Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Choosing English Angora Breeding Stock - Holding Show Coats

In the United States, English Angoras need to exhibit a nice full coat when showing.  The coats will often need to grow about nine to ten months in order to begin to be competitive on the show table. Therefore, when choosing breeding stock, it is important to choose rabbits that have the ability to hold their coat.

Terri's Satin - an Awesome Chocolate English Angora.  Below is Terri's Satin, a beautiful chocolate English Angora that held  a lively coat for about twelve inches, when her wool was clipped (similar to the way that you clip the fur off of poodles) and she welcomed her first litter. She still grows beautiful wool at around four years of age. She won many Best of Breeds and was second at the National Angora Rabbit Breeders Club Show in New York in 2012 (she was showing as a senior at just about six months of age). These wins would not have been possible if I did not breed for rabbits that can hold a nice quality show coat.

Genetics.  An English Angora's ability to hold a coat requires good genetics.  If your rabbit cannot hold its coat for the first year of its life, it should not be a part of your breeding program.  Once you breed in a rabbit that only holds its coat a shorter time into your line, you will have problems.  To me, a rabbit that cannot hold it for a year will not be retained to enter a breeding program or sold to a show home.  This is one of the most important items to breed for, because once this inability to hold a coat enters your line, it will be there for many, many generations.

Quality.  Not only should the English Angora hold the coat for its first year, the coat needs to be a good quality coat.  It should have beautiful lively texture and retain its density.  Many rabbits will start to lose these qualities around ten months, which is okay.  But, if the condition of your English Angora's coat is losing quality at seven months, it is not a show quality rabbit and should not be retained for breeding. Terri's Satin always had beautiful, lively texture.  She has passed this onto her offspring.  In fact, most of my rabbits trace their lineage to her, as she was very much an ideal rabbit with a coat that was always beautiful.   (Yes, she was, and still is my favorite in case you are wondering!)

Transition Coat.  Some lines of English Angoras have gorgeous coats, but go through a transition period around five months or so.  During this period, they can become difficult to groom, as they are molting off a layer of wool in order to make room for growth.  Many outstanding specimens go through a transition period, and it leads to some beautiful texture.

I personally need easy to groom coats because of my hectic schedule, so I breed for rabbits that do not go through a difficult transition of coat - I want them to be easy to groom throughout their first coat.  In fact, I will select rabbits that need minimal grooming during all stages of its life cycle.  So, evaluate this need in your herd.  If you are like me and need them to stay easy to groom throughout the first year, then select breeding stock that stays easy to groom the entire time that it is in coat.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Is my English Angora a Pearl?

Few colors are as confusing to an English Angora breeder as the pearls. Determining if your rabbit is a pearl can be easy if you know of an English Angora breeder that raises the color. (Note - this post addresses only what I call the "true pearls" and not the smoke pearl, which is a confusing name and is actually the blue form of the sable.) Asking a person breeding the color in normal furred rabbits or asking a judge can be helpful, but the color does appear different on a wooled rabbit, which can result in even these knowledgeable people being confused. A knowledgeable breeder of shaded Jersey Woolies can be very helpful if a knowledgable breeder of English Angora pearls is not available. Often, a weak colored self is mistaken for a pearl. I see this occuring frequently with weakly colored blues or lilacs. Remember that the ARBA standard of perfection describes the color on a pearl as fading rapidly to a "pearl" or very light color in the wool. Think of your grandmas pearls (the real ones, not the fake plastic white ones) - that creamy color is the wool color on an actual pearl. The wool may have ticking, and if there is ticking as the wool grows out, it tends to be the color of the points, the sepia (black), blue, lilac or choc. For instance, if you look at a young black pearl, you will often see frosting in the sepia color over the off white, pearl colored wool. The ticking on a lilac pearl, will probably be too light to be noticeable, but will most likely be present at the very young ages. The three best ways for a breeder inexperienced with the color to see if they have a pearl are 1) the nestbox test 2) the breeding test and 3) the comparison test. 1) The Nest Box Test. Typically it is very easy to spot a pearl in the nextbox. A pearl will seem almost white, but when compared with an actual white baby, you will see that the pearl is more "frosty" color. If your rabbit was a solid color when born, for instance, it looked like a normal blue baby, then you do not have a pearl. 2) The Breeding Test. There are some breeding experiments you can perform if you still are unsure if you have a true pearl. Breed it to a ruby eyed white, making sure this ruby eyed white does NOT carry the agouti gene (you should NEVER breed pearls to agoutis, you can get unshowable shaded agoutis.) Now, I want to caution you, that these two rabbits should be a match for breeding in all other respects - do not just breed this way to check color but you should also be hoping for some superior show quality specimens from the match. If you breed to the ruby eyed white and you get any selfs or torts, you do NOT have a pearl. That is because a pearl bred to a Ruby Eyed White can only produce pearls or ruby eyed whites . 3) The Comparison Test. In my opinion, this is the best test for those that are inexperienced with the pearl color. For this test, set the rabbit next to a tort with matching points (i.e. a blue pearl next to a blue tort). Basically, a pearl is a tort that has the "yellow" of beige color removed. So, these two rabbits should look exactly the same colorwise, but one has no beige yellow color. Now, sometimes the points on the pearl will be a little lighter once the temperature goes in the seventies because the enzyme producing color slows down in certain colors, such as pearls (that is another discussion for another day). So, in summer, do make allowances if you compare a tort and a black pearl and the black pearls points are a shade or two lighter than the tort. Pearls are a very beautiful color and look great on the show table. I hope you have as much fun showing them as I do!

