The Joy of Out-cross and Foundation Breeding
by: Judith Schulz, Copyright April 21, 2001
CH Prairiebaby River Mercies, F2, 100% canadian foundation
The term foundation is quite confusing, isn't it? Let's try to simplify: In the beginning of the Maine Coon breed there were several different
foundation lines. Those were the lines our whole breed was founded on. Every owner of a first generation Maine Coon cat was a foundation
breeder at one point in time.
Nowadays, we call it foundation breeding, when people are creating new lines by introducing foundation cats into the general gene pool of the
Maine Coon breed. When we speak of foundation lines, we mean newer bloodlines that are not yet present in nowadays, common pedigrees.
We are very fortunate that the stud books for the Maine Coon are still open in the American Cat Association. This allows us to broaden the
effective population of our breed - a very important process to fight immune related and genetic problems. When looking at the present
situation, every Cattery should consider eventually adding some new lines - while this is still possible.
Foundation breeders introduce carefully selected North American and Canadian blood lines, in order to widen the gene pool and improve
hybrid vigor. The aim is not to create mixed breed cats, but to introduce a little out-cross blood into the Maine Coon breed.
The Maine Coon is still hardy and strong - compared to many other breeds. However, like in most purebred species, the gene pool in our
breed is relatively small, which has led to several immune system-related and genetic problems.
The following paragraph is from a breed article from the CFA website:
<<Favoured varieties of today have been bred sire to daughter and cousin to cousin until their breeds are ruined [...] man's insistence on upon
breeding in order to perpetuate features approved in the show ring has produced animals of weak constitution, prone to such conditions as
skin troubles, lacking in intelligence, no longer mentally alert, eventually stupid; and at last breeding with difficulty: a state of affairs leading in
the end to the sterility and death of the breed.">>
Q: What is an F1 or F2?
An F1 is a first generation Maine Coon foundation cat. This cat is preferably found in the wild or on a farm, but can also be found with a rescue
group. None or only one parent of an F1 is known and registered. An F2 is a second generation Maine Coon foundation cat where both
parents are known and registered. An F3 is a third generation Maine Coon foundation cat where both parents and both grandparents are
known and registered. An F4 is a fourth generation Maine Coon foundation cat - and so forth.
Q: What is the difference between foundation, part foundation and out-cross?
Before looking for out-cross it is important to understand the words foundation, part foundation and out-cross. A foundation cat we call a cat
from newer lines that are 100 % different from the ones in a common pedigree. A part foundation cat is a cat with a certain amount of
foundation mixed with a pedigreed cat from common lines. Part foundation Maine Coons can vary a great deal in their foundation content. Most
times, cats in higher generations have less foundation content than cats in lower generations unless the foundation breeder manages to keep
up high foundation numbers for several generations. Part foundation cats and even some full foundation cats can already have a pedigree with
several generations. An out-crossed cat can be anything from foundation to part foundation to a cat with a regular pedigree. It all depends on
what we are out-crossing to. So, the word out-cross can be misleading as well. A cat can be a half-sibling to one cat and a total out-cross to
another. Some people consider a cat with a full pedigree, but a low Clone or Heidi Ho content a sufficient out-cross to other pedigreed cats.
For an explanation of the words Clones, Top Five, Top Three, Top Two and Heidi Ho please visit the Maine Coon Heritage Site
http://bowen1.home.mindspring.com/mchs/home.htm on the internet). Others feel that every cat with a pedigree from show lines needs a part
foundation cat to get sufficient results regarding health.
Q: I want to start out-crossing. How much foundation content do I need?
Fist of all you should be commended for taking a step into the right direction. In the beginning, it might be a good idea to run all your pedigrees
through the Swedish Pedigree Database on the internet: www.pawpeds.com , find out about their Top Two, Three, Five and Clone content,
and make decisions accordingly. What is your goal? Do you want to provide others with out-cross or do you simply freshen up your own lines?
