Friday, January 23, 2009

First Cull

-another entry from the old blog:

When I begin the culling process in my barn to single out potential show bunnies, woolers, and fryers, I usually begin at 12 weeks. The very first thing I check on each bunny before inspecting anything else is whether or not they have any DQs. If it is a colored rabbit I make sure that the color is correct for the standard description with no faults such as lack of ring definition in an Agouti, stray white hairs on the faces, feet, or ears of Selfs, and white or mismatched toenails in any color. I also select for bunnies who carry color as far down the hairshaft as possible, and display lots of intensity of color in the face.

Next I check to make sure that the tail is straight with no curves, twists, knobs, or bumps, and I check the teeth to make sure that there are no signs of malocclusion. I then hold the bunny under the armpits with the back legs hanging straight down to determine if they are parallel or turn out to the sides indicating a cowhocked HQ.

At this point the bunny gets placed on the grooming table and tucked into a correct commercial pose to assess the general type. I make sure that the front feet are parallel and directly in line with the eyes, and the back feet are parallel and directly in line with the top of the hips. Starting at the shoulders, I run my hand smoothly backward over the entire body of the rabbit from shoulder to tail. What I 'should' feel is a perfectly smooth body with no angles, low spots, or hips jutting out. My hand should not stop or get stuck from beginning to end, but should run over the entire rabbit like butter, indicating that everything is properly filled out and all the muscles are in proportion with one another.

The shoulder should be high, meaning that the average person (woman, at least) cannot touch the table with her fingertips when they are cupped over the shoulders behind the ears. Width of shoulder is important, but not particularly worrisome at this age since shoulders often widen with age. A low shoulder, however, rarely fixes itself.

The RISE of the rabbit should be good---in other words, the spine should rise immediately from behind the rabbit's ears to peak over the hip and slope gently down and around the hindquarter. There should not be any flat sections over the shoulder or anywhere else on the topline of the rabbit, and when your hand slides down to the table from the hindquarter, it should fall STRAIGHT down to the table, with no pinched-in area at the bottom of the rear end (your hand should not slope INWARD the farther down it goes, in other words).

Next, and very importantly, feel the quality of bone on the baby. Wrap your fingers around the bunny's front leg directly above the ankle and select for those rabbits who feel solid and substantial. Avoid holding onto any baby whose bones feel thin, delicate, or rickety, or you will breed rabbits into your program who do not have the framework necessary to sustain the muscle and weight associated with a good commercial type.

After evaluating color and type, it is time to take a hard look at the wool. An FA baby coat is considerably different in texture than an FA senior coat, so what you need to do is assess the coat based on what CAN be ascertained at this point, and eventually you find that you get a feel and ' gut instinct' for which coats are likely to pan out in adulthood. Ask yourself the following questions when inspecting a baby coat:

1) Is the coat evenly dense (thick) over the entire body of the rabbit? Is it equally as dense on the stomach and chest?

2) Are they any 'weak spots' in the coat--for ex.--areas where the wool is thinner or more sparse than in other places? A typical FA coat leans toward being densest along the sides of the coat including the rear end directly above the tail. Weaknesses are most often found along the spine and especially behind the ears and directly over the shoulders. Select for coats that have good thickness in these areas.

3) Can you see the guard hairs beginning to poke through in the soft coat? Proper baby texture should be neither too coarse nor too soft. You do not want a very guard hairy baby but you also don't want a coat where guard hairs are not evident anywhere. They should be present but not overly abundant, and they should definitely not be dominating the coat at this point.

4) How does the coat feel?? A baby coat should be soft but NOT cottony. If it is sticking out in a thousand different directions no matter what you do to try to groom it, chances are excellent that the texture is incorrect and the coat will remain soft and difficult to manage into adulthood. Note: Always remember that a good French coat should NOT be a chore to maintain. Even in babyhood you should be able to get away with grooming approx. once per week, particularly up to the ages of 4-- 4 1/2 months. As a baby coat gets longer and older it will be more prone to tangling, but it still should not matt up constantly if you are failing to groom it every other day.

5) Be sure that guard hair is evenly distributed throughout the coat. You do not want to see an abundance of guard hair in one section, and nothing but underwool in another section. The guards should be combined with the underwool and evenly distributed over the entire body of the rabbit with no concentration anywhere (this fault is usually more evident in adult coats, but signs of it can sometimes be seen in a baby coat if you look hard enough:)).

