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.

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