Pick one time of day to feed your bunnies and stick with it. Try aligning your feed schedule with the time rabbits normally eat in the wild, (near or around dusk), and fill their dishes in the late afternoon or early evening. Feeding on a schedule decreases stress by allowing the herd to know exactly when it can expect to be fed. A regular schedule also leads to improved eating and more predictable weight gain.


Always feed your bunnies the same amount each day. Keep an old measuring cup in your feed bucket and bring it out with you religiously to measure feed for every rabbit every day. If you need to increase feed for whatever reason (wintertime, does with litters, etc.), do so slowly, at an amount of no more than 1/8 cup extra feed per day until you reach the desired ration. Erratic feeding leads to upset stomachs, and upset stomachs lead to bunnies who won't eat or drink properly and lose condition.


Pick the best brand of feed you can afford and feed it day in and day out no matter what. This is not to say that emergencies don't happen and feed supplies at stores don't run out unexpectedly (because they do), but always do your part to have the same fresh feed on hand, enough bags in storage to last you through the month, and (ideally) more than one source for the same brand of feed should one location run out at the last minute. I have an agreement worked out with my own feed store so that they order enough of what I need each month in addition to the normal feed order and put it aside for me to pick up the same week. Keeping the feed brand consistent in your herd is important for obvious reasons---again---less digestive upset and a better chance for the feed you're using to pass on it's benefits over time.


Human treats for bunnies are never a good idea. Rabbits are herbivores, which means that they have NO REQUIREMENT for deli meat, bacon, dried fruit with sugar added, or sweetened human cereal. Certain herbs and greens will do no harm and can even be beneficial in small amounts, but even they should not be dietary staples, and overuse will accustom your rabbits to foods that cannot possibly sustain them or keep them healthy in the long run.


Fresh water is critical to good condition because bunnies with no access to water will not eat. The best Conditioners are usually the rabbits who drink the most, and these also tend to have the fewest problems with woolblock.


Paying attention to wool cycles and removing coats promptly when a molt begins is also important for maintaining condition, since a woolblocked bunny obviously won't eat at all. Timing is a critical issue. Bunnies who are fed good quality feed on a timely schedule thrive---bunnies who are maintained on a regular harvest schedule thrive, also. In other words, WHEN and HOW you do a thing is almost always more important than WHAT you do to your bunnies to develop a quality line. Keep rabbit schedules as boring and regimented as possible so that stressful surprises do not occur. Handle your bunnies only as much as necessary to avoid excessive self grooming and added stress. Provide the best quality feed and care possible and do not change it without a very, very good reason.


So anyway, that is the bunny philosophy for tonight:). I realize that there are people out there who claim rabbits should be 'bombproofed' to make them 'cope' better with the stresses of life and showing , but there really are physical limits to how much any rabbit can tolerate by nature, and a stressed rabbit will NEVER condition as well or look as good as a rabbit in a solid, regular management program at the end of the day. Quality and consistency are key and the most important ingredients in any endeavor, particularly bunny raising!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pluckers and Shearers

There has been a great deal of discussion lately on the lists regarding French Angoras who are raised to be plucked vs. those that are bred to be sheared. While grooming last weekend I took a doe out of the barn that I had been experimenting with to see how far she would go into 'total molt', and she definitely delivered:).



To back up a little, the majority of rabbits in my breeding program do not molt. What I mean by this is that most do not ever get to the point where their wool is released totally, making it possible to pluck their coats. Most go into a long drawn-out slipping stage where their wool declines in quality and has to be removed by clipping. Many of them will drop bits of wool here and there in the cage pan when the time for a harvest is near, but none ever blow their coats completely to the point where it is falling off and the fluff is flying around 24/7, LOL. This is acceptable and exactly what I prefer my rabbits to do because they are bred for show before anything else, but it is different from what the original French Angoras were bred to do, and different from what many fiber breeders at the present time prefer their animals to do. My own feeling is that a rabbit that is sheared is healthier than one that is plucked, but this is my personal opinion.



When I first got into FAs, the first bunnies I had were serious pluckers. I was told to comb their wool out when they began to molt so I did, but later on I acquired different stock that did NOT molt easily, and the rabbits had to be clipped in order to harvest their wool. Clipping worked better for my management needs than combing/plucking because the rabbits could be bred to molt (or 'slip') on a schedule that coincided with the spring/fall show schedules. The wool could be removed all at once with no delay and less strain on my hands, and there were far fewer issues with woolblock in my herd. I began breeding more rabbits who did not 'molt' and I crossed those who did into the ones that didn't so the offspring gradually grew even coats as well. For several years I had 'tweens' in my herd who seemed to both molt and need clipping (if that makes sense), but most eventually evened out with several babies still cropping up with non-synchronized senior coats a couple times a year. At present, 95% of my herd are clipping rabbits (not counting the NZ crosses), but there is still a tiny core in the barn that leans more toward the plucking-style coats.



