Thursday, September 29, 2011

Breeding for Color - Beware of Torts

Many English Angora breeders breed any color to any color, which can lead to poor results.  Even though only five points are allocated to color, judges truly appreciate intense well colored animals probably more than this point amount would lead you to believe, so being careful with breeding should be a top priority.  Having a color project can be very rewarding, and since breeders of other breeds follow color rules when breeding, there really isn’t any reason that you can’t.   To get some guidance on the issue, talk to breeders of normal furred breeds with multiple colors.  Because I raised Netherland Dwarfs for many years, I learned how the colors should be bred together for optimum results, and this is unfortunately knowledge that many of your fellow English angora breeders do not possess and could truly give you an advantage on the show table.  An intense study of genetics is not necessary, just find out the “rules” for breeding whatever color you are interested in, follow them, and consider correct color when selecting your breeding stock.

Particularly, an English Angora breeder should avoid breeding tort to everything.  If you have a reason for doing so, for instance, if your blacks need better density and the rabbit with the best density in your barn is a tort, than do so, but by breeding that way, understand that you may need to work harder at getting the color back.  While I have heard people in the breed say that torts are the densest, I know by previous experience that this is just coincidence. Because many of the most serious breeders raise torts, a person’s best rabbits may be torts, but it would be a mere coincidence and is anecdotal evidence at best.  Many years ago, when torts were rare in my barn, the ones that I had did not have as dense of wool as my main colors – I suspect that since I got few torts then, that it was mere coincidence, as well as the fact that they did not occur often and did not occur from my best lines.  Similarly, English Angora breeders now breed mostly tort, so the reverse could lead someone to the conclusion that torts are best because they are either from their best lines or are the most numerous– but it is a fact that the tort gene itself does not do anything to make a coat more or less dense.  Do not get me wrong, I do love torts, but not enough to have them dominate my herd.

The reason to not breed torts indiscriminately with other colors is two-fold – one, that on a tort, you usually do not worry about color intensity as you would on other colors such as blacks or chocolates, so when you bred your tort in you may be selecting a rabbit with weak color intensity.  Second, in many colors, such as the pointed white, the recessive tort gene can lead to lighter colors.  I see many pointed whites being advertised as “lilac” when I suspect that they are actually pointed whites that have a recessive tort gene.  A true lilac pointed white will not be light, it should have points that are dark, but Lilac in color, and should not have feet that fade to white in the summer.  Take a look at a Lilac in the Himalayan breed  of rabbit, and you will see that the Lilac pointed whites are not faintly colored as some of the alleged “lilac” pointed white English Angoras are. 

Bottom line is, if you need to breed a tort into a color such as a black or an agouti, be sure that you are using a dark tort so that you do not lose color intensity.  Additionally, some colors, such as pointed white, should  never be bred to a tort unless absolutely necessary, because the tort gene itself, no matter how intensely dark it is, will make the points faint and light.  In the future, I will talk about breeding specific colors and color groups, but for now, you can research color breeding information from other breeds who do a better job at breeding for color.   Putting a small amount of effort into breeding your colors true can lead to gorgeous blacks, striking agoutis and intensely dark pointed whites, which look amazing on the show table!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Show Grooming the English Angora

     Show grooming is different from your maintenance grooming routine.  At a show, you may take license to actually use your brushes on the coat more than you would at home.  You are risking a little more coat breakage by doing so, but that is why you try to avoid unnecessary grooming at home.  Also this method assumes that you are on top of your maintenance grooming, so that you will not be removing any matts or webbing, because that should be prevented or taken care of during maintenance grooming sessions.  Most of your focus will be on the underside of the rabbit.   Put the rabbit on your lap, underside up in whatever manner is most comfortable to you.  Use your soft slicker brush to brush the wool around the butt, the feet and the belly.  You want the bottom to look “pretty “ when you are done.  If there are any wet spots or messy areas around the tail, either clip off or use corn starch or baby powder with white vinegar if it is in wool that needs to stay on.  If you have a wet spot and have to use the corn starch or baby power, you will have to continually brush and blow that spot until dry – this may take awhile, so it is best to check those that are prone to doing this when you first get to the show.  Some rabbits are messy, and others aren’t, I often use this as a consideration when breeding, as messy mothers often produce messy daughters.  Typically, I go through and do the bottoms of all of my show rabbits before I do the tops because the bottom is the most time consuming. 

The next step is to do the top.  If you have done a good job on your maintenance grooming, this should not take long.  If the rabbit is under four and a half months old, I do not blow it, just use a steel tooth comb behind the ears and through the furnishings.  For anyone over that age, the younger they are the shorter of time that I blow.  Put the rabbit on the grooming stand and use the steel tooth comb behind the ears, and cheeks and furnishings.  Then I feel the wool to make sure that no wool has clumped or webbed – if so, I will blow that spot, then pull apart with my fingers and repeat until finished – if you do your maintenance grooming you should not have a problem.  I then take a bottle of pure water and lightly mist the rabbit – this is a trick used by normal fur breeders to make the coat more fresh prior to showing.  You need to do this very lightly, just one light spray or so, enough that it will be dry after just a second or two of blowing.   

Next start blowing with your blower,  just blowing in each spot and if there is no webbing move on.   When you are done, a rabbit with a longer coat will often have little pills on the end  The best way to get this off is to use a flea comb to target the small little pill, however, you can use a soft slicker if you are in a hurry.  Also, groom any ends that look stringy in the same fashion, however, use a normal size steel comb for this, and try to avoid using the slicker as it will cause breakage.  Sometimes on the later coats, only the slicker will do. 

When doing this grooming of the ends, only do it on a spot that needs it, hold the base of the wool, and try to get it in as few strokes as possible.   A coat that is about a year old  will take a long time during this step to make the coat look good, younger, fresher long coats may only need a spot or two, and then you are done.  It is nice to  do the blowing step as close to when you show as possible and then to leave the rabbit out of the cage.  I often have a few grooming tables, so that I can have my longest coated rabbits sit out prior to going to the show table – you don’t want all of your efforts to be wasted prior to going to the table.  Now that you are done, your English Angora should look like a round ball of fluff when placed on the grooming table.