Foundation Breeding Myths Debunked
Here are a few Maine Coon foundation breeding facts that might be of interest to you:
- Do you prefer foundation cats coming only from farms? You might not be aware of this fact: Farmers in North America regularly have their cats killed by either commercial vehicles, farm/wild dogs or coyotes, cougars, raccoons, fishers (large birds), etc., every so often. These same farmers then either get kittens from neighbours or search local newspapers, in order to start re-building their much needed “farm colony” that will serve them to keep rodents under control. There are very few old farm lines out there. Registered Maine Coon mix? Likely no - possibly yes.
- Foundation cats can’t be typey? Can they ever be! Fact is there are even DOMESTIC short haired and DOMESTIC long haired cats with large ears, lynx tippings, fat, long muzzles, long and heavy bodies, long tails and even chins! :-) Usually, they don’t display ALL those traits but many have some of them. Registered Maine Coon mix? Likely no - possibly yes.
- There must be something ‘fishy” with good looking, early generation foundation cats? Fact is when a foundation cat is bred to another foundation cat, it is VERY possible to achieve good results. The person must chose the initial population as fine quality, and, aside from trial and error, must have “breeder’s eye“, in order to even out weaknesses. Related or not related won’t matter at all. Why? Because genes DON’T care one bit about relation. They just act "technical" and tell the cells what to do. Of course we don't know how many years it will take for each individual line to achieve the desired quality, the point is that it IS possible, no matter what critics say. Someone once said to Phyllis Stiebens of Behold/Kumskaka: “Too good of foundation cats should not be used, as they might actually be pedigreed MC’s, let loose.” Her response was: “First of all, there are zero breeders who toss their breeding cats outside when finished. Second of all, why would we look for a non-looking Maine coon cat? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of trying to find one to breed with? Think about that, if we get a roman nose cat, or a short stocky cat, or a cat with fine, frail boning and thin sparse coat, WHY would we want to add those to our cats? The goal is to find MC LOOKING cats to breed with, anywhere in USA or neighboring Canada - Nothing else.” Well said!
- A rescue cat from a rural veterinary clinic or a rural shelter is likely a registered Maine Coon mix? This depends on where one lives. What a lot of Europeans aren’t aware of is that North America and especially Central and Northern Canada has many sparsely populated areas and sometimes hour- long stretches of bush or grassland, with the odd farm in sight. There are often absolutely no breeders around, for a radius of anywhere between 200 and 1000 km. In fact, people would chuckle about you in some of the little towns if you told them you breed pedigreed cats. I remember literally being the “laugh of the town” with my “foundation projects” in the 90s. Does this give people a free ride to just register "any old" rescue cat and call it a Maine Coon and be done? Of course not! A shelter is definitely NOT a place where most of us would aquire our foundation cats - for several reasons. But this needs to mentioned here, for the sake of the article. The criteria for ethical foundation breeding have not changed. This is why we have different articles written, on how to start a foundation line properly and carefully. Registered Maine Coon mix? Likely no (depending on location) - possibly yes.
- “Find me in the River”? Fact is that lots of us think Maine origin cats are cool! For the sake of the article though, I’d like to mention that I was told on the phone by a couple of breeders from the State of Maine that is not uncommon at all to use the local newspaper to get new foundation cats. This is solely a matter of preference, and I don’t judge anyone in Maine or the rest of North America for doing this. This article isn’t about ‘beating the dead horse‘ origin debate. It has, however, become literally next to impossible to find wild roaming cats anywhere in North America - mostly because of animal rightlers who snatch them up, spay them and place/sell them. Registered Maine Coon mix? Likely not, possibly yes. Things that once mattered to me a long time ago now simply make me feel “nostalgic”. What REALLY DOES matter though with this *North American breed* is that the foundation cat is healthy, sweet tempered, decent looking and not related to my pedigree!!
- An F2 foundation x show line offspring has to look like a mongrel or Persian mix? Veggie tales! Have we got a show for you.....Fact is if you breed a good quality foundation cat to a well bred show cat, meaning that show cat has homozygous quality consistency in the background (where two identical alleles are carried for desired traits), you can literally get early generation cats that can be shown in championship class! I have championed some of my F2 cats, just did not receive the actual title. Obviously people won't produce GC or RW until higher generations. Having said this, litter consistency is the key! This is something I learnt along the way from Julie Spayde of Koontucky MC. Of course this is something that can’t always be applied in early foundation generations. It is one of several reasons though why I always prefer, but haven’t consistently used, a group of farm cats. You can see and study the whole litter, relatives and sometimes even their history.
- Did you know when cats in your breeding program are beginning to get smarter, when you start experiencing a higher fertility rate, larger litters with a lower death/deformity rate and lower irritability in your kittens it is a GREAT sign that you have likely just introduced an unrelated, new foundation line into your program ? The blessing of course mostly (not always) lies in the “act of outcrossing”. The Maine Coon cat was registered as a Natural (this means naturally occurring), North American breed!
- Can we ever be 100 % sure about the actual breed or background of a Maine Coon foundation cat? Of course not! None of the foundation breeders I have worked with would ever make a pretense about this or claim to be perfectly sure about this. Now we have a gene test available on Optimal Selection. The test neither shows how much % of which breed the cat is, nor does it tell you who the ancestors are, or from which breed at all. It compares the genes of the tested cat to the other tested cats, being placed as “dots“ on a “map“. This allows you to see "clusters" of cats who are genetically related. You can find out how related the foundation line is to your registered Maine Coon. You can also see the genetic diversity of the individual cat. Participacting cats are marked with a different color for each country. It’s an interesting tool - a tool that has already proven some foundation lines to be authentic. F1 or F2 cats that might have been previously classified as "fishy" were finally able to receive their due credit. (Most of them do like fish though).
- Did you know that most of the newer foundation cats in our pedigrees and their breeders have done a GREAT service to our breed, in regards to longevity, overall health and especially also temperament and intelligence? Please DO have your own taste, please DO purchase or find them wherever you like (in the river if you please). There are charlatans in every breed section. Please do, however, have some manners and stop downgrading, or, in some cases, even slandering other ethical breeders who have different opinions from yours! You are doing the breed, your fellow breeders, and even yourself a great disservice. Remember that gossipers are usually unhappy people. Ulrika Olsson of Ylletrollets said it well: "If we explode among ourselves, this will enable the highly inbred, overtypified Maine Coons even more to take over."
- Last not least, did you know that a large amount of the breeders who are educating others on public lists on how and where foundation breeding should be done are actually the same people who have never really gone through the actual “act” of true foundation breeding - the real stuff? I think that most of them are doing a fantastic job, regardless!
ONE reason for this article is to explain the misconceptions about expected “purity", depending on the source. The SECOND reason for the article is to expose and discredit the slander of some good and solid foundation lines that did not deserve this at all!! The purpose of this paper is NOT to promote random, unplanned or falsified registration of cats. Again, Optimal Selection is our tool for the future and should definitely be mandatory for registration. Even though I feel we have tried our best, foundation work has always been a guessing game in the past.... until now where we finally DO have a gene test. So now we know! Instead of worrying over where the foundation breeder found a certain cat in North America, we should rather be concerned about whether or not the cat is actually good quality, healthy, sound in temperament and completely unrelated to our current pedigrees. Isn't that really what counts? Keep up the good work and God bless you!
By: Judith Schulz
Copyright, July 20, 2020
Masterweaver Maine Coon Cats, Canada (previously Prairiebaby/Masterweaver)
Pictured above: Prairiebaby (Masterweaver) River Revival, F2, 100 % Canadian Foundation