In the webinar with Linda Cassella that Kelly Flading hosted on behalf of the Southern Angora Rabbit Club on Dec. 1, 2012, Mrs. Cassella referred to “breeding up a ladder,” of sire, grandsire, and great grandsire. She said that she does not inbreed rabbits, but that she does line breed. It seems that she prefers not to breed any closer than great-granddaughter to great-grandsire.
I was trying to visualize how such a ladder might look as a diagram. I realized that we can make a lot of progress towards our goals with only three breeding rabbits. If we do not want to line breed any closer than to great-grandsire or great-granddam, then there is a point where we need to introduce a fourth rabbit. The colored angle brackets represent matings.
In my first rabbit life back in the 90s, I did some inbreeding, but mostly I used line breeding. The trio I got from Betty Chu were related to each other, and so I began line breeding by default. I had some success with my rabbit breeding, but I did not understand the Standard of Perfection as well as I do now. With the superior English Angoras that we see now, after over a decade of development by leading breeders, we have more living examples of what excellence looks like!
I remember when my mother and I used to breed Boxer show dogs together. The pair we started with, Peddler and Halo, were related. We got them both from the same breeder. When that breeding produced so very well, I remember that I pored over their pedigrees, trying to understand just why it had worked so well. At that point, the pedigrees were like reading Greek, until finally I began to discern the patterns, and realized that we had benefited from the line breeding of superior animals from superior families.
Mother and I continued to line breed, through the years. We very rarely raised any litters, because we bred dogs only when we wanted a puppy for ourselves. I intend to follow that same ethic with my rabbits.
However, Mother’s line breeding was not from a deep understanding of the pedigrees, but was from kennel blindness. Mother was very emotional (I understand now that she suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder), and never allowed reason to cloud her emotion. She made dog breeding decisions based on very flighty, emotional feelings. If she was emotionally attached to an animal, then she considered it breeding quality.
On rare occasions, she would listen to me. One time, I said that I thought she should breed Jetta to my favorite of the dogs, Heart Breaker. She did so, and in the resulting litter of two puppies, was Jet Breaker, a stunning, nearly perfect male who became a multiple all breed Best in Show winner, and earned the American Boxer Club Legion of Merit award for his excellence as a sire. Take a look at his pedigree below.
You can see that he was extremely tightly line bred. Some would say he was inbred rather than line bred. His pedigree was actually even more inbred/line bred than you can tell from this picture, because the ancestors off the chart were all related to each other also. In my opinion, Jet Breaker’s ability as a sire had a lot to do with how tight and closed his pedigree was. (By the way, I had nothing to do with the stupid name he was given.)
Keep in mind, however that line breeding does not create excellence! (Nor does inbreeding create flaws; it does reveal flaws that may otherwise not be apparent.) If you line breed rabbits of crappy quality, all you will achieve is the production of rabbits that can be counted on to reliably reproduce their own crappy quality.
Although my mother did not breed a lot of dogs, because of her kennel blindness she raised some dogs that although you could tell they came from a show breeder, they still had serious flaws that prevented them from doing well in the show ring. She was unable to admit that a dog she liked was not perfect. In a few cases, she got championships on quite imperfect dogs just by her own sheer force of will. Being a champion does not necessarily indicate that an animal is good enough to breed, either.
Mother bred a few more dogs after Jet Breaker that were as equally beautiful, but no others became as famous as he did, because he had the advantage of a very wealthy sponsor who put him with a leading professional handler. The AKC dog show game is nothing if not viciously political.