COD Holder - Lee Nevills
Rabbits have been a part of my life for nearly all of my life. I was active in 4-H as a 10 year member and subsequently became a 4-H leader. I am currently a Life Member of ARBA, having joined in 1978. In the early 1990's, I was the Secretary for the National Silver Rabbit Club, and more recently held the position of Secretary-Treasurer for the National Silver Fox Rabbit Club. Over the years, I have held many offices in many rabbit clubs, and have served on several committees. At present, I am Vice President of the Indiana Tan Rabbit Breeders Club, and a Director on the Board of the Northwest Indiana Rabbit Breeders Association. For the NALRC, I am currently Webmaster, and Rules Committee Chair. I have submitted my Intent to Run for the office of Vice President for the term beginning 2014.
Over the years, I have raised a lot of different breeds because I wanted to learn what makes each breed unique. I really enjoy the challenge of breeding to each individual breed standard and achieving success on the show tables, especially in lesser known or endangered breeds. My favorite breeds that have given me a great education about breeding for specific type, fur, color and markings goals are Harlequins, Silvers, Rex, all types of Lop, Havanas and Dutch, to name a few.
In addition to raising rabbits, I have hand-raised several varieties of parrots and other small house birds, and have kept and bred many breeds of dog including Miniature Schnauzers and Dachshunds, Tri-color Collies and American Pit Bull Terriers, and currently English Mastiffs. I live in a very small farm community, in a secluded country home on 2 acres along with my other half Larry, and our son Tye. We have 2 cats, many chickens, a surly African Grey parrot named Moolie, numerous game birds, over 100 rabbits, and two 200 pound English Mastiffs, Beauty and Berta. Our home is at the end of a mile long gravel lane, and we are surrounded by corn fields, a creek, and a horse pasture.
I am lucky to be a stay at home mom, although I work with kids at a preschool a few hours each week. Staying home has been a fun new experience for me since I always worked full time during my entire adult life up until a few weeks before my son was born. I am a Purdue University alumna, and hold a professional property/casualty & life/health insurance producer license with a CISR designation. I also am an Indiana state board licensed cosmetologist and own and manage several investment rental income properties. In addition, I am an experienced bartender and banquet manager, and have even done part-time body piercing for the local tattoo shop in the past. There has never been a dull moment in my life, and I look forward to every challenge that comes my way. I am not good at being idle, and always have to be involved in many activities.
I first became interested in the Lionhead breed as early as 1999 when I saw a photo on the internet, but I remember thinking to myself that I would give it time for others to get a better handle on the breed before jumping in myself. I kept tabs on the breed over the years, and watched it develop with great interest. I knew eventually I would have to have my own project herd.
Our first Lionheads were a frosty buck and a black tort doe that came from a local pet store in 2007. They were my son's pets, and they were really bad examples of the breed. Most likely they were single manes, as they lost their manes entirely after only a few months. They were strictly kept as pets, and not used for breeding at all. I then ended up with a couple of black tort does and was able to breed them to a borrowed tort buck. My first Lionhead litter was born in January, 2008, and that litter produced the 2nd place jr. black tort doe in Open class at the 2008 NALRC Nationals. That was pretty exciting, considering she was my only entry in the show. At that time, we had a few blue Dutch rabbits, although we moved them on to make way for black and blue Silver Fox, black Mini-Rex and one lilac Polish in addition to our Lionhead herd. Presently, in addition to the Lionheads, I still have the black and blue Silver Fox, as well as black and chocolate Mini Satins, and a steel and agouti Holland Lop project. My son has jumped on the bunny bandwagon and has done very well nationally with his Tans, Britannia Petites and White Beverens. In our case, bunnies really DO multiply!
