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The Seven Ages of Breeding
Ed White
3/9/2020 12:00:00 AM

I have just recently finished reading a fascinating book on the breeding of Labrador retrievers entitled “Reaching for the Stars” by the late Mary Roslin Williams. Among many other things pertaining primarily to this breed of dog, it outlines a very interesting profile and identifies the various progressive stages of breeding expertise that could be applied to most forms of small livestock. She has called these “The Seven Ages of Breeding”which in my view is very appropriate and can be applied to both Rabbit and Cavy breeders.

Before we begin, let me assure you that it is not my intention to try to ‘label’ or ‘categorize’ anyone in particular. Let’s not forget however, that this short treatise is about breeding and not about those who merely purchase winning animals. Each fancier will rise to the level of expertise they feel comfortable with and this is as it should be. We can however; all place ourselves or perhaps our fellow fanciers in one of her seven categories just for fun.

Ms. Williams starts in the most obvious place, The Beginner”,doing everything wrong, thinking wrong, buying wrong, and feeding wrong.

Next“TheLearnerwho now realizes that he/she started badly and is now surrounded with somewhat inferior stock but is trying to set out on the right path.  

The third, “TheNovice”who has now righted himself, has bought some decent stock and raised a few potentially winning specimens. Most importantly at this stage, they are beginning to be known and noticed by other fanciers.

The fourth stage is, The Everlasting Novice”, probably the happiest category of all. They are always really nice people, well liked by all, very little ambition and rarely get to the winning circle. They are usually happy to just be at a show will often help out and dabble along in what is to them, just a pleasant and interesting hobby.

Now we come to the fifth stage, “The Middle Range Breeder” by far the largest section of all. This is the average breeder who is definitely ‘One of Us’, he is recognized as reliable, breeding decent stock which are fed and housed well and always brought the show table in excellent condition. Their animals are always capable of winning and sometimes do. These people are the backbone of the fancy and they often supply the bulk of the potential breeding stock for other fanciers.

Now it’s getting a little more difficult to attain and categorize the sixth stage “The Good Breeder”, leading on from the middle range breeder, the good breeder realizes that there is a definite class of livestock which can be called ‘good’ and that decent stock is not quite good enough. Once the middle range breeder reaches this understanding, he graduates to a better standard of stock and will never be satisfied with even slightly mediocre animals. The good breeder is always ready to learn and has taken the time to study the more advanced aspects of breeding his particular choice of stock. He owns and exhibits some very nice specimens while constantly striving to improve and develop even better ones. He is willing to look around and to add superior stock from other breeders knowing how to introduce and use this outside stock to the best advantage.

Reaching this stage of the “Seven Ages” generally takes quite a few years and requires constant dedication and study and perhaps even some luck to stay there.

Lastly we come to the seventh and last category, “The Top Breeder”. This is a difficult category to define, although we all know at least one or two. There will never be many of them in any class of livestock at any one time but they seem to go on forever, they are able to produce winning exhibits year after year. Their stock may have a few failings but never faults. They have usually been at the top of their chosen breed for quite a few years, have a recognizable strain and always seem to have some good ones coming on. These ‘Top Breeders’ do not disappear are often internationally known and very few new ones join their ranks.

In the balance of the book, the author lays out her thoughts on how to progress from one stage to another should the actual desire to improve be the fancier’s goal. She theorizes that the first three stages are almost automatic but the jump to Middle Range Breeder from Everlasting Novice while quite possible would take dedication and continued interest to achieve. The remaining steps from ’Middle Range’ to ‘Good’ and beyond are extremely difficult and will be achieved only by some people with serious effort, an excellent understanding of breeding principles and scrupulous attention to detail. The step from ‘Good’ to ‘Top Breeder’ is managed by very few, as we all know. Ms. Williams feels that “Top Breeders’ may in fact be born rather than made.

I’m not sure where this leaves most of us but I’m sure we all fit in somewhere and it is food for thought at the very least.

Ed White - 2006

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