Saturday, July 24, 2010

Coats Growing

In between endless disgusting, hot, humid days we did manage to get two days of cool and breezy weather in which it was finally possible to take rabbits out and give them a grooming. I have several bucks and does (and babies) who are busily growing coats for the Fall season, but here are the first two I did who posed for pictures after a session with the blower:).

This white bunny is Spang's Zsa Zsa, who is now an adult and growing in her first Senior coat (currently about 1.5--2 inches long). She is a big, MASSIVE doe with great bone and density who should hold a full coat beautifully when the time comes.

And this is Spang's Elenita, whose junior pic can be found in the margin of the blog and who is now growing a gorgeous senior coat with absolutely fabulous texture and density. I love the color Sable because it's so dramatic on the show table (like Black:)), and finally there are getting to be enough buns of this color in my barn to seriously work with.

There are Juniors growing out here, too (I picked four out of the last batch to keep). I will try and post photos of them next week.

Have a wonderful (and COOL!!!) week:-)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Life Around the Rabbitry (and Summer Stuff)

I have been insanely, ridiculously busy the last two weeks, and this explains why I have been so delinquent in blog posting. LOL. Baseball and all the other organized activities have ended at this point, so now I am cleaning my house and trying to get organized with home stuff, summer (kid) stuff, and bunny stuff:).

Looking at baby production so far this year I think that I have probably bred more litters in 2010 than ever before (according to records up to July). The oldest bunches born in April have pretty much all been dispersed by now, and the next batches begin weaning tomorrow, after which 5 more litters will move to the barn with mom to grow out.

It has been extremely hot here this summer, and it has been one heck of a job trying to keep everybun cool while allowing show coats to grow in for fall at the same time. Attached below is a post from my old blog about keeping rabbits cool. Hope everyone is hanging in there and not suffering any major losses!

Summertime Angoras

Here are a few tips for keeping Angoras cool in summer:

1) Try not to time your breedings so that your bunnies are in extreme full coat during the heat of the summer. If you are a spinner and keep bunnies for wool this should be simple to do if you record the average holding time of your coats and breed your babies to molt before the warm weather comes. If you are a Show breeder you can do precisely the same thing if you live in an area where there are no shows at that time of year, otherwise you will have to investigate methods of keeping them cool or keep several indoor cages for buns in the heaviest coats.

2) Make sure there are fans in your rabbitry, and be sure that those fans are taken apart and cleaned before the start of the season, and periodically throughout the summertime to avoid fire hazards. Position fans on either end of the rabbitry between the aisles or suspend them from the ceiling in various positions so that the draft hits no one directly. A thermometer placed on the wall is also helpful, and the fans can be turned on whenever the temps. go above 80 or it is excessively humid.

3) Place ice bottles in your freezer weeks ahead of time to have on hand for the very hottest days. Buy or find 2 liter soda bottles and freeze them halfway to 3/4 full with water and place them into the cages when it gets very warm. Since soda bottles are large they will stay frozen for up to 2 hours on a hot day, and the rabbits cannot get a grip on the tubular shape to chew the plastic.

4) Keep cage pans and cages in general cleaner than usual in the summer. Urine and the ammonia it produces create heat, and if there are 50 rabbits in a building with full pans (assuming you use cages with pans), the temperature is naturally going to increase, sometimes dramatically. Also, cleaning cages more often keeps the flies down, which lessens the chance of flystrike.

5) Try to construct your rabbitry in a shady area, and if there is no shade plant some vines or fast growing shrubs or trees that will shield the structure and lower the temperature in the building somewhat. (Note: Be certain that nothing planted over the barn is poisonous!)

6) Refill water bottles with ice cold water once or twice a day and add Acid Pak on the very warmest days to keep electrolyte levels on an even keel. Also, scale down the amount of pellets you feed since rabbits do not need to create heat in the summer. In the Spring and Fall a mounded cup of Pellets for adults is appropriate for an FA, in summer it is a good idea to remove or minimize all top dressings and "hot" grains, and feed 1 level cup of pellets to each adult rabbit per day.

