Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Evaluation of English Angora Body Type Summary

The previous posts on  evaluation of English Angora body type are a summary, and there are of course many other elements to consider.  However, if you stick to these simple concepts, you will probably have fabulous type that will help you get ahead of the competition.  Keep in mind with your breeding, however, that no rabbit is perfect,  You will in all likelihood be working with English Angoras that may not live up to the standards in the previous posts.  This is okay, nobody has perfect rabbits, and since if someone has perfect rabbits, they are not going to part with them, your herd will most likely not start out perfect.  So, where do you start?  Use the following list to help you.

Faults that are Unacceptable.  Even when you are starting your breeding program, there are some faults that should be avoided at all costs.  In other words, any of the following weaknesses should be eliminated from your herd right from the start.  If all of the rabbits that you have exhibit the following faults, get new stock or you will never get ahead.  These are all faults which will guarantee a poor finish on the show table and that are very hard to eliminate once bred into your line.  They will haunt you for generations and may never be completely eliminated once predominant in your line.  These are:

1)      Weak shoulder.  The shoulder should fill up your hand when you grab it.
2)      Lacking depth in the hip, or hips that stick up past the spine for a “hippiness” feeling.  You should be able to run your hand smooth across the body and they should not catch hips that are pointing out away from the body.   The hips should clearly be lower than the spine and be flat against the body.
3)      Weak in the lower hindquarter.  A rabbit must be full in the hindquarter -  when feeling the type, your hand should not go in when you reach the base of the table. 
4)      Cowhocks.  Hind feet should preferably be parallel to the body, or point out only slightly.  Do not breed any rabbit whose toes point out from the body  in a v shape with the heels close together. 

Qualities that are “Nice to Have”.  The following are items that are ideal are something to work towards in your breeding program.  When you start out, you may have to give in on some of these qualities, but they should always be the goal.  In fact, if you want to improve your line, look for rabbits to purchase that have these items.  Then, as your herd improves, these are qualities that should move from the “nice to have” category to the “must have” category.  Once they are considered “must haves” you will be on your way to an impressive herd.  These qualities are:

A)   Definite feeling of roundness along the topline, like you are running your hands over a   basketball. 
B)      High depth of shoulder (this is a preference, some may accept shoulders with less depth than I do).  Shoulder should have a lot of depth, or have nice height,  and should not be much lower than the highest point of the rabbit. 
C)      Straight hind feet that are parallel to the body or only slightly point out as long as they are accompanied by a very full hindquarter.

If you can, make sure that one side of the breeding pair has the attributes of the “Nice to Have” category, otherwise you will never reach the point where they can be considered “Must Haves.”  For instance if my rabbit was only slightly round, I would only breed it to a rabbit that was super round.  I try to always pair up something that is weak with something that is superior, and then keep no babies out of the cross that exhibit the weakness.  Eventually, the good genes should overwhelm the bad.  Remember, it only takes a generation to ruin type, but several generations to improve.  Therefore, all breeding pairs must be chosen carefully to ensure that you are improving your line.  Each generation should be better than the last, and if it is not, then you must reevaluate your program to get it moving in the right direction. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hind End – An Evaluation of English Angora Type.

When I evaluate the back section of the English Angora body type, I have a few things that I consider most important:  1) the lower hindquarters must be full and 2) the hind legs should either be parallel to the body or close to parallel. 

Lower hindquarters.  One thing that judges hate is a rabbit that is weak in the lower hindquarter.  I do not believe that our breed is too weak in this area, although I have seen certain breeders that do tend towards having this in their line.  This is because it is one of those things that once you breed it in, it is hard to get rid of.  As you run your hand along your rabbits body, your hand should not go in as you come to the end. The rabbit’s width must continue all the way to the floor in order for it to be acceptable.  If your hand goes in, do not breed the rabbit, it is weak in the lower hindquarter.  Do not breed even if you are breeding it to one that counterbalances this fault, because it can be very difficult to eliminate. 

Legs.   When you turn your rabbit over, the ultimate goal is to have a rabbit whose feet are parallel to its body.  With your English Angora herd, you may need to work  and selectively breed until you get to that point, which is not a problem.  It just takes work and dedication, and some day, parallel legs can be a standard in your herd. 

Evaluation.  When evaluating the rabbit you can use this checklist as a guide to evaluating the hind end:

1)      Feel the lower hindquarter, if it goes in do not use for breeding under any circumstances.   if it is full feeling and the width of the rabbit continues from the top to the floor, move to step 2.

