The Beveren Club Centenary Year 1918-2018 Show.
By Harry Nicholson
Twenty-six years had passed since I last judged Beverens; hence it was a moving experience to put on a white coat at Thirsk on 22nd September to adjudicate on special classes for Type and Coat.
The Sixty Beverens, in all five colours, seemed relaxed in their pens as they recovered from long journeys, some from as far away as Caithness. They would be on and off tables repeatedly across two days, under the hands of four judges.
I’m no longer BRC registered, but was invited to judge special classes for type and coat. As I relax, and ‘come down’ from an enlivening and treasured experience among lovely Beveren people, I’m gathering my thoughts: how to answer the most frequent question of the day: ‘How does what’s on the table compare to the Beverens you used to know?’
I took up rabbits as an adult in 1975. I had showed in the 1940s when I was in short trousers. My father kept a stud of Blue Beverens in a shed at the bottom of our garden in Hartlepool; his own father had the breed around the end of the Great War. Dad usually kept a Flemish Giant or two, and would cross them with his Beverens to grow huge rabbits for the table – the first half of the 1940s were hungry times as our food ships were torpedoed by U-boats. Folk would bring their does to be put to Dad’s bucks. He would charge two-shillings and sixpence for a mating, or ‘first pick of the litter’. I’m digressing, but it gives me chance to include a poem I wrote recently about the contribution of the humble rabbit tribe to matters of great human consequence:
Our Part in Hitler’s Downfall
We did our bit as well, you know
– me and my kin, to save your skin.
When U-boats sank your hulls,
when fishes supped on sailors’ skulls –
we kept you fed, we did.
You basted us with lard – set roasted spud
along our side, onion gravy, suet pud.
We kept you upright through the war,
in our hutches row on row,
We Beverens and Flemish by the score.
In 1975 I’d moved to a little farm in Nidderdale. It had a huge Dutch barn and, in need of a hobby, I went to Skipton show. I saw Blue Beverens by John Pickard of Middlesbrough. I approached him nervously and asked would he sell me a buck, and was it any good?
‘Any good? Any good?’ John said, in his big voice. ‘He’s the best! He’s bred from Goyns and Ganden bloodlines.’
And he certainly was good. I called him Bilbo, after the hero in Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’. From Bilbo all my finest came. I was heartened to see his lovely head prominent in the 2018 Centenary Show blue classes, and also in the Brown. They gazed back at me, and I said, ‘Hello.’
Bearing in mind that I was asked not to grade colour, I’ll record some observations on what was tabled:
Blue Beveren coat. Adults. Eleven on the bench.
I found no sign of wooliness around the skirt of the rump, a problem that was sometimes a nuisance in my day. The majority of the coats were adequately full and dense so as to give that almost total recovery after being stroked forward. Coat length was within standard. It was not always so – in former days I sometimes startled the stewards by producing a ruler to measure coat length when it was obviously far in excess. There were no over-long coats in the Blues at Thirsk.
Does shown by Derek Medlock earned the first three places. Overall it was a superb class and as good as anything I can recall.
U/5 Blue coat. Two on the bench. A high quality doe was placed first and later went 2nd in the Coat Grand Challenge. The other was a good all-rounder. 1st Medlock. 2nd Bryant.
U/4 Blue coat. Eight tabled. A lovely display of youngsters and none with faults. Within the limitations set by immaturity, such as coat change and the remains of baby fluff in some, I endeavoured to judge on density and texture. All were decent and I’d breed from any of them at six months if they hold their promise.
1st Bryant. 2nd Linda Wood. 3rd Stalker. 4th Medlock
Blue Beveren Type: Adult – Eleven tabled. The heads were all bold with the right degree of down-curved profile and devoid of the broad, squarish face featured in breeds such as New Zealand White and modern Vienna. I felt for a rib cage that opened up slowly, and at an angle that did not detract from the ideal mandolin body shape that makes the breed unique and brings that beautiful profile. For my own breeding programme I selected against animals with a rib cage that ‘flared’ dramatically. It can be detected by feeling for that lumpiness where the ribs end and before the haunches begin. The flared rib can spoil the sweep of the profile seen from above. There were specimens of that sort at Thirsk. I searched for a mandolin shape from above and from the side. Placed 1,2,3, Medlock does. I was taken by the winner’s elegance.