In February, 2008, I decided to apply to ARBA for a Lionhead COD to lend my years of attained rabbit raising experience to help advance the breed, I quickly amassed the core to my entire herd. I quickly built my herd with stock from Dan Young, Lynne Schultz, Kim Croak and Becky Armstrong, in my chosen varieties of Chocolate, Chocolate Tortoise,Lilac, Opal and Seal. As the years passed by, it just made sense to concentrate on less varieties because none of my colors easily worked together in a breeding program. Therefore, in 2010, I made the decision to remove Lilac, Opal and Seal from my COD. Shaded, agouti and dilute varieties have no place in a chocolate program. Once I removed those varieties from my herd, I turned all my focus to my chocolates and have seen major improvement. ARBA made a change allowing the Tortoise variety to be shown as a group, so in 2012, my COD further changed from just Chocolate Tortoise to Tortoise in all four colors as a group. At present, in addition to Chocolate and the non-dilute varieties of Tortoise, I also have Lionheads in REW and Black.
In the beginning of my Lionhead herd, I was very lucky in that the quality of animals I started with was very good. Most of the bloodlines meshed well with each other, so I had positive results early on. I did not have to hybridize, although I have experimented a little with Netherland Dwarf and Holland Lop crosses just for my own information and observation. I breed aggressively for my specific goals, and am a firm believer in a strict culling regimen to weed out undesirable traits and to reinforce the desirable attributes I am striving for. I have a definite goal in mind with my breeding program, and do not keep or use any stock that is not in keeping with my vision.
Trying to find the perfect balance of compact, upright type and long-lasting dense mane is the biggest challenge of raising Lionheads, in my opinion. Putting all of the pieces together on one rabbit, and being able to do it consistently on every rabbit produced is my long term goal. The most frustrating part for me is all of the grooming involved, because I sometimes lack the patience to be as thorough as I should be. The best part of raising this breed is the friendships I have made that I know will last a lifetime. In addition, the exchange of information and ideas with other breeders has proven very beneficial to me, and I have learned a lot in a short time. I hope to continue to expand and share the scope of my knowledge.
Over the years, the size of the Lionhead has reduced greatly, as has the ear length. The overall quality of the breed on show tables across the nation has improved by leaps and bounds in most recent years. Breeders have become more concerned with the breed attaining recognized status with the ARBA, and are becoming more of a cohesive unit. I am very proud of the breeders here in my home state of Indiana, as we seem to work very well together and present a united front when we are at shows. I think this has helped the ARBA and the rabbit community as a whole understand and begin to embrace that the Lionhead breed is here to stay. For the most part, we take the advancement of our breed very seriously.
At NALRC Nationals in 2008, Lynne Schultz generously gave to me KP's Crackerjack, a chestnut agouti buck that won BOS and Best Junior at the 2006 NALRC Nationals. He was the product of the hard work of Jason and Kadie Foss on their vision of the Lionhead breed. Sadly, they are no longer actively breeding their Statler Award winning Lionhead herd, but left a legacy in what is left of their existing bloodline. Crackerjack, to me, was the epitome of the perfect Lionhead when he was in his prime. He has passed away, but left a legacy of offspring throughout the nation. I just love the babies that "Cracky" produced while in my care. They consistently have short compact bodies, with good width to the head and correct little ears, as well as being natural posers. He definitely made his mark on my herd.
The chocolate herd buck that Kim Croak in PA generously gave me is the foundation of my chocolate project, and sired my 2009 Jo Anne Statler Memorial award winner LA Lions Domencio Dolce'. He produced many offspring with smooth bodies and massive manes, and is predominant in the background of my chocolate herd.
So far, the highlight of my Lionhead raising project has been winning Best of Breed at the 2013 NALRC National Lionhead Exhibition in Columbus, OH with a home-raised REW Jr. Doe, LA Lions Mystery. What a feeling! There are no words to describe the honor of having a judge pick your Lionhead as the best out of more than 300 of the country's finest Lionheads. I cannot adequately describe how much that moment has meant to me. I have worked very hard on my herd and culled a lot of Lionheads to get to where I am today, and there is no looking back!
My herd has been heavily influenced by Bastet's Bunnies and Pridelands lines, as additions of their stock crossed extremely well into my core herd. I rarely outcross anymore, and my line is very well established. Many people across the country, especially if working with chocolate, may have a few LA Lions Lionheads in the background of their stock. I have worked very hard to make my vision for my herd a reality, and am very proud of how far I have come over the years. I see the future of our lovely Lionhead breed, and it is very bright!