When looking at your pedigree, it is important to also consider foundation cats besides the five most common ones, in order to find a suitable
out-cross. They might vary to some extent in certain pedigrees. If you have mostly cats with full pedigrees and all from common show lines,
where Clones are often skyrocket, it might be best to look for part foundations with a relatively high foundation content, since a pedigree with
low Clones or Heidi Ho will probably not do the job for you. Then think about what generation you want to start with. Remember that cats in
lower generations cannot be shown in Championship class. If that bothers you, you might be better off with an F4, F5 or F6. Also, check with
your association in your particular country on what the requirements are. If you are a new breeder, stay away from early generation cats and
cats with a very high foundation content. When deciding on the foundation content in the cat you are purchasing, ask yourself the question:
How much fresh blood will be necessary for my breeding program to boost immunity in my kittens and/or hopefully get rid of problems that have
manifested themselves for many years? Sadly, nobody can answer that for you. All we can do here is guess. Some breeders might not have
experienced major health problems in their breeding program. They are simply looking for out-cross to increase hybrid vigor in their kittens and
to be proactive.
Q: I have been breeding for a while and want to bring in some fresh blood. What do I do?
If you already are an established cattery and want to bring in some fresh blood, start with very carefully selecting the pedigreed breeding cats
that you want to use with your new foundation cats. This is probably one of the most important steps for successful out-cross breeding. Before
going on a search for out-cross, evaluate your own breeding stock in an objective manner. Kind of from the outside looking in. Try to chose the
best and healthiest only - do this in a very critical manner. Don't try to fix up cats that already have many health problems. Females should be
proven queens and mothers of several healthy litters without deformities, a low stillbirth rate and a reasonable litter size. There are still quite a
few healthy Maine Coons out there, even with a 26 generation heavily line bred pedigree!! If you have a choice, try to use only cats with
healthy gums and teeth and a good immune system. Also, watch for gentle and loving temperament and of course a good type and size. You
will need good quality traits to balance out the weaknesses in your foundation cats. Do us a favor, don't start an out-cross program with
mediocre looking Maine Coons please.
If you have a big cattery, a foundation/part foundation male would probably be more economical and get you further ahead quicker than a
female. Remember, you are on a journey and looking for out-cross will be something you will need to do on a regular basis in the future, if you
seriously want to help our breed. To find breeders who work with out-crossed lines, you can visit the heritage site, but be aware of the fact that
not all Catteries displayed on this site actually work with newer foundation lines.
When it is time to buy new breeding stock from foundation breeders, be on the alert. We have heard horror stories about living conditions and
breeding practices. There are just as many BYB among foundation breeders as there are among show line breeders. Get many references
and ask many questions. Visit the facility if you can. Make sure they test their breeding stock for breed-specific genetic problems like HCM,
PKD, HD, etc. Also, they should take disease control and hygiene very seriously. Reputable foundation breeders will not sell breeding stock
until they feel confident about their new line. Early generation cats will often only be traded with friends in order to try out the lines together.
Sometimes early generations will be sold to breeders after the breeder had several healthy litters with a cat and feels relatively secure to
release the offspring. So, there is the possibility to purchase an F2 or F3 after a few years of work with these new cats.
Q: If out-crossing is the best way to get rid of health problems, why test for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), Poly Cystic
Kidney Disease (PKD) and Hip Displasia (HD) ?
Just as much as testing without out-crossing is not sufficient, it is the same vice versa. Even though out-crossing is the most efficient way to
breed away from genetic problems, testing for genetic diseases is still required. Even though we have a good idea where heart problems in our
pedigreed cats came from, there is a chance that a foundation cat could be diagnosed with HCM or some other heart disease as well. The fact
is that we have enough problems in our breed already. So we want to carefully watch not to double up on weaknesses in certain organs or
body parts. There is no point in out-crossing if we don't go all the way and use all medical science available to reduce the risks of genetic
problems. Also, remember that testing without appropriate selection is a complete waste of time.
Q: What can I expect health wise?
It took many years for our breed to get to a point of great concern. Problems will not go away overnight. Foundation breeding is not the answer
to all health problems. A new line will not perform a magic trick on our breeding program. That's why we call it "working with foundation." Yes,
out-crossed cats can get sick too. They will, like all other species, carry undesirable recessive genes that might never show up until bred to a
cat with the same problem. We are talking about genes that usually get lost in the process of out-crossing - but not always. Also, each
breeding can bring us between one to four new gene mutations that would have not happened in any other breeding. No guarantees here
Please note that the following things are very likely to happen but nobody can promise you that they will actually happen overnight - some
things might not happen at all - some things might even get worse. Do not blame the foundation Maine Coon if things don't work out the way
What we will most likely see is a positive effect on the cat as a whole. We will probably find our cats to become more intelligent and less
irritable. Excessive shyness or aggressiveness in certain lines can disappear over a few generations. We will probably see less problems in
conception, birthing and kittening - often already in the out-crossed daughter of an inbred female. We will most likely see less deformities, less
stillbirths. A greater number of babies will survive common respiratory problems - without or very little medical intervention. There will be fewer
reactions to vaccinations. We will eventually get larger litters with not many runts. Weight and size of males and females will be more equal in
our litters. We can have less diagnosis of early cancer and Fip which are all mostly immune related problems (Fip lately being suggested as
having a genetic factor as well). Gums and teeth will eventually get better. Again, the benefits of a breeding program might not show until two
or three generations of out-crossing. Our goal is also to diminish heart, kidney and joint problems - a goal that can be reached as well if we
out-cross on a continuos basis, make no harmful compromises and test all breeding stock on a regular basis. Did you know that the
outcrossing/testing/selecting process can improve your future OFA hip results immensly?
