Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More Scientific Research Tidbits

Completely unrelated, but cute :)
Fall semester has started again and I'm in an academic kind of mood...so I thought I would pull out the ole' Recent Advances in Rabbit Science and see what else I could find.  Same rule applies as last time, my friend: I will put the page number as a reference in parenthesis. Please note that the page number refers to the page of the pdf file, not the page number on the document.  They are different in some cases.
  •  Scientists have done a lot of studies about rabbit housing...mostly in regards to stocking density, cage size, and group pens.  Most of this research has been done due to the public's desire for a high level of animal welfare in meat production in European countries.  The journal covers five different situations: 
    • Single caged rabbits - Provide breeders with higher productivity with better disease control and mortality. It also avoids the risk for aggressive behavior. However, a lack of social contact among animals may cause stress and public perception is poor (130).
    • Stocking density - Rabbits (particularly 3 to 6 week early weaned rabbits) preferred to stay clumped together in a higher density cage.  Again, duh?  BUT, even after weaning, research results show that rabbits tend to group together at a higher density instead of opting for better living conditions (131).  
    • Group size in cage -  Performance in small cages (2-3 animals) and large cages (6-8 animals) were compared.  Group size was not found to affect weight gain, body weight, feed intake or mortality. As long as group size was lower than recommended, it had no affect on producivity or dress out percentage (for meat animals). The amount of peri-renal fat decreased with the increasing number of rabbits per cage (Don't know about rabbits, but peri-renal fat is an independent indicator of kidney issues in humans. Someone please chime in if you know.). However, percentage of ear lesions and serious injuries on the animals increased as group size increased (132).  
    • Stocking density in pens - Had only a slight effect on the production of rabbits. Mortality rate was higher on deep litter (straw-filled) than wire floors due to disease (132).  I tried to decipher their chart on the various stocking densities, but it is beyond me today.  I'll try again later. Charts are on pages 132 and 133, if you are interested. Minimum space allowances for rabbits guidelines are on page 136.  They're metric so have fun :) 
    • Cage vs. pen - When comparing performance of rabbits housed in cages or pens, floor types were discussed separately. They compared wire floors to deep litter.  There was a reduction in growth rate for penned animals that was attributed to greater physical activity and/or lower feed intake. Mortality rate was higher in pens due to contamination with excrement and consumption of soiled litter. Rabbits rested less while housed in pens which is generally said to be an expression of good welfare. However...again, frequency of ear lesions was higher in pen housed rabbits.  BUT, these aggressive incidences can be reduced by simply inserting a gnawing stick into the cage/pen. When the temperatures entered the 59 - 68 degrees Fahrenheit range, rabbits prefer staying on wire netting instead of deep litter. The decrease of production of growing rabbits is 3-4 times worse on deep litter compared to wire floors (134).
Overall, the journal recommends rearing rabbits in pens with wire floors at a moderate density (a whole litter together until sexual maturity) and using wooden sticks to reduce body lesions as an alternative housing system.

So what does all this mean to the hobby breeder?  I look to balance what these reports say with my own needs and facilities.  As I remodel or rethink my rabbit room, I take that info into consideration. Right now, I raise my kits in 30" x 60" wire floor pens. Perhaps I should put in a gnawing stick. It couldn't hurt and it might actually help wool-chewing. My rabbits are individually housed in wire cages. They are currently in a typical setup...all in a row, but eventually, I plan to clump the cages together in a square (does in one square; bucks in another...separate areas) so they can all see each other and hopefully increase social interaction without dealing with ear lesions or worse. My EAs are a laid back group, but they are rabbits. I choose this arrangement because wool chewing is dangerous to rabbit health (wool block) and it ruins their beautiful coat as well. I am super-fine that my rabbits live on wire floors.  It is best for their health and cleanliness...in my situation. Your mileage may vary.  I have resting pads in the cages, but my rabbits don't even use them. They prefer to rest on the wire itself. Like everything else, it's all about being open to new ideas/research and what works best for your situation.  I'm having fun. Do what works for you :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Growing Up Angora

Tricky Exposure, but I love that chocolate face!
Cimmerian and Little Sun's kits are growing up.  They're seven weeks old now and so sweet.  I can't believe how much they've grown!

