National English Rabbit Club
Mr Phil Shaw
2013 was a non-event rabbit-wise as far as I was concerned with having to limit my breeding and being unable to show or attend any NERC shows. As I have already bored several of you with the story, it was due to having both hips replaced inside 6 months, for a while leaving me walking like a robot! Some people probably say that I still do! This lack of involvement in the Fancy generally and NERC shows in particular built up a longing which turned into a craving for what I could no longer be a part of. It is only when something is denied to you that you realise how much you enjoyed and missed it and how big a part it played in your life. I felt like a
drug addict who couldn’t wait for his next fix!
It was at this time that I began to look back on past NERC shows and go over in my mind the passage of events throughout the 2 days (or quite often 3 if I had to travel the day before) together with thinking about all the various fanciers and friends whose company I value. Whilst reminiscing over these past shows I realised what an absolute rollercoaster of emotions are involved even from the time that you start to plan your next year’s breeding programme right through to breeding, rearing and finally showing.
For me these emotions start with anticipation as early as when the initial matings are made, followed by impatience for the litters to see if my supposedly careful planning has worked or quite often not! At long last when the litters are born, unless unco’operative does have missed, this is accompanied by excitement to see what the results are, often followed by disappointment if the youngsters are not up to scratch or just self's and Charlie's. When we have had a cold spell I am always relieved that the youngsters have managed to survive even with a wayward or maiden doe.
As the youngsters grow there is more anticipation especially as the show date nears. Sometimes also a realisation sets in that they might not be as good as initially thought. Not such a rare occurrence! The day comes round that I must box up and leave for the show and there is again anticipation of the show and all the characters that I will meet up with again. Hopefully after an uneventful journey I arrive at the show hall to be greeted by some like-minded fanciers busily either penning their stock or involved in the smooth running of the show. I always feel relief when I open my boxes that the stock has coped with the journey OK and that they have arrived in a clean state. Once I have penned my rabbits I can start to relax and have a look around the pens. Whilst making comparisons with the other exhibits I then have the realisation either that mine compares favourably with others or that they are not quite as good!
At this time after penning and before judging there is time to have a chat and a cup of tea with the other fanciers who have arrived, some of whom I probably haven’t seen for some time. Soon the time for judging approaches and my excitement builds and then increases as the classes that I am involved in are about to come on the table. Emotions then come thick and fast as the classes are sorted out. These can be exhilaration, disappointment and even despair! Sometimes I experience relief that mine has done as well or better than I thought. Sometimes abject despair or even a little anger that it has come nowhere or that in my opinion the judge didn’t get the best out of it or didn’t look at it thoroughly or penalised a fault too severely and didn’t give enough credit to its good points. However throughout judging there is a lot of enjoyable banter between the stewards, judge and others present which is always good natured and most entertaining.
Once judging is over for the day, relaxation sets in again and I have the opportunity to chat to my like-minded friends before feeding and tying up the pens for the night. Now it is time to head back to the Hotel and enjoy the good company of my friends and begin discussing the day’s events, possibly leading to a few interesting points of view and a couple of arguments over the merits or otherwise of the exhibits and /or judges! This generally leads onto a late night after putting the World to rights with my fellow English fanatics, some of whom I only see twice yearly at these NERC shows due to the long distance separating us. If I am lucky the evening includes good beer followed by a good whiskey or two!
Sunday comes round and I am generally up bright and early or sometimes slightly hung-over and early! Thoughts then turn to events of the day ahead with anticipation of the Duplicate and Spotlight judging. After breakfast I make my way to the show hall and am relieved to find my exhibits have not escaped, injured or mucked themselves up during the night. Time to feed and water, then have a look around at other peoples’ exhibits. Generally there is plenty of time for further chatting with other breeders and to exchange views on the stock. Are they up to the usual standard or better or worse this year? Opinions can vary considerably and lead to deep discussions.
As the Duplicate and Spotlight judging progresses there is further exhibits has been involved. The show now starts to slowly wind down which brings a certain disappointment as the end approaches, especially having so enjoyed this twice-yearly experience. This is then followed by anticipation of the long journey home and some sadness at saying goodbyes for half a year until the next NERC gathering.
