This short article by Marti Dill is a classic that used to be available on the ARBA.net website. It can no longer be found there, so I have posted it here, because I think it has such good points about selection for herd improvement.
By Marti Dill, Toney, AL
(Culling in the context of this article means to select those animals you wish to keep and those you do not.)
Culling can be a very difficult chore for all of us. Up until this past summer our culling was, for the most part, done on young stock. We culled at weaning (approximately 6-8 weeks) for those obviously not keepers. These usually were long shouldered rabbits or those that were twice the size of their littermates (for small breeds). It could also be obvious poor color– eye or fur. We then ignored those youngsters as they went through “the Uglies”. Our next cull was about the time they came into senior/adult fur. This normally takes place between four and six months of age for rabbits. Some breeder’s lines may be slower in obtaining adult fur. The last cull came after they had been on the show table (if they were showable), usually 9 to 11 months of age. Those that survived all these culls were put into our breeding herd.
This year my husband built approximately 30 small cages (18”x24”). They were set in the center opening of the barn where they were the most visible each time I entered the barn. As we tattooed litters we placed the littermates side by side in the new cages. We cut a piece of masking tape, placing it on each J-feeder and then labeled it with the ear number, date of birth and the sire/dam. This process was repeated until all weanlings were tattooed and assigned a coop. We gave the rabbits that had been put into individual cages a few weeks to adjust to their new surroundings. Then with bags of colored plastic clothespins in hand, we started evaluating each rabbit in the litter. Clothespins were in blue, turquoise, yellow, orange and red. We assigned the following value to each color; Blue = 10; Turquoise = 8; Yellow = 5; Orange = 3; and Red = 1. As you have probably already guessed blue clipped rabbits were outstanding but the red clipped rabbits meant they would be culled. After evaluating all rabbits, we took a moment, standing back to look; we found that it was easy to tell whether our breeding selections of the sire/dam mating had been a good choice. One litter of four stood out with 3 blues and one turquoise. Another litter of five had all yellow, orange or red clothespins. Of course that breeding won’t be repeated and later it was determined we had never kept any rabbits from this doe so she too was culled.
What did this technique show us? Not only were we able to evaluate individual rabbits but also specific matings. We found that the sire/dam that produced only mediocre litters had been the same animals that had not produced any “keepers” in the past. This made it easy to cull brood stock as well as their offspring.
Only 5% of most herds produce 95% of your winners! Why keep the others? How often have we kept a brood animal because it was the only offspring from a special animal. Think, if that was such a special animal, why was this brood animal the only one kept? Think of the money that can be saved on feed! Think of how your herd will improve by only keeping sires & dams that produce not only outstanding animals but outstanding litters!