Okay, don't move...
They just got their tattoos for February's show...and I confirmed that they are both does (silly me...doubting myself).

I thought I'd try to get a few pictures before they get too much bigger since I've been slipping on my "photograph the kits each week" plan. It was a big tricky with the exposure and finding the right color background, since one was dark and one kit was light, but...like Goldilocks, eventually they came out just right...or at least better.  I was surprised at how still everyone was for their session....natural posers and very patient bunnies :) However, that meant that I ended up with about thirty pictures of what look like the same picture.  
How long do we have to sit like this?

Anyhow, I've been putting them on the grooming table so they get used to it, but they're so laid back that they just sprawl out like it's naptime...which is exactly like their mother.  What a change from the Kelly/Hershey wrestling match that goes on when I put Hershey on the grooming table!  I really have to show that bunny who's the boss, but I like her diva ways so much that I sometimes just let her run amuck. 

I really love the chocolate one's ears and typey body, but I also really like the pearl's flashy color and sweet demeanor. Both bunnies have excellent crimp, too. I'm excited to see how they develop. Decisions, decisions...
Until she gets it right...ugh. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Waxahachie Show Roundup

Waiting for Romeo to be judged
This weekend we returned to the scene of the crime - Waxahatchie TX.  It was last year this time that my daughter and I drove two hours north to pick up Mr. Biggles, the fuzzy little guy that started all this mess lol.  Our trip to get him wrapped up almost six months of rabbit research, which did not even cover rabbit shows. Of course, this year it was quite different since we came with our own bunny to show.  We had a blast!  My hubby did not come because our youngest son had a basketball tournament.  He is normally the photographer so needless to say, I didn't get too many pictures.

I was too busy learning about rabbits with Sasha and her mother, Dana.  Dana and I talked genetics, which is a subject that we both love. Sasha, as always, was great.  She's helped me so much with grooming.  One day I hope to be as good as her is.  Her rabbits always look stellar. But, most importantly, she got out our rabbits and showed me a lot about body type.  It does really help to get your hands on them and "feel" what you're shooting for.  She also helped me practice sexing young rabbits...which apparently I am terrible at.  I immediately went home and rechecked my babies again.  I'm pretty sure the pearl is a buck...rats :(   BUT, I will have my local bunny mentor verify today.

That's what I love about shows...the opportunity to learn from others and the chance to see good friends.  I also checked around to see if my poll finished up accurately or not.

The top breed percentage-wise were Mini Rex and Netherland Dwarf at 21%. There were certainly plenty of competition there. Second place was a three way tie between Holland Lop, Satins, and English Angoras.  I did actually see most of the breeds that everyone said they were bringing, of course. I did see a lot jersey woolies, though, and I actually saw some Polish and a couple of dwarf hotots on someone's cart...before I ran in the other direction (temptation!).  I meant to network a bit during the show and let folks know that I had a poll going for shows, but before it knew it...the show was over.  Time flies when you're having fun! I did manage to get a couple of cards out so we'll see.

Well, here are show results for the Angora folks.

English Angora BOB - Kelly Flading  (Hershey's 2nd leg...Yippee!)
English Angora BOS - Sasha McPherson
Satin Angora BOB - Dana Farber
Satin Angora BOS - Dana Farber

English BOB - Sasha McPherson
English Angora BOS - Kelly Flading
Satin BOB - Dana Farber
Satin BOS - Dana Farber

I was curious to see if any of my blog friends had went and if so, how they did.   I saw a couple of other folks I knew. However, there were folks I wanted to try to find, but never found them :(

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Letter from Romeo

Our house has been full of change lately. My daughter, and show buddy, has gotten discouraged (or maybe even...bored *gasp*) at shows.  Her rabbit , Romeo, is a nice netherland dwarf. She has taken him to about five shows in the last year. He places the same every time...always a bridesmaid, never a bride.  We talked about getting another ND, but cage space is at a premium and Romeo has quite the temper. He is a bit like handling a snake, but well behaved for the judges so that's kept him around.  Don't know if I want to breed such a tempermental bunny so we've talked about Romeo as a pet (fixed) to see if that helps his grouchiness or whether she should keep showing him.

