Monday, 3 October 2011

Keeping a Norwegian Forest Stud Cat

In an island such as ours, stud cats are particularly important to their breed.  Although it is much easier now than when I started, bringing in new breeding cats still isn't easy or cheap.  A few good quality NFC studs – by which I mean of excellent type, health and temperament – can have a far-reaching effect over many years as their beneficial genes gradually spread throughout the Forest Cat population which is still relatively small here (though rapidly growing). Likewise, a stud cat with poor type, temperament or health can have a disproportionately adverse effect on the breed as a whole within the UK. Hence it is very important indeed that stud owners are careful to use only the highest-quality males for breeding. Obviously the same applies to females, but to a much lesser extent. If a healthy queen is bred every year for six years and averages five in a litter, then she will introduce thirty kittens to the world during her active life. A stud cat on the other hand may father that many kittens, or more, every single year!

Kyrrekatt Kistrand as a baby - he was the first NFC stud cat we had, and an absolute darling.
He also managed to kill the 'indestructible' aspidistra plant that he's sitting on in the picture.

My personal view is always that the health and happiness of the individual cats is even more important than the welfare of the breed, and very much more vital than the satisfaction of the relevant humans (though these things are often linked). So if there is a really super stud cat who isn’t happy and thriving in his lifestyle, he should be neutered in order to lead life as a happy pet rather than kept entire for the convenience of his owners. What one person considers a satisfactory life for a cat may be considered cruelty by others, of course. In fact I sometimes think that there are as many ways of keeping cats as there are breeders. In some countries studs are kept in isolation in small indoor cages, which would be considered unacceptable by most animal-lovers and certainly by the cats themselves. At the other extreme, some kind owners have sacrificed their own comfort in order to give their cats the best possible life; I have been to homes where the males are allowed to live as part of the family, indoors, but with access to a safe outside enclosure when they want. These homes usually smell overwhelmingly of stud cat to the point where a visitor would reel back at the fumes; for very few studs do not spray and even if they never deviate from the litter tray, the reek of their urine is incredibly strong. If someone could invent a pleasant perfume with as much staying-power as tomcat spray, their fortune would be made! Some novice stud owners have been heard to say “my boy doesn’t spray” but very often this is when the stud is very young – spraying sometimes begins as late as 18months of age. Of course, there do exist a few entire males who are compatible with a home life but then the owner has to be extremely careful that there are no mis-matings; keeping a female and male cat together will almost certainly result in unintentional kittens, for the male will know that the female is on heat before any human could guess, and if there is a stud right there, the queen doesn’t even need to waste energy in calling aloud if she doesn’t want to. 
This is International Champion David Austin av Boxerhaven, a wonderful Norwegian boy who was imported to Denmark.  Carli of Gyldenloeve cattery allowed us to borrow him for a few months during which time he fathered some kittens in the UK, including our own Valentine.  This was a great opportunity for improving the blood lines in Britain.
In the UK I have seen many stud cats because I started breeding a quarter of a century ago (eek!) and for many of my litters, used outside studs. (I only got my own boys once I had the time, space and number of mates they deserved. It isn’t kind to buy a male if you have only one or two females – they will inevitably become frustrated if they do not have a large enough harem.) So I have seen good and bad conditions for numerous boys, and have tried to work out a life that I feel is kind to my own studs. Often people do not intend to be cruel, but are simply unaware of their cats’ needs. Apart from the basics of food and shelter, Forest Cats need space and company. I think if a cat is kept in a “run” it should literally be able to run; a few paces in either direction is simply not enough, and they should have trees or wooden shelves to climb and scratch as well as human and feline company on a frequent basis. Even from a selfish point of view, it makes sense to ensure the contentment of your stud; a frustrated male cat can become irritable (and dangerous); noisy; lose weight; and even refuse to “perform”. 

International Champion Tilia Nova's Ingjalf, another magnificent stud we were kindly lent by Carli of Gyldenloeve.  Ingjalf has his own post in the September 2011 section of this blog.  He was one of my favourite cats, ever.
I remember once having a conversation with an exhibitor at a cat show who was describing how impressed she was at the premises of the breeder of her show neuter (not an NFC as it happens). Apparently the breeder kept all her cats in spotless white plastic pens in the garden, and it was all so very hygienic. But during our conversation it became apparent that there was not a blade of grass or natural log in existence – just a couple of metres of white plastic for each cat, kept separate from the others for “health reasons”. What a lonely life those poor cats must have had.