Blue Type U/5: Two in class. Both fine Bevs. 1st (went on to win U/5 Type Grand Challenge) – Medlock. 2nd Bryant.
Blue Type U/4: Eight in class. Despite its youth, the class was rich in promise. Not much wrong here. 1st Medlock (went 2nd in Type Grand Challenge). 2nd Stalker. 3rd Bryant. 4th Linda Wood.
White Beveren Coat: Adults. Ten tabled. All fit and healthy – in fact I did not see a moist nostril in the entire show, which was a delight. No sneezing, no matted fur inside of paws, no frights at all. But back to the class: Coat was generally fair, but tended to be softer than the Adult blue coats seen earlier. A Beveren coat is correct if there is a hint of resistance to the hand. I searched for best feel and movement – for a coat with density, along with the ability to flow back at a leisurely pace after the hand travels through. I passed over animals that had a coat that failed to return when moved towards the head; rather, those coats stood erect in the manner of a new Zealand White, though with nothing of that breed’s harsh texture. I found a strange wooliness at the base of some white coats that was most un-Beveren and wondered how it had got there. The best arrangement: 1st. Powell. 2nd K Baker. 3rd D Smith. 4th J Wallace.
White Coat U/5. Five tabled: Comments as above.
1st Powell. 2nd Powell. 3rd Wilbev. 4th J Wallace.
White Coat U/4. Eight on the bench: All adequately dense. Selected for coat movement as above, and that luscious Beveren ‘feel’.
1st J Wallace. 2nd Wilbev. 3rd D Smith. 4th J Wallace.
White Type. Adult: Ten tabled. Few in this group had correct Beveren ears (5 to 5.5 inches) I did not need to measure, as they were obviously too short. Those ears were held too close together (not held in a ‘V’ shape) and tended to be closed rather than open in the typical Beveren elongated spoon shape. The heads of some were too broad and squat and lacked the Beveren profile. As with coat, I wondered what had happened here.
Having said that, across the White classes, I was pleased to find some that were elegant Beverens. I urge breeders to look into what I’ve said here. 1st D Smith. 2nd K Baker. 3rd Jane Wallace. 4th Powell.
White Type U/5: Five tabled. My comments are as above.
1st Powell. 2nd Powell. 3rd Wilbev.
White Type U/4: Seven tabled: Despite what I’ve written above, I was delighted to find this batch to be of decent type. High rumps aplenty. In fact I suspected that many of them were litter mates. Perhaps two litters? Considering their youth they were of lovely proportions. No ugly flare of ribs. Slender at the front, but without weakness. The haunches rose high, so that the top of the mandolin was two to two-and-a-half times the height of the shoulders. And the width of haunches twice that of the chest. When grown, some of these could do well.
1st Wilbev. 2nd Jane Wallace. 3rd Wallace. 4th Wallace.
Any Other Colour. Adult Coat. Two tabled. Two superb Browns. Erect old coat today and ready to moult, but even so I was pleased to see them.
1st K Baker. 2nd K Baker.
AOC coat U/5. Four tabled. Two Blacks. Two Lilacs. 1st K Baker, Lilac; a dense coat with good movement. 2nd Medlock, a Lilac; reasonable coat but into moult. Hard to tell how it will be afterwards. 3rd and 4th Powell; two similar Blacks; coats very dense and upright, lacking the motion of a Beveren coat.
AOC coat U/4: Five tabled. Three Blacks. Two Browns. 1st Medlock, a Brown, most bold and large for its age. Has a true Beveren coat of great physical beauty in texture, density and flow. Went 1st in Coat Grand Challenge. 2nd D Smith, a Brown. Good, but not in the same class as the first. Give it more time. 3rd Smith, a Black. Coat decent, though feels a touch thin today – but it is young yet.
AOC Type. Adult: We had the above two adult Browns from the coat class. I reversed their coat positions to place type – which is well to standard. 1st K Baker. 2nd K Baker.
