"In My Opinion" Common Mistakes Breeders Make


Deb Jones, Wyoming writes:

How many times have you heard a breeder say “I just don’t know if I like this bunny, I will have to see what the judge says.  Or how about “I don’t like this bunny, he just isn’t what I like in a Holland,” but then that bunny goes onto the judging table and places high, and guess what! That bunny is not going to leave the barn, it WON!! THAT judge liked it, so it MUST be a good Holland! Not the way to make decisions in your herd IMO. It is really nice to have a judge confirm your thoughts and observations on your bunnies, but if you area going to let judges cull your herd, you will have a hard time developing your own line of Hollands.  The inconsistencies in judging placements of the same rabbit make letting a judge choose your type of Holland a very poor way to cull.  Isn’t it great when you can “see” the judge’s comments on the rabbit they are handling?

I recently heard a great comment that could apply to this subject. A new Holland Lop breeder, Debbie Breikks, was referring to dog shows, since that is where she has had her experiences, and how many breeders will show several different types of animals and let the judge make the decision for you who is a winner. She called this the “spaghetti” method, just throw the noodles out and see what sticks!! Great analogy! Poor way to establish your lines in your herd, however.

With the current inconsistency so many of us see at shows with how our Hollands are judged, how could you ever know what to breed for? You, as the breeder will have to make the decision about what kind of bunny you feel fits the standard and what you want in your herd.  Which faults you can or cannot tolerate. Winning is fun, but with our little breed, developing a line you can consistently reproduce and win with under the “right” judge that doesn’t even know how to pose a Holland, let alone the Holland Standard? 

Christine Feld, California writes:

Here’s my submission to the IMO subject: List common mistakes breeders make, new and experienced:

1) Starting with too many breeds… Hollands are a tough breed and require more holes than most… focusing on one breed will enable you to have the resources and holes to accommodate stock you want to hold on to or bring into your herd.

2) Letting go of babies too young… learn how your lines develop… I know I’ve let go of nice ones that I should have kept… some lines go through an extremely ugly stage before getting exceptional.

3) Not checking for DQ’s prior to selling rabbits (eyes, teeth, nails, split penis)

4) Working on too many lines at once.. narrowing the gene pool on high quality animals gives more predictability to the outcome of the babies.

5) Giving up too soon… I’ve seen several “newbies” give up on Hollands because they were hard to breed or the local competition was too stiff…. Good competition improves the breed as a whole.  Hollands require lots of patience, but in turn are very rewarding.

Debbie Vigue, Maine writes:

Don’t rely on palpating to determine whether or not to put in a nestbox. Many breeders have been fooled before and there is nothing more disappointing than seeing what was to be a live litter strewn all over the cage floor wire. Also, be sure to leave the nestbox in for enough days, some does seem to be able to hold out on you and deliver a couple days late. I usually feel sorry for does that lug early and give them a nestbox up to a week before their supposed due date.  They give me that pleading “walrus” hay stuffed face and I hate to make them wait. They know they have work to do! While on the subject of nestboxes here is a wintertime tip that I’ve seen practiced by a ND breeder. Their older bucks are given a nestbox with hay in the wintertime to help them cope with the severe cold. Making the “old men” comfortable helps extend their usefulness and is a genuine act of kindness. It is funny, though, to see a little buck peeking out at you from a nestbox.

Joe Lugo, ARBA Judge, California writes:

Common mistakes that breeders make, new and old… Hmm, I would say tattooing is a common mistake, some of the ear numbers that are put in a rabbit’s ear are just not legible.  One cause could be the age of the ink itself. Even some of the ear numbers that I have put in disappear. Overweight Hollands are another mistake that happens quite often on the show table. You should weigh you rabbits at home before you take them to the show. Another mistake that just happened at our show was that when breeders take their rabbits off the show table, they take the wrong rabbit. Sometimes they do forget to make sure it is the right rabbit being taken off, check the left ear for the ear tattoo before you remove a rabbit from the show table! But then again, maybe the ink was faded, and the tattoo couldn’t be read.  Another reason to have legible tattoos.

