Starting Out With Hollands
by Debbie Vigue
Interested in Hollands? You've picked a real nice breed. They are not the easiest breed to raise or the least expensive breed to buy; but to me they are the most rewarding and enjoyable. To learn more about them, study the Guidebook and Standard. Go to the shows, watch the Hollands being judged, listen to the judges and talk to the breeders. One thing to keep in mind whether you are new to Hollands or a seasoned breeder is, "Think quality, not quantity". Set up appointments to visit rabbitries. Most breeders are proud to show you their animals and are more comfortable answering your many questions away from the hub-bub of a hectic showroom. Even if a breeder has no animals for sale, you can still gain knowledge and experience from seeing a herd and bloodlines at work. Whenever writing a breeder to inquire about their stock, try to be specific as to what you are interested in. Don't write, "Tell me about your rabbits". Tell them whether you are interested in show or breeding stock, colored or brokens, bucks or does, age range and a price range. It is considerate to enclose a self-addressed stamped business size envelope for a reply.
When approaching a breeder with stock for sale, have a preconceived idea of what you are looking for and what your budget will allow. Be up front about this before wasting your time or theirs. Both the buyer and the seller have their respective responsibilities to be honest. Don't say you are buying stock for a 4-H son or daughter when the intent is for the animal to be for you. Don't be "on the fence" as to whether the animal wanted is to be a pet or show rabbit. A pet quality or show quality Holland might as well be two different species of animals.
Ask breeders about their stock and what bloodlines they come from. Ask to see the parents, grandparents, litter mates or offspring. This can tell you a lot. Don't buy without pedigrees, unless you are buying a pet. Most Hollands start at $35 with papers. Prices go up from there depending on the quality of the animal. Prices can be $50 to $250. Don't let a $75 or more price tag scare you. If the animal is really nice, it is well worth the price. Especially if it has won Grand champion legs or is registered and is from registered lines. A registration paper doesn't guarantee anything, but you can assume that the ancestors which have registration numbers had no disqualifications at a senior age.
Back to price, why buy two $40 animals with faults that are going to take you 1 to 2 years to breed out, when an animal is available that has already been bred past those faults. The breeder has already done this groundwork successfully for you by taking the time to breed those faults out. You can start several generations past those cheaper animals. There is also no guarantee that you would successfully breed those faults out. Unless you have lots of empty cage space and loads of excess time on your hands, you should select the best animal you can afford to buy. Don't ask yourself, can I afford the extra dollars for this better animal? But ask yourself, can I afford the extra dollars to feed these inferior animals for the next two years, not to mention the necessary extra cages, breedings and cullings you'll have to go through. Remember it costs no more to feed a good Holland than a bad one.
If a seller doesn't have what you are looking for or animals available at the time, ask them to recommend another breeder. Ask judges in your area to recommend a breeder. If you particularly like the looks of a certain breeder's animals, ask to be put on their waiting list. It could be time well spent. Contact them every month or so to let them know you are still interested.
Try to gather rabbits that have compatible bloodlines. The best way to do this is to buy several animals from a breeder at the same time. You may even be able to get a price break by buying several. I like half brother/half sister combinations. By getting half siblings with either the same sire or dam, you can start to solidify the gene pool on the characteristics you admire in both animals. By them having a different parent in common you aren't breeding in too closely. From there you can breed mother to son and father to daughter. You won't be starting with a hodge-podge of different and perhaps incompatible bloodlines.
Buying all young stock can be risky if you are not too familiar with the breed. A nice looking 3 month old can turn into an ugly 7 month old. Buying animals at senior age gives you a more finished picture of the animal's potential.
Although senior does are not going to be plentiful, try to get at least one doe as a senior. A breeder may have offspring that they prefer to keep but will sell the mother. They may be cutting back or phasing out a bloodline. Generally though, a doe who has remained at a breeders barn until senior age is probably a keeper. Don't be too wary of a 2-year-old brood doe, especially if you get to see her offspring and like what you see. Also, don't be afraid of a four to four and a half pound doe, especially if she has had litters. Examine her show record if she has one. Check her general health and temperament. Check her for vent disease. If she is proven, ask when she last kindled. Be careful of a doe that has sat dormant for six to twelve months. She may be extremely hard to get bred, especially if she is overweight.
Try to purchase the best possible buck you can afford. Put a lot of thought into choosing the animal who will have a significant impact on your entire herd. He is the one used on more animals and will have a more overall effect on the herd than a doe will. He is the one you should really try to buy as a senior. Then you can see how developed his head is, what his ear set and crown is, how good his body type is and if his teeth are okay. It is best to get a buck that weighs around 3 to 3 1/2 lbs., especially if you have larger does. Check to make sure both testicles are down and that he doesn't have a split penis.
BUYING ANY STOCK
Check the teeth, toenails and eyes (look for puckering or notches along the edge of the eye lid which may lead to the development of eye spots later in life). Look over the entire animal for health. Is there any nasal discharge or matting of the front paws? Does it appear alert and happy? Does it feel bony and rough over the spine and hindquarters?
If you are purchasing stock at a show, ask the seller if you can get another person's opinion on the prospective animal. Take it to another breeder whose opinion you respect or to a judge after the judging is over for the day. If an animal is being shown, stick around and watch. See if the comments given coincide with your opinion or the breeder's. If not, find out why. If it is negative, it may be that the judge is not well informed about the breed or may have touched upon something neither of you noticed initially. Don't assume the Best of Breed animal is the perfect one for your breeding program. Also don't assume a lower placing animal in a large class has no place in your new herd. When you show long enough and you'll see animals win classes that shouldn't and great animals go off the table early.
One important tip is to keep it on it's same feed. If the feed is different from yours, get enough to tide it over until you can switch it to your brand. Change it over gradually. Feed him his old feed for a couple of days while he settles in. Then introduce your feed on a 50/50 ratio for a week. If he seems uninterested in the new feed, try encouraging him with treats, such as sunflower seeds, carrots, bread, apple, etc. The important thing is to keep him eating something for his gut to keep working. Hay is excellent because even if they refuse grain they will generally eat hay.
When purchasing stock discuss any "guarantees" that may or may not be part of the deal. Such as:
Will the rabbit be replaced or money refunded if its teeth go bad. This is important with young stock. What period of time would this guarantee be in place? (30 days, 3 months, the rabbit's lifetime)
There are no cut and dry rules. I'm not even stating that a seller has to make any guarantees. But most breeders who value their reputation will stand behind their stock regarding the above considerations. A seller should not be expected to guarantee their stock forever. The unexpected can happen. A seller has no control over the care or environment the animal experiences once it leaves his care. It is, however, important to get these questions answered before the deal is done, if they cause you concern. That way neither the seller nor the buyer make any false assumptions.
If you do experience a problem with a rabbit, contact the breeder about it first and immediately. Don't announce at the next rabbit club meeting or show that "so and so" sold you a bad rabbit. Give them a fair chance to make things right. Don't unintentionally tarnish their reputation. A reputable breeder will work with you if you are reasonable with them. Also don't expect to get to keep the rabbit that is being replaced or refunded, most breeders will expect it to be returned or proof provided that it was destroyed.
Your best assets for purchasing stock that is right for you is learning everything you can about Hollands (especially hands-on) and listen to your inner feelings. Most of all, don't get discouraged. Not every animal bought will be the right one. But using some of the above advice should help tip the scales in your favor. BEST OF HOLLAND LUCK TO YOU!
HLRSC Official Guidebook - 5th Edition 2002