By Bryan Mayoh, with help from Steve Davies and Malcolm Atkinson
There are six standardised breeds of Agouti (pronounced 'agooti' in most places but 'agowti' in Yorkshire), based on black or chocolate base colour and golden, buff or silver ticking colour. Because the Agouti is one of the oldest-established breeds of colour, Goldens and Silvers being exhibition cavies over 100 years ago, the names of the different colours of Agouti are traditional ones, rather than (as with Argentes) those that most clearly explain to the fancier what the base/ticking colours are.
So we have:
- 'Golden': black/red (appearing golden)
- 'Lemon': black/buff (appearing lemon)
- 'Silver': black/ silver
- 'Chocolate': chocolate/red
- 'Cream': chocolate/buff
- 'Cinnamon': chocolate/silver.
Within this nomenclature, some of the colours referred to are the ticking colour, some are the banding colour and some are just fanciful; so some confusion is inevitable; but one memory trick that I use in order to remember which is which is that if the base colour is Chocolate then the name of the corresponding Agouti begins with the letter 'C'. If you then remember what the most common varieties are (namely Golden, Silver and Cinnamon) then the rest can just about be deduced.
The natural colour for the wild cavy is a form of Golden Agouti, though not being selected for the bright ticking and intense coloration of the show animal, it would doubtless look quite different. Genetically this is a black cavy in which the presence of agouti genes produces a band of red colour on each hair along with a red belly. In the Lemon a dilution gene removes most of the red colour (but not the black), taking it down to buff (or lemon), and a related dilution gene removes the red colour but not black to produce the Silver. When genes for black colour are replaced by chocolate, the 'C' colours of Agouti are correspondingly produced.
The same pink-eyed genes that transform Self Black to Self Lilac, and Self Chocolate to Self Beige, also apply in Agoutis; but in these cases, because the sharpness of ticking that is vital to the show Agouti is harder to assess, the National Agouti Club has never sought recognition of the pink-eyed versions; and they are instead shown as Argentes, with a somewhat different standard.
Recently, a mutated form of the agouti gene, which produces ticking on the belly as well as the body, has been imported from the U.S.A. These cavies have been named as they are in the United States as Solid Agouti. The Solid Agouti has recently been given a Guide Standard by the British Cavy Council. Some UK fanciers are beginning to produce the Solid Agouti and the N.A.C.C. has now accepted them to its Club with a special section for them at their Stock Shows.
Unsurprisingly, the Golden Agouti was one of the earliest show cavies. However, antique cavy books refer to its main cousin in the early Agouti fancy as being 'the old Grey Agouti'. Apparently, this was in due course supplanted by the Silver Agouti, of a brighter colour than that possessed by the Grey, and the later died out. Whether these two were genetically different, or whether the one was simply an improved selection of the other, is not known.
Over the years Golden and Silver Agoutis have continued to be the most successful and popular colours. The available records show Goldens as winning four BIS at Bradford Championship Show (H.G.Walker 1931 & 1939, G.R.Lodge 1964 and Pat Kelly 1978), with Silvers taking three (Jack Smith 1943, Tony Tipper 1952 and Brian Emmett 1966). However, in recent years Silvers have been the dominant variety, beating Goldens by over two to one in general BIS wins, with the rest well behind.
Vic Bailey, who sadly died recently, is widely acknowledged as the greatest breeder of Silver Agoutis of the last 30 years; and his outstanding sow who won BIS at London Championship show in 1992 and Saltaire in 1993 is regarded by many observers (including myself and Malcolm Atkinson) as the best Silver Agouti cavy seen in this period. This cavy probably also came the nearest, since Brian Emmett's 1966 win, of any Silver to taking BIS at Bradford Championship Show, being beaten in the adult Non-Self Challenge by a Peruvian with a cataract but being greatly praised by BIS judge Aubrey Roebuck the next day when he encountered her in the Agouti Challenge. Basically, Aubrey told me she would have won BIS had she been in the line-up!
