Disclaimer: This article is not a guideline on how to make money off of breeding. To breed responsibly, all the money you make on your kitten sales will go back into your cattery. (Food, supplements, vet bills, medicines, health screening, updating breeding stock, enclosures, toys, cat trees, enrichment, cleaning supplies, showing, taking days off work, etc) This article is not an outline of breeding practices, the daily life of cattery management, housing breeding cats, what type of health screening you need to do, etc. This article is not meant to encourage people to breed. This article is not about all the hard and/or heartbreaking decisions you need to make while breeding. This is not an article about the pros and cons of breeding. There is so much involved in breeding that is NOT discussed in this article, however, it does NOT mean those topics are unimportant.
Building a Breeding Program
The intention of this article is to help newer breeders, or those folks that have yet to purchase breeding cats, to have a good, solid idea of what they want to produce and a basic outline of how to set up a well planned breeding program.
This is not an article about the pros and cons of breeding. It is intended for those who have already made the decision and commitment to breed and are now ready to research the process further. However, I do have one brief warning. If you are unable or unwilling to house a potentially urine spraying, calling, stinky, hormonal stud, do not breed. Cat breeding is NOT like dog breeding where you can hire stud services. Very few reputable breeders will offer stud service unless they trust and know you really well, and that means you would have to be an already established breeder with a good reputation. With that out of the way, let’s move on to planning out your program.
Your best resources
While going to shows is an excellent way to learn about showing, and also about the breed in general, a show just does not have the sheer volume of breed examples that the internet does. While you are researching the breed, you should spend as much time as you can studying photos. Join the savannah pet lists, and save all the photos you can. Sort them into cats you like and don’t like. You can also sort them into folders as examples of certain traits, such as ears, head, nose, body, legs, markings, colour, etc. So you might have several copies of the same photo or cat in various different folders. That’s ok.
Try to write things down as you go along. If you see a cat you like, or a cat with a single feature you like, try to make a note of where the cat came from, and visit the breeder’s website. Some breeders do not keep their site up-to-date, but most do. As you visit more sites, you’ll start to notice particular breeders whose cats you really like, and whose sites you keep going back to. That will give you an idea of your own personal taste.
You should join TICA, and by extension, join the savannah breed section yahoo list. This is a list that is only open to TICA members that have checked off “Savannah” as their chosen breed. This is one of the best places online to ask questions about the breed, certain features, the standard, etc, etc. The list is mainly made up of Savannah breeders and you will get many differing points of view on any number of questions. This can also help you decide what things are most important to you personally.
If you can get out to a show, that’s great. You may be able to meet the cats and breeders you like, and start to build a personal relationship. Shows are also an excellent venue to take your cats to and get feedback from judges and other exhibitors and breeders.
While I stress that the internet is your best resource to see many different cats at once, a show let’s you see the cats in person. I have a saying that “Photos lie.” Almost everyone wants to show their cat in the best light possible. Therefore we tend to choose photos that may make the cat look more glamorous than it actually is, or perhaps photos that hide the cat’s weak points. It’s not that a breeder is trying to be dishonest in their photos, but rather that we wish to have our cats look their best. And sometimes, there are cats that just look very different in their photos than they do in person. Other times there is something you wish to see in a cat, a certain angle, that isn't presented in a photo.
Make a list, check it twice
Before you slap down thousands of dollars on a couple cats, it's best to know exactly what it is you like and don’t like about the breed. You should start making a list of the features you like most. Once you have that done, take some time to really think about the specifics of each feature. For example, let’s say you’ve put “big ears” at the top of your list of “likes”. Think about what shape of ears you are willing to work with. Of course our standard calls for wide rounded ears, but no savannah is perfect. You need to think about how much of a deviation from the standard you are willing to tolerate in your cats. My personal pet peeve is a cat with tall, pointy ears. Even if they are very upright, I can’t stand them, and will likely not want a savannah displaying tall, pointy ears in my program. I would rather have smaller, rounded ears, and work on ear size through successive breeding. However, to another breeder, they may have no problems working with tall, pointy ears. It falls back on personal choice.
