Gail, tell us a little about yourself and how long you have raised rabbits. What breeds have you raised and what do you still raise?
We started raising rabbits when our oldest son became interested in rabbits for meat and to use as a 4H project. Back in1978 our family goal was to produce as much of our own food as we could, the rabbits were a good addition. Eventually he worked his meat rabbits into a small business for himself and his siblings, selling between 40 and 60 dressed fryers a month. When the boys left home the girls were less interested in meat and more interested in show, so the emphasis of the rabbitry changed. In the beginning we had Satins, almost exclusively with a few Rex. In latter years we had English Angoras, then Jersey Woolys for Jen, while Sarrah had Polish for many years, till she joined me and raised one of my very favorite breeds - Britannia Petites. Sarrah and I also raised Mini Rex from the beginning of that breed. After the fire we rebuilt only the Lionhead herd and Sarrah’s Hollands and she has now added her beloved Velveteen Lops. Sadly because of temperament issues with Britannias I just felt we could not do justice to Lionheads and presentation and rebuild the Britannia herd. Very recently Abby and I added a few Mini Satins. (Back to our roots I guess). We have produced Best in Show winners in Satins, Polish, Jersey Woolys, English Angoras, Holland Lops and Britannia Petites, though I must admit the Best in Show at Lionhead Nationals in 2005 was one of the best!.
Tell us about your rabbitry and your move to Kansas.
We have a rather small rabbitry considering what we are doing. We have 84 holes that can be used all year long. They are divided amoung the 4 breeds we currently have with my Lionheads claiming just under half and the Hollands, Velveteens and Mini Satins taking the rest. Abby has 6 cages that are hers for whatever rabbits she lays claim to as her “special ones”. The chosen few that grandma and mom cannot sell.
In addition we have 24 small cages that are designed to be used JUST preceding Nationals and ARBA Convention to house Lionheads that are pre-sold so their manes do not become damaged by sharing cage space with other youngsters. They are now empty again and will stay that way till we get to Kansas.
My husband Chuck is retiring this summer and we are leaving Minnesota - the frozen, and will be heading off to Kansas were us old folks will not have to shovel snow! This will be a huge undertaking but we are all looking forward to the move and hope to have it done by summer’s end.
How did you first become interested in the Lionhead Breed? When and where did you first hear of it? How many animals did you start out with and did you have any idea where this beginning might lead?
We used to travel to shows with Brenda Lindner and her daughter. Brenda is the one that just was fixated on this new breed she had found on the internet. To be honest I was not impressed, but Brenda was adamant and just kept on and on about them. She drove me crazy about helping her make them a breed. Since she did not meet the requirements to pull a COD I finally told her I would do it if she found someone else to join us. She found Arden and the rest is history.
I started with a pair Brenda gave me. The buck was a Magpie Siamese, and I bred him to a number of other breed does while I waited for a purebred doe. The doe was the famous Lindner’s Wooly Bear. She was the one in the litter no one else wanted because she was double maned. That was because the breeders in England, along with Jo Statler, Brenda and Arden saw no future for the double maned Lionhead. I then bought another double mane from Jo Statler named Staler’s Serengeti. From the beginning I believed that the only future of the breed was in the double manes. Shortly after Serengeti came here, Tom Coats in Maryland contacted me and set up a trade of breeding stock. I then added a pair of purebreds from him. A doe that was named Pumpkin (Tortoise - black) and her litter brother, Panda (Broken Tortoise-black). Brenda and Arden added additional stock at that time as well. One of my most influential original animals was a buck I got from Arden about 6 month latter he was called Wetzel’s Rafiki. He was out of a cross of one of those original Coates Lionhead does and a buck out of Jo Statler’s lines. Rafiki was a truly lovely Lionhead. Sadly he died in the fire along with Wooly Bear, Serengeti, Kenya and number of animals that helped to define this breed.
When did you apply for your COD and what does it feel like to be next in line for making these beautiful rabbits an accepted breed?
It was decided by Brenda, Arden and myself that Arden would apply first since he had the most experience with presentation. He had presented Brits in a number of colors before and was familair with how it all would go. As soon as his COD papers were accepted I filed my backup.
What does it feel like to carry a COD? It feels “heavy”. There is no other way to describe it. I consider it a great responsibility. I feel I am responsible to everyone else who has Lionheads. I know Arden and I have talked about it and neither of us thought this breed would get this huge this fast and he also feels the pressure to not fail. Most of the things I do these days are defined by presentation in some way it consumes my life. It defines what rabbit breeds I can keep, how my family takes vacations, how we use our free time, even to a great extent how we spend our money. It was a huge factor in if we could move or not? It is a huge pressure all the time because I know so many people are counting on us. As I tell everyone all the time this is a huge responsibility - we are laying the foundation for an entire breed
What varieties did you start with? How did you use these first animals to move the breed forward? Did you cross with other breeds? Stick to what you had? Experiment with several crosses?
In the beginning none of us had much choice in colors. I think in the very beginning the emphasis was on manes not type or color. I know early on a good Lionhead with a nice adult mane could not be a bad color. We did always work hard here at Cimmaron on type, right after manes, I am a stickler for sound bodies. But to honest I would say we did no9t look hard at color until after we had been at it for a least 2 years. We had a lot of small e family in the Statler and Coats animals so pretty much from the beginning my goal was Tortoise and Sable Point. The problem was we also had a lot of Harlequin. We worked very hard to clean out that color gene since it would mess up so much down the road and we knew from the beginning it had to go.