In the 1970's and 80's Mary Davidson kept an excellent stud of Silvers and took the great honour of BIS in the NCC ASS at the memorable DLC event in 1981; whilst the 'host' on that occasion, the late Jim Tenner, was regularly Vic Bailey's biggest rival. Jim's cavies were prepared rather more thoroughly on most occasions than Vic's, but didn't quite have their edge in overall quality; and it is the legacy of the Bailey strain that fills the studs of most of today's leading breeders. Amongst these are my two collaborators in this article, Messrs Atkinson and Davies; Ros Lockwood and Doug Rennie. Kim Holmes had a very consistent champion a few years ago and has won Best Non-Self at an NCC Combined Show; Michelle Tricker has done outstandingly well in a short time, gaining 3rd place in the BIS line-up at Doncaster and making the line up for BIS at the NCC Combined Show; whilst Jane Phillipson, Jolly Roger Stud and Debbie Higgins have also exhibited with great success.
Judging the Silver Agouti
The starting point of judging or breeding any exhibition cavy is a thorough understanding of the Standard. For Silver Agoutis the standard laid down by the breed club, the National Agouti Cavy Club, and accepted by the British Cavy Council, is a particularly thorough one, as would expect of a creation of that outstanding legal practitioner Mr P.Gammie:
Ticking: Sharp, level ticking extending evenly over body,
chest and feet. Grooming is essential to produce
an even effect on body and sides. Ticking on
chest to be well carried down between front legs.
Feet to match body and chest. 30
Colour: Top colour to be bright and lustrous. Undercolour
to be carried well down to the skin. Belly colour to
be the same colour as body and chest, but without
ticking (to be tipped) with well defined demarcation
line and to be as narrow as possible, although not
at the expense of condition. 20
Shape: Solid body of good width, with deep broad shoulders.
Short head of good width and muzzle. 20
Coat / Firm flesh and clean coat are essential
Condition Coat to be short and silky with glossy sheen. Coarse
guard hairs to be removed by grooming. 15
Size: Size to be very desirable, although not at the expense
of quality. 5
Eyes: Large and bold. 5
Ears: Well shaped, large and drooping. 5
DESCRIPTION OF COLOUR: Silver Agouti
Deep black undercolour with silver ticking.
Belly to be rich even silver and free from whiteness.
Ears and pads black; eyes dark.
FAULTS TO BE PENALISED
1. Long in ticking.
2. Eye circles.
3. Light streaks or patches on chest, body or sides.
4. Lightness on jowls.
5. Light, dark or odd feet.
6. White or other odd coloured hairs to be penalised according to quantity.
7. Other faults and disqualifications as per BCC standard for all cavies.
NOTES FOR GUIDANCE OF JUDGES AND EXHIBITORS
1. Chest faults are often accompanied by poor colour and, if this is the
case, should be severely penalised.
2. Dark or unticked feet (although this is a fault) should be preferred (to light ones)
3. Exhibits should not be penalised for a wide belly, unless the belly colour is
visible when the cavy is viewed from the side.
4. A small degree of eye circle or some unevenness on feet should not be
unduly penalised in U/5 exhibits, as these faults may clear as the cavy
5. In judging Agouties generally, the emphasis must be on quality of
ticking, colour, type and condition. Exhibits should not be unduly
penalised for minor faults, if these possess these qualities.
However, as when judging all cavies, the first impression is a vital one. Steve Davies would tell you that with Silver Agoutis you are looking for: "Impact. A very impressive cavy with a combination of shape, size and colour, to create a striking effect."
Malcolm Atkinson seeks: "A big, powerful pig, with plenty of shoulder and a sparkle coming from the ticking and colour."
