Breeding & Culling
by Chris Zemny, ARBA Judge
The most important thing one must realize when breeding Holland Lops is that CULLING is a must. Hollands do not always breed true. You can breed two grand champions and end up with all pet store bunnies. You can also breed two average Hollands and end up with phenomenal stock.
In breeding try to always breed faults to good points. If one Holland has weak hips, do not breed it to another with weak hips, as that is all you will produce. Try to match up any faults in one rabbit to good points with the one that you are breeding it to. This is not as easy as it sounds. You will often find yourself doing a balancing act when trying to match up faults with strong points. For an example, a buck with a good crown and fair body, could be bred to a doe with poor ear carriage and a good body. Ideally, you should always attempt to breed rabbits with the fewest faults.
Another trap breeders get into is breeding by pedigree. What you see in a rabbit is often what will show up in its descendents. If there are good genes in the background, it will be easier to pull the good traits out, BUT you need to have what you are trying to pull out. Do not get caught in the trap of breeding certain Hollands because they have famous ancestors in the background. Remember that what you see is most likely what you will get.
Some lines of Hollands have certain traits that tend to be dominant. Massive heads, good bone, good type, size, condition, and fur all are very inheritable traits. Different Holland Lop lines are dominant for certain traits and very few lines are dominant for all. If you are breeding for massive heads, be sure you are working with a line that is known for dominant heads, or if you are breeding to improve size and condition, be sure you are working with a line known to be dominant for these traits. Temperament, although not a part of the Holland Lop standard, is also very inheritable. A mean feisty doe will produce mean, feisty offspring; and likewise, a gentle, curious Holland will produce more of the same. I will personally not keep Hollands with the nickname of "Fang".
Not all lines of Holland Lops are compatible and some will have a synergistic effect, with the offspring being much better than the parents. You will have to work this pattern out in your own herd by trial and error. If a buck from line A is breed to a doe from line B and the offspring turn out fantastic, most likely that same buck will produce fantastic offspring with other does from line B. Likewise, if you produce some stock from this breeding that even a pet store wouldn't like, I would be very cautious of breeding this buck to any other does from line B. Some crosses are definitely synergistic and some are definitely antagonistic. This is why you will need to keep accurate records and be sure to record any trends that you see.
One suggestion, when establishing trends within your lines, is to take your best buck and breed him to all your does. You will quickly see which lines work and which do not.
INBREEDING VERSES OUTCROSSING
Inbreeding is the breeding of related rabbits of different generations, father to daughter, mother to son. Linebreeding is the breeding of a particular animal to several generations of his offspring. Both linebreeding and inbreeding will intensify or fix a trait, good or bad.
Outcrossing is the breeding of two unrelated rabbits. This is especially good for establishing hybrid vigor. Most rabbits that are inbred over several generations tend to lose vigor. For example, after several generations of inbreeding, a line may turn up a susceptibility to colds, enteritis, or pregnancy related problems. Outcrossing helps to eliminate these problems.
Often, in the breeding of large livestock and plants, two tightly inbred lines are maintained. The best stock is produced by the crossing of these two inbred lines. This is known as an outcross. The trick to doing this with rabbits is to work with two compatible lines. As discussed earlier, not all Holland Lop lines are compatible.
An example of an effective outcross would be to cross a dominant head line and a dominant body line. Crossing these two lines could produce near perfect Holland Lops.
Other breedings which should not necessarily be avoided are broken to broken crosses and brother to sister crosses. When breeding broken to broken the worst things that could happen are the occurrence of "charlies", which are brokens carrying two broken genes and have very little pattern, and the occurrence of fuzzy Hollands, which make good pet shop bunnies. Breeding of a heavy pattern lop with a light pattern lop will produce heavy to light patterns, with the majority being good, if not perfect patterned lops.
When you breed brother to sister, you really intensify the dominant traits. The catch with this breeding is that you have to cull severely. When it fixes the traits, it fixes both the good and the bad traits. We have produced a few of our best rabbits, and also so me of our worst with this type of a cross. You may only get one good rabbit each litter, but they have been worth it, and they tend to be more genetically pure and typically dominant. Just be sure to realize that as much as it strengthens the good qualities, it also strengthens the bad.