Father, Quink, likes to help bring up his kittens and teach them how to be Forest Cats 
In the countryside, a free-range male cat will roam over a huge distance looking for mates, and studies have shown that a typical patrol area will measure 7 miles in diameter. By means of territorial marking the cat will attempt to keep out other entire males, and if he comes across a male intruder a fight will almost certainly ensue. Sometimes these sound worse than they are; a few chunks of fur will fly, the inferior combatant will retreat and no real harm will be done. At other times there will be genuine injuries, and even a small bite will usually lead to an abscess, which of course can become quite serious in the case of feral toms without access to antibiotics. If two mature entire males come face to face inside a restricted space, such as a breeder’s home or cat-garden, the fight is likely to be bloodier as there is little opportunity for the weaker male to escape. So when I say that stud cats should not live alone, it is not generally a good idea to keep two studs within sight, sound or smell, let alone reach, of each other. Many novice breeders will purchase two good-natured young males and think that they can share a living space, but it is almost inevitable that at some point there will be a nasty fight. I have met one Danish breeder who has several studs sharing the same area in her large home, but this is extremely unusual. It is in the nature of even the most laid-back Forest Cat stud to become aggressive towards other males, and usually one will be the bully whilst the other is dominated and miserable.  However I have had some success with having two studs enjoy each other’s company – and they are both from the lines of the Danish breeder I mentioned, Carli of Gyldenloeve.  Quink is now neutered but this photo was taken while he was still entire.  Valentine is still a stud cat here at Vieuxtemps.
Valentine and Quink chilling out in each other's company
I have heard of some Scandinavian breeders who allow their stud cats to roam free out of doors; I believe that the famous Pan’s Truls was one of these and one day he simply didn’t return home. However in Britain this is hardly practical nor indeed ethical, as your stud will be actively increasing the population of unwanted moggy kittens, and probably picking up nasty diseases into the bargain, not to speak of possible injuries. However this is one instance where your stud cat, if he had his way, would disagree with me in his choice of lifestyle!

Another thing I feel is important for the quality of life of a stud cat is to ensure that he isn’t active for too long. He deserves an early retirement especially if he has been confined away from the household and kept outdoors, so he can mellow into becoming a beloved pet or show neuter, with time spent on the sofa with the rest of the family, without the stress of being stopped from spraying or mating when he shouldn’t. It isn’t fair to keep a cat for many years in the inevitably constricted lifestyle that is the lot of a pedigree stud. Comparatively early neutering also helps to ensure that a stud isn’t over-used within the breed as a whole within the UK. The wider the gene pool, the better it is for the health of the breed.
Champion Magnus More og Romsdal, one of our previous NFC studs caring for one of his kittens.  Magnus was a big gentle blue ticked tabby boy we imported from the Netherlands.
My impetus for writing this article is that there are quite a lot of new breeders of Forest Cats lately – it is great to see the breed growing in strength within our country. I’m sure some people will disagree with my points of view, and they are welcome to put their own thoughts forward. But new breeders sometimes simply don’t realise the needs of a stud cat. It really isn’t a good idea to get a stud until you have had a few years’ experience as a breeder using outside stud cats, and have had a chance to build up the required number of queens for his use. If you are intending to allow outside females to use your stud, you need to be sufficiently experienced to be able to predict what kittens can be produced by a particular mating, and to be able to take responsibility for someone else’s cat staying with you for a few days or even weeks. Cat mating is quite a complex ritual and requires sensitivity and experience on the part of the humans. Of course is it convenient to have two studs– many people like to do this, or indeed have even more, so as to have alternative mates for their own queens and for queens they have sold to other breeders. Inviting sold female kittens back for a mating can be quite a money-spinner in fact! If visiting queens are accepted, you need to have separate quarters so the two cats can get to know each other through wire mesh before being allowed to mix freely. It is also necessary for the stud cat to have an escape shelf on which to spring should the female attack him after mating – which can happen sometimes due to discomfort from the male’s barbed penis. 

Breeders, please ask yourselves – will your studs really have enough mates, company, interesting activities and human attention? If the answer is “no” to any of these, then think twice before embarking on getting a stud. It can be more problematic than it seems.
Dansbjerg's Pelle Halelos, whom we imported from Denmark for his lovely type, size, health and temperament.  Here he is snuggling up with his friend Champion Ragna More og Romsdal.

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