Thursday, September 30, 2010

Giant Angoras Pt III

Crossbreeding with other Angoras. Why do it? Well, some folks want to increase wool production in their Satins, French, and English, but retain the fine texture and other characteristics which make their breeds special. Giant breeders want to bring in colors. Actually, Giants have always come in colors - but that will be another post. :)

I've kept in touch with quite a few breeders who have crossed other Angora breeds in with their Giants for different reasons. Some people had French who were constantly going overweight, and Giants who were constantly underweight. Seems like a good idea, except that there is a difference in wool types, and French are medium-boned, you want a bigger boned breed if you are trying to improve your Giants. However, careful selection and culling certainly can result in a better Giant from this cross. Some people had English and wanted faster coat growth. Unfortunately, this cross usually results in loss of the lovely, soft texture of the English. It also softens the texture of the Giant. But again, careful selection and culling can bring the best of the two together. I personally like my Giants a little softer than what has become the norm.

By far the most popular crosses between Angora breeds are French/Satin and German/Giant. I won't go into the former, since it doesn't involve Giants, but I've done a whole lot of the latter, with mixed results. The following is MY OPINION, based on MY EXPERIENCE. Your mileage may vary.

The older German lines in this country, pre-2002 imports, benefited my Giants enormously. So did the first crosses with the 2002 imports. Then things started going wrong - at least with fertility and sickness - when I got really serious and chucked most of my older bloodlines for the 2006 imports. My opinion is the increased density (and documented coarseness) of the wool in the import bloodlines resulted in increased body temperature, similar to that of a fat (obese) rabbit. Fat rabbits don't breed well and aren't healthy, and neither did/were my rabbits, the more import blood they had. I looked at feed, I looked at housing, I looked at air quality, I looked at everything, until eventually I realised that none of those factors had changed, but the rabbits had. I've since gotten back to my older bloodlines, thanks to several satisfied customers, and my rabbits are breeding again. :) I have not totally abandoned the import bloodlines, the bucks usually perform well, and I still have one doe and one buck from them, but I've yet to get babies from either. Maybe because I'm breeding them together? I dunno.

So lately I've been using fuzzy French Lops for color and size, my old bloodlines for density and texture, and my Otter line to improve color. My Otter line tends to be small, soft textured, but incredible bodies and color. The plan is to blend the three bloodlines and wind up with the perfect colored Giant. My Blacks are there, the Otters are close behind. I've also brought some very successful REW Giant lines in.

Edit - I forgot to put my conclusion in regarding crossing Giants and Germans. :)
My conclusion is, a little bit of German blood is very beneficial. More than that, and you start having issues. My advice is to get a really good buck, use him a couple of times, then keep him around as a wooler.

Next installment - Colored Giants, genetics and history.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Giant Angoras - Pt II

Crossbreeding. It is how the Giant Angora came into being. Without going into politics, suffice it to say that Louise Walsh had to come up with a bigger rabbit, so she looked in her barn, and the 2 best bucks she had at the time were a Flemish Giant and a French Lop. The results are a matter of history, the Giant Angora was accepted as a breed in 1988.

Over the years, due in part to the rarity of the breed, people have attempted to re-create them. I've done it, too. Satin Angoras are another breed often subject to crossbreeding. While not a bad idea to bring genetic diversity into the breeds, and to improve body type, many breeders have had issues with "wool depression" in the early generations.

I used Tans to bring the Tan Pattern into my Giants. Those early generations definitely had issues with molting and wool block (not to mention temperament!). However, when I bred Thriantas in, I did not have the wool block problem, although they did molt. Nor did I experience it when I used fuzzy French Lops (the wool gene exists in the breed). Why, I wondered? I know at least some people have also had the issue when using New Zealands and Satins.

I *think* the answer has to do with flyback vs rollback coats.

My *opinion* is that breeds with flyback coats should not be bred into angoras except for terminal crosses for meat. Or, the best shorthaired babies should be kept for breeding and the wooled babies culled for at least a generation or two to give the gut, which seems to be narrower in breeds with flyback coats, time to expand.

Breeds with rollback coats have longer hair, and they molt, and I believe their guts have adapted to it. Now, I have no scientific evidence to prove this, simply things that have been discussed between myself and other angora breeders who have had experience with crossbreeding.

Brian Hartzell agreed with me on this, and he often stopped me at shows to ask how my Giants were coming along. When he judged some of my 1/4 French Lop. 3/4 German "Giants", he got even more excited that I was about them. I'm not exaggerating, I have witnesses, lol.

So my recommendation is, if you want to crossbreed because you're having difficulty finding good examples of your breed at an affordable price and within reasonable driving distance, it's not a bad idea. Just think about these considerations:

1. Don't try to pass them off as purebreds unless and until the crosses are off the pedigree
2. Use breeds with rollback coats if you can
3. If you can't, wait at least a couple of generations before you start keeping wooled babies
4. Select for non-matting coats that don't molt

And just a couple more thoughts:

1. For Giants, select a breed that has heavy, not medium bone. Ears and shoulders are easier to breed out than sore hocks.
2. Wool has more points than type.
3. I'm not being critical of anyone, just passing on information that may or may not be helpful
4. If someone you know has already crossbred in the breed you are interested in, by all means take advantage of their hard work! No need to reinvent the wheel!

That's all, folks! :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Giant Angoras PT I

A reader asked if I could post more about Giants. I've written a few posts of their origin, and their close relation to Germans, so I'll skip that this time around.

The thing that distinguishes Giants the most from the English, Satin, and French is their coat. They have 3 types of hair in their coat. First is the thick, straight guard hair, which supports and extends up over the wool, giving the rabbit a halo effect. Second is the awn fluff, which is sort of half-way between a guard hair and under wool. It has a guard hair tip, but is very wavy and finer than the guard hair. Last is the underwool, fine, crimpy, soft, and dense.

Technically, all angoras have awn fluff, but Giants and Germans have more of it.

Another distinguishing factor is size. The minimum weight for Giant bucks is 9 1/2 pounds, the minimum for does is 10 pounds. In order to get that weight, or better yet more, you need bone. I've read from several good sources that short, wide feet indicate good bone, and since I started paying attention to that, I think I agree.

Being large rabbits with heavy coats, you can literally get a pound of wool from one clipping. Personally, I prefer a somewhat softer, finer coat, but I still get nearly a pound of wool per clipping.

Currently, Giants are showable only in Ruby Eyed White (REW), or albino. Colors are being worked on, and I have been notified that my Certificate of Development for Blacks has been accepted. My first presentation will be at the 2012 ARBA Convention. Wish me luck!

Next post will be about cross-breeding, something I have a lot of experience with.

Above is JG's Princess Clover right after winning 2 BOB's during a trip to New York.