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Reader's Stories


Breeding for Herd Improvement


One of the nice things about the rabbit fancy is that success may be enjoyed on many levels. One may aim to win Best in Show at the ARBA convention, or one may aim to get better comments on one's rabbits at the next show. Between those extremes, there are many other levels of challenges to provide the rabbit breeder with goals, and satisfaction when those goals are achieved.

Herd improvement is a goal that may proceed at a leisurely pace or at a more rapid pace, according to the wishes of the breeder. First, the breeder needs to understand the ARBA Standard for his breed of rabbit. If one does not have a clear understanding of what the ideal rabbit would be like, then one may not know how to select the best animals for breeding.

One will find it helpful if breeding decisions are made without sentiment or emotion. For example, if ole Lulu has never produced anything really remarkable, there is no point in continuing to breed Lulu, is there? One may be so much in love with Lulu as a pet that one fails to see she is not contributing anything to the betterment of the herd in her role as producing doe.

Regularly submitting stock to judges for evaluation at ARBA shows can be very helpful to the breeder. By taking the same rabbits to a number of different judges and then considering all the comments together, one will get a clearer picture of which are the better animals and how one's stock needs to be improved. No one "loses" at a rabbit show! The judges' comments are interesting and helpful, whether or not one wins at any one show.

One should listen to judges' comments quietly and courteously. An exhibitor may feel a bit huffy when her rabbit is being criticized. If so, push those feelings back--one cannot improve one's herd without constructive criticism from folks who know their business. Neither should one become overtly emotional if one's rabbit is winning. It is just one show, and inappropriate dancing and yelling shows a lack of regard for the feelings of the other exhibitors.

It is a good idea to register as many of the breeders in the herd as one can. The practice of maintaining a registered herd does seem to vary in importance from breed to breed. Still, registration is useful because the ARBA Registrar checks each animal over and will not register rabbits that have disqualifications.

The breeder needs to be honest with herself and not engage in the fruitless practice of denying the facts about any one rabbit in one's barn. However, one must be able to appreciate what is good about an individual animal as well as what its faults are.

Years of work can be saved if the breeder is able to begin with excellent breeding stock. Why try to reinvent the wheel? Why try to make silk purses from sow's ears? (Unless, of course, one truly enjoys the challenge of trying to breed up from inferior stock, which some breeders do!) Quality foundation stock may seem expensive but pays for itself over and over. Compared to prices for premium breeding stock of other species, rabbit breeding stock is very affordable.

Most experienced breeders agree that linebred, related stock is the best to start with. This would mean, instead of getting rabbits from each of several different breeders, one would look for quality, related animals that are linebred. A linebred pedigree shows a pattern. Rather than a different pair of rabbits used for each mating on the pedigree, the linebred pedigree may show evidence of some cousin to cousin breedings, half brother to half sister, uncle to neice, and so on. Now, it is not the linebreeding itself that makes a pedigree good, because if the linebreeding focuses on mediocre individuals, then it is of no value. But if the linebreeding focuses on quality individuals, then it shows that the rabbit bearing the pedigree may have a preponderance of the desirable qualities of the few individuals that appear more than once in the pedigree.

Linebreeding may also perpetuate the undesirable characteristics of the quality individual which appears repeatedly in the pedigree. For example, if old Slick appears to be the basis of a linebreeding program, then Slick's good coat may appear in most of his grandchildren and great grandchildren. However, Slick's lack of body depth may also appear with persistent regularity! So, linebreeding can be a two-edged sword.

Linebreeding and inbreeding do not create genetic problems. These strategies merely reveal genetic characteristics that might otherwise remain hidden. I think there is a good deal of misunderstanding about this aspect of linebreeding.

Ideally, with linebreeding, one hopes to select in favor of desirable characteristics and to create breeders that will be highly prepotent for those good characteristics, producing those characteristics repeatedly in their offspring, who will in turn pass them along to their own offspring. I like to say that linebreeding can stack the deck in the breeder's favor.



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