This rabbit shown below is one of my 'pluckers:)'. Her name is Althea which means 'Black Night', and she is an old line rabbit that I kept exclusively because of her excellent color. She was born dark with no white hairs, snips, or faded color, and she managed to keep this color throughout her 2 years, throwing it onto a beautifully colored litter that was kindled last spring. She is not a show rabbit as she does not have good type and can never grow wool densely enough to compete with the buns that are sheared, but I keep her in an effort to pass her color to the rest of the herd.




After reading a discussion on the FA List about plucking and clipping, I decided to let Althea revert back to her natural molt cycle to see how long it would last and whether she would really release her coat to the point where it could be harvested without any pull or resistance. In the past I have clipped her even though she grows back unevenly because her function has been solely as a breeder (I did not want her to go off feed or shed multiple coats, etc). This time I let her go for a period of 5 months during which I was able to see two distinct coats coming in. At the end of the 5th month there were two coats of two different ages present (one new and one just coming into molt), and at this point Althea began to consume less feed and drink less water. She continued to look healthy and move normally, but instead of 1 mounded cup of feed she scaled back to 3/4 cup. Soon thereafter the water consumption fell off, so I decided to remove both coats and give her a break before the next breeding.



This first picture below shows Althea after she came in and I set her on the grooming table. You can see the various lengths of different coats growing in here. The newer growth is much darker than the old.




I picked up a slicker brush and began brushing out her old coat. Within a few minutes of grooming the old growth COMPLETELY and totally released with no resistance whatsoever (I mean completely off and onto the floor!). I am convinced that Althea is indeed a full-fledged 'plucker' of the sort that was described in our FA list discussion:-).


Here is a picture of her back after I had brushed out most of the old coat, leaving a patch of new growth in the middle:






After brushing for awhile I then clipped her down completely, and you can still see the pattern of growth coming up beneath her skin.



Anyway, so this was an interesting demonstration of a true plucking-style FA that develops a coat in stark contrast to the shearing rabbits on the other end of the spectrum. Plucking vs. shearing makes for an interesting comparison that every FA breeder should have the chance to observe sometime. I have always said (and very strongly feel) that it is important for every person to know what they have in their breeding programs so that they do not wind up clipping rabbits that should be plucked, and vice versa. Every FA is different (especially nowadays), so it is vital to know what you have in your herd so your goals can be aligned with your functions.




Have a great week!:-)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fulton, NY Show

Yesterday (10/24) we attended the Fulton show which is basically the last NY show of the fall season. There was an Open show in the morning and a Specialty in the afternoon hosted by the NY Angora Club. There was an unusually high number of FAs entered in both shows, which was fabulous! 47 were entered in the first and nearly the same amount was entered in the second, with 8 exhibitors. The judge for the first show was Helen Brose, and the Specialty was judged by Bob Shaftoe.

I brought 7 buns along with me to enter---3 Seniors and 4 Juniors. I don't normally bring a lot of juniors to shows simply because they are rarely able to compete with seniors and I don't like to stress them if it's not 100% necessary, but yesterday I loaded 3 FA/NZ cross babies (F4 generation) up for the first time to see how they would stack up against the purebreds. I don't feel that their wool is as good as the purebreds yet because they do not seem to have as much basal density and crimp, but the senior coats on the older ones are coming in evenly now and the seniors are starting to come closer to competitive show quality. This was a perfect show to test crosses in because there were 24 juniors entered alone, and a great deal of healthy competition for them.

In the morning Spang's Juno took BOB and Spang's Giacomo earned BOS. Spang's Etienne was the 2nd place Colored Sr. doe, Spang's DuBois (cross buck) took BOSV in the White class, Spang's Felix (cross buck) was the 1st place Colored Jr. buck, and Spang's Carmen (pure doe) was 1st place Colored Jr. doe.

In the second show Juno and Giacomo got BOB/BOS again, and Etienne took 2nd place CSD again. None of the juniors won their classes in this show, but 3 of 4 earned places in the top 3. At the end of this show Juno went on to take Specialty BIS.

Below are just a few pictures that were taken during the first show in the morning. The first two are of Helen Brose judging the Colored classes, and the last is of me taking buns out of the cubbies after the judging was over, LOL.









All in all it was lots of fun (as always:)), and now the season is over and I will be clipping everyone down and doing massive tons of breeding. There are some promising babies coming up out of the youngest litters who are almost 12 weeks old, and after this the herd will be smaller and more manageable again (at least until the next batch arrives, LOL).

On one final note, I would like to wish everyone who is heading out to San Diego next week for the ARBA Convention a safe trip and lots of luck. I am sure the weather will be perfectly ideal out there, and I look forward to hearing how it goes from the people who bring their laptops and report back to the lists.

Have a great week!:-)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Good (Long:)) Story

Since this is the weekend of the famous Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY, I thought I would relate some neat things that I learned this week about the Spinners in my family.