7) Another way to keep bunnies cool is to go into the building periodically with a wet cloth or spritz bottle to wet down the ears of your bunnies. Rabbits regulate heat through their ears, so cooling them down this way will enable them to find relief immediately. Be sure not to drip water into the ear canal, and if the rabbit in question is in coat be certain not to drip water onto the wool around the ears to avoid matting.

8) If you are breeding or have nursing does in the barn pay special attention to their comfort since they will suffer far more in the heat than bucks, young rabbits, and non-pregnant does. A late-term pregnant doe is in greater danger than a nursing doe, but both will feel the heat and have a much more difficult time than others in the barn. Also, bucks tend to be affected by heat more easily than does, (and can go sterile if the temps rise above 85 for 2-3 days in a row). The entire herd is much more susceptible to heatstroke during the first 1-2 heat waves of the year before slowly acclimating to the higher temperatures. All rabbits seem to tolerate the heat better late in the summer once they have become accustomed to it.

9) It is questionable whether it is a good idea to immerse an Angora in extreme heat stress in water. Breeders of short haired rabbits routinely use this technique, but an Angora coat complicates that approach, so unless the rabbit has been sheared down to the skin (in which case heat stroke would be unlikely), the wool will matt up to the point where it will be next to impossible to get it off, even with a scissor. It is also important to note that the skin of a matted rabbit cannot breathe and heatstroke may become imminent. Angoras should be well groomed or clipped altogether in the summer to assure proper air circulation. If a rabbit is in serious danger, bring it indoors to an air conditioned room OR to a basement or garage to lay out on the concrete floor. Soak the rabbit's ears down repeatedly with cool water, and keep it calm and quiet. Once it has recovered sufficiently, keep the animal indoors until evening with herbs such as Dandelion or Parsley, and make certain that Acid Pak has been added to cool water to give the bunny's system a boost and help it recover.

10) Another option is to hang bags of ice cubes over the fronts of your fans to blow cold air into your barn ( similar to a homemade air-conditioner). Just make sure that the bags do not leak and are not situated anywhere where they can be sucked into the fan blades.

These are a few warm weather tips, but generally speaking if angoras are sheared every summer and have adequate housing and ventilation, they are excellent at surviving and thriving. Keep a close eye on your rabbits at all times and know their habits so that stress can be identified quickly. As with everything, good management is the key to keeping Angoras healthy in summertime:).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

To Breed or Not to Breed

--another post from the old blog

There is a wide assortment of criteria that people use to determine whether or not a rabbit should be added to their breeding herd. In some programs, several groups of rabbits are actually maintained for different purposes in categories that have separate and distinct requirements. For example, some Angoras make excellent woolers and are kept solely for that purpose, but they are poor prospects for breeding because they have mismatched toenails, skeletal problems, or some other characteristic that is highly heritable and could pose a problem for future generations. Alternatively, other rabbits may be excellent specimens on the showtable but poor candidates for the gene pool if they don't conceive well, are poor mothers, or have a less than adequate milk supply.

The question most breeders ask themselves repeatedly (and one that is by far the toughest to answer), is "Will this rabbit advance my breeding program or handicap it?" One of the most difficult things to learn when breeding livestock is where the line must be drawn in order to keep a bloodline moving forward and keep the herd as productive and vigorous as possible.

In rabbits (or any animal, for that matter), there are several categories that physical and genetic traits fall into. The first is composed of traits that should never be bred into a herd under any circumstance, the second contains those that could be incorporated under certain conditions, and the third lists qualities that are rarely serious enough to warrant culling or keeping an animal out of the gene pool, and which may even be desirable 99% of the time.