We felt our daughter needed bunny encouragement and offered for her to help with the new EA babies.  She has been very helpful and we appreciate it. Inspired by my blog comment to Lindsey at 4 Kings rabbitry, my youngest daughter thought that her rabbit, Romeo, had something to get off of his chest.

This is what I received in The Kelfla Project e-mailbox one day this week...

Dear Kelfla's EA's,

 This Romeo, Doodle Buns Rabbitry 1st rabbit. You know me, I live with you. All I want is to say I don't like you very much. Especially Lil' Sun and Samarian (Cimmerian). Ever since ya'll had those babies I've been left in the dust. She don't care about me no more. I know half the reason is because of my behavior. I'm just being a normal boy. And I don't think that's fair that I have to get neutered. Maybe I want some lil' babies. I'll try and be good. But, the one thing I don't get is that she likes [the new baby bunnies] better than me. I mean they'll only be that small for a week or two. I'll be that small all my life. I feel so left out. That's why I'm so mean, I want attention. Whatever, you all are probably laughing at me right now.  Bye.

-- Doodle Buns Rabbitry - Romeo

Well....my rabbits had to reply...

Dear Romeo of Doodle Buns,
We are so sorry.  We had no idea that you felt this way.  This explains a lot.  We always wondered why  you ran at our cages when you were out and tried to bite our noses off.  We were always glad that we had a lot of fluff and all you got was a mouth full of wool.  

We want to apologize to you.  It must be weird to be the only one in a herd of fluffy bunnies.  Charlee has volunteered to shear himself so you will not feel left out.  He is that kind of guy.  

Maybe your Mom will decide to keep showing you when you get into your new house.  We know she loves you.  You are just hard to handle sometimes.  If your Mom became interested in showing and caring for rabbits again, her parents might get you a girlfriend sometime.  Or, you can live your life as a pampered pet...which doesn't sound too bad either :)

Anyhow, we love you Romeo.  You are a member of our herd and a herd(family) is important. If you do get neutered, that will not make you any less of a man bunny.  

Kelfla's EAs       

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bad Hair Day

That flashy shirt isn't just for looks lol. 

I originally started this post with an attempt to find more science stuff to share, but I'm sidetracked today by sweet Hershey.  Her wool is coming out in big chunks that would make any spinner drool...which, of course, is not what you want to happen right before a show. I'm not exactly drooling. :(

Wool doesn't stick to polyester.  
That's a tricky thing with Angoras (for me anyhow)... timing the senior's coat to the show schedule. Hershey and I are definitely not on the same schedule. She is her own woman and sets her molt without regard to when I shear her coat or previous molt patterns.  I have to admire such stubborness...only to be matched to my tedious removal of each strand of luscious wool in an effort to save her coat.  This might be why, nationally, a lot of Angora folks show their rabbits in their first coat only.  It's so much easier to control/plan when you breed for a certain show.  However, you do not see a lot of Angoras at most of our shows so it's very difficult to get legs...or sometimes even see another exhibitor.  It is common practice to show second, third, fourth coats and so on.  Our rabbits, like a lot of uncommon breeds, have to see that judge's table a lot...if they want results. Hershey has one leg. We had to drive to Kansas to get it. 