First I guess I should go farther back to relate a little history about my family. My mother (who travels with me to rabbit shows all the time) is originally an immigrant from a German village in the former Yugoslavia known as Verbas. The culture her family was part of was known as the 'Donau Schwaben' (or in English) the 'Danube Swabian' culture. Ethnic Germans living in what is now the country of Serbia, they had a unique way of life that involved unusual food dishes and a very devoted tradition of knitting, sewing, and fiber related handiwork. Every girl (and many men) growing up in this culture learned how to knit and embroider from a very early age, and they were known far and wide for their exceptional skill in this area.

My grandmother was the youngest of a large family, and for extra money she used to raise silkworms as a child and then sell the coccoons to a local silk factory. As an adult she married a man in the neighboring village (also Donau Schwaben), and they had several children. Once WWII began, her husband (my Grandfather) was drafted into the German army as part of the maintenance unit, and she was left at home in the village with her children.

One day towards the middle/end of the war, the people of Verbas got the horrifying news that the Russian army was on the march across Yugoslavia and headed straight toward the town burning and pillaging everything as they came. My Grandmother, who was in labor with my mother at the time, was unable to leave with the rest of the town so she stayed on for 3 more days until the baby was born. She and her inlaws (who stayed to wait with her) then loaded the bare necessities into a horse-drawn wagon, and ran out of the deserted town in the nick of time with her baby and two of the older children, minus one son who had died earlier and was buried at the local cemetery.

So my family escaped the town at the last minute and managed to join up with the wave of other refugees. They spent the next several days rushing through the countryside to the sound of falling bombs and the warning drums pounding non-stop in the towns telling everyone to evacuate. Over the next several years my Grandmother traveled across Europe with her children alone, staying in various shelters and DP camps in various countries in an effort to reach safety.

Eventually, several years later,
she and my Grandfather (who had joined them again) arrived in New York City with their children, and they settled in a part of Queens where the remnants of the Danube Swabian population were finding new homes. They managed to find work at one of a number of knitting mills that had been set up by countrymen who were capitalizing on the business they knew best. Over time they were able to move out of the room they lived in behind an old storefront, and into a real house where life became more settled.

My own mother grew up and met my father (a Hungarian immigrant), and together they moved upstate after I and my siblings were born. Several times a year we went back to the city to visit my grandparents and the rest of our extended family, who were constantly making things such as knitted clothing, toys, and other handmade things for all the kids. There was never much money, but it didn't matter because their tiny house was always filled with delicious food every Christmas, and there were amazing handmade gifts under the tree and on the tree. Even today, years after her death, I still have all the sweaters and knitted toys that my Grandmother ever made for me. Most now sit on the beds of my kids--- on the same down featherbeds she threw in the wagon before they left her village so long ago.

My great grandfather in Yugoslavia made his living as a Weaver. My grandmother was an avid knitter, crocheter, and embroiderer all her life. Three of her four children became serious spinners and knitters, and my uncle Gunther, who owned and worked in knitting mills most of his life, recently picked up handspinning and won the skein contests at the Rhinebeck and Maryland festivals three years after learning, with 2 and 3 ply laceweight skeins prepared from scratch. His second skein, (the 3 ply) was made on an antique 1800s spinning wheel that he found and oiled up one day before spinning his winning skein.

Gunther came to the Rhinebeck festival with his grandaughter this weekend (who also spins), and my mother went to meet him and pick up fiber for her own projects. My aunt, a spinner and knitter as well, did not attend the festival this year but came up several times in the past.

This story doesn't have much (if anything) to do with rabbits, LOL. After hearing that my uncle is doing well with his spinning (which I hadn't known before), I got to thinking about how far a thing can come, and how deeply rooted a way of life can stay despite war, displacement, death, and tragedy. A needle and thread may seem like nothing big or important, and a sheep or rabbit don't matter very much more, but the simple things are the biggest and most important because they are far less likely to be taken away. It is a comfort to know that every time we go into our barns to groom, harvest, or plan future generations of angoras (and their precious wool), we participate in a legacy that is tied to the past and present of everyone.



Have a great week!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

NY State Convention



Due to a severe head cold that hit me the day of the show last weekend and lasted all through the week (and due to the fact that the kids caught it, too) this post is a week late:-).

Last weekend was the NY State Convention in Syracuse, NY, and I went up on Saturday just for the one day double show. There were 34 French entered with 7 exhibitors, and the judges were Pam Nock (Show A), and Ruth Ann Bell (Show B). I brought 5 Seniors to enter, and Spang's Juno took BOB in the first show with Spang's Giacomo earning BOS, and Giacomo took BOS in Show B again.

The day before the show I took a few pictures of my Fall show buns, so

here they are in all their glory:). Giacomo is shown above here, followed in order by Spang's Karenina, Spang's Juno, Spang's Davita, and my ultimate favorite doe this Fall, (in 2 pictures) Spang's Etienne:). Etienne is a beautifully typed doe with one of most even coats I've ever bred yet. Believe it or not she just weaned her first litter 5 weeks before this picture was taken, LOL!









