Silver Is Precious: Part 3

BY JANICE REICHLE
Diadem Cattery

Originally published in the 1979 CFA Yearbook

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Part 1 and Part 2 of the Diadem story was published previously …

Breeding Techniques

All silvers originally came from the same small group of cats; years of selective breeding have developed a certain "look" of individual lines. For example, study the accompanying pictures of cats; it does not take a great deal of experience to see from which cattery each originated. Granted, it does take time to establish your own "trademark look", but after relatively few generations of breeding, you may have the look by which your cats will be known. This does not mean you cannot improve or change that look; it simply means that you do have to work with care to achieve what you are aiming for, and to avoid that which you consider to be undesirable.

Breeding a good silver presents quite a challenge and one should be very familiar with the CFA Standard from the beginning. Silvers as a group have changed a great deal in the last fifty years, but if you will examine the pictures of some of the early silvers, you will realize that while we have many outstanding silvers today, we also have some that have changed comparatively little since the 1920's and 1930's. It is no easy matter to broaden the face, improve on bone and substance, yet keep the lovely, flowing silver coat with the right amount of tipping and a vivid eye color. Some silvers look small relative to non-silver competitors; yet, if they are cobby and in balance, with good type, many prefer them to a very large, often rangier, cat. The standard calls for a medium or large cat, but does qualify this by saying "Quality (to be) the determining considerations, rather than size."

Many breeders work with the same lines. That can be seen by the cattery names of the parents beneath some of these pictures. However, each of us develop a different look in our cats by selecting from what we breed, not always wisely, for certain qualities. We sometimes overlook the whole cat while trying to produce some outstanding feature such as a short nose. One should not concentrate on one feature to the exclusion of all others. Once you have developed the look you like and are reasonably well-satisfied with the type you are producing, you will follow a breeding program to "set" the type - usually by inbreeding. Be very careful before you set the type; you may be firmly establishing a fault in your line also.

Once you have set the type, you will have to be especially careful about continued inbreeding. No line is so sufficient unto itself that it never requires an outcross. I am a proponent of line and inbreeding, provided the cats with which you are working are healthy, vigorous, have no obvious hereditary problems such as tail kinks, runny eyes, heart defects, undescended testicles, etc, and problems related to reproduction. It is far better to work with a cat with faults such as big ears or a weak chin, than it is to build a breeding program around a cat or cats with any of the preceding major problems. The reasons for this are that a tail kink is a disqualifying fault and runny eyes a health problem. The other problem, reproduction, will solve itself; inbreeding to problem breeders will give you non-producing cats sooner than you care for. One must outcross at least on occasion, since no line is so perfect that one can continue line or inbreeding indefinitely. For this reason, you should be alert for good outcrosses that will improve your line, but will not detract from it. The breeder who has not yet achieved that level of quality he or she desires will be looking for a line that consistently excels in the traits needed. Some bloodlines "click" together; you can find out which ones blend best by studying pedigrees or by trial and error.

It is extremely difficult to purchase an outstanding silver; it is sometimes difficult to obtain the breeding stock from lines that produce top silvers. If you have researched thoroughly, observed astutely and have a working knowledge of genetics, at least you know what you want and it should be worth waiting for. (It is not the purpose of this article to be too technical. For those who wish to delve in the subject of genetics, there are many texts available.)

When asking for a kitten, many breeders make the mistake of always requesting a "top show" quality kitten. By doing that, you may successfully eliminate any chance you have of getting a particular line. Most breeders are in a position to keep their best cats, so the really top silvers are usually not available. A cat considered "breeder" type can be quite satisfactory. A breeder with show potential is even better. Begin with the best available cat you can acquire, but think about an old Norwegian proverb I once read in a genetics book: "When looking for a bride, choose not the only pretty girl in a homely family; rather choose a pretty girl from an attractive family." For this reason, you must make a thorough study of the lines with which you are, or anticipate, working.

Most breeders are not fortunate enough to begin with cats of the highest caliber. If pairing two top quality cats is not possible, the next choice is to have a male of very good quality available for stud service to your breeder quality female. This female should not, if possible, have any outstanding faults and should come from a line which produces cats with the traits you hope to acquire.

Like many breeders, I am reluctant to sell kittens guaranteed to be top show quality - even when I have one I am willing to sell! The reason is that buying, or selling, a top show kitten is a gamble. My experience with other colors and breeds is limited, but after talking with other breeders, it appears to be easier to predict the future potential of almost any other color Persian than it is of a silver. Silver kittens can looks great, go "off" and come back - or they can look great, go off, and not come back! They can look just barely promising and improve, gradually or suddenly, beyond your wildest imagination. If this sounds somewhat like playing Russian roulette - you are right, breeding silver is quite a gamble and certainly quite a challenge. Much of the risk is removed when you become familiar with your own or a particular line. After watching a litter or two grow up, you will know how the offspring of a specified pair of cats develop, and if you are line or inbreeding you will be fairly sure what to look for in all of your kittens. However, if you are just beginning or if you have just added an outcross, the time of watching patiently as kittens develop begins all over again.