We also had a number of Siamese Sables, a fair number of Chestnut Agoutis and a few Fawn/Oranges. Early on we got a number of Otters and Martens. Wetzel’s Rafiki was a Broken Sable Point Marten and two of the original Coates does we got in the trade were also Sable Point Martens. Here at Cimmaron I crossed to a select number of Netherland Dwarf does I bought. The best crosses came from six - three were Tort, two were Sable Point and one was a Grand Champion Chestnut. Brenda Lindner used a number of REW Netherlands. Very early on I also made a few crosses to Chestnut and Black Otter Britannias. We did some test breeding here to Tort Hollands to help clean out the Harlequin gene, but we never sold any Holland to Lionhead crossed bunnies as breeding stock or used them here in our herd. We did have one special doe that had a huge impact on some of our early stuff. She was the result of a accidental breeding done by a 4Her’s kid sister of a Granded Netherland buck to a Granded Florida White doe. She was a Chestnut and made a huge contribution to some of our early Lionheads for body type and normal fur. I know we used a lot more purebreds from other breeders then Arden did, so the two lines developed pretty much separately. It is only since the fire that we have crossed Cimmaron and Wetzel to any great degree and I must say I am very happy with the results.
In the beginning we always kept three basic lines in the herd - pure Staler purebreds, a hybrid line I was working on, and the Coats purebred line. Eventually we melded the purebred Statler and Coats lines with great success creating two line the one I kept purebred and te line we showed which used our hybrid line to correct stance, bring down size and improve head and ears. Early on we did make some crosses to other peoples Lionhead lines from around the country but most showed limited success. After the fire we brought back our orginal lines in pure form where we could but did add some additional stock where other breeders had made crosses of Cimmaron to other lines. We worked with it all the best we could and felt as in our earlier attempts some showed positive results many did not.
In the last two years I have been working closely with Arden and have added more Wetzel blood. I needed to correct normal fur type (Arden has the most lovely normal fur on his Lionheads something most of us struggled with in my opinion). I also needed to bring my size up a little and improve bone as I was starting to lose too much of both. Remember ideal is 3 ½ pounds! Arden’s Lionheads also have excellent width to body due the amount of Holland he put in early on and I was happy to add that trait as well.
I have just brought some Lionheads in from a breeder in California. I really like what I have seen of her stock and I am eager to see what we will get when we cross the two lines. She has put Cimmaron in out there and had very, very good results so I am excited. I can use the new blood diversity and I just love the consistent width of body and head/ears she is getting. As always we are moving slowly as we always move carefully when we bring in any new bloodlines. I think it is a general error most breeders make, to add everything and everybody hoping to get a winner. The other error I see is not bringing in enough animals to have an effect on your herd. We are adding 2 bucks and a doe now and hope to add another couple does once we are settled in Kansas. We look for consistent type and manes in the stock we add and then tend to move more slowly crossing back and forth in attempt to set the traits we want while working hard to not lose what we already have.
Can you tell us what varieties you will go forward with once Arden has passed the torts? And why you have chosen these?
Well I am limited to Chestnut Agouti, Siamese Sable, Sable Point or REW as those would be the only four left on my COD. If I do as Theresa did and change out a color then my COD will fall behind hers. Since Arden is within 2 years it would not be wise for me to change at this point.
I have been very up front with everyone on this color thing from the beginning as I believe I have a responsibility to the other breeders to let them know what is going on the best I can. With the new ARBA ruling that we will only be able to go forward with two varieties I have given this question a lot of thought.
I have struggled with the Chestnut color from the beginning. I am just not sure that any Agouti color will pass in this breed under the current structure for presentation and the current expectations. I feel there are too many issues with ring color in the transitional wool and even more issues with belly color. I have talked about this with both Tex in the pass and with Mike just this year at Lionhead Nationals not sure there is a resolution at this point. I wish the best to those who are willing to try but right now I am not.
I adore Siamese Sable and have an active and strong shaded program here but since I have to choose only two it will be Sable Point and REW. Sable Point has always been my first love and I have been working hard on them. I feel confident that I can get Sable Point through.
I think it would be wise to pick a “easy one” for my other color so I will do REW. Besides my dear Abby LOVES REW! So Sable Point and REW it will be.
Can you share what you think of the Lionhead breed today compared to where you started several years ago?
The progress is simply remarkable! All of the breeders, not only those of us who carry the COD banner, should be very proud. It makes our job so much easier, as presenters, to be able to go and use Lionheads from other herds to prefect and fine tune what we are doing. It gives the breed great credibility in the eyes of the ARBA when breeders bring these lovely examples of the breed to shows. I talked and walked through the Lionheads at Nationals with a number of people in the ARBA who are very interested in the progress of the breed and they were all impressed with the overall quality of the entry. A couple commented that improvement in the upper class of animals is slowing but we all agreed that was to be expected as the breed overall is SO MUCH IMPROVED that progress would be expected to slow some now.
I think the improvement in Sable Points and REWs has brought them up into the same class with the Torts - which have always been the breeds strength. I am impressed with the way the Blacks are coming, this is a color that can be tough to work with due to the longer softer baby wool often lacks that sparkle that a nice Black coats needs to look great. Overall the Blacks are catching up fast. I think Siamese Sables show the most diversity in type and color but will make it in the end. Sadly I am not so sure about Chestnut Agouti or Fawn. I am looking forward to see how Blues catch up and what new varieties may be coming next.
In the end - I do not think there really is any comparison to what we started with and what we have today! That is a testament to the devotion and hard work of all of Lionhead lovers spread across North America. We set out to create a new breed and we have done a gosh darn nice job of it so far!
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