Next are a few scenes from the show. Here's the grooming area:




The show hall itself (a very big one!):




Some of my buns in their carriers groomed and waiting for the show:):



Pam Nock judging the first show with Giacomo on the end after winning the Colored Sr. buck class (Doesn't it look like he's saying, "What the heck is this? Where in the heck is my luxury condo at home?" )



Pam again blowing into Davita's coat (Colored Sr. doe class):


And these are the Colored Sr. does, typically the biggest and most competitive FA class . As you can see there were not enough cubbies to hold everyone here, so that is me on the end holding one of the 'spillovers':


This is Ruth Ann Bell judging Giacomo in Show B:




All in all this was a fun show (with the exception of my sore throat and rip roaring headache:-)), and next we will be heading to the last show of the season in Fulton, NY, provided that everyone stays on feed and keeps their coats whole and intact. I am also in the middle of culling the last of the Fall litters which yielded some pretty little babies, and I will be shearing and breeding again over the next 1-2 weeks.

More again next time (and this time it won't be late, LOL!). Have a great week and enjoy the co0000l Fall weather:-)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Back again (with Babies for Sale:))


Hey everyone! After a super busy summer it looks like Fall is here again and it is time to get back to the usual work and blog schedule, LOL. Hopefully everyone out there has had a productive summer with lots of litters and great show/wool prospects. I did a load of breeding here also, and as of now there are 7 litters of various ages jumping around in the barn. In addition to breeding I also took the time to wrap up the practical requirement for my Registrar's license, and once I get the certificate in the mail I will be a true blue bonefide ARBA Registrar!:-) It was incredibly interesting working at the various shows with different judges (I worked under Josh Humphries, Bob Shaftoe, and Brian Sawchuk) to see how they all bring different strengths and points of view to the judging table. There is nothing (I mean nothing) like handling umpteen zillion rabbits over the course of one day to teach a person everything there is to know about type, but even if I never got anything else out of it besides the experience, this was definitely a fascinating and unbelievably educational summer:).

I will also be attending my first show of the season in Syracuse this weekend (at the NYS Convention). I did not bring rabbits to any of the shows I was working at because it would have been a nightmare trying to work behind and in front of the table at the same time, but now I have about 5 bunnies who are in full coat and seem ready to strut their stuff (I hope, LOL).

Also, there are a couple of bunnies for sale in this post who can be delivered to shows in Syracuse, NY on Oct. 3, the Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool Festival on Oct. 17-18, or the Fulton, NY show on Oct. 24. The REW and Tort babies pictured above (and below) are two of five that will be offered for sale out of Spang's Indira's litter--born 7/16/09. Indira is a Registered Tort doe with 2 legs who will go back to the tables to finish her GC as soon as the next coat comes in. She earned an Open RIS at the last show she was entered in in Rutland, VT. Spang's Giacomo, the sire, is a GC Tort buck. Both parents have Red/White/Blue pedigrees.

3 REWs are for sale in this litter (2 does and 1 buck), and 2 Torts (both bucks). Pictured here are pics of one baby of each color, but the rest of the litter is pretty much identical. All rabbits are priced at $100.00 ea, and interested individuals may contact me at amy@spangangoras.com.








This last photo below is just one of a 12 week old girl out of Devaki's litter (see what a difference 2 weeks can make? This baby can actually pose!:-D). I will be holding onto this one for awhile because she seems to be a carbon copy of her mother who produces 10 oz. of wool at every shearing (!G) Out of Etienne and Yvonne (whose litters are about 14 weeks old now), I will keep 2 does and 2 bucks, and the other litters are still too young to know anything about, LOL.




Anyway, more again next week when I will have a full report (with pictures!) of the Syracuse show, and other interesting things to chat about. I hope:-).

Happy Fall and get ready for the wool to start growing!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer Break

Hi Everyone,

I hate to admit it but I am going to have to take a summer break from blogging once again from today until the middle of September rolls around:(. I have a ridiculously full plate at the moment with kid and other activities, and I am arranging shows to finish up the practical part of my Registrar's license which needs to be handled as well. I will be back right away as soon as Fall starts and the shows get going, and I should have an entirely new crop of babies to show off and post pics of as well:). So far there are 4 new litters in my barn with 5 more coming up over the next week or two, so things will definitely be insanely busy:-).

Anyway, have a great, GREAT summer, and I hope all the buns stay happy and cool until Fall comes again and we all have the chance to relax:-). I can easily be reached by email if anyone needs to get in touch with me, otherwise I'll see you all again in Sept.

Happy Grooming!
Amy:-)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wool

--another post from the old blog!

Well, I was happily taking pictures of my babies at 9 weeks when my camera batteries suddenly went dead, and the absence of a spare set forced me to stop what I was doing and put the batteries into the recharger til tomorrow:(. Well, that works out alright since I can just post them tomorrow instead---but as I was grooming and checking out coats and texture on the babies and some of the adults today, I noticed a few extra things about wool that I thought I would brainstorm with tonight:).