Both agree that these qualities are most likely to be found in the adult of the breed. A large, fit cavy with broad head, bold eyes, large, well drooped ears and powerful shoulders would be an impressive sight in any colour. With bright colour and sharp, clearly defined ticking, what Malcolm calls 'sparkle', it must indeed create 'impact', often an impact sufficient to make it a leading candidate for honours in Best Non-Self or even BIS competition.
We will next look in more detail at the Agouti standard; but before doing so we should reread the very last item in the Guidance section; because in some ways it is the most important item of all:
"In judging Agoutis generally, the emphasis must be on quality of ticking, colour, type and condition. Exhibits should not be unduly penalised for minor faults, if these possess these qualities."
So look above all else at the overall quality of the cavy and at the overall balance of its qualities. Judge the pig as a whole, not as a collection of potential faults; and if you are looking at a good pig, don't spend so much time nit-picking to find minor failings that you forgot that it is still a good pig that you are looking at. The obvious faults are the worst faults. Remembering these simple points is one of the key arts of the judging of not just Agoutis but all cavies.
Looking more closely at the Agouti standard, the first obvious thing to note is that ticking and colour account for half of the points allocated, as opposed to 30% for colour in the Self standard. The ticking must be sharp and even, the colour silver not white, so that the overall effect is of silver all over the body, other than the belly, with no areas of uneven ticking or excessively dark or (more likely) light shading. The colour should appear bright rather than dull, silver rather than dark, and with ticking sharply defined.
As the Standard implies, in Silver Agoutis faults are more inclined to arise from what is referred to as 'long' or 'coarse' ticking, meaning that there is too much of the silver ticking colour. This will then produce a lighter pig that is additionally far more likely to have other faults, such as a whitish belly, light colour around the chest and jowls and eye circles, which are severely detrimental to the appearance of the cavy. In contrast, more correctly coloured pigs are far more likely to have dark feet. To a large extent some difference in shading is unavoidable here, simply because the hairs on the feet are so short. This is why the standard states that such feet are preferable to light ones; and, as there is ticking on the feet, the fact that they may be a little dark is not something that an otherwise excellent Agouti should be punished for.
So when assessing the ticking and colour of the Agouti:
- First look at the body colour, which should be bright with clearly defined ticking and no areas of dark or light shading. Flick back the coat to look for the required depth of black undercolour, with sharply defined ticking. There may be white hairs in the coat, and these are a fault; but, as the Standard says, a few shouldn't rule an otherwise good pig out of the honours - penalise according to quantity.
- Then assess the head colour, which should be of the same shade as the body and with no evidence of lighter shading ('eye circles') around the eyes. Although, as the Standard allows, a small extent of eye circles may be forgiven in a young pig, pronounced eye circles are a significant fault in an adult. Frequently, because of a failure to groom the hairs on the head and face, darker shading is evident on the head, and this too is a fault.
- Now move to examine at the jowls, to check for light flashes that can sometimes run upto the shoulder.
- Next, gently lift the cavy's chin to get a good look at the chest and neck. (Most show Agoutis should be used to this procedure and allow it without objection. If, when you start to lift the cavy's jaw, it opens its mouth and savagely sinks its fangs into your finger, you may reasonably assume that it has been trained to do so by an owner keen to avoid detection of a severe chest fault, and dismiss it from the judging table immediately on these grounds.) Again, the same even ticking and medium colour should be evident on the chest and neck as elsewhere. The chest should carry far down to meet the belly between the front legs, with a clear demarcation. Light colour between the front legs is a fault. Sometimes you will find that the hairs on the chest have longer ticking, creating lightness. Sometimes there are flashes of lighter colour going to the shoulder; and sometimes these travel up into the neck. These too are faults to look out for. So-called 'bonnet strings', the particularly emphasised areas of light colouring that seem to run from the corners of the cavy's mouth into the chest, are encountered far more often in Goldens and some of the other colours than they are in Silvers.