Monday, September 23, 2013

When to Break the Rules

I have posted many rules on my blog, and they are an excellent guide. I see many of the angora breeds being bred without any regard to color breeding rules, which has lead to the deterioration of many of the wonderful rare colors. Then, you often hear breeders saying that they have never seen a decent (insert color ) English Angora that could compete with the torts and whites. It isn’t the fault of the color, but those that breed the color, so step up to the challenge if you are a fan of the rarer colors, breed top quality bunnies that can compete. When a judge sees a nice specimen of a color that is not tort or white, they LOVE it, and it will go a long way to being noticed on the show table. While keeping in mind color is just five points, those five points will come in handy on the judging tables with the colors that are not tort and white. But what do you do if you are breeding one of these rarer colors and they are not up to snuff? Then you look across the barn, seeing the perfect cross, although you know it will set back your color breeding. My suggestion – go ahead and do the breeding, just do it smart, have goals, and stick to those goals. I will use an example that I am currently working on to demonstrate some guidance to use when you are “breaking the rules”. The chestnut agoutis that I have do not have that nice intense fawn/reddish color in their rings like the chestnut agoutis that I used to have. There are two reasons for this. First, they are out of tort lines, and the tort genes can lead to the coats showing a long white ring at the base of their coat. Second, they lack “rufus” genes, which are the genes that, if you get enough, change a fawn to red. Now, I don’t mean that I want to breed actual reds into my lines. The rufus gene appears to have degrees. For example, a pretty intense fawn or tort has more “rufus” then a light washed out fawn or tort. In my barn, I have a very nice pretty intense, dark black tort doe who almost appears to be pumpkin orange in color. She is not the washed out tort colors that are often seen, she has a brilliant deep color. She is a keeper in all respects of course, not just her color. So, I am going to breed her into my agoutis to get those rufus genes into my agoutis. Here is how I am going to do it: 1. I will select a rabbit that is a match in respects other than color. This doe needs better texture but has super body type. I am going to breed her to a buck with better texture. They are keepers in all other respects. If this tort was pinched or had any mediocre qualities, I would not be doing the breeding. Also, if she did not match up with any of the rabbits that carry my agouti line I would not be doing the breeding. Any breeding, when breeding for color, needs to be a match that you would be making even without considering color – that is one of the best secrets to breeding top quality rabbits in a rare color. Why do rare colors often lack compared to their more popular counterparts? Because many of the breeders who breed them do it just because they are color compatible. You will just generate more mediocre specimens, causing the myth that your favorite color is inferior. 2. I will carefully select the breeding so that it does not have to be done more than needed. The tort does genes could cause my agoutis to not have the rings that I would like them too. Therefore, I want to bring in her blood as little as possible, but be as effective as possible. She will be bred to the best buck that I have so that, hopefully, the breeding only has to occur once. After that, she will go back to breeding with my tort and white line. If for some reason that pairing does not work, then I will not use any babies from that litter, and possibly try her with another buck to see if my results are good. But, I will not be using a bunch of her babies in my agouti line, only the best one, or possibly two if the results are good. 3. When doing the breeding, I have a goal. The goal is an excellent show quality agouti that carries more intensity, or rufus color. So, when I select a keeper or two out of this cross, that is what I will select. If there are none, I will keep none in my breeding line. If you do not accomplish the desired goal from the cross, then chalk it up to experience, and move on to other things. 4. Remove any rabbits from the breeding line that demonstrate the problem that arises with bringing in the new color. For instance, a tort gene often makes agoutis carry a lot of white in their coat. So, with each generation, I will select babies from this new line that do not have this problem, and with each generation attempt to fix the problem. Eventually, you hope that that pesky recessive gene is no longer a problem. When I have worked on color projects, it sometimes takes awhile for me to find something that “makes the cut.” And, when I do, the logical breedings to take place might be ones that I would not want to breed if I was following the “rules.”. So, when I start a new color, I am often breeding against color rules, even though I do not like to. Through the generations, I use the above rules to try and improve the color. It is a necessary evil. Currently, my agoutis carry a lot of tort. If those are the pairings that I need to make to make nice rabbits, then that is what I have to do. Sometimes when breeding a rare color that has “rules, these rules will have to be just a goal, as it may take you years until you have enough of a line to really start working to improve that color. The important thing is that you are working toward your goal when you are breaking the rules and there is a reason for each breeding that you are doing. Your ultimate goal is to create the perfect English Angora, which should guide you. One of the goals that is a piece of it when you raise certain colors, is to breed them correctly. But, a goal is the place you want to end up, so if you are not there yet, that is okay – and it is why it is called a “goal” and a piece of that goal cannot override the ultimate goal.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Common Grooming Problems in the English Angora