Lately I've been in the habit of grooming out my babies, plopping them onto the grooming table, and then standing back to look at them from zillions of different angles:). First of all I look hard at the profile (which is probably the best angle to check for balance), and then I check them from the front and then from the TOP, in a kind of aerial view. When looking at the profile the thing I am mainly checking for is balance. Now, good balance means that no part of the rabbit is out of sync with any other part. No part is too high, or too low, or too flat, and no part sticks out abnormally far in any direction (if that makes sense:)). A rabbit with excellent balance looks good any way it sits from pretty much any angle, but a rabbit that lacks balance looks awkward, and when you look at it you find yourself wishing that it had more height, depth, roundness, etc. etc. etc, making the concept a very difficult thing to define. The longer I am in rabbits the more I realize that MUCH of what we look for in a good one is hard to explain and put our finger on, but as is so often said about anything exceptional, you'll know it when we see it:).


Next, I try to examine the rabbit head on to determine ear carriage, headset, and the 'evenness' of the coat from the front. The FA is widely known for it's distinctive 'oval' shape, but what we don't realize at first is that it is oval from the front of the animal as well. A good coat should present even density all around the head and back, and the hem of the dewlap should be perfectly even so as not to break up the baseline of the coat. Ear carriage and headset are not critically important in angoras, but I like to see that they are still in balance with the rest of the animal and the head snuggles back into a 'pillow' of wool behind the face.


Today I just had two baby REW does out (which I'll post pictures of tomorrow), and while both were perfectly equal in terms of type, one had a distinctly silkier coat than the other, which had the type of textured coat that you would usually expect to find on an adult. Interestingly, there was no real difference in density between the two rabbits because the same amount of of underwool was present on both, but there was certainly a difference in the shape of the animal, which could clearly be seen by viewing the coat from above.


In FA coats (and probably all angoras to different extents), everything seems to come down to this: there are two types of 'hair' in a French Angora coat, and each has a specific and unique function. The underwool, which is CRITICAL for density in the angora breeds, is a 'crimped' type of wool with tiny zigzags present in each shaft of hair from the skin level to the tips. These 'zigzags' are what give strength to the wool, meaning that their shape enables them to support a heavy coat from underneath. The zigzags in underwool also provide Compression (like springs), so that when you grab a fistful of healthy prime wool in your hand and let it go, it 'springs' back rather than falls limply out of your hand. An excellent coat with a BALANCE of guard hair and underwool should be completely self supporting in an FA. It should stand out evenly all around the animal and give it life and density, while a 'bad' coat will look flat and limp because there is no crimp or 'strength' to support the hair from underneath and give it loft.


Guard hair has a completely opposite function in a wool coat----it provides Shape and Finish. When I looked at these two little does today I realized that while both had equal amounts of density, the one with the textured coat had a beautiful, uniform shape which remained the same no matter how she sat or moved. The baby with the silkier coat had an oval shape too, but it was not as defined as the other one's, and it was more likely to alter it's shape as it moved around. Time would prove the difference here, but if I had to guess I would say that the silkier baby is going to have a harder time holding it's coat in the future. She may not be able to hold it as long, and when it starts to slip it will probably look disheveled and much 'messier', shortening her time on the showtable and making the quality of the wool decline more rapidly. It is very clear to me today that what I am shooting for is a perfect ratio of guard hair to underwool to provide balance and density, but I am ALSO looking for the proper TEXTURE, because that is the quality that ropes in density and gives it the shape, form, and longevity that a good FA coat needs.


I think the next thing I will check out is what happens to the crimp when the coat gets old and starts to molt. If my observation about the zigzags holds up, the underwool should gradually lengthen, relax, and straighten, which would explain why the compression of an old coat decreases (or we get 'lack of life to the wool', as a judge would say), and we find that the coat as a whole gets flatter with the straightening and begins to lose it's shape before it actually releases.


In conclusion, I guess we could say that an excellent prime coat with lots of density HAS to have nice, tight, crimp from the skin to the tips, while a molting coat or a coat without density will be lax, fairly straight, and in some cases lack crimp entirely when you blow into the wool. When choosing your keepers it is important to feel the wool but also look at it, and never hold onto anything that does not show evidence of the critical supporting underwool and textured guard hair that make an outstanding FA coat !

Monday, July 6, 2009

Current Events

It's been a busy couple of weeks in the rabbitry so I thought I'd give an update of what's been going on this week:).

At this point all the spring litters have been sorted out and the keepers have been set aside, and the summer litters are starting to come in:). Starting last week there were 2 litters from Etienne and Yvonne. Etienne is a Tort who hasn't been shown yet---she had 3 Torts and 2 REWs with Giacomo. Yvonne (one of my REW F3 doe) gave birth to a litter of 7 with the same sire as Etienne---2 Torts and 5 REWs. Yesterday and early this morning Devaki and Juno had litters. Devaki had 1 Black, some Torts and a REW or two (it is hard to tell what is what yet colorwise:)), and Juno had only 2, which were promptly fostered into Devaki's bunch.