- The feet provide the next area of examination. As stated above, these are rarely of exactly the same shade as the body. Indeed, pigs with perfect ticking on the feet are usually too light on the rest of the body (the extra silver coloration that produces perfect foot colour generates a far too light effect from the longer hairs on the rest of the body). Allowance must therefore be made for this; but it is reasonable to expect that, even if the feet are a little dark, they should still show clear evidence of ticking.
- Finally, assess the belly. This should be silver not white, for a white belly is regarded as a serious fault in a show animal. There should be a clear line of demarcation between the belly and the ticking on the sides and chest. As the standard requires, the belly should be narrow; but in this respect by far the most important requirement is that you should not be able to see the belly colour when viewing the cavy from the side.
After colour and ticking, the next important block of points in the standard is awarded for basic features of type, covering shape, size, eyes and ears.
You are not looking for the same type in an Agouti as in a Self. The Standard does not require it; and, given the need to concentrate on evenness of ticking in the Agouti, it would be virtually impossible to achieve it. Nonetheless, type qualities are most important in the make-up of the outstanding Silver Agouti.
In body shape you should expect a large, solid animal with deep broad shoulders full of flesh, very like the ideal (but increasingly rarely encountered) Self. The head will not have the exaggerated type, with the pronounced hook-nose and the full muzzle that goes with this type, of the top Self Blacks or Self Whites. It should, though, be short and with good width between the eyes, and be broad at the muzzle; and although the Standard, in a rare moment of weakness, doesn't mention it, I believe that there should be a slightly Roman-nosed profile rather than a flat, ski-slope appearance. Because strength and power, rather than an innately glamorous type, are the key non-colour features sought in the Silver Agouti, adults are likely to be the best show pigs, with 5/8's following them.
As with all cavies, eyes should be bold; and although you are again not really looking for the glamorous expression sometimes encountered in the top Selfs, small or almond-shaped eyes must be penalised. The ears should be large and well drooped; and as for Selfs should be set not too high on the head; whilst the setting should be horizontal rather than at an angle. The general BCC faults in regard to eyes and ears, such as fatty eye, red in eye and hems in ears, apply. Of these, hems in ears are most likely to be encountered.
In assessing the overall type and shape qualities of the cavy, the last word to remember is 'Balance'. The points in the Standard are intended as a guide to the relative importance of different features, not as a basis for the mathematical calculation of results. A pig with reasonable body shape and size and with nice eyes and ears should always be preferred to one with, say, a wonderful head and body type but appalling ears. The overall impression of a generally good pig is greatly preferable to one of a marvellous pig spoiled by a dreadful flaw, no matter how few points are allocated in the standard to the area of the flaw.
The final items in the standard relate to coat and condition; but, although these only account for 15 points, their impact is far greater than this. The standard calls for the coat to be short and silkywith glossy sheen, and for firm flesh. However, if the coat of the exhibition Agouti is not groomed reasonably short, then the guard hairs of the cavy, which are coarse and dark, will generate a dark, dull appearance to the top colour that will cause the judge to fail the cavy on colour and ticking qualities. Uneven grooming will cause uneven body colour; and again the cavy will be penalised for this rather more than for the grooming itself.
Steve Davies believes that many otherwise good Agoutis are let down by poor preparation and so fail on shade and evenness of colour. Whilst most judges would agree that grooming to produce a really short coat is not vital (the danger of over-grooming is much greater, as this produces obviously dark and uneven areas of coat), thegrooming out of guard hairs to produce a bright top colour that is even all over the body certainly is. Removal of guard hairs should not only be of those on the back and sides of the cavy. Shoulders have to be included; whilst using moistened fingers to carefully stroke guard hairs out of the head, face and feet of the cavy can greatly improve evenness and colour in these areas too. Some fanciers omit these areas (including, alleges one of my helpers in producing this article, the other).
In similar vein, bathing to produce a glossy, soft coat will help create the 'sparkle' sought in a top show Silver Agouti; whilst it is obvious that the powerful shoulders and physical impact of such a cavy can only come from good feeding to produce a big, fit animal.