Culling is the most important part of any breeding program. Two key words that need to be used when culling are "strict" and accurate". Everyone culls, the trick is to do it well.
For accurate culling you will need to breed to the standard. To do this you will need to have a picture in your mind of a perfect Holland Lop. Without this mental picture, good culling will be next to impossible.
When you are looking at your Holland try to visualize what is not there, as well as what is. It is easy to see faults that are there, narrow head, long muzzle, poor ear carriage, pinched hips, etc. Looking for what is not there is a little harder, but will easily show you flatness of crown, unfilled cheeks, sloping hindquarters, incorrect topline, and other body faults.
I cull my Hollands at 5 to 6 weeks (on teeth and disqualifications only), 12 to 13 weeks, 5 months, and 10 to 12 months of age.
After 5 to 6 weeks of age, most Hollands go through an ugly "teenage" phase. I try not to look at them during this time frame. By 12 to 13 weeks of age, they seem to again blossom and can be culled on type. One needs to remember at this age they still haven't reached their head potential, but most body faults are easy to see.
To evaluate the head, check the profile for proper curvature. A good head will be round in every direction: side profile, front profile, and top profile. There should be nothing extra at the lower muzzle and no flat planes. I try to visualize drawing an upside down triangle on the Hollands face. The two side lines of the triangle are the lines between the eyes and the tip of the nose. The long bar of the triangle is between the corners of the eyes. This bar between the eyes should be longer than the other two lines. Look for good full cheeks also.
When you look and feel the body at this age, a good topline, a late start (when the spine is flat across the shoulders before it curves up across the back), undercut hindquarters, and pinched hips are already apparent. There should be a very slight taper from the shoulders to the hindquarters. Remember that shoulders increase in width with age.
Another aspect which helps me cull is to observe the bone. You can check the bone best by looking at the rear feet. Are they short and wide, or are they long and thin? A bunny with long thin feet and legs will almost always have a long and narrow body and will usually be long in the muzzle. You want the shortest, thickest, and heaviest bone that you can get. Be sure to also check for length of bone. The front legs should be short and stocky, not long and fine.
At five months most Hollands are showing their true show potential and by 10 months to one year, their heads are beginning to broaden. This is when senior Holland heads begin to really shape up. This process will continue throughout the life of the Holland, which is why the heads on 2 to 3 year old bucks look so much better than on younger rabbits.
There has been much discussion regarding temperature and ear length and carriage. Holland babies born in the winter do tend to have slightly shorter and thicker ears than those born in the summer months. But if you have a severe ear carriage problem, look at your Holland's crown development before you blame the weather. You not only need a crown that is wide on the head, but also one that is deep. Far to many Hollands today have lost their depth and width of crown, producing fair to poor ear carriage.
I have found that this problem can be corrected in one generation so it is a relatively easy fault to fix. All you need is a rabbit with a good crown to cross to your lops that have crown problems.
There are several other problems that you should be aware of in your culling program, most of which are disqualifications. Many of us would like to believe that these problems do not exist, at least in our own herds, and very few are willing to admit to them. But believe me, they do exist and at one time or another, you will probably encounter one or two of them. Make sure you realize that most of these problems are genetic, and that breeding them into your herd could result in major problems in future generations.
I cull on bad teeth at 5 to 6 weeks and again at 1 2 weeks of age. If the bottom teeth are in front of the top teeth at 5 to 6 weeks, I cull the rabbit. If the teeth meet straight on (peg teeth), I wait. Often a bunny that has peg teeth at 5 to 6 weeks, will have perfect teeth at 12 to 13 weeks of age. The top jaw grows out from the skull first, and is followed by the bottom jaw at 3 to 5 weeks of age, which is why this discrepancy occurs. This top jaw then grows again at around 12 weeks of age and will often correct a peg tooth problem. This skull changes again at 8 to 12 months of age, which can also affect the teeth.
