You have come to the conclusion that you would like to become a breeder. Warnings about expenses, hours of grooming and feline care, and rumours about heartaches could not kill those thoughts about kittens of your own that would leave their mark on the world, and you are now wondering, “how can I even start without making awful mistakes?” The following is a ten-step plan that will hopefully help you “make it,” or at least give you a fighting chance to become an ethical and recognised breeder in the Fancy.
Step 1 – Your goal
Ok, so we know you want to have kittens already. But in order to be a respected breeder most breeders I have met believe a good breeder needs a firm goal. After all, pets exist a plenty, and breeding just any two felines together, not caring much for their health and look, to get kittens is not a very difficult task. So the first basic condition in order to be a respected member of the Fancy (and I don’t mean just show circles – not at all) is to have a firm sense of where you are heading.
Since this is a Persian web site we assume you fell in love with the Persian breed. But this rule applies to any breed, your goal needs to be very specific and should include betterment of the breed in some way not just to create more purebreds… that as we said is fairly easy.
Choosing a goal to someone who has just entered the breeding hobby is often very hard. The reason is that most people that want to start breeding cats of a certain breed are usually not very acquainted with the breed they wish to breed. Most of us when we start breeding have seen a few pets from the breed, but didn’t have a clue on what the breed in general should really look like. And of course have not much clue about the breed’s standard, not even mentioning what are the health, look and temperament issues in the breed that need betterment.
This brings us to the 4 next steps in our formula that all start with the words ‘Gaining knowledge’.
Step 2 – Gaining knowledge about the breed standard
This step in chronological order should probably be Step 1. And yet I have chosen “your goal” as step 1 because I feel it is the essence of purebred breeding. The reason for that is that if you don’t know where you are going, you are going nowhere.
As I mentioned, gaining knowledge in order to focus on a goal is crucial. The first tool to broaden your view on the breed is simply reading the breed standard. This is fairly easy to find on a major cat registry web site or in correspondence with one, and yet it is not enough.
All breed standards were given physical interpretation by breeders (they are the ones that have actually written them) and to really understand what the breed standard means you need to see actual cats that you know that answer to the standard as it is interpreted today. The place to find such cats is the show hall. The reason is that in shows cats are judged by the registries official judges according to the breed standard, and that is the place breeders bring their ‘Top of the crop’ to be judged and compete according to the breed standard. When you actually go to a show take the printed breed standard with you, so you can actually see how the wording in it applies on the winning cats.
You may find that show cats which are closest to the standard are very different from the pets you have known from the breed. You may even find that you don’t like their look. A trait like the Persians typical face and nose or the Main Coons huge upright ears may look less appealing to you than the pet qulity look of a specific breed you dreamed to breed. At this point many think “Ah ha! I know what my goal is! I will breed to change the breed standard”. As legitimate that goal is (and it is really) and although there is a place in the fancy for new spirits of change, there are a few things to remember before taking this road.
- There is a breed for almost any taste. So if the breed you wanted actually doesn’t answer to your taste, walking the show halls with an open mind would almost surely make you bump into a breed whose breed standard does answer your taste.
- Changing a breed standard even in one word is very difficult and long process. The reason is that the breed standard was accepted by the majority of breeders of that breed and they actually really like their breed as it is and would fight to keep it that way. Actually most of them may perceive what you find ugly as their largest achievement.
- One needs to be very, very experienced and see numerous cats to really have an insight on the breeds look and know if a certain look in it actually has enough breeders supporting it in order to actually make a change.
All in all, I personally believe that the right and possibility to make changes in the breed standard is reserved to the ones with lots of breeding experience on their hands, whether from within the breed or from without, and of course to the very dedicated and determined, since usually somewhat if a ‘fight’ is due for every change. So in determining your goal as a new breeder, I generally recommend defining it within the given standard of the breed. There is a lot to work on within the given boundaries of any breed standard.
Step 3 – Gaining knowledge about the breed’s health
Although this will not directly promote your efforts to win at a show, most ethical breeders believe that the most important goal of all is to produce healthy cats. What does a show win mean if it was won in the price of consistently ill kittens? To me personally – nothing at all.
So now when you are slightly more acquainted with the breed standard and have actually decided a certain breed is for you, it’s time to learn about health. This is not as simple as getting initially acquainted with the standard. But it is possible and there are a few tools that can help you.
- Other breeders. If you talk to breeders you meet in the show hall and become friends with them, you can simply ask them what the breed’s health issues are, how a newbie can avoid bumping into them and how to eliminate them from your lines, if they did happen. Other breeders as mentors and friends are one of your most powerful tool to getting information about almost anything, so be friendly.
- Books about breeding and the breed are also wonderful resources.
- The web. The Internet today has elaborate articles about almost anything you want to know, you just need a bit of patience to look.
Step 4 – Gaining even deeper knowledge about the breeds look
Now that you have visited a few shows and feel you have a certain grip on the breed’s standard and health you may think you are ready to purchase your first breeding cats – not yet! A few more things are very important to know and decide.
- Decide on a color division. Not all breeds come in all colors, and not all color mixes are allowed for showing. So careful learning and deciding of which colors in the breed you wish to work with is crucial in order not to get stuck with a couple of cats which are nice in themselves and yet not really compatible.
- Learn about the breeds aesthetic faults and disqualifications. Health is most important of course, and yet every breed has some aesthetic faults that are a total ‘no-no’ and that would lead to a cat’s disqualification in a show (regardless of many other wonderful attributes). Learn what these faults are before you fall on a cat which looks very ‘showy’ and yet completely isn’t.