When asked about this topic, Malcolm Atkinson's immediate reply was: "Having youngsters would be a start."
He has regularly experienced considerable problems in getting his sows in pig, and finds that October or November are often his best months for litters. Steve Davies too commented on how slow Silvers can be in the breeding pen: His advice is: "Don' t let the sows get too fat."
Mating them for the first time at 6 or 7 months and not allowing too long between litters, perhaps 4 to 6 weeks, are his recommendations for reducing fertility and littering problems. Such problems, and the fact that these days there are not the large specialist studs that once were kept, may mean that someone keen to start with the breed may have to be patient when looking for stock.
As with most livestock breeding the best advice is, of course, to obtain the best stock you can, especially in terms of the boar, and to avoid duplicating faults when choosing the appropriate sow to mate to each boar. Both Malcolm and Steve prefer to select for a boar of the correct or darker shade rather than a lighter one. However, in terms of type Steve would go for a boar of good type with less good ticking but Malcolm would rather use a well-ticked boar and look to the sow for the input of type. Since perfect pigs are rare, it seems sensible that if you have a really outstanding boar in terms of type then you would use him on the better-coloured and ticked sows; but if he is less outstanding on type but excellent in colour and ticking then he would be paired to better-typed sows that are weaker in these features.
As a general rule, genetics does not work like mixing paint, i.e. mating an animal that is too light to one that is too dark does not usually produce offspring of perfect colour. Instead, the offspring are more likely to be a mixture of ones that are too light and ones that are too dark. The same principle applies to type and shape. However, in agoutis odd things sometimes seem to happen in matings, including an apparent exception to this rule; and for a long time these phenomena puzzled me.
The first apparently strange thing is that, if you mate two Silvers of the correct colour together, you are likely to get some of the correct colour, some that are too light, and some that aren't agoutis at all but that simply seem to be rather poorly-coloured Self Blacks. These latter are called 'Dilutes'. However, if you mate two perfectly-coloured Golden Agoutis together you are likely to get much more consistent results; and you do not obtain self-coloured dilutes.
Then, if you mate a light-coloured Silver Agouti, possibly even including the white-bellied pigs that many Agouti fanciers try to avoid, to a Silver Agouti Dilute, it seems to work like blending paint after all; for all of the offspring are generally much nearer to the correct shade. However, if you mate a Golden Agouti to a Self Black, you do not obtain pigs of a darker shade but instead are likely to get 'brassy', yellowish specimens that sometimes fool less competent judges into putting them up because of their type but that are disdained by lovers of the true mahogany-coloured Golden Agouti.
A couple of years ago Nick Warren wrote an excellent series on cavy genetics in this magazine, which contained several insights into aspects of genetics relevant to the fancier that I had not encountered before. One of these was to offer an explanation on the Silver/Golden Dilute/Non Dilute phenomenon.
"I have a theory about the Agouti gene that I have never seen explicitly written, but which I think is a fairly safe conclusion given the known facts. All Agouti breeds (other than the Golden) throw a ‘dilute’. These are basically Black or Choc type Selfs. Agouti fanciers use these in their breeding programmes to stop their strain from becoming too light. These light Agoutis are not strictly speaking lighter coloured – rather the band of ticking is wider, which leads to a lighter, slightly more blotchy appearance. I believe that these lighter Agoutis are in fact homozygous for the Agouti gene (AA) and the darker ones (the showable animals) are heterozygous (Aa). I believe that if you interbreed the darker ones you should get 50% darker Agoutis (Aa), 25% dilutes (aa) and 25% lighter Agoutis (AA). Interbreeding dilutes with the lighter ones show 100% darker Agoutis. The only thorn in the side of this theory is the fact that the Goldens do not throw a dilute, yet they have very fine ticking anyway. However, this may be due to the fact that selective breeding in the Golden has enabled them to be sufficiently good without the need to employ a dilute."