2)      Turn the rabbit and look at how the legs are positioned.  Pick the category below that applies:

a.        Cowhocked Feet.  If the rabbits feet stick out severely like they are making a"V" , with the hocks close together, than do not keep for breeding under any circumstances.

b.        Adequate Feet.  If the feet point out only slightly and the hocks are not close  together creating a severe v shape, consider using it for breeding if that is what you have to work with.  If your herd has just adequate feet, work on improving– if you start at with rabbits whose feet stick out of the body at a 35 degree angle out from the body, work to make this a smaller angle.  For instance, with the next generation, you keep nothing less than a 30 degree angle and so on and so forth until you have feet parallel to the body. And yes, go ahead and get a protractor so that you are using unbiased data.

c.       Straight feet.  If the feet are held by the rabbit straight, or  parallel to the body, use this rabbit to improve your entire herd.  Straight parallel feet are perfection, do not expect every rabbit to have this in your first few generations unless you start with stock with this quality.  If you start with stock with this attribute keep it that way by making parallel feet a requirement to enter your breeding program. 

When evaluating, keep in mind that English Angoras can be a bit tricky when evaluating feet structure.  They are just so relaxed when turned over on their back!  Because of this, the rabbits legs may look different every time you turn it over.  So, to determine the actual leg structure, make sure to repose and turn over the rabbit several times on several occasions.  I can tell you that every time I turn over my English angoras, they are holding their legs different, so I try to find the “Status quo” and use that to evaluate them. Other breeds of rabbit tend to be consistent when turned over, because for them, they do not go into a state of relaxation.  Sometimes English Angoras are more relaxed on their back then when sitting normal, a rare quality in rabbits.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Loin or Midsection – an Evaluation of English Angora Type

The mid-section or loin of the rabbit is the second item that must be evaluated.  When evaluating this, the things I evaluate are

1.        Roundness.  I want a rabbit with a round body, just a little more than a quarter section of a basketball.
2.       Smoothness.  The rabbit’s type should flow smoothly when I touch it, and  it should feel as if my hand is tracing the smooth lines of a basketball. 

Roundness.  When feeling the topline of the English Angora,  it should be ROUND.  You should be feeling the shape of a basketball without flat spots.  I  will tell you that most English Angoras are not truly round and seem too flat.  When you feel one that is truly round, you will know what that means and you will love it.   The roundness should go all the way from the shoulders, along the topline to the floor, feeling, once again, like a basketball (maybe a tad bit flatter and stretched out across the top, but the roundness should be similar).  Make sure the roundness continues over the hindquarters, many rabbits have a flat, sloping spot over the hindquarters, which is undesirable.  When you put your hand on that hind end it should feel like you are putting it on… can you guess…. a basketball.  If you are unsure as to what roundness feels like, go to a show and talk to an established breeder and ask to feel one of theirs that has round type (or, I know the basketball imagery is getting lame, the teenagers reading this blog can comment on this in the comment section, but  feeling one will put in your mind what roundness is).

Smoothness.  When you feel the topline, it should be smooth, with no parts of the rabbit sticking out from the body.  For many English Angoras, the general problem with smoothness is a lack of depth over the hindquarters, a serious fault.  What does this mean?  In a sense, when you feel its type, the spine over the hindquarters is too low, causing you to catch the hips.  You want the hips to be well below the topline and flat against the body.  I will tell you though that this is a common problem and you may go to your barn and find this to be a fault that every one of your rabbits exhibits.  However, even if it has infested your herd, you can take steps to breed it out.  When you breed, only keep those that lack this fault for future breeding, and do not breed those that carry it.  After a generation or two, you may still get a few in each litter that  have the fault, but eventually through selective breeding you should reduce this down to just a random occurrence.  If all of your rabbits have this fault, you will need to get one that does not have this  fault into your herd and be very strict at not breeding any subsequent generations that have this fault.  This fault is very noticeable to judges, and you will not succeed with English Angoras exhibiting this problem.  But be fair when evaluating, as some young rabbits go through ugly stages before they have their true type.  It is quite common for rabbits to exhibit this fault at two months, but have excellent type at  three or four months.  The rabbit should not be faulted for going through an ugly stage unless it proves to produce this fault in subsequent generations.

In sum, it is very important that any rabbit you keep for breeding has these two qualities 1) roundness 2) smoothness with good depth over the hips.  When feeling for these qualities, do keep in mind the basics of posing from my previous post.  A rabbit can have great round and smooth type, but if it is sitting even slightly crooked underneath that wool and you don’t notice, you are not giving it an adequate evaluation.  This is very important, bad posing utterly destroys good type, and could send your future best in show rabbit to the barn of your spinner friend for a life as a fiber bunny.  Not a bad life for the bunny, but it could cost you a pretty trophy or two. 