Some common frustrations that people have with English Angoras are often solved when they get the correct knowledge.  Below are a few items that sometimes perplex the new and intermediate breeder unnecessarily.

Matted Feet.  Whenever I have an English Angora with wool on the feet that has become unmanageable, I simply trim the wool off.  It is best do do this a few weeks before the show, but in any event, once they become difficult, it is time for a trim.
The wool on the feet grows back quickly, so if you do this 3-4 weeks before a show, it will most likley not even make a difference.
In fact, I rarely hesitate to do this unless I am very close to a show. Matted Cheeks.  With matted cheeks that do not comb out, I try to trim a layer off if possible.  usually, the matt is occuring under the first layer of cheek furnishings.  I will trim the underlayer of cheeck wool once it becomes difficcult, making sure that what I am removing is unnoticable.
This can sometimes make the remaining cheek wool easier to groom. However, prevention is the best cure - make sure to groom the cheek wool once a week at least and you will hopefully avoid this problem.
Matted Behind the Ears.  If a bunny starts to matt right behind the base of the ears, I simply cut it off.  This does not apply to any wool that is located on the rabbits shoulders, that will meed to be groomed so as not to ruin the rabbits show apperance.  Once again, it is a far better practice to maintain the wool and keep it on the rabbit.

Dirty Bottoms.  fIf your english angora bottom is dirty, keep the area trimmed.  If the wool is dirty, it is in the way.
To prevent this, it is important to keep the area trimmed neatly, especially the wool behind the feet. In addition, taking hydrogen peroxide or white venigar, and quickly spraying the floor f the cage daily, and wiping down with a rag will save you ALOT of headaches.
Also, trimming the genital area is not a bad thing, and is something that I do commonly as routine maintence. If it does not detract from the look of the rabbit, it should not count against you on the show table as it is often necessary for the health of the rabbit. Webbed/Matted Wool on the Shoulders.  Unfortunately, difficult shoulders do not have an easy fix, and must be prevented in order to keep your show rabbit looking fabulous.  Be very diligent about applying spray or ivermectin to kill fur mites, as explained in a previous blog, and keep up with the maintainence grooming. If you have a problem you will need to get to work using two tactics - pulling the wool apart and blowing with the blower. Remeber, that your goal is to keep the wool on the rabbit! So, pull apart webbing, and then blow. Repeat, repeat, and repeat. Take it as punishment for not keeping up your maintenance which would have prevented the problem! As you can see, most of what I have written is saying that PREVENTING the issue is the best solution. In the long run, taking the small amount of time to PREVENT the probem and doing your normal maintenance grooming is a FAR better solution if you are trying to maintain a nice show English Angora. The tricks above will help you when things have gone wrong, but these areas will never look as good as if they were properly maintaned to beign with.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Breeding the Pointed White English Angora Part 3– Other Concerns.