Rachel Gibbons, Arizona writes:

The most common mistakes I see in both new and old members is that showing and being a part of rabbit clubs isn’t always made as pleasant as it should be. At shows we need to congratulate the winner(s), Breeding a show wining Holland is hard work for anyone, and everyone deserves a pat on the back for a “job well done” when they win. And, if you aren’t the winner at the show, please don’t badmouth the judge. The judge is only there to give his/her opinion of the best rabbit on that day.

Also, all too often breeders badmouth other people’s rabbits. If you think a person has poor quality or unhealthy animals, try to help them however you can to give them the best resources to improve the quality of their herd.

With rabbit clubs, the one thing that will definitely drive away new breeders is the constant bickering that seems to occur all too often in most clubs on every level. If you have a difference of opinion, settle them as quickly and diplomatically as possible. Nobody wants to deal with bickering within a club or among different clubs. This is supposed to be a fun hobby, let’s keep it that way. Do you remember the first ARBA show you attended? Make an effort to “include” new breeders so their first show experiences are good ones. Show them why we love doing this! For all of us Holland Lop breeders, we need to remember that we are all working toward the same goal – “for the advancement of the Holland Lop” (remember you vowed to do it when you filled out your membership form). All too many times we forget that we need to keep the competition friendly and help each other reach our goals, because we will all win in the long run.

Janet Wodrich, Illinois writes:

One of the mistakes a new breeder may make is not to first decide why they are breeding in the first place and what goals will they set for themselves? As there is certainly competition out there I think you must genuinely enjoy the breed first!! Then set your goals. Many people first entering the bunny world think more bunnies, more chance of winning, not necessarily so. Quality not quantity will make you a better success! As many of us were discussing things in Kentucky, it was mutually decided that you have to decide what type of bunny you want before you even decide to make a judge like it! And once you have made that decision stick with it. It is too easy especially as a new breeder to take the wrong advice. Find the people you can trust and they will guide you in the right direction, however be selective and do your research!! Expect when you deal with quality people and their bunnies that you will pay quality prices, in the long run it makes a difference. And remember, if you are only in the bunny business to win, you may be overlooking some of the nicest people you would ever want to meet!! Heartfelt thanks to my respected friends and best of luck to my potential new ones.

Kathy Brasby, Colorado writes:

My biggest mistake when I first began raising Hollands was in not setting clear goals. I thought that Hollands were cute so maybe I wanted to raise some pets, maybe I wanted to show a little, maybe I… lots of maybe’s and no clear-cut goals. I tinkered a little with tri-colors, thinking that would be fun (and it was) and studied up on genetics (which is still helpful), but finally really caught the show bug and decided I wanted to raise show-quality animals. That helped me focus on what animals to keep and what animals to buy. For now, I’m not keeping cute colors on poor bodies or splashy patterns with awful heads. My goals can, of course, change but they give me focus.

My second-biggest mistake was getting rid of juniors too soon. I’ve seen in my stuff and also in others that sometimes and ugly 3-month-old bunny can turn into a nice senior. I know of a doe who was on her way to a pet auction that has now won a BOS and a BOB! I’m still studying, reading, asking lots of questions to understand better what I’m looking for in a show rabbit and what it looks like early.

My third mistake was in thinking I could buy rabbits on pedigrees rather than appearance. I’ve been fortunate that in most of my purchases, the appearance and pedigree match up. But I’m still working hard on seeing the components that make a top-quality rabbit. It was easy for me to be lazy, to look at the pedigree, and, seeing well-known herd names in the background assume this rabbit would be good breeding stock without looking closely at the rabbit itself. I’ve read the HLRSC guidebook many times and plan to keep reading it. I talk with breeders and ask their advice. I’m trying to feel as many nice Hollands as I can. Learning to be a good breeder who can fairly accurately judge her own animals and potential purchases is hard work, but important to my goals.

Mike Peacock, ARBA judge, Colorado writes:

1) Not putting newly purchased breeding stock in quarantine (i.e. away from your other rabbits) for a week to observe them for systemic diseases such as snuffles, enteritis, wry neck, etc.