Over the years, I have worked with various combinations of the same three basic lines. I have tried some outcrosses that were not continued because they did not result in what I was looking for, or because they gave me something that I did not want. Much of this is trial and error in the beginning, but eventually these decisions and choices will be made by instinct.

A general statement made by breeders is that the best kittens come from the best cats. This is accurate only up to a point; some breeder type cats consistently throw top quality kittens. Our Norwegian proverb is one explanation for that, but another is that your breeder-type queen may be a producer of kittens by an excellent male who is prepotent for type. Prepotency is the ability of an animal to make its offspring resemble that parent and each other more closely than is usual. A son of a prepotent sire can be prepotent also, but prepotency, as such, is not inherited. If I seem to be stressing prepotency in a top quality male, it is because it is generally accepted that it is more important to have (or have the use of) an outstanding male than it is to have a female of the same quality. A given male can genetically affect more kittens in one year than a female can affect in a lifetime of breeding.

It would be wonderful if we could always use our best cats for breeding, but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, it is not always that easy or possible. Two of my best females were high in quality but low in productivity. One because she contracted an infection that effectively sterilized her while out for stud service and the other because it was impossible to find a male who could actually breed her! These problems are not genetic, but none-the-less discouraging and it happens in all breeds. Inability to reproduce is probably no more common in top-show type animals than it is in animals of lesser quality, provided the breeding cycles have not been tampered with by the use of hormones and/or steroids to promote a show career or for any other purpose. If the best cats are not reproducing this is a loss, not only to one's own cattery but also to the entire Fancy.

The terms "inbreeding" and "linebreeding" are often misunderstood. Both terms are used to describe methods of breeding opposed to outcrossing. While outcrossing is breeding unrelated cats, linebreeding is mating animals so that their descendants will be closely related to a given animal, preferably one held in high regard. This is done by using as parents animals which are closely related to the admired ancestor, but are little if at all related to each other through any other ancestors. If you describe your cat as "linebred" you should be able to say "linebred to ___________" and name a specific cat.

Many people use the term in a much broader sense and when calling their cats linebred, mean their breeding plans are built around cats from a specific cattery.

Inbreeding is a more intense form of linebreeding. Typical inbreeding consists of breeding mother to son, or father to daughter. The closest type of inbreeding once can do is brother to full sister. Many people are afraid and very critical of inbreeding because they have seen the results of this type of breeding done either with disregard for, or in ignorance of, hereditary problems involving genetic factors. Inbreeding is certainly the way to find what, if any, problems are carried by your stud. Inbreeding and linebreeding can be either tools or weapons, depending on how you use them. This type of breeding sets traits, good and bad, already present in the genetic make-up of the cats with which you are working.

One sure way to produce a quality show specimen is to inbreed to a stud of outstanding quality. When a daughter is bred to her father, and a daughter of this mating is again bred to him, a breeder is reasonably sure of producing animals whose genetic make-up comes very close to that of the sire. When you begin with a male as described, the result should be a show-quality animal. One common fallacy is that inbreeding causes loss of size. This is true only if the cats you are breeding are small cats (one or both) with small ancestors, or even if they are large cats with some small cats in their background. If this trait, smaller size, is dominant, you will see that some or all of your kittens grow into small adults. This is stressed because we do see some very excellent, typey silvers who are on the small side. We have, I am sure, done this by selecting for type and disregarding size.

While continued inbreeding is very satisfactory for other types of animals such as those bred for milk, egg or wool production, it is not applicable to those animals bred for exhibition because styles do change. We in the Fancy refer to those changes as "improvement in type". I have found a more modified type of linebreeding satisfactory. Once you begin breeding, you will find at least one fault or objectional trait in your cats, such as poor eye color, weak chin, long nose, etc. You will then try to breed to a cat who excels in what you are lacking, and hopefully does not have another glaring fault. From that breeding, you should be able to select a kitten with that original fault much improved upon, and this kitten can later go back to the one with whom you began the program; perhaps a cat very fine in all ways except that he or she has unattractive ears. You will hope that the litter these two produce contains at least one kitten with more acceptable ears and excelling in the other qualities with which you started. The more faults you begin with, the more difficult it is to upgrade your stock. Careful, selective breeding followed by further prudent choices as to which to keep for breeding and which kittens to be altered is an important step towards success. Instinct plays a major part of making these decisions, but a shrewd eye, and a basic awareness of genetics are obligatory - but do not underrate LUCK!

Care and grooming techniques for silvers will be discussed in Part 4 of this article, in the next issue…

 


Author, Janice Reichle, has been breeding Shaded Silver, Chinchilla and the occasional Golden Persian under the Diadem cattery name for more than 35 years. 

While many Diadem Silvers have earned the title of Regional Winner, as well as having a National and Breed winner with GC, BW, NW Diadem Dilemma, Janice is most proud of her Distinguished Merit sire GC Diadem Personality Plus, DM, and what he has done for silvers.

 

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GC Diadem So Sweet, DM
Chinchilla Silver Persian Female
Born 9/30/1984
S: GC Diadem Personality Plus, DM
D: CH Hershie Hollie of Wyngate
Breeder/Owner: Janice Reichle
Photo by Howard

 

 

 
 

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