You will need to form a basic idea of what you want to focus on the most in your program. This would be your “high priority” list. Of course we would all love to have a savannah that “has it all”, but even very well established breeds usually don’t have perfect cats. The savannah is still a very young breed, so we as breeders need to accept cats that have a few outstanding features that we really want, and average everything else. Or at least, faults that we are willing to tolerate in our own individual programs. This varies from breeder to breeder, and is a very personal choice.
When making your high priority list, there are two things that should be on it, regardless of your taste in appearance: Health and Temperament. This is not something any breeder should compromise on. You could have the best looking savannah in the world, but it means very little if they have poor temperament or health. No one wants a cat that is nasty, can’t be handled or runs away all the time. And certainly no one would want a cat that dies at a young age, or is sickly.
Once you have decided exactly what features you want your breeding program to be most focused on, it’s time to make another list. This is the “low priority” list. When you are making this list (and also the high priority list), you should take a look at the points spread in the standard. In the savannah, we allot the most points for breed type, or body structure. We allot the fewest points for coat, colour and pattern. It is easy to get caught up in the latter, but most breeders and judges feel that is the easiest thing to correct down the road. Having said that, if colour and pattern is important to you, that’s perfectly fine. Remember, this is your breeding program, so it’s up to you to decide what’s best for you.
After you have made your basic “low priority” list, take some time to think about how much of a deviation from the standard you are willing to tolerate. You may have ear shape on your low priority list. You may feel that you’re not that concerned with what shape they are, as long as they are big, or maybe as long as they are upright. It’s a good idea to write those things down, but if you’re not much into writing, at least spend time thinking about it, and looking at pictures.
Once you’ve made your low and high priority lists, it’s a good idea to make a master list, even if it’s in your head. (I’m the writing type, so I like to have it written down so I can review it some other time.) Go over the standard, and make sure you’ve addressed each and every feature, and that you have at least some idea of where on your priority list they stand.
Now that you have goals, and a clear idea of what’s most important to you in your cats, it’s time to pick one!
Your first breeding cat
When most people think about breeding, usually the first cat they buy is a female. In my opinion, this is a BIG mistake. If you have purchased a female first, and still have no stud, or your male is too young to breed your girl when she starts to have heat cycles, you are putting your queen’s health at risk. Most specifically you are putting her at risk of pyometra, or uterine infection.
Without going into great detail, every time your queen’s cervix opens, there is a chance for a pyometra. Your queen’s cervix opens every time she goes into heat. Cats are stimulated ovulators, which means, they will not ovulate unless their cervix is stimulated (artificially or through breeding). Your queen will not normally come out of heat for extended periods unless they ovulate.
So, it is best to get your stud first. If your stud does not breed for years (or ever), he is not going to have the related health risks that queens do.
Your stud(s) is the cornerstone of your breeding program. A stud will have more impact on the breed and your program than a single female ever will, by the simple fact that a stud can produce many more kittens per year than a queen. For this reason, you should buy the very best quality stud you can possibly afford. If you cannot afford a high quality stud, wait. Save your pennies until you are ready. A good stud can make up for an average female, but if you have an average stud, that means that all your females will have to be top quality and make up for his shortcomings. (No pun intended).
Expect to pay around $3-$4k USD for your boy. (Although you may still find a very high quality stud for $2-$3k USD). A high quality stud is the foundation of your breeding program, and he has to last you 4-5 years. Look for F6-F8 C-SBT. Don't gamble with fertility in F5s and certainly not F4s. A-B studs are falling by the wayside right now (2010), so by next year they'll be pretty much extinct as far as a useful quality stud is concerned. Be sure you know and like what is behind your stud, as you will most likely be line breeding if you want to work with your own cats’ offspring. (Down the road you will want to get a second, unrelated stud.) Since this is your first stud, it would be best if your boy has littermates that have already proven fertile. You want to maximize your chances that you get a fertile boy right off the get-go.
Look for breeders whose cats have those features you like, and are consistently producing that in their kittens. Talk to them. Ask about upcoming breeding plans that would produce fertile males. Ask about past fertile males. Talk to the breeders of the cats in the first two generations back in the pedigrees of cats who you would like to get a kitten from. What are the strengths and weaknesses of those cats? What feature(s) did they most strongly pass on to their offspring?
