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
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
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,
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
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.