Anyhow, I am glad to see from my little unscientific poll (look to the right) that at least two other folks are planning on bringing EAs so I will still show up with Hershey and Cimmerian even though they are definitely not at their peak. That way at least we'll hopefully have enough rabbits, and enough exhibitors, to make it worth it for someone.   Also, I see from the poll that no one has said they are bringing Dwarf Hotots or Thriantas. I might be safe from a spontaneous bunny purchase for another day. ;)

NOTE: There are still a few days left to answer the Blacklands Prairie RBA Show poll question.  I got a lot more responses than I anticipated so THANK YOU if you took the time to answer. :)  I hope to continue with more polls for future shows as a fun way to see what folks are planning on bringing to upcoming shows.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

Blacklands Prairie RBA Show

Pouting bunnies...we don't get to go to the show yet :(
The deadline for mail-in entries for the Blacklands Prairie RBA Show in Waxahatchie, TX is three days away (January 9th). If you're like me though, you'll probably email an entry, which is due on the 11th.  I've been busy going over everyone and making adjustments to my lineup...and will probably continue to do so. In the spirit of good fun, I've got a little poll on the right.  If you have the time, please take a minute to enter what breeds you are planning to bring.
I'm really excited about the show season as my angora friends all have this show on their "to do" list and we so rarely get a chance to see each other all at one show.  Anyhow, hope to see some of you there...but if not, I'm sure we'll meet up at some point.  Have a wonderful day!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Scientific Research Tidbits

The rabbit has historically been a neglected creature in the scientific research community.  Oh, yes, those little guys have been used for research for many years, but the rabbit itself had not been researched near as much.  The World Rabbit Science organization was formed (with the first World Rabbit Congress in 1976) to unite rabbit scientists around the world.  On their Web site, there is a section for online scientific research.  I love this stuff because it is as objective as information can be, regardless of your philosophy.  