These are just a few things to look for when doing a first evaluation of a young rabbit. After you make your selections, hold onto the better rabbits for another 2-3 weeks and then take them out and assess them again. You will either find that the good traits you noticed first have become more pronounced, or the type has worsened or failed to fill in where you thought it would, and a good prospect has become a cull. I usually single out the bunnies who pass the first assessment, and then look at them again at 14 weeks. Those who pass the second cull at 14 weeks stick around to be looked at again at 16 weeks, and by that time I usually have a fair idea of whether I will keep and show them, at least until the senior coat comes in. The final cull comes around 9 months when adult bunnies who continue to look good and have grown in even senior coats are designated as keepers.

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

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bad Rabbit Day:(

This last week in the rabbitry has been mortifying, frustrating, and fraught with fainting spells, temper tantrums, and screaming fits. Not really (actually it hasn't been THAT bad:)), but I was definitely crying in my soup for long hours this week when two of my best entries for the PA Show went off feed incurably and had to be sheared:(. One of the buns was a nice doe with good type and wool which was upsetting, but the OTHER one was unquestionably the hands-down top gun in my show string at the moment, and that was what had me on the verge of jumping off a cliff and throwing myself in front of a moving train for 5 or 6 days, LOL.

The cold weather we have been having lately has been VERY cold for this area, and I noticed that the rate of wool growth has been speeding up over the past few weeks. Wool always grows faster in the winter, but with the sub zero temperatures we were having it seemed to be coming in faster still. Last week---3 weeks before the big show date---my does Sabini and Devaki suddenly went off feed with no hope of getting them back on. Sabini was unexpected because she was only in the 5th month of growth and had more length to add, I thought, but Devaki almost threw me into cardiac arrest that I will not recover from until sometime next year, LOL.

After trying all the classic woolblock remedies, I finally bit the bullet (literally:( ) and clipped everything off. Sabini yielded just an average amount of wool for the month she was in, but Devaki came up just short of 10 oz. with 9 inches of length at almost 6 months (of growth). I had hoped like crazy that she would make it to PA because she has never been in a show before and I was hoping to earn some legs for her, but I could see that she was slipping and there was no question that the coat she had was not long for the world, LOL.

At times like these I find that it is always helpful to remember what I am doing, and exactly why. No matter how many rabbits miss how many shows or no matter how devastating/crippling/horrifying the losses all are, I always have to remember that I am a breeder first and a show person second. As hard as it is to admit that a coat is OVER (and boy oh boy is that ever HARD to admit, LOL!!!), there is no question that I have to do what is best for my herd at all times. A good breeding rabbit is infinitely more valuable than a good show rabbit, so what matters most is that Devaki and Sabini stay healthy and have carbon copies of themselves in the future. This is what I try to think about on days like this, and sometimes it works:-).

The other thing to examine when several rabbits go off feed for a period of time AND earlier than it seems they should have, is what management issues could possibly be contributing to that. I have had several rabbits in coat go off feed with woolblock symptoms over the last few months, and since I haven't changed anything in my management except my feed, I have decided to get rid of the Blue Seal and go back to Heinold, which supported healthier guts, larger coats, and better condition (at least in my barn).

Anyhow, so here are several pics of the 'fallen' buns who were clipped. Both are now happily scampering around their cages, thrilled to death that their clever ruse worked and I fell for it so quickly, and completely oblivious to myself--the poor owner--lying facedown on the floor beside them sobbing uncontrollably. LOLOL!

The first bunny here is Sabini, a daughter of Morwenna, and the next (THREE!) are of Devaki:). Both girls will now be bred after the PA Show along with everyone else, and I am busy now planning dates and breeding pairs.



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

Sunday, January 11, 2009

PA Convention and the UARC

Since I haven't discussed it before I guess I'll post something today about the United Angora Rabbit Club (the UARC). I was previously the president of this club when it first got off the ground, but I took a break for several months when life got busy with the kids, and I am now in that position again looking forward to a great year of wonderful angora activities!

The UARC is hosting it's first specialty of the year at the PA State Convention on Feb. 7, 2009. Awards for this show will include BOB, BOS, BOV, and BOSV, and the show will be Open Entry only and Day-of-Show Entry only.

Also included with this show will be a Skein and Garment contest hosted by the Pangora Club of PA, which all exhibitors are encouraged to enter and attend. Hotel information for the town of Lebanon, PA can be found on the PaSRBA website at (click 'Convention'), and we are looking forward to a great turnout and seeing lots of good angora friends at the show:).