It’s a lot of work, but it will pay off in the end. By the time you’ve decided on a stud kitten, you will probably know every breeder whose cats you like, and will have laid down some serious relationship foundations. You’ll also know their cats really well, and when you see pedigrees, it will be more than just a bunch of unknown cats’ names. The cat’s names will mean something, and you’ll be able to get a decent feel for a cat, just by seeing the pedigree. You’ll probably also have a pretty good idea of where you want to get your queens from too!
Your first queen
It’s highly likely that you will be buying a queen (or two or three) around the same time you buy your first stud. It is important that your queen not be too closely related to your stud, or you’ll need to bring in new cats sooner, rather than later.
Before you get your queen, consider what generation you want to work with. Consider the market and who you want to cater to: Show, breeder or pet market? Perhaps all three? A good starting point female, particularly if you plan to line breed or keep kittens you’ve produced, would be a high quality F3C. This would enable you to produce SBT right off the bat, but still be in the mid generation range. Good quality F4SBT pets would fetch a decent price as a pet. You may have breeders interested in buying breeding queens from you also. Think in terms of financing your future purchases of queens and a second stud. Get the highest quality female you can afford.
You may also wish to consider buying a high quality F5C or F5SBT female. This would enable you to produce high quality males for breeding programs. Deciding on your foundation female depends on whether you want to keep girls for yourself to breed from, or if you plan to sell the offspring. Keep in mind, to be able to keep girls, you must have a second, unrelated stud (or one that is not too closely related to your current cats).
It’s always best to purchase the highest quality breeding cats your finances will allow. However, if you have outstanding studs, you afford to have mid-quality queens. Perhaps you find a queen that has one outstanding feature that is very important to you, but average everything else, or even some glaring faults. If your stud in strong in places your girl is weak, things should (theoretically) even themselves out. You may choose to purchase queens that have specifically strong features that your stud(s) may lack.
Or you may choose to purchase queens that have the same outstanding features that your studs do. This is the best way to be well known for producing cats consistent in a few features. Perhaps you’ve chosen to focus on big wide rounded ears and long legs. If you consistently produce those features, and someone is looking for a cat that has those outstanding features, they will likely think of you.
Now that you have your foundation stud and queen(s), it is time to look for another stud. This is extremely important if you plan to keep females to work on your own line. You must have a minimum of two studs. Choose your second stud the same way you chose your first, but now you must ensure that this second male is as unrelated to your current cats as much as possible. Don't be afraid to contact breeders outside your country. Bringing in lines seldom used in your country or region is usually a good thing for the breed, if it is a good quality cat.
With the addition of a second stud you are set up to keep females and do some line breeding, or just breed the next generation of your cats. You may wish to purchase a few more females. Always buy the highest quality you can. If there isn’t a kitten available that catches your eye, wait. It is always better to produce quality over quantity.
Consider the maximum number of cats you want to have in your program. Do you want to stay small (3-4 queens, 2 studs) or larger? Consider the space you have and cost of enclosures. Do you want to make a separate cattery building? If you live in the city, it is not practical to have a large breeding program. You must consider your neighbours, and just how many stinky studs they will tolerate.
Take your time
Building a quality program may take years. If you cannot afford to buy several cats at once, that’s perfectly fine. Save your money for a couple years, research breeders’ lines and purchase your first pair. Use the money from kitten sales to finance your program. Purchase materials for enclosures first, then purchase cats. Make sure to have money put aside for emergencies.
I personally think that starting out with two cats, and slowly adding to your program is much better than buying several cats at once. When you start out small, you give yourself room to grow and evolve. You learn about the cats you have and what they produce. You may make changes to what you want and what your priorities are.
As your program progresses, you should see consistency in your kittens. You then should turn an eye towards the things your cats lack, or are weak in. Perhaps you need to improve on leg length, or tail thickness. Perhaps you want to improve colour or contrast, or branch out into a new colour. Even if something is of low priority to you, it’s best to still keep it in the back of your mind.
Remember, there is no perfect Savannah. At least not yet. Breeders are artists working with living clay. Our standard can only guide us so much. It is up to the artist to decide the specifics of what we want our art to look like. If you work slowly and thoughtfully, rather than just slapping some clay on a spinning wheel, you can truly create a masterpiece!
Copyright Anatole Cannon 2010
Not to be published, in part or whole, without permission.