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Wasted Years

by Dan Schwandt

I was given my first rabbit when I was about five years old. It was a chocolate Dutch doe with average markings, no pedigree, and I'm uncertain on type. It may have been my first rabbit, but my family had been raising them all my life. She was never shown, since I was too young for 4-H and we didn't show at sanctioned shows. She was a pet and brood animal. Then, when I was eight, I bought my first bunny at an animal swap for three dollars. Again, she was a Dutch doe, but she was yellow, although I believed she was a tortoise even though she had no shading. I bred her for Easter bunnies and she had nine bunnies but lost them all, so I sold her and bought more Dutch and the process continued.
A year later, I began showing at the county fair through 4-H. Over the years I raised about a dozen breeds but Dutch were the only breed I raised continuously. My rabbits always did well even though I can't say I always took BOB. Since they were my rabbits I got to take the first pick and my little sister got to choose from what was left and vice versa with her mini lops. It never failed she would win BOB and I'd get BOS.
My herd consisted of many varieties, some of which are not even recognized. I didn't know the difference between a tort, blue, tort, gold and yellow, I just looked at what kind of markings they had. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I learned that many of my rabbits weren't recognized colors, so I culled them from my herd and could now make educated matings.
I continued breeding Dutch and always keeping the best marked animals for years to come as I continued to show at the fair and a couple local shows. While gone to college, I had to sell my rabbits, but months after finished, the hobby I loved was still in my blood and I bought more Dutch at a local swap and continued to breed and show. Whenever I showed up at the shows I'd say "I'm here to give you guys numbers" cause I always did very poorly even though these were the best marked animals I had.
Finally, in August of 2003, I was going to Madison so I called Sue Strandwitz and asked if I could bring along my rabbits for her to look at. She said sure, so I packed up all seventeen rabbits I had raised that spring and summer, which I planned on keeping as my show and breeding stock. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
Sue looked at four chocolates and thirteen torts, many she didn't look at very long. In only minutes she had advised me to keep two chocolates and cull the rest. I thought she was CRAZY! There was one tort doe she said was OK, but it had an eyespot and if I kept it to watch it's offspring closely. I tried to get her to change her mind on a few of them cause I couldn't see why she would cull out all these nicely marked Dutch, but she picked them apart explaining why they were junk. I asked where I could buy a nice tort buck with good type as she said is is a must. She told me I would have to go to Nationals but she had an extra tort buck I could borrow. But I said no, because I wanted something of my own and felt uncomfortable taking home someone's rabbit. I left feeling I had wasted all year raising these rabbits and only two of my "good ones" were any good.
I tested Sue's judging ability that fall as I showed the animals she told me to cull and she was right, they were the first ones off the table. Except for the two chocolates in which the doe took BOV and I received my first leg. This was an accomplishment I had only dreamed of and even my sister was as excited as I. It took me over twenty years to get here and I still wasn't sure of what I was doing. That same day Sue brought me that tort buck, I refused to borrow him but she insisted I take him home to breed my does. I also asked her to show me again about this thing she calls "type" cause by now I'm starting to see it may be important to get these 25 points. After awhile I could finally feel the difference between a good and a bad body. Why didn't I learn this twenty years ago, I would be so much farther along by now?
After discovering the ability to determine good body type, I continued to look at my animals and decide which ones had good type and which ones to cull. Now, with a little practice judging I went to my first show in Illinois and bought a tort buck from Bob Jones, which has become my foundation I built my tort herd with. He is the sire to many of my best animals, including all four of my National BOV and BOSV winners. I must say, he's the best rabbit I've ever bought. His offspring have a record of success, which I think would be hard to beat. I would have liked to have entered him in the Wilbur Williamson's "select a sire" class, but didn't want to take him to NDS because he's one of those bucks that likes to continuously paint his cage.
So, when you're teaching a new breeder or someone who is already breeding with poor success, take some time and see if they need help. It took me a long time to ask for help, so now I'm trying to learn quickly to make up for all those wasted years.

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