Breeding match ups or how do we pick who to breed?
Due to my previous experience as a registered veterinary technician and a dog breeder, our breeding program is based on extensive line breeding. I have found that this really helps to concentrate the modifiers that control the pattern in the Harlequin and gives me a larger percentage of marked kits. We also go over each rabbit carefully and note their strong points and weak points and write it on their record/pedigree card. Also noted on the card are the strong and weak points of the parents and if we owned them, the grandparents.
When planning for the next breeding cycle, cards for the prospective mates are compared to see how close or distant a line breeding would be and if they cross fault well. Various things we consider during the decision stage are body structure, depth of color, size, fur length/texture and inbreeding coefficients. The one thing we almost never consider is pattern. Most of our herd are 2 or 3 part frontals.
Extensive records are kept on the outcome of each breeding and noted on the parents’ cards. Some of the information recorded is weights of kits at various ages, how many kits of each pattern type, overall depth of color in kits and number of bucks and does produced. This gives me a good overall look at how certain lines are nicking and if we may want to repeat a breeding or not.
When bringing in new breeding stock, I always try to find rabbits that have one of the family lines we are working with, but through a slightly different individual. For example I recently bought a new doe whose father is a ½ brother to one of our current herd bucks. This will bring in fresh genes from this family through a different individual as well as some completely new lines through the doe’s grand dam. This way we get a chance to add some new genes to the program without doing a complete outcross and scrambling the pattern modifiers too much.
How to we choose who to keep?
Picking starts as soon as they are born and continues until they turn 6 months old. At birth all litters are culled to 6-8 kits with the best markings. This keeps the does from being drawn down too much from large litters. At 2 weeks we go through and cull out any obvious white markings and any bald or dark faced kits that do not have exceptional color and/or body banding. At 4 weeks they are all weighed and any that are not at least 14oz, I prefer 16oz, are culled. I have found that those under 14oz almost never make senior weight by 6 months and it is easier to cull them before I get attached to them.
At 6-8 weeks, I go through them again and say if space were no problem, would I keep you? If the answer is no, then they are culled out. Usually by this time we are down to all showable kits (means they at least have a face split) and possibly an exceptionally colored or banded bald/dark faced kit, and then comes the hard part.
At 8-9 weeks our line tends to look a lot like they will look then they are mature. At this point you can usually tell who will have a nice rear, shoulder, head, etc. We then grade the kits into 4 groups.
Group 1: Will do well on show table and has something I want/need in the breeding program. Group 2: May not show well, but has something I want/need in the breeding program. Group 3: Will do well on show table, but unneeded in the breeding program. Group 4: May not show well, not needed in breeding program, but too nice to just cull.
Groups 1 and 2 kits all get kept and grown out. Group 3 kits are grown out and taken to shows, where they are shown and offered for sale. I will keep them as long as we have cage space or give to youth breeders if space is tight. Group 4 kits are offered for sale and may eventually be culled to the meat pen if not bought or given away.
The last cull happens at 6 months. If any of them have not reached minimum senior weight, they are culled for meat no matter how well they have done on the table. I hear way too many breeders moan about size problems in their herds and that is one problem I do not want and won’t tolerate in our breeding herd. The majority of our Harlequins are within the proper weights and I plan on keeping it that way. Our does average 8-9 pounds and our bucks average 7-8 pounds.