 2) Trying to treat snuffles – No matter how good the animal is or has been there is no effective treatment that will permanently rehabilitate this animal. Using a treated animal in a breeding program only serves to promote the likelihood of continuing pasturella in offspring and spreading it to the entire herd.

3) Not observing each and every animal during daily chores. Such observations can spot early onset enteritis, early and/or unplanned births of kits, wounds and cuts suffered in the cage, and other treatable maladies. Animals should also be taken out of the cage and examined every few days to be sure they’re not becoming ‘packed’ around the anal area due to soft stools (especially prevalent in Mini Lops, Hollands and wooled breeds). Also watch cage floors and pans for soft feces and the amount and size of fecal pellets, as they can be indicators of changes in a rabbits general health and in the case of soft feces and early warning sign for the eminent delivery of kits for a pregnant doe.

4) Not writing down bred dates, and keeping good breeding records. Keeping good breeding records is vital and helps prevent unplanned (no nestbox) births, and helps in tracking conception problems in parents, color genetics, and desired traits in offspring.

5) Not checking show animals for obvious disqualifications before taking them to a show (i.e. malocclusion, toenails (missing, wrong color), missing tail (particularly embarrassing))!!, etc.

6) Selling stock to “anybody” who has the cash. For your rabbits’ sake don’t be afraid to say “NO”. Make sure you are comfortable that the new owners will take good care of the rabbit and that they have all the information to make the transition for your rabbit agreeable. Offer to answer any and all questions they have at any time. I also like to provide new owners with a week’s supply of the feed I use, so that the new owner can gradually bend it with the feed available in their location for a smooth transition for my rabbits in their new home. 

Ardis Hartwig, California writes:

Common mistakes breeders make? Where to start? Not investing in the best stock you can afford, to begin your breeding program is a common mistake. Unless you have three to four years to “breed your stock up” this plan will take lots of hard work and many, many litters until you will be producing the quality Hollands you want. Buying “by the pedigree” instead of what’s in front of you, on the table, the rabbits you purchase should look and feel like what you want in your barn, not have a fancy pedigree only, that should be considered a bonus. NOT culling severely enough (we all do this!) OUTCROSSING; thinking it will “fix a fault” when what you are doing is jumbling genes. You need to get your line established FIRST. Once you know what is behind your stock, then jumble the genes and see if it works.

Finally: “Patience” Don’t give up! You have to stick with it, even though it can get very discouraging. “Remember, this is supposed to be FUN!” Also, try to remember: “It’s ONLY a rabbit!” By this I mean, keep things in perspective. It’s not worth losing a friendship or making enemies. “Don’t become unscrupulous just to get first place” That’s just my 2 cents.

Kimberly Burgess, Louisiana writes:

The BIGGEST mistake I have made and sometimes still make is to sell a bunny too soon. I sold a young Holland buck to a girl I know very well for 4-H not quite a year ago. I saw him the other day at a local 4-H show. He is AWESOME!!!! Grand Champion material for sure. She won BOB with him that day. I could just kick myself everyday for selling him. I am glad that he has a good show home though. That goes to show you that a rabbit that appears not to be GCH stuff can pop out and become a real winner.

Janet Smith, Colorado writes:

I think that a common mistake that new breeders make is, taking the judge’s word that their rabbit that they are showing is inferior. I know that when we first started showing rabbits, the judge would say that the rabbit was not of the right type. So we would take this to heart, and think we had bought or raised a bunny that was not worth showing. I am glad we learned that all judges don’t know as much about Hollands as the breeders do. Next time the judge tells you your rabbit doesn’t have good type, ask a fellow breeder to look it over and give you their honest opinion.

Another mistake is not teaching your rabbits to pose when put on the table. We all have the “carpet munchers” who won’t pose no matter what, but if you work with bunnies when they are young, it seems to help. This could be the only way to teach judges that don’t know that much about judging Hollands, the correct pose for the breed. If you are unsure about the correct pose, read the standard, and look at the pictures in the Hollander. 