- Try and learn about the different winning looks of the breed. Although most show cats of the same breed may look the same to the newbie eyes, they are completely different in the seasoned breeder’s eyes. Every breeder has his own goals and emphasis in his breeding program. Try and learn what these are for different cats from different catteries, and try to find the look you like most and what you perceive the breed should be. The help of a seasoned breeder may be needed in that stage because their eyes are usually much more tuned to qualities of cats within the breed.
Step 5 – Gain knowledge in genetics and feline husbandry
Learning genetics is extremely crucial in order to try and predict if the two cats you will be breeding together can actually produce the dream kittens you wish to make. Genetics is also an important tool to learn how to avoid high percentages of inbreeding, and of course free your lines from problems and health issues as they evolve.
Good feline husbandry practices right from the start would also help you keep your cattery healthy for a long time. So reading about these two subjects and learning as much about them as possible is a must.
Try also to learn the genetic implications of a pedigree and how to gain as much useful information from one. Guidance from an experienced breeder may be due in that stage as well.
Step 6 (Optional) – Showing a neuter
Working through stages 1 to 5 may take a person somewhere between a few months to a few years. It may be quite frustrating to do all this research and looking at all those beautiful cats without actually buying one. Also one needs to be very disciplined to just study all these things in “text book” method. And this is where most newbies fail! They purchase what they think is a breeding cat too early and before they have enough knowledge or funds (good breeding cats are very expensive) just because their hands ‘itch’ to start already.
The best way to run through steps 1 to 5 in a fun efficient way is to simply perform stage 6! Having a neutered show cat will enable you to visit many shows and know many cats and people who will be sources for knowledge for you. Not only that, but you will get a huge head start on show grooming, which will enable you to respectfully show your breeding cats when you get them.
If you show a very nice neuter, your reputation will precede you, and many doors will open to you. Most experienced breeders know that it is very difficult for most people to go from step 1 to 5 without showing a neuter, so many would just not sell proper breeding cats if you haven’t.
So although this is an optional stage, it is very warmly recommended as a fun cheap shortcut. Show neuters usually don’t cost much more than pet price, so they will not cut too much of your budget and will take away a bit from the ‘itch’ to get a breeding cat you will regret for years later.
Step 7 – Building a breeding program
Now that you practically have all the information needed and you feel comfortable with it, I am pretty sure you are over step 1 of defining your goal. Now is the time to sit down and think how to actually achieve it. You need to think of the number of cats you want/can have in your breeding program, and how they will be bred in the most efficient way to take you to your goals.
Colors of your cats, their type, and aspired lines and pedigree are very important. I feel it is best to write the info down. It would help you for future reference.
Step 8 – Preparing your home/cattery
Although this is a rather obvious stage, it shouldn’t be neglected. And it is always best to plan and prepare beforehand. It is not fun to handle a large number of cats and kittens without proper facilities. And it surely is not fun to have a whole male who sprays without having a proper place for him.
Learning feline behavior and husbandry before hand and making sure your home/cattery are ready for the breeding program you have in mind is also a crucial condition to success.
Step 9 – Purchasing your first breeding cats
Last, but not least, is of course getting your first breeding cats. After all that you did and have learned by now (if you followed the formula), you will feel very proud and content to actually be in this stage. You are on threshold of the adventure of your lifetime. And yet this is the time to be as patient as possible!
Haste is the worst thing in choosing a breeding cat. It’s better to wait a year or two to get the right breeding cat instead of regretting it for the coming years.
Do NOT compromise! Get the best cats that would bring you to your goal. If you are a person with aspirations for excellence every compromise you make will torment you later on.
With all that said, all we have left is to wish you success. The breeding and showing hobby in itself would surely have plenty more for you to learn as you go.
I personally believe that a breeder of any breed that would follow these steps would be on the right track to happiness and lots of respect in their breeding career.
Do not forget two rules though:
- Always treat your cats with utmost love and care. It’s all about THEM! Not about your winning trophies.
- Be a good competitor. Know how to win in respect and how to loose in respect.
Step 10 – Spay/Neuter
Hey! Wasn’t that article over? Haven’t we set off to a road of successful breeding yet? Well, I guess we have, if you have followed all the steps from 1 to 9. And yet I did promise a 10-step formula.
The reason is that your conduct while being a breeder, even if you have a nice firm breeding program which is managed correctly, has a lot to do with the respect you will get from your colleagues. By now, you know that the perfect Persian isn’t born every day (if it really exists) and that if you ever breed one you consider perfect, you will probably keep it to enhance your program or sell it to a select individual who will use it right to keep promoting the breed. But we must remember that in the process of breeding that perfect one you will probably produce many pets that are either far from the standard or are just not “it” according to your goal.
These babies will probably be wonderful companions and may even inspire someone in the future to start a breeding program just like yours. And yet we don’t want the breed as a whole to move back from the point you have reached. This is what makes the spay/neuter process so important.
Many different people are out there and some couldn’t care less about the quality or welfare of cats and/or the breed. Some are after the illusion of making money out of cats (which can be made only on the expense of the cats) and others are just lacking the knowledge to start a breeding program.
The least thing a responsible breeder can do to prevent breeding that deteriorates the breed and devalues it is make pet clients sign a spay/neuter contract. Many prefer to spay/neuter themselves so the clients are not tempted to do the wrong thing.
Adopting a spay/neuter policy for your pet quality kittens is one of the more honored policies of them all, since breeders then know you are not throwing their life’s work and yours down the drain.
And again, good luck!