The end of the show comes suddenly and there is a flurry of activity and excitement as the exhibits are boxed and everything packed up preparing to leave, with the thought in the back of my mind that I must hit the motorway ASAP and put my foot down to get some of those miles eaten up. As I travel back, after the weekend has seemingly flown by, my thoughts go back to the events of the last couple of days, the winners and other exhibits and all the topics of discussion with my fellow breeders. Then there is that anticipation again of the next breeding programme, litters and shows which means that this particular cycle of events has completed its full circle.
So in 2014 I, at last, had my fix of NERC shows after being deprived the previous year, providing plenty of fresh reminiscences for me in the months ahead. Now I can’t wait for my 2015 rollercoaster of emotions to start, leading up to the NERC YSS at Hereford, where hopefully I will meet up with you all once again.
In spotlight last August Brian Kettlewood referred to small litters and the problem of his partner Ron Sharp. For a start, I do not pretend to know the answers to this problem, and this article is just thinking on paper or out loud in print.
It’s a pity that at this point in time we have no ”Rabbit academia” or centre of education that is a focus for these problems. Dr King Wilson at the Harper Adams is only distant memory for a few of us geriatrics. When the rabbit was an important part of the meat input of many families and turned all types of greenery other wise wasted into valuable food, and now the idea of eating it causes horror and revulsion.
We are in the process of tupping the ewes, and would not dream of doing this without flushing and adjusting the intake of nutrients, minerals and vitamins over the time since weaning. Why should rabbits be different? In the wild autumn sees less breeding as the quality of forage declines and the animals require more intake to sustain themselves. In periods of very hard weather when greens are non existent, brambles, heathers, shrubs and bark seem to sustain them, but they must use up internal fat to keep them going. In the winter of 1962/63 if an ash tree was cut down one day by morning all the young bark was stripped the same was true of smooth holly leaves, but they got up and bred directly the spring produced a flush of young nutrient rich greens.
Should we try to replicate this in a less severe form?
When I was young pellets for rabbits were pretty well unheard of, in fact all types of animal concentrate food were rationed, how many remember “weed seed meal” for poultry? The rabbits at this time were kept much nearer to the natural cycle of things, I can not remember a problem with shy breeders at this time.
While nutrients play an important part in prolificacy it is not the only factor , the balance of minerals is vital in all forms of stock, why not rabbits? Inbreeding also seems to be a factor but this is not as clear cut as is shown by work carried out by Dr John Hammond and others in the last century.
What to try then? Do we.
1. Stop breeding in the autumn, say September.
2. Less nutrients, no pellets, corn etc.
3. Feed hay and straw and a few greens roots etc, and an ash or apple stick twice or three times a week to enable the bark to be eaten. ( these are very mineral efficient plants as the roots go far down). No Laburnum (golden rain) at anytime as its lethal.
4. About a couple or three weeks before mating raise the protein in the diet, cut down on low nutrient foods, but fibre must be available to maintain digestion. Once the young are born, good food all round to maintain milk supply and body condition.
Fat in all types of farm stock when laid down on the reproduction organs always reduces prolificacy. A fat sow will produce poor pigs and fewer of them, but is it because she puts it on her back instead of in her udder, or because she had a good litter and fed them well and is thinner. Receiving higher nutrition's at the time of service resulting in a better litter next time, its not proven but thought to be the case (fat sows make good sausages) .
Milking cows produce such a large quantity of milk that maintaining condition to enable them to breed is the problem. Beef cows if managed properly will produce a calf regularly but mineral problems and disease will play havoc with the calving index. Breeding poultry fed layers pellets gives disappointing results caused by severe mineral imbalance caused by the need to produce so many eggshells. Stock bulls in show condition and Rams often have to be “got fit” before they perform well.
To try to put this problem in focus.
1. Should we try to follow the natural cycle of things closer than we do now?
2. Are our stock over fed.? Vets say most pet rabbits are.
3. Is show condition the same as breeding condition?
4. Do we need a breeding season when our input of time and effort is highest.
5. Would a slack period do us and the stock
6. Would 4 and 5 lead to an increase in enthusiasm and pleasure from our
I have just asked a few questions and do not pretend to know the answers. Do you know some or all of them?