Btw, information for this show is NOT included in the general PA Convention catalog, so we will continue to post reminders as the show date draws near and the information will also be on the UARC Website Home Page at

Other exciting projects planned for the coming months in this club include more shows, regular wool runs, a future Angora calendar (yipee!!), a Sweeps program, and a radically expanded website with a great deal of rabbit-related information on it. We will also be continuing with our regular newsletter among other things, and there is a very active list included with membership as well:).

In current events around my house, life is getting a little busier and I am gearing my bunnies up for the first big (early:)) 'spring' breeding of the year to be started after the PA show is over. I think I've got about 5 or 6 does ready to go at that time, and several bucks who are now of age and ready to sow their wild oats (if all goes well, LOL).

Have a great week:-)!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blowing Coats

--another post from the old blog:

I blew out ALOT of coats today in preparation for this Saturday's show, so I thought I would write something about this subject tonight since the use of this particular piece of equipment is a fundamental part of angora husbandry today:).

First of all, before I begin, blowers are NOT necessary to raise healthy angoras. It is perfectly acceptable never to use anything but a slicker brush on your bunnies, provided you don't mind the work and the extra time it may take to get a brush down to the bottom of the densest coats. Also, it is not 100% necessary to even purchase a 'standard' blower since something like a shop vac on reverse flow will work just as well, and is far less expensive. Some breeders use a blow dryer on the cool setting, and while this will fluff up the coat somewhat, it is unlikely that it will penetrate down to the roots, which is the function for which a blower is designed to begin with.

I own a standard 4.0 HP Metro Airforce Commander model blower with the high/low speed setting available from Klubertanz and most other cage companies. I use the Low speed for Junior coats, and the High Speed for seniors. When I want to blow out an FA coat, I place the rabbit on the grooming table (after brushing the underside of the bunny by hand first with the slicker), and then I turn on the blower while holding the nozzle straight up in the air and away from the rabbit for the first few seconds. This gives the bunny time to get accustomed to the noise (especially if it is young or has not been blown out often). As soon as we are ready, I turn the nozzle onto the backside of the rabbit directly above the tail and concentrate on blowing that area out first. I hold the nozzle at least 6-10 inches away from the wool so that the airflow does not blow the coat "in" on itself, and I hold it over any webbed areas until the sections "melt apart" and I can see the skin clearly. The purpose of blowing is to untangle a coat clear down to the skin, invigorate the skin, and blow off any loose wool that is stuck to the coat to keep it clean, open, and lively looking.

The parts of a coat that you will find need the most attention are the shoulders, dewlap (front and sides), rear end above the tail, and the skirting (base of the coat), especially in the armpit areas. Be sure to keep your showbunnies ivomeced during the show season or employ some other method of mite control to avoid complicating grooming, and keep up with a regular schedule once you start.

There are many different methods of using the blower, but I usually begin right above the tail, and then work my way around the skirting of the bunny on both sides. The bottoms of an FA coat are the most critical to keep straight and untangled, to avoid creating the illusion of an uneven coat and disrupting the characteristic oval shape of the breed. You always want to pay very strict attention to the 'baseline' of an FA when you are grooming:).

After concentrating on the bottom half of the rabbit, you then want to move up both sides of the coat 'line by line' until you finish up at the very top of the coat-----at the wool along the spine. Always hold one hand over the bunny's head and ears as you blow to avoid upset and keep the rabbit from jumping off the table (which does happen with FAs from time to time, particularly the younger ones:( ). Once you've finished, turn the blower off and flick off loose strands that remain with the slicker or steel comb. At some point you may also want to go over the baseline again with the slicker brush to straighten out any bunched up areas and make the wool even all around. All in all the entire grooming process should take no longer than 15 minutes----5 minutes for the underside, 5 minutes to blow out the topcoat, and (maybe) another 5 to go over the tips with the brush and comb.

As to how often to blow out an FA, that is something I am still experimenting with:). This breed can certainly get along with very little or NO blowing at all, but it also depends on the rabbit, the density of your coats, and your personal care preference. I recently heard that blowing a coat frequently will NOT dry it out, so blowing more often likely won't do damage provided you give each bunny about a 5 minute blast, and stay on top of your coats so that nothing gets irreversibly matted in the first place:).

SO anyway, I guess that's about it for today. As always this entry is just my own personal opinion and many other excellent breeders have methods of caring for their coats that work as well or better than what I have presented here:). The next time I do some blowing I will see if I can find an assistant to take some photographs of the process, LOL, and then maybe post them here as an addendum to the original 'Grooming Demo'.