AOC U/5 type:
Two Blacks and two Lilacs tabled. The Lilacs were of good and strong type. The Blacks had to go third and fourth, because alongside the Browns they did not seem to be the same breed. Without breed type, there is no breed. These two Blacks were almost identical youngsters that lacked the head of the Beveren, the ears of the Beveren, the mandolin shape of a Beveren. I can only speculate as to what sired and conceived them. Whilst their intense colour (my brief today is only coat and type) might bewitch the eye, they are not Beverens.
1st K Baker, Lilac. 2nd Medlock, Lilac. 3rd and 4th Powell, Blacks.
AOC U/4 type:
Five tabled. Three Blacks, two Browns. A range of decent to excellent type. Arranged thus: 1st Medlock, Brown. 2nd D Smith, Brown. 3rd Smith, Black.
All-colour Challenges. Beveren Coat. Adult:
1st Medlock, Blue. 2nd Powell, White. 3rd and 4th Medlock, Blue.
Beveren Coat, U/5: 1st Medlock, Blue. 2nd Bryant, Blue. 3rd and 4th Powell, White.
Beveren Coat U/4: 1st Medlock, Brown. 2nd Medlock, Blue. 3rd Wallace, White.
Beveren Type. Adult: 1st D Smith, White buck. 2nd Medlock, Blue doe. 3rd K Baker, White. 4th Wilbev, White.
Beveren Type. U/5: 1st Medlock, Blue. 2nd Bryant, Blue. 3rd and 4th Powell, White.
Beveren Type. U/4: 1st Medlock, Blue. 2nd Medlock, Brown. Wilbev, White. J Wallace, White.
Coat Grand Challenge: 1st Medlock, Brown u/4. 2nd Medlock, Blue u/5. 3rd Medlock, Blue doe adult.
Type Grand Challenge: 1st Medlock, Blue u/5. 2nd Medlock, Blue u/5. 3rd D Smith, White buck adult.
Has the Beveren altered from how I remember it?
The Blues I handled at Thirsk were of a high standard, and better than the average of what was tabled thirty years ago. They were in good shape, I’d say.
Whites, I found to be mixed. Some lovely classical Beverens, of a sort that were as good as I recall, loped along the table and were a delight. But, alas, others had heads and ears, and blocky bodies, that I failed to recognise as family. Whatever has been put into the White has done it no service. I hope you all make sure that your bloodlines are kept free of the taint. This is not a new issue, the insertion of alien breeds is an old story. It’s been done before. Guess where the woolly gene came from?
Blacks: Those I saw seemed similar to my old strain. In those days we struggled to get rid of the chisel-faced results of a Black breeder thinking it a fine idea to introduce the Alaska for colour. The results were certainly very black little oddities, but looked forlorn when sat next to a Blue. The Black recovered its Beveren attributes only after that breeder gave up and left the field clear for others to spend several years rebuilding type. Today, I found two black rabbits on the table that were not Beverens. But they had dramatic intensity of pigment I’ve not seen before. However, they failed as Beverens and I hope they are not used in the breeding pen.
The few Browns are as good as those that I recall from the best days of ‘The Brown Improvement Group’ and our joint efforts to rescue the Brown from extinction. Extinction was almost brought on by one of the last breeders of note – but he also kept Havana Rex. Our Brown recovery programme managed to sport some Brown Astrex before we got rid of the taint. The astrex were given to fanciers interested in such rarities.
Lilacs. Brave efforts, but still variable. Sometimes one appears that is of the right shade of dove lilac. When we made them, they arrived as a consequence of improvement of the Brown. Instead of using a typical Blue onto Brown – I now conclude we’d have done better by employing a very deep slate from a top class Black.
To conclude the show, I judged an impromptu pairs class. Several pairs came and went. I settled on two well-typed Blues that shared the same features of coat. That lovely, slow flow; that feel of dense silk that leaves a cool sensation, with a slight but definite resistance. The Pairs class was done at a brisk pace, and I came home with no record of whose Beverens they were.
It was a great day. Thank you for granting me the honour of handling the gorgeous breed once again.
24 September 2018