I just wanted at share some interesting tidbits gathered from rabbit research around the world, resulting in a journal called "Recent Advancements in Rabbit Sciences" Edited by L. Maertens and P. Coudert.  This book was a joint effort of COST (European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research) to consolidate fragmented, short term and discontinuous rabbit research into one area.  Fourteen countries participated. The journal is in pdf format and available to download so you can read all 309 pages at your leisure haha. NOTE: The page number where I found the information is in parenthesis.
  • Artificual insemination (AI) is widely used on European rabbit farms. This required the use of hormones to keep all does on the same breeding cycle.  Recent regulations have forced European rabbit farms to look at nonhormonal methods to improve reproductive performance.  Here is what  researchers have found: 
    • Scientists have discovered that cage changing, or doe gathering, before insemination has not clearly been shown to increase doe receptivity.  Some studies said YES, some studies said NO.  Scientists must be able to reproduce results before they can say it works (31).
    • If you are breeding a doe with a litter, controlled nursing applied 2 or 3 days before mating (by closing access or removing nestbox) is effective.  Receptivity is best when mating occurs right after the doe nurses her kits.  Controlled nursing works best for mating receptivity if kits are completely removed from doe's area...no smell, no sight, no hear (34).  
    • The "buck effect"...placing a doe in the cage next to a buck, was not shown to increase receptivity as it does in other animals. What?! This made such sense to me so I was surprised it could not be easily proven. The "buck effect" works with other animals...with rabbits, not so much.  However, bucks in the cage next to a young doe can induce sexual maturity and receptivity in those young does...not in older does, though (41-42)...so all is not lost.   
  • Investigations show that does prefer to jump on an elevated seat if possible.  A second floor is used by does as a withdrawal area from pesky kits.  The floor material of second floor is important to consider because solid surfaces (such as wood) can carry risk of endoparasite infection (81) and slots can get manure and urine on kits below. 
  • In the last few days before kits are born, their nostrils open up and they can smell the food that has passed through the placenta from the mother's diet .  If a kit is born to a doe fed parsley during gestation, they will be naturally drawn to parsley odors after birth.  This preference continues through weaning, with kits displaying a preference towards the foods the doe has eaten(88-89).  How cool.  
  • Controlled nursing (removing nestbox from mother's cage and replacing on a time schedule) kits remained in the fear freeze stance for less time than free-nursed kits in experiments. These kits also had a higher growth rate and a higher degree of relaxation.  I am jealous of these kits and their higher degree of relaxation.  
  • Kits are highly senstive to people handling them in the first period of life so it is important to handle them.  This lowers their stress reaction due to the 'fear' of humans after weaning (93).  A higher tolerance to stress means stronger immune systems. It's a win-win.  
  • These handled kit's reduced fear is long lasting and specific to the handler species. If you want your kits to be people friendly, handle them when you take them over to mama for nursing. These handled kits later showed higher conception rates when mature than non handled ones, too.  The optimal window for handling kits for reduced fearfulness is 15 minutes before and 30 minutes after nursing during the first week of life(103-104).  These little guys connect us to happy, feel good nursing activities. Kits handled like this are said to be 70% more bold, making better people rabbits...if you raise fancy breeds.  
  • During a group housing experiment, it was found that solid floors are not recommended due to urine and dropping contamination, causing disease. Floors should be perforated.  Alternative floors such as plastic slats (baby pig slats/MIK flooring) experienced more sore foot lesions(113). The use of footrests on wire netting floors is recommended to provide a comfortable resting area and void footpad injuries(116, 119).  Wire netting walls are also recommended to allow individually housed rabbit does to have social (visual) contact with their neighbors(117, 119). 
  • Research has found that a combined method of controlled and free nursing is best when raising kits.  Free nursing during the first week of life and controlled method afterwards.  Milk production of does was not affected by the nursing method.  There were differences though, if mom was a first timer. First time mothers and litters benefited from controlled nursing with lower mortality rates.  However, experienced mothers did better with free nursing (119).  The combined method is a good compromise.  
  • Cages  (size, equipment, etc.) used in rabbitries are suitable for production and also that they have no harmful effects on welfare (119).  There it is...in writing...in a scientific journal. 
  • HOWEVER, The addition of a wooden stick, or other environmental enrichment, in rabbit cages had a positive effect on rabbit productive traits, behavior, carcass and meat characteristics.  AND such enrichment is a good way to improve public image of intensive breeding programs (125).  
This is just the tip of the iceberg of cool info.  Maybe it's worth an additional post. But don't take my word for it...check it out here.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Q&A Interview with Dana of Gray Haven Farms

Gray Haven Farms Romeo BOS 

      I thought it might be fun to do a little Q&A session with my good friend, Dana Farber at Gray Haven Farms.   She was gracious enough to accomodate me.  

           When and how did you first acquire your first Angora rabbits?
I was introduced to angora rabbits by my daughter Sasha, who started raising and showing English angora.  I am an avid spinner and knitter so was pleased to get the fiber.  We went to a show in Wichita, Kansas and I saw my first satin angora.  I fell in love with a little black doeling and was able to talk her breeder, Denise Wyrick into selling her to me. This was in June of 2010.

Gray Haven Farms Dahlia
         Angora grooming requirements are intimidating to many.  What kind of advice would you give someone interested in showing angora rabbits, but they are worried about the grooming requirements?
That is a very good question.  Grooming is a very big part of owning angora.  I don’t think I would have rabbits if it were not for the personal involvement with the bunnies. My dear daughter Sasha is wonderful with animals and is a great teacher.  She taught me everything I know and is the one I refer everyone to.  I will say this.  It does take a lot of time but the Satin angora are a lot easier to groom than the English so I have found it is very enjoyable.  I have really gotten to know your bunnies and some of them enjoy the grooming just as much as I do others, not so much. 

Gray Haven Farms Rufus
        What is your “can’t live without” Angora grooming accessory…and why is it your favorite?
My favorite grooming tool is a small slicker brush. With the small slicker brush you can get into all the tight places, and next to the skin.  A small, sharp pair of scissors is another really good choice but the slicker brush is a must have.

