Test Breeding a Foundation Line
There was no one to teach me responsible foundation breeding back in the ‘70’s. The people who I now realize would have answered questions were not yet acquainted with me. At that time, we were a young family with little kids who opened doors on queens in heat, and accidently, usually, the necessary test breeding of my early line was done. These were lucky accidents. Close matings resulted, to the third generation of that early pair. This was done BEFORE release to other breeding programs.
The genetic base of most of the world-wide breed today was never tested in such a manner. Kittens could not have been kept 6 months to two years, to observe personally, for good qualities as well as defects. Instead, release to other breeders was done immediately and too early.
Today, responsible foundation breeders can learn from that debacle! We can test our breeding cats at home before release to “public” breeding (Test once you release a cat as a breeder, you have no control over who breeds it or to what other line).
Responsible test mating of a foundation pair of cats is a little different from test mating a single cat.
Pair matings should be tested as:
These are line breedings, because the assumption is that the pair is unrelated. Repeat litters are necessary of the founding pair, called mom and dad, because each litter is not large enough to provide enough kittens for genetic probabilities to occur, (or not occur, as we always hope). For example, my Momma and Monhegan Mac bred together nearly 5 years. They were a successful pairing in that no oddities cropped up. I kept several random kittens from them, and one male is still living at my mothers, at age 16.
- several repeat litters from mom and dad;
- siblings to each other
- mom to son and/or dad to daughter
The next generation down from mom and dad should be bred at least once to each other to test breed for recessives. This is sibling breeding. It sets strong characteristics as well as starts to narrow out the recessives. To see their offspring, the third generation kittens, will show the exemplification of the written standard for the breed come to life before your very eyes. Even when mom and dad are good, by the third generation, something happens to set the breed type and the third generation kitten is usually very good. If it is not, then seriously reconsider going on with that original pair! We do not need to contribute to overpopulation of nondescript cats. Veterinary checkups of kittens should take place, to have hearts listened to and general health evaluated. By the third and fourth generation, the kittens should be better than the original pair, and at least as good. In this manner, the worthiness of the original pair is determined. Kittens should always improve, and not retrograde. Flaws, if any, are always weighed against desirable characteristics. For example, a lovely color gene or perfect pattern might outweigh fine bones or weak chin. Or, large, heavy boning might outweigh light color and light pattern, both of which are easily corrected. Perfect muzzles and head shape can be a big part of decisions. All aspects of the written standard need to be studied, and observed first hand, (at shows, and through published photos of winners) in order for enlightened decisions of breeding to be made. Keep in mind that the modern Maine Coon is diverging into both extreme type and traditional, and can confuse the novice.
By third generation, it is time to consider outcross to other lineage. Responsible test breeding also includes breeding to established lines. This checks head blending and other physical characteristics. This is immediately noticable in young kittens and does not require the long term observation of other test breedings.
Test breeding of an indivdual cat as an unknown is different, somewhat, than pair breeding. For example, when I introduced Dirigo Wild Native Hooch ( a polydactl brown tabby of pure Maine heritage) into my group, he managed to mate with 3/4 of my queens and consequently had many kittens to his name as a test over one year. This assured me of his genetic soundness, because I was familiar with what my queens produced with other proven males. The conclusion to be drawn from this is to breed an unknown with other “knowns” and you will get predictable results. If something is different, it is from the unknown cat, and can be identified. Then you can proceed with a test of sibling breedings. As a caution, the offspring from closely related test breeding should not be placed as breeders, unless many repeats prove them clean.
When does one release a new line as breedable? If by third generation and onward, no major defects show up such as dying kittens, loss of immunity, poor hearts, poor bones, cleft palate, imperforate anuses, etc.; and if the type is good, then it is relatively safe to release from third generation onward if and only if one has repeated that breeding several times and has kept past kittens at least one year. Without going through that cautionary process, one can inadvertantly release too soon and could propagate an unrecognized defect that will always leave a lineage with a smear on its name. It is also important to personally observe the way the cats respond to certain foods, to advise future owners. Some defects are nutrition related, somewhat.
* It is wise to keep written litter records rather than to depend on memory.
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