by T. L. Andrews, PhD, ARBA Judge
Will it be a winner? That is the question on my mind as I see a rabbit in the nest box. We all wish that every rabbit born would be a show winner. Unfortunately, they are not. How do you decide which one will be good? That process in called culling.
Every successful breeder has learned to cull his herd. Methods and procedures vary from person to person, but it must be done. I have a method that I will try to describe, although I really believe success only comes with practice.
To begin with, you must have numbers to choose from. The more you can raise, the more you have to look at in hopes of finding that "special" one. Also, have in mind what you want the mature rabbit to look like. I am looking for a short-bodied rabbit with width and depth of body about equal. The shoulders should be about the same width and depth as the hindquarters. The head should balance with the body, with the crown and ears forming a horseshoe shape around it.
After the kits are born, I examine them thoroughly for defects and abnormalities. All such are culled immediately. Other than checking on their well-being every few days, I don't examine the kits until they are four to five weeks of age. In my herd, there seems to be a definite relationship between "type" at this age and "type" at maturity.
Each rabbit should be thoroughly examined for structural development. This includes all bones and teeth. The teeth should have a normal overbite (top over bottom) even though as the head continues to grow teeth problems could still occur. Legs should be straight without being too long or of a fine bone. The body shape or type is the easiest matter to evaluate. We are looking for round and smooth hindquarters with a full loin. This characteristic will never be any better than it is as this age. The body must have depth to balance with the length and width. The shoulders will need careful examination. They will "fill out" some as the rabbit matures; therefore, we can allow a slightly more narrow shoulder at four weeks than we would want on the mature rabbit. However, depth at the shoulders must be there now.
Our standard emphasizes head shape and quality. Now our big question is: "What will that head look like when the rabbit is grown?" Honestly, I don't know. In the profile, we want a roundness to the head, especially from the crown to the nose. There must be a good width between the eyes for the head to be approximately the same width as the body. Ear carriage can change with age, but the shape and thickness of the ear can be evaluated now. Thin, narrow, or folded ears are undesirable and usually are found on long narrow heads. A good wide space between the ears is necessary for a proper crown development.
This is the time to check for color disqualifications in the fur and eyes. Count the toenails and check their color. Any rabbit with general disqualifications should be culled.
Why not temporarily mark each rabbit in one ear with a magic marker; then examine them again in a couple of days. This procedure has helped me to find the ones that should be culled and the ones that should be tattooed. It will also be a good test of your consistency in judging animals.
Most rabbits go through an ugly stage. This begins at about eight weeks of age and lasts for about eight weeks. Does tend to mature faster than bucks, and there are always exceptions to the rules.
At about four month of age, I can tell more about the quality of my Holland Lops. The good ones should be ready for the show table. But before we enter them in any show, every rabbit should be carefully examined. I use the same procedure that I did when they were four weeks old. By keeping records, you can see if that one you thought would be good turned out to be so. Eventually, you must decide "Do I keep it or cull it?" Don't be afraid to say, "That is not what I want." Go ahead and cull it.
One more area of culling is in terms of production. Reproduction traits are highly inheritable. Does that have a poor conception rate, small litters, or poor mothering ability should be culled. Breeding records on bucks should be kept and those with a poor performance should be culled.
Culling is a must since we can't keep every rabbit that is born. I admit it is not easy, but with careful study, you can do it. I hope you find a good one.
HLRSC Official Guidebook - 5th Edition 2002