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What Do You Think?

Improving the Head Shape of Our Dutch

by Kevin Hooper

Over the years, it is interesting to hear Dutch breeders ooh and awe when they see very nice heads on our Dutch. I'm no exception to that. I love to see the short, fat, stocky looking head on a Dutch. What does it take to get those heads, and what are we looking for?
The standard calls for a rounded head that is full. We can all picture round, while full would refer to the cheeks and muzzle. It does fault for the typical narrow, pear shaped or pinched (nose) head. It also faults for a "course, bulldog type head". I know what a bulldog looks like, but it is hard to picture what a bulldog type of head would look like on a Dutch. This term has been in the standard since before I was raising Dutch, so I will find out to what this is referring, and let you know in a future article.
There had been effort in the past to change the head description from round to oval. The argument was that oval was actually the type of head that our Dutch have. That may be so on many of them, but it is not what we desire. I can think of many of the top winning Dutch in the last several years that have had that "oval" head. If I am judging, I would call this type of head good, while a round one would be excellent. You may ask how the top winners have won when all they had was an oval head? Well, since our standard only lists the head as being worth five points out of one hundred, a judge may consider it a point cut of only 2 points? So, the rabbit will still win, based on the other aspects of the animal.
There are judges however, who have said you have to have that Dutch head! I agree with that, at least when it comes down to the end of the show. Nothing is prettier than a nice Dutch with a well marked, round head!
Now, the question becomes, how do we get that head shape on all of our Dutch? It is possible! I have looked at this from a genetics standpoint. It is my thinking (from looking at many actual matings), that the nice round Dutch head is not dominant!
Take a doe with a narrow head and breed her to a buck with a great head. We have all done this. What do we get? Maybe fifty percent of the litter will have a round head. How many of those will be the ones that have a good body and are well marked? Now you will be left with maybe one good one that has the body, head, and markings you want.
We all strive for the best head possible on our bucks. They usually have either a round or oval head. The does, well many of us will let a narrow head on a doe stay, thinking that the buck will improve the head shape. Now, I'm going to talk genetics for a moment, so bear with me. I will use the following assumptions to explain my thinking:
  • h = gene for round head
  • H = gene for narrow head (dominant)
  • HH = narrow head
  • Hh = somewhat narrow, maybe even oval
  • hh = round head
Most of our bucks are at least Hh, not great, but okay.
Take a buck with a great head (hh) and bred it to a doe with only an okay head (Hh) - see above example. Each parent can pass on only one gene. The buck will pass along only the round h gene. the doe has a 50-50 chance of either the good h or the bad H. So, one half of the litter should have hh (round heads), while the other half has Hh (narrow heads or somewhat narrow).
Now, if you keep only those young ones with the ROUND heads, the narrow ones will disappear within a couple of generations!
Round heads to round heads (note, I did not mention oval to round), will produce only round heads. Round to non-round, only gives you fifty percent round. Keeping the non-round heads, will perpetuate itself.
Note that my example does not sound like complete dominance. It is either incomplete dominance or there are other modifying factors at work to make a narrow head appear fuller, so it still looks good.
The head issue is best shown in our torts. There are many narrow heads still in our torts. We may get a great head on a buck, thinking it will improve the head shape on our does. It may do so, but it takes a few generations to see the OVER-ALL improvement.
Now, other than culling, the best way to improve the head shape of your Dutch is to bring in a doe with a great head! Assuming we either have a buck with a great head, or can find one, breeding it to the doe with the great head, should only give us great heads! Notice I said "should". When you talk genetic theories, there is nothing certain. However, I wrote about this ten or twelve years ago in the DR. I said then that if you want to improve your head shape, bring in a doe with a great head!
Obviously, I'm a slow learner, or I don't listen to my own advice, or I was working on improving other aspects of my Dutch, because I don't have that nice round head on all of my Dutch either.
I can think of only one current breeder who seems to have that round head on all of his Dutch. Now granted, I have not been in his barn and maybe he only shows the ones with round heads, but Warren Wiltman seems to be doing a nice job of culling for head shape. The late Bob Worden was another who had very nice heads on all of his Dutch.
We can all have this; it just takes the use of a doe with a nice head and some careful culling. I look forward to seeing more of those great Dutch heads in the next few years!

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