Heat Sensitivity.  Another concern for pointed white breeders can be heat sensitivity.  The gene is heat sensitive which can cause the points to fade in high temperatures.  This is another reason why it is crucial to breed for nice dark colored pointeds.  Once with nice dark color may fade, but can still be shown and the heat should not affect a rabbit bred for nice dark color that also does not carry any tort gene and carries a double pointed gene.  However, pointed that are not bred for nice color may lose all color.  In fact, if any lose all color in their feet in the summer, these should ideally be removed from the breeding program.  When I had a very strong and dark pointed line, I did not have to worry about the heat, the black points would turn a lighter sepia brown, but would retain their color.  As they got older, also, they would appear to be more susceptible to the heat, so I take that into consideration when making my choices for retaining breedings. 

Intensity of Color. Even when you are breeding your colors correctly, you will notice that some of your pointeds are darker than others.  While you have to balance all factors when choosing your breeding stock, you will then be at a point where you can add dark color to your list of desired characteristics when selecting breeding stock.  You will be amazed at the variety that can be in a litter of pointeds, and this will give you the opportunity to select the darkest colors (while balancing all other factors of course) to improve your pointed line in the next generation.   So, just like with any other color, to increase the intensity of the color, choose and breed rabbits that exhibit dark color.

Many of you may not have had this knowledge regarding breeding pointed whites previously, so if you are not following these guidelines, all is not lost – start today.  And if you need any further guidance, do not hesitate to speak with a person raising a normal furred breed that has a nice line of pointed whites.  In fact, I learned these genetic tips from my years of Netherland Dwarfs, and then applied them to my pointed White English Angoras and was able to produce a nice solid line of animals. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Breeding the Pointed White English Angora Part II– the Three Cardinal Rules

The three cardinal rules for breeding pointeds are 1) you want to double up on the pointed gene, 2) you want to avoid the non-extension gene carried by torts, pearls and fawns, and 3) the you want to avoid the agouti gene carried by chestnut, choc agouti, opal, lynx, cream and fawns. 

1) Doubling up the pointed gene.  When breeding the pointeds, the best breeding choice is to breed two nice dark colored pointeds together.  Another good option would be to breed a self (black, blue, lilac, or chocolate) that carries the pointed gene or a Siamese sable that carries the pointed gene.  This is because your darkest pointeds will occur when the rabbit receives the pointed genes from both parents. In fact, it is desirable to have a Siamese sable and pointed line that you breed together.  Breeding the pointed to the sable will give you correctly colored sables which are not too dark.  Also, the babies will hopefully carry the pointed gene, so any pointeds out of the sable to pointed breeding will carry two pointed genes.  This is a win-win, and it allows you to have two nice colors that you breed together so that each pairing is a sable to a pointed, resulting in a litter of half Siamese sables with nice color and the other half theoretically would be double gene pointeds.  While you could do the same with a black or other self line, a black that carries the pointed gene may not reach its full potential for color.  However, I currently use blacks because I do not have Siamese sables yet, and I am happy to report that my blacks remain very dark, although I am sure that they would be darker if I did not have to use them in my pointed line.

Single gene pointeds.  You can also get pointeds when a rabbit receives a pointed gene from one parent and a white gene from the other parent.  These will not be as dark in color as the pointed to pointed, but if you are trying to improve your pointed line, or just do not have any other options, you may have to do these crosses. You do need to get your quality first.  So, if I needed to work on quality, I would not hesitate to use a black or sable that carries the white gene to breed to my pointeds, or a white that is genetically a black or other self.  Once the quality is there, then you can go back to trying to get your darkest pointeds by doubling up on that gene.