Q: I only sell to pet homes. Do I need to outcross?
Absolutely!! Many people believe that only people who provide other breeders with out-cross do something good for the breed. However, is it
not the pet owners who will promote our breed the most? Is it not them who deserve a healthy companion with a good immune system? Pets
have the same value as breeding cats and deserve to be out-crossed. Yes, people who only sell to pet homes will greatly benefit from
broadening the gene pool in their breeding program.
Q: I am a beginner. Can I work with foundation?
With early foundation? Definitely NO. It is very important to get to know the breed standard first and also to learn about genetics, health and
colors of this breed. This can take several years, sometimes a decade. However, having said this, I personally believe that it can be more
rewarding for a new breeder to start out with cats that have a nicely out-crossed pedigree. The art of breeding is mostly acquired through
mentorship and experience and it is probably easier for a newbie to worry about refining traits than having to deal with deformed rib cages, no
teeth in their cats' mouths at age two, births with the intestines inside out and kittens sold to pet owners dying of immune related- or genetic
diseases. A lot of breeders have started out the common way, have landed flat on their faces and are now desperate for out-cross. Supportive
mentorship and a group of people to work with is the key to successful out-cross breeding. However, it is for sure more advisable for a new
breeder to start with an F5 or F6 out-cross, where much previous work with this particular line has already been done. Most times a pretty good
standard type is already reached by this time which makes it easier to achieve satisfactory results - in regards to type.
Q: I have worked hard for years to bring my lines to where they are now. I do want foundation, but please with rabbit ears and
We often see people wanting to buy out-cross but at the same time not willing to sacrifice a little bit of type. On one hand we want foundation,
on the other hand we really want this cat to be decent looking. Sadly, high foundation content, early generation Maine Coons cats often do not
conform in every way to the current standard and most often need to be worked with (so do some show cats by the way :-). If you are looking
for a Maine Coon with a high foundation content, you are required to work in your own breeding program to achieve better looks. There will
always be some effort involved. Foundation breeders cannot be expected to provide a finished product without fault or wrinkle. If you are
suffering from "regional winner syndrome", out-crossing won't be too much fun for you.
Let me encourage you with this: Don't look at the pictures of EARLY foundation cats. Look at the ones that are presently being produced. Did
you know that several F5 and F6 Maine Coons are being successfully shown in several associations?
Yes, breeding is hard work, but if you are discouraged in your breeding program at this point, I am sure with a few little changes you could find
*joy in breeding* again. If you decide to hang in there, an out-cross breeder would be willing to help you to put together a reasonable out-cross
program with just a little bit of fresh blood. This way you can maintain your good type.
Q: Are We creating a separate Breed?
Of course not! We breed with foundation to broaden the effective population of the existing Maine Coon breed. The intention is not to create a
separate breed. All new foundation lines should be integrated into the general gene pool at one point in time. Some of us have been keeping a
*small* percentage of our foundation cats aside for several reasons. However, segration of bloodlines is not the purpose of foundation
Oh, and just for information, there are no clean lines in our Maine Coon breed or ANY other breed. There are no clean lines in foundation cats.
Please see the article on Inbreeding Tests in Foundation lines. LINK
One-Show-Grand, GC, RW Coonopry Honeysuckle Rose of Prairiebaby, "Honey"
Breeders: Sheila Haskins/Judith Schulz
Honeysuckle Rose is a 6th generation part foundation Maine Coon cat with a foundation content of almost 40 %. She
became CFA 7th best kitten in the nation and CFA Gulfshore Region's 2nd Best Maine Coon kitten and 8th best Allbreed
kitten !! She also granded at only 8 months of age! What an incentive for every Cattery to finally start outcrossing!