There are more litters expected over the next couple of weeks, and I will be rebreeding Juno tomorrow along with Sabini, who was just sheared yesterday and is ready for her first litter. Morwenna was due earlier in the week but didn't have anything. It is rare for her to miss, but she is getting older now at age 3. She was rebred also and I'll see how she does in a month:).

We have had UNBELIEVABLY cool weather here in NY this summer, including a ridiculous, record amount of rain:(. The holiday weekend was the first sunny time we've had in weeks, and hopefully things will continue to improve as the summer goes on:).

I took a few pics of my new buns, though there are many more babies in the barn that need to be brought out and photographed. I am really excited about the type on some of these new buns. Both the NZ crosses and the purebreds are getting higher and higher, and there was only one DQ this spring out of 63 babies born. This bunny below is a keeper out of the first litter of the year (born 1/25) right before her clipping. This is Spang's Karenina--9SP1:




I also kept another doe out of this litter from Morwenna--Spang's Davita:).

Below is one of the dark Pearls that came out of Juno's last litter, a very nice (and BIG) buck that I am calling Anton. He has a sister who was very small in the beginning but that I have decided to hold onto to see how she turns out. She also has really wonderful type.



These next two photos are of 2 REWs that came out of NZ/FA does. Both have good NZ type, though the wool on the buck (2nd picture) is much better at this point (there are about 6 of these babies total in the barn right now). It will be interesting to see what happens with these rabbits in the F4 generation. As yet none of the crosses have been able to be shown after the senior coat came in, but maybe some of these will finally make it:).








This last series of pictures is of Spang's Sabini, who grew a beautiful prime coat this summer just as soon as all the shows were over (LOLOL!). I sheared her last night in preparation for her first breeding, so hopefully she will have some nice little ones to show off this fall:).









Aside from this there is not much else going on (other than the day-to-day maintenance stuff). I have several rabbits to get registered this week, and I need to line up shows for the fall to finish up my Registrar's license (which by some miracle I did happen to pass. LOL!).

Hope everyone out there is having a COOL summer (though I hear the temps have been high out west). Be back again next week with more stuff:-).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dandelions (the Bunny Miracle Food)

-another post from the old blog


Dandelions today are viewed as modern day nuisances that are impossible to kill, but in reality this weed is nothing short of a miracle food for bunnies and humans alike. They were grown as an extremely valuable medicinal plant long before they popped up in the cracks of our sidewalks, so I thought I would research the benefits of this important plant and list them here.

Here are a few facts about the Dandelion (taraxacum officinale) that I dug up on the web earlier today. After reading about all the benefits this so-called weed offers, you will understand precisely why they are so healthy for bunnies and why you may want to start feeding them to your own family in the future as well!

FACTS
-Dandelion leaves are higher in beta carotene than carrots
-Dandelions have a greater iron and calcium content than Spinach
-Dandelions contain more potassium than bananas
-Dandelions contain more lecithin than soybeans
-Dandelions contain 64 nutrients and health promoting substances, including the vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, thiamin, and riboflavin
-There are approx. 14,000 IU of Vitamin A in 100 grams of Dandelion
-Dandelion root contains the sugar 'inulin' (helpful to diabetics), along with numerous other medicinal substances
-Dandelions are high in trace minerals
-Dandelions are considered a traditional tonic. They strengthen the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder, working as a gentle diuretic to improve the way kidneys cleanse the blood and recycle nutrients. They also act as a general stimulant to the system, especially the urinary organs. They are helpful in use with kidney and liver disorders, and are also beneficial for the bladder, spleen, pancreas, stomach, and intestines.
-Dandelions detoxify the body and are a great invigorator. They help to cure woolblock, ease indigestion, stimulate milk production in lactating does, and stimulate appetite in general. They also boost the immune system.
-Early colonists brought dandelions to America from Europe to plant in the New World because of their well-known medicinal properties.
-The reason Dandelions are so rich in nutrients is because of the long tap root (extending 2-3 feet in some cases). The roots are able to grow down into the mineral rich subsoil, suck the nutrients in and transport them to the surface.
All parts of the dandelion plant are edible, but the roots are more potent than the leaves.
-Dandelions are so healthy that they can be used as the sole diet for animals off feed, capable of sustaining life for weeks.
-Dandelions can be taken regularly and the entire plant can be dried for use during the winter

Basically, for the Angora bunny, dandelions have three great functions. They stimulate appetite in bunnies who have gone off feed for any reason, they stimulate milk production in does with large litters, and they cure woolblock:). Since they have started to grow again in the yard and garden I will be passing them out regularly to my herd, (particularly on hay and seed days), but considering that there are so many other good things about them, I am also going to start adding them to our own meals in the form of salads and maybe even teas:).