Go play some basketball and then go to your barn and evaluate the roundness of your type!


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Shoulders - An Evaluation of English Angora Type

When evaluating the English Angora, the shoulder is the first thing that a judge will feel, and therefore, good shoulders are a way to make a good first impression.  The two main things I look for on a shoulder are:

 1)  The shoulder should be nice and wide.  A wide shoulder will fill up your hand when you feel it. 
2)  High Depth of Shoulder.    In other words I want the shoulder to be very high and to be only slightly lower than the highest point of the body. 

Width of Shoulder.  Width is  very important but self explanatory.  Feel the shoulder.  Is your hand having to stretch out to encompass the shoulder's length?  If so, good, you have wide shoulders.  when, after placing your hand on the shoulder and moving it to feel the outline of the body, do your fingers go out after leaving the shoulder?  If yes, your shoulder is probably weak.   A good wide shoulder will be at minimum four inches in length across in an adult.  More important than the actual measurement, the width of the shoulder should match the width of the rest of the body.  Some people worry about shoulders being too long.  I do not worry about trying to evaluate length of shoulder, because if your shoulders are wide and your body is short, you will have a shoulder of acceptable length.

Depth of Shoulder.  Height, or depth, of the shoulder to me is very important. When I was really trying to improve this area of my body type, I would actually measure the height of the shoulder behind the neck and select those for breeding that were highest.  My ideal rabbit in this respect that allowed me to get great depth (a doe that Deb in Minnesota bred and graciously parted with), was a rabbit whom the judges could not stop raving about in respect to body type,  The height behind the shoulder was seven inches high, even though she was very petite.  Her shoulder is the high point on her body, and then she curves very round like a quarter of a basketball, through to the floor.  Now, she has passed this wonderful depth on to her children, and grandchildren (and soon great grandchildren)

Some lines of English angoras are nice and solid, but have shoulders that start kind of low.  This lower shoulder is not necessarily wrong depending on your interpretation of the standard of perfection and if that body style is preferred by the judges in your area.  You produce what you and your local judges desire, not what other people like.    The high depth of shoulder feels best to me, and also helps with the judges perception that you have nice full shoulders– as you recall, our type has to be impressive from a sensory standpoint.  For me, the shoulder will not quite be as high as the high point of the body, but it will be close.  When I go to feel the shoulder, I want it to be right there, I do not want to go down to far in the wool to find it as in my view, the higher shoulder just feels better from a sensory standpoint.   

Good luck with evaluating your shoulders!  When deciding what you want your shoulders to look like, it is important that you choose what you think makes a nice animal and what you think feels best.  It is your herd and your breeding is your expression of what the perfect English Angora should look like.  This is why when I describe what I want, it isnt exactly using words verbatim from the standard, as the standard is at times ambiguous and open to interpretation.  I am describing merely what feels good to me based on my interpretation of the standard and also of my view of what the English Angora should look like.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Choosing Proper Body Type on an English Angora

Although wool is of major concern, my biggest concern is actually body type, and beleive it is very important that a breeder properly evaluate body type in their English Angoras.  This should be your first goal as a new or intermediate breeder, as type flaws can be very difficult to overcome.  Once your line has great type, you can focus on wool and can just assume that most rabbits born in your litters will have the type that is needed.  I can guarantee you that no matter how nice your wool is, if the judge does not feel a nice body, you will have difficulties with success, no matter how the points under the standard of perfection are alloted.  I think this is a good thing, and commend judges that are not overwhelmed by big coats and really try to get a feel for what the rabbits "foundation" looks like, as correct body type is so important and hard to get. 

Also, do not assume a rabbit has a good body type if someone is selling it and lists famous, well known lines.  Keep in mind that a person can completely destroy the body type in one or two generations if they do not have a good knowledge of type or selected rabbits to breed from the line that carry faults, even if they purchased the best stock around.  So be sure to look at the rabbit itself when making a purchase, specifically the body type, and do not worry about who is on the pedigree two or three generations back.  Even excellent breeders produce bad rabbits in their litters, which will most likely lead to producing bad rabbits for you, as that is just how rabbit breeding works.  So, even if a breeder has a fabulous reputation, you need to make your own evaluation.  And, some breeders are excellent breeders that do not have the time or desire to keep big coats to compete with others - I have gotten some of my best rabbits from unknown breeders because I took a look at what they had and was impressed as they obviously had great breeding knowledge even if they did not often show.  It is great to see a 50 dollar rabbit or a homebred rabbit beat a rabbit that someone else spent 500 dollars on.  Keep in mind that the pedigree does not get judged, and just because it traces its lineage to the best rabbit ever, it will still lose on the table if a subsequent breeder did not have working knowledge of type and allows inferior typed rabbits or unsuitable breeding pairs to breed.  