        What kind of housing setup works best for you? Are there any “tricks” to raising angoras in Texas?
The only trick I know of for raising angora in Texas is air conditioning. 

        What is your favorite breed of Angora rabbits? Why?
That is an easy question. My favorite breed is the Satin angora.  They are easy maintenance and have wonderful personalities.  Also the wool is amazing.  Not much of it but a little goes a very long way in South Texas.

        I sing a little song when I feed my rabbits (That's our little secret haha). It is their clue that food is on its way. Do you have any kind of rabbit care ritual that other people might think is strange?
Other than trying to feed at about the same time every day which is more of a management thing, I guess opening their door and scratching their head is the only thing I do that can be considered a ritual.  Even the new, shy bunnies seem to grow to love this.  Seems odd to me because they can not see straight ahead of them and it seems that it would scare them to just be touched on the face, but even my one doe that has very strict personal boundaries loves this.   They come to the door for their scratch.

        When you tell other people you show rabbits (or Angoras), what is their first reaction?
When I tell people I show angora rabbits they usually get a funny look on their face. They don’t know what an angora rabbit is and, when I tell them, they understand because they know I am a spinner.  I have done well with my bunnies in the show ring so they usually wind up saying congratulations.

        How long have you been showing rabbits? What was your first breed? Do you have a show win or judge comment that you are especially proud of?
I have only been showing rabbits for about 18 months.  I have had meat rabbits about 25 yrs ago but did not show them.  I had standard satin then and now have satin angora so I guess I really like the satinization of the fur or wool.  The judge’s comment that really makes me stand a little taller is when Dr. Dick said my home bred jr. buck was “stunning” at the ARBA National Convention 2011.  This is also my most treasured win as the buck, Romeo, went BOS. 

       Do you have any other animals or other breeds of rabbits?
I am an animal kind of person.  Yes, I have 3 fiber sheep, 1 pug dog , and 4 outside cats.  Right now Satin angora is the only breed of rabbit I have.  I might, get a French angora in the future but don’t have the room to have many.

      Do you pluck or shear?  How do you know when it is time to harvest fiber?
When it comes to plucking or shearing, I think it is a matter of preference and difference in the breeds of angora.  I have angora that I have been told could be plucked but have never been happy with the results or rabbits reaction to being plucked.  It seems to not be as efficient as shearing and more stressful to the bnnies. 
I know it is time to shear when the wool starts to mat badly on the shoulders and elbows.  Not just small, mats but those that appear over night and are impossible to brush out. With my satin, this is usually a sign the new coat is coming in and time to get the old coat off.         

       Do you use the fiber from your rabbits? If so, how?
Of course I use the fiber from my rabbits, I am an avid spinner and knitter.

       What is your favorite aspect of raising Angora rabbits?
I love the personal interaction that is necessary to have angora.  The fiber is soft and luscious and the bunnies so personable.  I also love, love, love the color genetics side of breeding. Trying to determine what colors are possible, and what the genotypes of the bunnies are.

      What is the focus of your breeding program?
I think the main focus of my breeding program at this time is to solidify my genotypes so that the offspring are very predictable. I have a strong belief in line breeding so that is what I am doing.  I have some very good stock that I am working with so am not concerned about big improvements.  I just need to refine my bunnies and have consistency.  

      If you have traveled out of state, what do you notice about Angora rabbits or Angora shows in other parts of the country?
I have notices when I traveled out of state that there are people that have angora rabbits and there are angora breeders.  The difference in the animals is amazing. The quality and care the angora breeder puts into their animals can not be compared to a person that simply has angora rabbits.  There are major differences that are easy to see in the rabbits.  

      What is the farthest you have traveled for a rabbit show?
The furthest I have ever traveled for a rabbit show is to ARBA National Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana from Waller, Texas.

Dana attends shows in the Texas area, so come and say hi if you are at the shows.  She is a wonderful fiber artist, as well.  For more information about Dana and Gray Haven Farms, check out her Web site at: www.grayhavenfarms.com
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