*Note---ALWAYS be sure never to use dandelions for yourself or your bunnies that have been directly sprayed or are located in the vicinity of any kind of chemical herbicide or fertilizer. Grow your weeds naturally for the sake of your bunnies and family, LOL:).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Breeding

--This is a post from the old blog, but it seemed relevant to re-post in the middle of the Spring/Summer breeding season.

Someone at a show recently asked that I write a post about breeding, so here it is, LOL.

Some people have a great deal of trouble getting their angoras bred, and others have very few issues at all. I believe that there are several factors involved in a successful breeding program, and different lines and breeds may exhibit different rates of conception as well.

First of all, it is very easy to encourage and increase problem breeders in your herd. What I mean by this, is that angora breeders generally focus on breed traits such as wool yield and coat quality to the extent that the more basic fundamentals of rabbit raising often get overlooked, and a herd can become less "functional" over time. As I have often said before, the strength of a breed such as the French Angora is that it is a true multi-purpose livestock animal. It produces heavy wool yields on a commercial quality meat body, and is pound for pound one of the most efficient livestock animals that exists. It is important, with a breed such as this, not to neglect it's meat value at the expense of wool only. The FA is primarily a Fiber animal, but when we fail to select for strong breeders in our herds we make it impossible for the meat aspects of the breed to perpetuate themselves, and the wool qualities fail at the same time.

If you have reluctant breeders in your herd----or rabbits who almost never conceive/fail to get milk, etc.----do NOT keep these rabbits or any of their offspring in your herd if you are serious about improving your production. A heavily line/inbred herd will normally have a decreased reproductive rate to begin with due to homozygosity, so it is a good idea to occasionally introduce an outside doe if you find the vigor of your herd declining. If your herd is NOT heavily linebred then basic culling is the only answer----do not keep those rabbits who are poor mothers or poor milkers, and eventually the production of your herd will improve. Selection for these types of traits is not always something that Angora people think of, but we need to remember that rabbits are rabbits, so if we fail to pay attention to the basics of herd management we will have nothing to show or harvest to begin with:(.

Conception can become a problem if a doe is allowed to sit dormant for an extended period of time between breedings. In my own barn I try not to let 'older does' (the 2-3 years and older) go for more than 2 months between litters after weaning. What I try to do is keep only those bunnies who are capable of being championed early so that they can have their first 3 legs by the time they are 9 months--1 year old. At this point I clip them down and breed them immediately to get the first litter out of the way, and then if the doe happens to be one who can bounce back with good wool growth and type again after the litter, I bring them back to the show table again, and then shear and breed them again. If a doe is retired from showing OR it is a doe who was never shown to begin with (a "parts rabbit", so to speak), then those rabbits will be bred all year round with one month off between litters until approx. 3-4 years old, when they are retired completely due to their age.

The does who are the most heavily bred have the best conception rates of all. They almost never miss breedings and almost always have good sized litters who grow up healthy and robust. It is important to note that the longer an adult doe goes unbred, the greater the opportunity exists for fat to build up around the internal organs to inhibit reproduction and make it less likely that the doe will ever conceive. A good rule of thumb is to get your bunnies championed early if possible (if you show), and then don't be afraid to breed heavily afterward and continue a tight schedule until their retirement. A rabbit in good health is essentially a breeding machine (as any good meat producer will tell you), so it is important to encourage good production by maintaining a regular breeding schedule.

Other things to remember when preparing to breed are to breed at appropriate times of the year. Rabbits breed all year round if kept on a tight schedule, but the ideal seasons are Spring and Fall (particularly Spring). In Spring even the hay we feed contains a higher amount of a compound called 6-MBOA (6-methoxybenzoxazolinone) which stimulates reproductive readiness in wild animals and enhances libido. The length of the days are also directly related to receptivity, and the sperm counts of younger bucks are quicker to bounce back after the heat of summer into Fall as well.

Here is a list of other tips to encourage the breeding process:

1--clip bucks and does down before breeding so that the coat is out of the way and the doe's wool will only be approx. 1 in. long when it comes time to kindle (making it less likely to wrap around baby necks and feet).
2--Breed once first thing in the morning, and then again one hour later.
3--Cage reluctant does next to smelly bucks at least 2 hours before breeding to increase receptivity.
4--take the doe for a ride in the car along bumpy side roads.
5--make positively certain that your herd is well-nourished with a good quality pellet that contains adequate supplies of Vitamins A and E. Supplement brood does with lots of green, leafy plants and herbs which contain a great deal of Vitamin A such as Comfrey before breeding and during gestation.
6--If you feel that your does are overweight, place them on a restrictive diet for 3-4 weeks before breeding to enhance conception rates. In sophisticated meat operations, rabbitry owners are careful never to let their breeding does get too fat----they want them lean and mean, not overweight and lazy:).
7--Try to keep bucks as cool as possible in hot weather. Whenever the temperature goes above 80 degrees F for any length of time, the fertility of bucks will almost always decrease. Younger bucks recover their sperm counts fairly quickly, but older ones can remain sterile for up to 4 months.
Restrained breeding is a technique that some breeders use when a doe seems reluctant, but the conception rates for this method is lower than if you simply let the doe and buck breed naturally. Try to let nature take it's course whenever possible.