Shannon Tirjer, Arizona, youth writes:

As a breeders one of the mistakes I see new breeders make is decide to raise bunnies, build a barn and fill it up with the first thing that comes for sale. This is not a very good way to start a herd. Many times the breeder doesn’t do well at the shows and then if they are persistent has to get rid of most of the stock and start over. When I first got into Hollands I already had three, fortunately 2 were of nice quality. We kept the third because she was a pet but has since passed away. At the time we lived in an apartment because we had just moved to AZ. So the amount of stock we could purchase was very limited. Which is probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I was forced to just learn because I had no room to place the bunnies in. When we did get a house I was well educated with the standard and when I went out to by stock I bought nice animals. I still have some of my original stock too. I can’t stress enough how important it is to learn about our fine breed before taking the little treasures home. Another mistake I have made is showing my animals too often. In order to keep my Hollands healthy and happy I only show them once a month and at max only every two weeks depending on the show schedule. It works well for me and the bunnies seem to like the schedule as well. I once did a show on back to back weekends and the buns lost a lot of condition and seemed to be worn out. I was able to get the flesh back but it took a lot of TLC and time. I gave extra feed and let them out to exercise on the floor. I have not shown them back to back like that since. I only had 5 or 6 that didn’t do well from that weekend ordeal but for me that was too many. I also like to give the does some time off in between litters. I don’t have a set amount of days, I just watch their actions and see how their flesh condition is. If they act like themselves and seem to be fit then I go ahead and breed her again. Sometimes when a doe loses her litter she seems to grieve and will sometimes go off her feed and lose a lot of condition. I pay extra special attention to her. I take her out and groom her, exercise her and give her treats. They seem to come off of it a lot quicker this way. Most of my does are retired when they are bred because they do fall apart to some extent. Some don’t so they can go to a show or two before they are bred again. I also like to use my show does as my brood does meaning I will show a do if she is of nice quality until she is about 7 months old and then I will breed her. Most of my does are about 3.08 pounds. I do have some that are as small as 2.14 pounds and as large as 4.00. I usually only get 2-3 babies per litter but this is a good number of kits for me. It isn’t so many that I have to worry about finding homes for them and it is small enough I can give them plenty of attention. Along with breeding for quality I think it is very important to breed for temperament.  Another thing that is important to me is knowing your bunnies inside and out. I can tell apart every bun in my barn not only by personality but by markings as well. It is very helpful on the table. I never have to wonder “I wonder who’s my bunny” and for those who show multiple torts you know how easy it is for them to get lost in the crowds. I also believe in not having more buns than you can handle. I usually have 12-15 Hollands at each show and a second breed with a max of 2. For a while I had Mini Lops, then I had a Satin and now I have some Netherland Dwarfs. I like to experiment. I manage to get everyone on the table on time. I do a lot of running but that’s OK that’s why I show. I must admit it takes away from my table writing time. So I will just write for another breed. It is very important to help out in other breeds as well as yours, at least in my opinion. Most of my favorite people have buns other that Hollands. And others have started in Hollands just because they saw mine and thought “How Cute!” the phrase that has snagged us all. These are my views as a youth in Arizona. I hope they will help you a little in your barn.

Deb Jones, Wyoming writes:

There are several different mistakes Holland Breeders make, not unique to being a long time breeder, or a newbie IMO. The lack of patience it takes to raise this breed successfully is a big one I think. Many breeders will not give a Holland time to mature. Too much is often expected of a young animal.

I think this is especially common when you are adding a new line to your barn. When you buy a new Holland, one of the most important things to do is let the animal mature. This patience would also apply to offspring of new lines you are introducing. Don’t be quick to remove these Hollands from your barn. Many of us have learned by this experience. I purchased a buck and used him for a year on several different does, then sold him, because I was unhappy with the resulting litters. But then, while his last litter was in the nestbox, he left my barn and guess what? He had just produced his first “winning” litter. With outcrosses, the right combination may take some time to find, but is usually worth the wait.  This Holland had some features you liked when you purchased it, give it time to prove itself in your herd.  Maybe it is only adding new bloodlines, this may be what a closely linebred herd needs? Give the new animal time to adjust to its new surroundings, temperature changes, feed changes, change in routine, and you may well have a great new bloodline to add to your herd, with the parts you were missing.  Remember different lines will develop differently.

