American Drift 2010: Spreading Genetic Diversity & Driving like Crazy
If you saw a minivan along the highway in the weeks surrounding the Memorial Day holiday bumper scraping asphalt and bursting at the seams with blue and white rabbits, you were probably a witness to the second annual American Drift.
The American breed of rabbit is a special creature. Not just because I raise them, but because of their unique history. Developed by Lewis H. Salisbury of Pasadena, CA, the American blue was officially recognized in 1918, followed by the white in 1925. The long loin of its mandolin body lent to its value as a prominent US meat rabbit prior to World War II. The American’s beautiful blue coat fetched as much as $2.00 per pelt in the 1920s. However, the introduction of commercial type rabbits, like the New Zealand and Californian, led to the decline and almost complete disappearance of the American breed. Today, with fewer than 500 breeding Americans known to exist, the American is among the rarest of rabbit breeds in the United States.
In March 2009, while perusing the ABWRC (now AmericanRabbits) Yahoo! group, I recognized a collective frustration among existing and prospective American breeders at the geographical barriers to growing and establishing their herds. Unemployed at the time, I contrived the idea to circumnavigate the country, picking up and dropping off rabbits along the way to introduce new lines in areas they were previously unavailable. Needless to say the idea was met with wild enthusiasm and so was born the “American Drift.” Less than a month later, with a four-page spreadsheet in hand, the community of American rabbit breeders collectively moved 58 American rabbits more than 7,000 total miles in a little less than a week. We involved 27 breeders, and pulled it all off with only two speeding tickets.
This year, we leveraged the internet to help us achieve our goal to double the number of Americans drifting across the country. Drift rabbits were assigned using a request/lottery system wherein the participating breeders submitted online requests indicating the number of rabbits they wanted of each sex and variety, and the rabbits available for the Drift were uploaded to the system with complete pedigrees. Just less than a week before the Drift kicked off, the system analyzed the percent relatedness of the offered rabbits to the requesting breeders’ herds and assigned rabbits based on obtaining the greatest genetic diversity for each breeder. Prices were fixed at $35 per buck, $45 per doe, plus $25 per rabbit to cover transportation costs. Prospective recipients accepted their assignments online and most paid for their rabbits using PayPal.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of our drivers—Amy Toll Bork of Wisconsin logged roughly 5,800 miles driving the Western US loop and Kathy Bickle of Indiana put in another 4,600 miles driving the Eastern US loop—49 breeders managed to relocate 129 rabbits to 24 states in less than two weeks (and no speeding tickets), easily surpassing the goal to double last year’s numbers. With as many as 89 rabbits in the van at a given time, our drivers truly deserve the accolades for pulling of this incredible feat. While there were times that things seemed a bit precarious—think 50MPH winds through South Dakota or arriving at a delivery and realizing that a rabbit missed the bus, so to speak—Amy and Kathy really showed why the American rabbit breed will soon find its way off of the American Livestock Breed Conservancy critical list. They are prime examples of the dedicated group of breeders supporting these incredible rabbits.
We learned a few key lessons this year that will help us better plan future Drifts. Things like, limiting the number of rabbits that may be offered per breeder to ensure greater diversity of available rabbits, limiting the size of rabbits to a given weight to ensure younger, more resilient rabbits and to maximize cage space, and instituting strict quality guidelines for offered rabbits, to name a few. Given that these last two Drifts have opened the door to new breeders and helped existing breeders expand their herds, our hope is that future Drifts will be able to focus on improving quality over building sheer numbers of American rabbits.