To summarize (here at the end now), here are the best ways to encourage good production in your herd:

----Select away from bad mothers, reluctant breeders, and bad milkers, and breed only the offspring of those does who have an excellent track record in the production department.

----Keep your herd does in production, working show dates around your litters, and then keep them constantly bred afterward until they are old enough to retire.

----Clip coats down before breeding and expose the doe to the buck ahead of time (in separate cages).

----Maintain a healthy herd with no vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

One more thing I forgot to mention comes back to what I have often said about the importance of maintaining a predictable schedule in your rabbitry. If your rabbits are managed in the same way every day with no surprises or changes in routine, they will have much lower stress levels which contribute to increased readiness for breeding. A well-cared for herd is much more likely to perform better in EVERY area, including showing, conditioning, and most definitely breeding.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bunny for Sale

I have a very nice bunny here for sale out of a litter born last winter on 1/25. She is a Fawn out of Spang's Morwenna (a Tort GC with 3 legs) and Spang's Henryi (a Fawn buck who will be registered next week:)). She is very solid with a good body and really fantastic wool and density.

There were 3 does in this particular litter, and since I am keeping 2 I will not need the third, LOL. This girl will have a 3 generation Red/White/Blue pedigree with 8 Grand Champions included, and she will be priced at $125.








For more info. please email me privately at amy@spangangoras.com. I will be moving litters around all week (now that work is finished. Yippee!:)) and getting ready for the next batches of litters that are due at the end of this month. More to come later on. Hope all of you are having a great week!:-)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Frankfort, NY Show

This past Saturday the Mohawk Valley Club held their annual show in Frankfort, and I zipped out for the first time in several years to attend it. This is a very nice show in a very nice venue, and even though it was a warm day the doors on the ends and sides of the hall were all open so there was a perfect flow of cool air coming in throughout the day.

I normally don't have anything in coat left at this time of year, but I did manage to dig 4 bunnies out (LOL)---one near the end of her coat, one near the end of her jr weight limit, and two who were NOT in full coat yet but will have to be clipped soon anyway for breeding and for the upcoming summer temperatures.

There were about 25 FAs entered in the shows with 5 exhibitors. The judge for the first show was Helen Brose, and the judge for Show B was Paul Jurgelonis. In Show A the BOB went to Spang's Fabrice and the BOS went to Spang's Sabini (Spang's Karenina picked up her 3rd jr. leg also), and in Show B the BOB went to a Jr. buck that was owned by Marilyn DeMaree and BOS went to a Colored Sr. doe who was owned by either Marilyn or Charlotte Schweikart (sorry, I should have found out exactly who owned these bunnies, LOL).

Here are several pics that were snapped during the show:

The first is of the Angora grooming area (which actually took up a lot more space than just this one wall, LOL).






And these are my own bunnies resting in their carriers after grooming:




This is a picture of my good friends Brian Sawchuk and Donna Grimm who live near my house and are also members of my local rabbit club. Brian is a judge already but Donna is currently working on her license. This was her 6th show out of 8 toward finishing the whole thing up.




This is Dru Shepherd moving stuff around and taking care of her pretty EAs (Hey Dru!:-)




And this is Nancy Platte who came to the show with her buns and also with her husband who was judging. Nancy writes for him often at the shows and occupies herself in between classes with knitting (as any wool person will:-))



And these are Linda Cassella's bunnies (also EAs):





This is Marilyn DeMaree and myself watching the judging in Show B:




And this is the judge in the second show lining up one of the FA Senior classes on the table.

Now, I do not want to openly criticize this judge (I do not know him and this is the first time I have ever had him at a show), but there is no reason whatsoever to be lining angoras up like this in front of their cubbies, mashing them together harder like sardines every time they moved, and then leaving them there during the entire course of judging while checking for DQs and everything else. I realize that not everyone here raises wool breeds, but long term judges like these should at least be aware that random, comical stunts like this result in nothing more than matted coats and overheated, ANNOYED rabbits. I won't say anymore because I do not want a verbal lashing from anyone (at least not tonight:)), but it was a very good thing that these rabbits were healthy and a VERY good thing that it was the end of the show season rather than the beginning:(. I am glad he found this amusing and got a kick out of it all, but it is not the way to handle ANY wool breed, particularly one in full coat in 80 degree weather (end of commentary:( )






Anyway, so that is about it for this week. The next few days here will be spent in separating and evaluating babies since everyone else is pretty much clipped (whew!). Hopefully we will luck out and have a nice cool summer, and the next litters will be born in 70 degrees.

More next time and have a great week!:-)