This is not a breed that competes well as a young senior. For those wanting a quick maturing rabbit, Hollands are not the right choice. However, the longevity of a show career when showing this breed of rabbit is well worth the wait. Very few breeds enjoy the length of time competing on the show table that Hollands do. Especially Holland bucks. I have known bucks that are still competitive at 5 years or more. Very few breeds can do this.

Another common mistake would be purchasing, or keeping Hollands to use in your herd that double up on what your barn is already weak in. To improve your herd, you need to improve on the herd’s weak points. Nothing wrong with adding a line into your herd from a Holland that has a fault or two. You may only breed this rabbit once, keeping a couple form the outcross with the parts you are wanting, and then selling the animal. It may not be a show animal, you bought it for parts, remember? Use it for that, and don’t move on. Don’t breed an animal with a strong fault to everything in your barn, for example, ear control, or pinched hindquarters. You could use a rabbit with one of these faults with another rabbit that does not share the fault, but don’t use this rabbit on too many in your herd. You will end up fighting these faults. And don’t add rabbits with faults you are trying to eliminate.

 Another common mistake breeders make IMO is buying a rabbit to FIX a fault in their herd, and then not using that rabbit and its offspring correctly. When you introduce a new Holland to your herd to correct a fault, don’t breed back into the problem lines again so readily. You should try to work on the new line of bunnies you produce, with the fault corrected hopefully. By going back into the original lines again, you will be linebreeding, yes, in familiar territory, but you may also be doubling up again on the fault you are wanting to eradicate. For example, you purchase a buck with a very good crown to improve the crown in your herd. Use this buck on complementing does, with or without crown, but complementing in other features, and keep the offspring with the best crowns. Then you should take the offspring back to the new line, where the strong crown came from, and don’t go back into the old line with the crown faults. When you know you have created bunnies with strong crowns, then go back into your old lines. Be careful what you breed to what, remember the faults behind an animal, not just the ones that are visible, can be pulled out genetically with line breeding. 

Elizabeth Gannett, Nevada writes:

After over 20 years, from 1976 to be exact, my husband Scott and I are still breeding, still learning, still enjoying our rabbits.  I want to run from people who tell me that they already know everything there is to know about them.  They are still constantly surprising me.  So I breed the does, pick the kits, brush, comb, and cuddle the best.  The big day comes, it's time to load up and head for the show.   We always stay up way too late, and have to get up way too early for this.  There are other animals to be fed, babies to be checked, show animals to go over one more time!  We arrive at the show, hopefully a little early, and check in.  We settle our rabbits in the spot we chose, meet old friends, and some new ones, admire all of the rabbits.  Each person has brought what they consider their best.  There are some beautiful animals here!  They call our class, and we take our senior bucks up.   The excitement has mounted!  Then it starts.  "Who brought that ugly thing here?"  I hear from some person.  "Watch out for that person!" Someone else whispers in my ear.  "I've heard she cheats!"  "Have you heard the news?" Another says, "People are stealing rabbits here today!"  I heard it from a friend of a friend of mine.

On and on it goes.  I try to ignore them, but they seem to find me wherever I go!  All of this gossip, this back stabbing, and yes, the temper tantrums I have seen when a judge DQ's an animal help make the shows horrible! Years ago, the rabbit people were a community!  The shows were fun.  We used to borrow each other's bucks, trade secrets that we had learned, made lasting friendships. I've cheered my friends for winning BOB or BOS in the breed that I also competed in.  They deserve the applause!  They earned it.  Now I'm seeing more people buying their champions, running down any competition, back stabbing everyone.  There's no fun in this!  What are we showing new breeders?  Or our youth?  I wish that everyone who reads this would make a pledge, the next show smile more!  Relax and enjoy the show! Encourage one new person!  Don't donate anything to the raffle that you wouldn't use yourself.  A lot of new breeders get their start-up herds at these raffles.  Give them a hand up!  I guarantee that it will make the show more enjoyable for you, and it will keep ARBA, our clubs, and our breeds growing!  

The Hollander / Spring Issue - April 2000 and The Hollander / Summer Issue - August 2000