A list like this is something that would be different for every breeder. Respective categories would vary according to individual philosophies, personal goals, and personal preferences in the areas of color, wool, type, and production capability. A show person's threshold of tolerance for certain characteristics is invariably going to differ from the person who raises Angoras strictly for wool, and a Meat breeder's needs will invariably differ from those who show, breed wool, or raise rabbits as pets. An example of the traits in these categories for most breeders is as follows:

-split penis
-pigeon breast
-white or mismatched toenails
-white spots, blazes, snips (in solid colors)
-does who kill/ cannibalize their litters
-does with inadequate or no milk supply
-does who repeatedly scatter litters/ have no mothering instinct
-biters/ rabbits with nasty temperaments
-disease (esp. Pasteurella)
-thin/ poor bone quality
-underweight (not nutrition-related)
Be aware that this list does not encompass various color genes that can infiltrate a herd and cause serious damage if not handled properly. Traits like this may include the Vienna gene, Steel, Harli gene, or the Dutch spotting gene.


-stray white hairs or tiny white spots/snips
-unrecognized colors
-'slightly' cowhocked
-low(er) shoulders
-overly hairy coat
-overly wooly coat
-cottony texture to coat
-more than 1/2 inch gap protrusion between guard hair and underwool
-pin bones
-medium density
-mediocre mothering skills/ milk supply/ litter sizes/ conception rates
-'moodiness' that does not result in biting (esp. in mature does)


-correct color but with varying intensity
-good temperament/ inquisitive personality
-solid type/ solid bone
-aggressive sires/eager breeders/receptive does/ excellent mothers
-rapid weight gain (5 lbs. @ 12 weeks for commercial breeds, etc.)
-density, good texture, high yield, excellent overall balance (in wool)
-prepotent bucks/does (rabbits who readily pass on their best traits)
-supreme health and vigor
-ability to maintain condition and a long prime period
-6 months or more holding time between molts
-unfussy (appetite, behavior, and general disposition)

These are only a few examples of traits in each category and I know I've missed some, but it is important to realize that these groupings are not definitive, but rely in large part on the goals of the individual breeder, the breed being raised (since different breeds have different requirements), and the short and long term goals that you have set in your rabbitry.

In my own situation I fall into the stricter end of this breeding spectrum. I would never knowingly breed a rabbit with any of the characteristics listed in the first group, and at this point I wouldn't normally breed rabbits falling into the second group, either. That being said, there are times when I have deliberately neglected a certain trait in order to fall back and fix another one, and when first starting out as a breeder there is little choice but to work with what one has in order to progress to something better. Over the past few years I worked hard to improve wool balance and quality, but one day I realized that I had been sacrificing type (over the hind quarter especially) in order to achieve it, so I stopped, backed up, and thought about how to fix the problem. The majority of points in every angora breed are on the wool, but the FA in particular cannot compete on a National level without being strong in both categories, so this was something that had to be corrected. For the time being I have chosen to ignore the wool a bit in order to focus on better type (especially since type is hard to set but wool improves much more quickly), To this end I brought in the F2 NZ/FA Cross from Elaine who is extremely strong in the hindquarter, and that should help to correct the problem.

A last word about color, also. When I began breeding in the beginning I felt that color was extremely important, almost to the exclusion of everything else. A few more years down the road I learned more about genetics and began to see the rabbit as a total package rather than a sum of it's individual parts, and realized that color could be sacrificed at times in order to fix a more important wool or type trait. I still would not knowingly breed in a problematic color gene (such as the ones listed above), and I would never breed snips, spots, or white/mismatched toenails, but what I WOULD do if the more important goals of my breeding program called for it is breed incompatible or outright unrecognized colors if they had the type and wool that I was looking for. A rabbit with outstanding type who showed up in a color that was not recognized or registerable would be incorporated into the breeding program simply because that is an easy fix at this point, and the line would benefit immensely as a result. Once a herd evolves to the point where type and wool become set, then THAT is the time to nitpick and pay strict attention to details such as color, focusing strictly on like to like combinations that improve the overall quality and intensity. Maybe you could even say that it is important to focus on the inside of a rabbit first (bone, skeletal quality, type detail), and progress to the outside later with density of wool, texture, and finally color.