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COD Holder - Arden Wetzel
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Arden, tell us a little about your self and how long you've raised rabbits and what other breeds you've raised?
I work for a medical device company called Medtronic, I have been with them for over three years now. I recently moved onto 8 acres in Milaca, MN, which is about an hour north of the twin cities. It has a nice little fixer-upper house and enough outbuildings for the animals. The outbuildings need a little work as well so this winter, things are a bit cool in the rabbitry.
I have been a member of the ARBA for about 15 years. Way, way, way before that, I had rabbits when I was in 4-H. One weekend, a friend of mine (she still is a friend even though she started me on this long roadJ) stopped and asked if I wanted to go the rabbit show in Rice Lake. I came home with a trio of Satins and what follows is the “rest of the story”.
I have raised lots of different breeds and had some just for fun. Satins have been by far the first and the most favorite easiest breed to raise. I got my brother and sister-in-law started with them and they have returned the favor just last year so I have Satins again. I have tried English Lops, and have them again as well. Last year, to help a couple of people out, I added Havana’s and Rhinelander’s. I play with Holland’s for the 4-H and pet market, I enjoy the personalities, but the showing of them is a bit selective for my taste. I prefer to work with colors other than tort so it is hard to be competitive, although it is getting better, judges are tending to look at other colors in a more subjective way, allowing a fairness to other colors that was not there a few years ago. I also currently have Velveteens. Not sure where I am going with this breed. I am just having fun breeding for colors again and will work on the body faults a bit later, this is just fun to see what is in the nest box every litter. So that is currently what is in my barn besides the Lionheads. I have also raised Dutch, Florida Whites, Himilayans, Fuzzy Lops, Satin & French Angora’s, Britannia Petites and Netherland Dwarfs.
What got you interested in the Lionhead Breed? Where & When did you first hear of it?
I first saw and heard about the breed when I was at a show in Missouri. There used to be a show down there in late February. On Sunday mornings, members of the club would put on a breakfast and a lot of the people who put on the show and several of us “out-of-staters” would have breakfast and then take off for home. I am not sure who had them, but there was a pair there at the show and they were on the raffle. One of the people who work the show won them and so they brought them to the breakfast where I was then able to really see them and handle them. They were the “England” version, bigger body, long ears and long narrow head. The general comment was that if we could shrink them a bit and put a “cuter” head on them, they would be a pretty good breed……
I next heard of the breed from Brenda Lindner. She met me at the Isanti county fair when I was up there to judge the 4-H show for the county. Mistakenly, she thought I was an ARBA judge and would be a good choice to promote and sponsor this new breed she knew about. She also had Britannia’s and knew that I was also presenting the Opals at that time. Brenda had gotten a couple of Lionheads from Joanne Statler, who had imported a few. Because Brenda did not have the 5 year ARBA membership required to sponsor a new breed, she asked if I would. I thought about if for a few days, discussed it with Gail and Kris and Brenda and then submitted the COD for the first presentation. We decided that the colors should be Tort, REW, Siamese Sable because the work together as a color group. We also decided that Chestnut should be a good color because it is the main building block for other colors. I went with Black on my COD because I thought they would be showy and striking and would work with Tort and Chestnut. I received my COD dated March 1, 2001. Shortly after that, the group of us were at a show and we formed the NALRC.
Where did you get your original stock and what varieties and how many did you start with? When did you get your original stock? How did you use these to move the breed forward?
Originally, I took some Holland’s and some Dutch up to Brenda’s and bred them to a Siamese Sable buck that she bought from Joanne. Later, I used Netherland Dwarfs, Florida Whites and Mini Rex and scraped the Dutch line. At one point, I did get an English Import doe, Harlequin from Joanne, but she only produced two more small litters before she died. Other than that Harly doe, and the Siamese Sable buck that I bred from that was Brenda‘s, I have never used “Pure” English imports in my herd, they have all been hybrids. I did get a buck from Theresa and Cheryl, but that was long ago as well and I don’t remember if he was pure import, Swedish and English or if just one of the parents was pure import. In the early years, I kept just about everything in the 5 COD color’s as I needed numbers and wasn’t sure where anything was going to go. I kept mostly single manes because at that time, the standard was written for the mane to be full and prominent and the flanks to be free of wool. The only ones that met that standard were the single maned animals. It wasn’t until after I failed everything in Rhode Island that we were able to make changes to the standard and get things to where they are today. While everyone else was working on the “double maned” animals, I still had to keep the single manes due to presentation needs. I still get single maned animals today, I keep a few around just to make sure that if all the double maned animals convert to little woolies, I have some single maned animals to thin out the doubles again. When I had all five varieties, I had about 120 cages devoted to Lionheads. I am down to about 30 for the Torts. I still have a few Blacks and Siamese Sables. I do get some REW’s and Sable Points, but haven’t “actively” tried to breed for those colors, they just pop up from time to time.
Can you tell us your feelings on what it is like to be the first presenter?
This is kind of a loaded question. Even when the torts passed, there were 4 other colors that failed. That presentation still feels like a failure to me. This whole process has been emotionally, physically and financially exhausting. It has made me new friends and cost me old dear good friends. I have a club that numbers on average a little over 250 depending on ME to try and pass 4 to 6 animals in front of a group of people who’s sole job it is, is to make sure poor quality or DQ’s do not pass. I know that although there are 20 or so people around the presentation area that there are 150 or so others glued to the email lists waiting to hear if I have passed the next hurdle or failed it. It has not been fun. Rabbits for the last few years have not been fun. I would never do this again. The entire process of having this kind of a load on the shoulders of one person is a terrible burden to load on to anyone. The ARBA needs to look at this process. A presentation of a new Breed should not be this hard and it should not be wholly on one person.
What do you think of the Lionhead breed now?
The breed has come a long way. We have come together behind one standard. We have cleaned up the colors. We focus on 7 primary colors and many breeders I am sure, still have a few personal favorite colors they keep in their barns. We could not have gotten so far so fast without hybridization. I do worry about the trend for the smaller animals, 2 ½ pound animals is not what the standard calls for, for me, some of the “presence” is lost when the animal is that small as a senior. I also wonder about how far “double” maned animals will go before someone finally declares them little angora’s. When they don’t molt that flank wool until 6-7 months, are they really Lionheads at that point? To me, we have kind of gone to the opposite extreme of the Single maned animals. Before, with the single maned, you often couldn’t show them as seniors because they had molted most of the mane out. Now, with the doubles, you can’t show them as juniors because they don’t have the clean saddle area or the break between the mane/bib and the flank wool. Yes, they are “cuter” but is it any different from the early molted single maned when the “show life” of the animal was shortened due to genetics.