2) Avoiding Non-extension gene pointeds.  One should always avoid the tort or non-extension gene when breeding pointeds.  This means, no tort of any color, no pearl of any color (with the exception of smoke pearl, because smoke pearl is not genetically a pearl, but rather a blue sable) fawns or creams.  Also, avoid using pointed whites that are very light, or whose points appear frosted rather than solid, as they are more than likely non-extension pointeds.  Breeding this gene into your line will produce very undesirable rabbits, and rabbits that can be disqualified.  And, that pesky gene can stay hidden in a line for awhile, and once in there, it will take awhile to breed out.  It is understandable that the English angora breed has many outstanding tort rabbits, and it therefore can be tempting to use them to improve your pointed line.  However, this temptation should be resisted, and, one should find an outstanding black or other self instead.   There are plenty of nice black or other self colored English Angoras, so there should no need to perpetuate the tort gene into your pointeds, causing headaches for many generation.  Just like giving in to temptation and breeding to a rabbit with a white toenail, breeding to the tort could come back and haunt you later down the road. 

3)  Avoid the Agouti Gene.  Also important, but not as crucial as avoiding the tort gene, is to avoid the agouti gene.  This means no chestnuts, choc agoutis, opals, lynxes or fawns should be bred to the pointed white.  The agouti gene will also cause the color to be undesirable as it will cause the points to have rings.  When looking at these rabbits, the points will appear to look chinchilla colored.  While this will result in a disqualification, it is a dominant gene and therefore is easier to breed out than the tort gene.   Therefore, if you bred a chestnut to a pointed and got some nice colored babies that do not have ring color, you could rest assured that those babies will not be passing the agouti gene on to future generations and can safely be utilized in your breeding program.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Breeding the Pointed White English Angora Part I– Introduction

Certain colors of English Angora need to be bred in a certain manner, one of the most important of these is the Pointed White.  All too often, I see pictures of what people claim to be a “Lilac” Pointed White.  Upon further inspection it is actually what I call a “tort pointed” or, to those who speak genetics, a non-extension pointed.  A true lilac pointed, is not just light in color, it should have nice solid dark lilac color on its points.  These non-extension pointeds are undesirable, and when the color is so affected that it is non-existent, can even result in disqualification. 

How do the light non-extension pointeds occur?  The pointed white or himalayan gene causes color to be removed from the rabbits entire body, except the tail, feet, ears, and nose.  So, if you have a rabbit that is genetically a black, but displays the pointed gene, black color remains in these areas.  Same for any other self color, such as blue, lilac or choc.  However, if you have a rabbit that is genetically a tort that carries the pointed gene, only that smoky tort color will remain.  So, you get light colors that appear to be frosted on instead of solid. As you can imagine, a blue tort, choc tort, or lilac tort has even lighter shading which could cause the color to become virtually nonexistent.  That is why it is important to never breed torts into your pointed line, and to avoid any rabbits that appear to have light, frosted points, or that either do not have feet color or that on occasion lose their feet color.  And, to you judges out there, do not give English angora pointeds a pass for color when you would normally disqualify in a normal breed.  These light pointeds that do not display color in the feet or tails should be disqualified.  Although I have seen many non-extension gene pointeds shown in the past few years, I have only seen one disqualified, and that one had virtually no point color whatsoever.  This does not encourage the breeders to breed the colors correctly.

Keep in mind that most of you will not have “ideal” pointed white programs at this time because it appears that a lot of this knowledge of breeding the color has not been widely distributed. Therefore, even if you may not have followed all of this advice in the past, it is my hope that you can take this guidance and use it as a start to help you to create beautiful dark pointeds that will be stunners on the show table.  

  This series will appear in three parts, so stay tuned for Part II – the Three Cardinal rules of Breeding Pointed Whites and Part III – Other Concerns, which will address heat sensitivity and Color Intensity.

Also, some of the terms that I use when describing genetics are  not “textbook”, I often use my own terms to make the subject easier to understand.