A Breeding Plan
BY TRUDA M. STRAEDE

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Setting Your Objectives

The vast majority of breeders just drift into breeding - some set out to have a bit of fun with one queen, some are intent on making money (I'd be very surprised if they have ever opened a book on animal husbandry!), some have one litter more or less by mistake - and find they like it. Of all those owners who rear one litter of kittens, less than forty percent rear a second, and of all those who join a pedigree cat registering body only about 20% are still breeders after 3 years.

One or Two Litter Breeders

The huge turnover in breeders has a multitude of causes, not least amongst them being 'one litter for the children'; or finding that they love rearing the kittens so much that they can't bear to part with them (instantly their 'cat capacity' is all filled up!).

Failing to achieve instant success on the show bench, sometimes because the breeder from whom they made their initial purchase misled them about the quality of the kitten or because the other exhibitors at their first show were so horrid to them, also cuts short breeding careers.

Then there is the discouragement of a disaster with their first litter, whether through ignorance, lack of assistance, or through having been sold a kitten with a poor health prospect (cat flu, Coronavirus or leukemia shedding)—so that the first litter they attempt to raise has endless expensive and distressing problems. It is also a sure 'turn off'.

Hitting the Two Year Barrier

After 2-3 years, those breeders who have rapidly bred and kept a lot of kittens may be beginning to have health and management problems in their cattery. This is particularly so when insufficient time, thought and effort has been expended in the establishment of pens, runs etc. These problems cannot be solved without a serious analysis, and honest assessment of the situation, and the expenditure of money on better facilities.

Desexing the cats, and finding homes for them is frequently an answer to this problem. If you think you might be approaching this crunch point soon, start assessing your situation now.

Objectives of a Mating

What are the objectives of a mating? It can clearly vary but typical reasons to decide to do a particular mating might include:

  • To introduce a new color/pattern/hair length.
  • To test to see whether your cat is carrying a particular recessive, hair length, pattern, color (or even a defect).
  • To try to improve a specific characteristics such as type, eye color, ear placement, etc..
  • To produce better temperament kittens.
  • Test mating with another line, with long term view to buying a stud, or to choose complementary lines to broaden your own line.
  • To correct a breed fault in your queen.
  • To hopefully produce a show winning litter, containing breeding quality kittens.

Choices of matings which fulfill more than one objective are obviously most satisfactory, but don't be afraid to occasionally go for the wild card mating—it may be disastrous, but it may also exceed your wildest dreams. This is a good mating to try when kitten sales are good, and you know that the progeny will sell quickly, whatever the show quality.

Making Things More Manageable

If you find yourself with too many kittens, there are a couple steps you can take . . .

  • If you don't have even a kitten pen, save up and buy one, or if you are handy, build one.
  • If you have started out with kittens of more than one breed, choose one. Desex the members of the breed in which you have the least interest, those you find hardest to sell, those you have learned over time, are not of show quality. If possible, find these cats pet homes. Simply try to reduce the population down to a size where you are comfortable caring for it, and learn from your initial over-enthusiasm, that you have limits!
  • Ask for some help—not everyone in the Cat Fancy will be mean to you, indeed, many may see you as a potentially sound breeder who just got a bit carried away. There are appalling disasters every couple of years amongst such new breeders—make sure that you don't become one. Think of your cats.
Planning to Stay for the Long Term

If you are just setting out as a breeder, try to avoid ever reaching the 'crunch' point. Make ground rules for yourself to govern the growth rate of your cat population. If you have cleaned up your act, as suggested above, you might now consider how to proceed to avoid the same problems recurring. Below is a list of suggested rules which you might adopt. Of course, modify or supplement them to suit your personal situation:

  • Decide what your maximum number should be, work all your choices within this constraint, less one (in case you breed a kitten so stunning that everyone gets down on their knees and begs you to keep it!)
  • Don't buy a new kitten on impulse: All new cat purchases should be carefully considered, well planned, and the very best quality you can afford
  • Don't buy a new breed unless you plan to change your main emphasis to a new area: a new breed almost invariably means that you can see ways that it can be improved, that you can breed a better specimen - this means your population expands at a faster rate
  • Don't just have litters for the sake of it, plan every one carefully.
  • If you are going to buy a new kitten, reassess your existing population. Is there a kitten at home which you don't need to keep, or a cat which you no longer think good enough? Aim  to replace an existing breeding cat and find the retiring one a good home. This becomes an essential strategy when you are approaching your maximum number.
  • Never buy or breed a new kitten to keep without first deciding where it is going to live. Will it make your queen colony too large? What will you do if she turns out to be a witch that won't live with other cats? Will it mean that you must acquire another kitten pen—and where is it going to go? Even more importantly, if it is a stud-to-be, do you HAVE THE MONEY AND THE SPACE TO PUT UP HIS STUD HOME BEFORE HE IS 4 MONTHS OLD?
  • Never keep a small, specially appealing or runty kitten—particularly one that you have practically hand raised. I have found that these little fur persons are very appealing to the kitten buyers—just pop them in with another full price kitten, just for the cost of their vaccinations. Its good PR and ensures they are properly cared for.
  • Each time your cat population increases for the medium term, buy an extra carrier—otherwise what will you do if you have to evacuate?
  • Don't be afraid to keep a couple of promising kittens for a few months—but then choose one or neither—don't keep them both.
  • Remember to consciously reduce your numbers from time to time by consolidating your line into two or three cats. If the line is worth having you will have sold progeny to other breeders, and the risk of losing what you have achieved is reduced as you can always buy/mate back into your own line.
  • Tell yourself the truth: Be dispassionate about your achievements. If you don't win much at all, it isn't all the judges' bias. Don't kid yourself that the poor breeding queen will be OK next time—desex her. Include all the adult cats when counting how many cats you have. Don't let your eye skim past the 3 geriatrics kitties you have kept—they still have to be fed and cared for—and feline old age can incur significant costs. They are still part of the total population count.
  • Recite this mantra whenever you are tempted to make a rash or unplanned move.

    Quality, not quantity...
    Quality, not quantity.
    ..
    Quality, not quantity...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Truda M. Straede has been a cat breeder since 1976. She combined her love of cats with a doctorate in Ecology to develop an ‘environmentally friendly’ pet cat which became the popular, all Australian breed, the Australian Mist. Truda has been widely involved in many aspects of the cat fancy in Australia and written extensively on cat health, genetics and management, including the first edition of her breeder ’s handbook ‘Breeding Cats... A Practical Guide.’ Upon retiring from the Management Committee of the RAS Cat Control Inc, she was awarded the NSWCFA’s first Distinguished Service Award for her services to the NSW Cat Fancy. Truda continues to pursue her interests as a Cat Judge, Australian Mist and Maine Coon breeder and exhibitor, and writes cat articles for magazines, and specialist books on the Australian Mist. To learn more about her breeding manual go to: http://members.dcsi.net.au/ausmist/breedman.htm

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