As we are breeding rabbits with large round heads, proper curvature of the skull is critical. If either the upper or lower jaw is off even the slightest, malocclusion is the result. I believe that it is a combination of genes that control the rabbit's skull shape and not just one pair.
Not all head types are shaped the same. I have found that by breeding a rabbit with straight on teeth to one with a large gap between the front top and bottom incisures, the resulting litters have good teeth 99% of the time. Please do not misunderstand, me, I do not recommend that everyone keep Hollands with straight-on or bad teeth, unless they are willing to risk culling the offspring of future generations.
I have also found that teeth that go out at a later age, six months plus, tend to be very genetic, and do not keep any of these animals in my herd. I don't like to worry about teeth going out on senior animals, or waiting to see if the offspring from these animals have good teeth at eight or months of age.
DOES THAT BECOME BUCKS
I recently had the most gorgeous doe that place second at a local show. Two weeks later, she developed testicles. I had discovered my first split penis. Also called hypospadias, it is when the urethral opening is not on the tip of the penis but constitutes a large slit on the entire under side. There can be varying degrees of this problem, from a normal sized opening located too far down on the penis, to an incomplete closure of the urethral opening, creating a penis that is split all the way from the tip down to the base. These bucks will frequently look like does when sexed at an early age.
The penis will look better as the rabbit gets older, but these bucks will have a very characteristic curl to the penis when sexed. Upon closer examination, you will see the complete split. They will also be fertile, but as this is a highly inheritable trait, they should not be used for breeding.
I have occasionally seen Hollands with whitish spots on their eyes, which is another genetic problem. Often there is a flaw, crimp, or pucker in the upper eye lid. These crimps and puckers can be seen at a very early age, and can be easily found when the upper eyelid is gently pulled back with your finger or thumb. The whitish spot is usually found on the surface of the cornea, below the iris. The spots usually develop after 4 to 8 months of age, and are usually easier to see on an older rabbit, which is why we check all young juniors for crimps or puckers on the eyelids.
There are two theories about eye spots and crimped eyelids. One theory is that the irregularity in the eyelid wears and abrades on the surface of the eye, causing the characteristic white spot on the cornea. The other theory is that the crimp creates an air pocket, which leaves the cornea dry creating a small abscess (spot). A eye infection, either by bacteria or fungi, will also cause scaring (white spots) on the cornea.
White toenails and white spots are other genetic outcrops that we as breeders do not like to see in our herds. Rather than plucking white spots and stray white hairs, we as breeders should be breeding and culling to eliminate them. Do note that white spots can be caused by injury, or by genetic predisposition. Keep the former, cull the later.
Some breeders feel that an abundance of brokens in the background will cause white spots and stray white hairs, but I have not found this to be true. To clean up blacks with stray white hairs, you need to bred to clean blacks without the stray white hairs. It is easily corrected by breeding in this manner.
White or mismatched toenails are usually found on the middle toenails of the front feet. Questionable toenails can be best compared to the dewclaw, which will be darker. Questionable toenails will usually lighten with age, rather than darken. This is also a inherited trait, usually showing up on the same toenail(s) in future generations.
I've covered several genetic problems, and I am sure that there are several others out there. We all have different beliefs about what genetic problems we will or will not tolerate in our own herds. The bottom line to avoiding them all is to cull. I cannot stress enough how important culling is. It is the mechanism to change your herd. The harder you cull, the quicker the change. Be honest with yourself in your breeding program, as the only person you ultimately fool is yourself.
If you are serious about breeding Holland Lops, the best suggestion I have for you is to purchase the best buck that you can afford. You will need to get a picture in your head of what a perfect Holland Lop looks like, and find a buck which comes as close to your picture as possible. If the perfect buck comes with a high price tag, wait, save and buy the rabbit. The investment will be worth it. Just remember that when you are linebreeding, you always return to your best animal which is usually your herd buck. He is the most important acquisition to your breeding program. You will use him generation after generation.
With a little luck and a lot of persistence you should find your nest boxes full of quality little Hollands which will do well on the show tables.
HLRSC Official Guidebook - 5th Edition 2002