English Angora Body Type is Sensory not Visual.  Because the body type is hidden under so much wool, I always strive to choose a rabbit whose body type will impress the judge's sense of touch under the wool as big coats can only get proper evaluation of their type through the sense of touch.  You can tell that some judges are not used to this, however, and have seen many that will try to furiously smooth the coat down to visually observe the type because they are used to doing this on other breeds that they judge.  However, this does not really lead to the correct result with this breed, and so you need to take a more sensory approach to body type in the English angora, rather than visually assessing type.    The assessment of roundness is actually best evaluated by fluffing the coat up, and then judging if the rabbit is round - smoothing down wool so that it is as flat as possible just makes the rabbit look bad unless it is very young.

Basics when evaluating Type.  When  you are evaluating the body type on an English Angora there are a few things to keep in mind.  You must position and pose the rabbit prior to feeling type.  If it is not posed correctly, you will more than likely feel faults that do not exist.  It is common to see both judges and experienced breeders alike making this mistake.  The wool hides the rabbit, and since our breed tends to be calm, they do not necessarily pose readily.  I in fact try to work with my rabbits on posing because I know that many judges do not set them up when checking them, so  I like them to pose as automatically as they can when being handled. 

Work on Posing.  While not all learn to pose automatically, working with the posing has made quite a difference with my English Angoras, and some have learned that when I take them out and feel their type, that they should sit properly right away.  To teach this is easy -  whenever I take a show rabbit out to groom or use the blower, the first thing I do is set them up in a pose and feel their type a few times.  Eventually they get used to this motion, and know to sit nice when they are first put on the table. With my babies, it only takes me a couple minutes starting when they are about six weeks old or so to take them out and do this a few times a week.  That also allows me to evaluate their type as they are growing and going through changes as well as get them used to sitting properly when handled.   If your rabbits do not automatically pose after working on them, do not worry, it isn’t something that all grasp, and I will say that English Angoras have a relaxed personality, and therefore do not necessarily have a sense of urgency to pose like some breeds do.  I have one that seriously scoots herself up into position the minute she feels your hand on her hindquarters, and I have others who never care, and expect me to do the work for them. 

How to Pose an English Angora.  I will start to pose an English Angora by scooting the back end up to the correct position while gently holding the front.  The back of the heel should be just under the back of the rabbit, and not pushed too far forward.  To correctly pose, the most important thing is to feel for their feet,  and make sure that their feet are underneath them in a relaxed manner.  Typically the front end of the feet will be under the most forward point in the hip, but that can be hard to tell through the wool.  .  In addition, the legs should be equally parallel to the body, and should be sitting just underneath the body, not sticking out.  If they are not parallel underneath the body, position them correctly.  Also, allow the head to sit naturally, do not push the head down.  A good short cobby animal will often have a full chest and does not naturally carry their head on the ground.  If it is forced into an unnatural position, it will not feel correct.  Some do hold their heads lower, and if that is natural for them, that is fine.  A rule of thumb to use when posing  is that the rabbit should be sitting in a natural, balanced, comfortable position.

Be Gentle Top Keep Them Properly Posed.  When actually feeling the body, you need to gently feel the outline of the type, do not let the wool trick you into squeezing down too hard as it will cause the  rabbit to get out of its pose and you will not be feeling the true type.  I see many people do this when they are trying to evaluate English Angora type.  They are squeezing with their hands to feel type, and in that manner push the rabbit to move its legs back.  You merely want to feel the outline, so glide your hands over the body type.  I think that the wool often makes people unconsciously think they have to squeeze harder to get through, but that just moves the rabbit out of its natural pose.  Be light, and just hard enough that you can feel the outline of the body and assess it for flaws – you will feel them, you just don’t want to create them.   

 Evaluation.  Evaluation of body type can take place any time, but keep in mind that a young rabbits bodies change as they mature.  Therefore, it really is unfair to a rabbit to make a final assessment until they are 3-6 months old.  You need to determine when your particular rabbits mature so that you know when the final evaluation can be made.  There are three major components that I think about when evaluating the body type of my English Angoras :  1) Shoulder 2) Middle or Loin and 3) Hind end or Hindquarters and Legs.  I will discuss these in the posts to follow.