So, if I can attempt to put this slightly differently, in Silvers the shade that the fancy prefers is produced by one agouti gene and one non-agouti gene (Aa). The light ones, with white bellies, are produced by two agouti genes (AA); whilst the dilutes have two non-agouti genes (aa). So, on average, if you mate show Silvers together, you will get in each litter of four: two show Agoutis, one light Agouti and one Dilute. If you mate the light Agouti (with two agouti genes) to the Dilute (with no Agouti genes) all the offspring will have one agouti and one non-agouti gene and will exhibit more or less the correct colour.
In Golden Agoutis the shade preferred by the fancy is produced by the presence of two agouti genes, this 'doubling up' of which seems to emphasise the desirable rich mahogany shade in the same way as the 'doubling up' in Silvers emphasises the undesirable light/whitish shade. So, when you mate two correctly coloured Goldens together, the offspring will generally be of a similarly correct colour. When, on the other hand, you mate a Golden Agouti to a Self Black (which is actually the dilute form of a Golden Agouti, although personally I do rather like to view them in more positive terms), all the offspring will have only one agouti gene; and this apparently reduces the intensity of red pigmentation to produce a brassy colour.
Malcolm Atkinson's strain, as did that of Vic Bailey on which it was based, produces its share of dilutes, and these are used (in the form of dilute sows) to generate cavies of the correct colour. (Dilute sow to lighter boar should give 100% offspring of the correct colour, whereas dilute sow to correctly coloured boar is likely to give only 50% of the correct colour and 50% dilutes). Malcolm recalls being told that the late Jim Tenner used to breed show pigs by using Dilute boars on white-bellied sows; and, other than the risk that you cannot guess what minor genes controlling ticking quality may be hidden in the Dilute boar, this seems a perfectly logical procedure - indeed, light-bellied boar on Dilute sows may be even more appropriate).
Steve Davies somewhat surprised me by stating that his strain of Silvers rarely produce Dilutes and that he has scarcely found the need to use them. He told me that he has "a quite dark strain", and this may give a clue that perhaps selection for dark colour in the strain has meant that the AA double-agouti gene cavy has the correct colour here, with the Aa single-agouti animal's being too dark. In this case Dilutes would be less likely to appear and would not be needed if they did. I would be most interested to hear from any other successful Silver Agouti breeders as regards their experiences in regard to the production and use of Dilutes (and thanks to Nick Warren for what I believe to be a most interesting insight, with the hope that in trying to simplify his explanation I didn't distort it).
Malcolm and Steve have different experiences too in terms of how Silvers develop from birth. Steve believes that the future stars can be spotted immediately.
"I can judge them when they're born. Type, ticking and belly colour are evident," he told me.
In contrast, Malcolm has experienced many unexpected turns in the development of stock. The very light ones (the AA agoutis in his strain) can be spotted immediately, as can basic type qualities such as size of eyes or ears; but in other aspects "under fives can alter a lot."
Some which are too light as youngsters, with signs of eye circles, can turn out to have the right colour as adults; whilst rather more tend to go the opposite way, from darker to lighter. However, when an adult cavy passes its best, the likelihood is that the head will certainly become too dark. Clearly, only experience with the particular strain that you have can guide you on its development - and in some strains there may be no alternative but to wait and see.
Because adult Silvers are often very large, it would not be surprising to find that they are large as youngsters too. Steve believes that at 3 1/2 months the youngsters should be showable; and they might be ideal at four months and perhaps too big at five. He recalls that: "Jane Phillipson won the Young Stock Show with a massive pig in 2001. I'm sure that it was genuine, but in many breeds it would have been too big."
However, Malcolm finds that his stock mature more slowly but last for a long time when they are mature. In contrast, his wife Olive's Golden Agoutis grow very quickly, making large 5/8's, but stop growing just as quickly and die relatively young. It is as if their metabolism is speeded up in comparison to the Silvers. Funnily enough, I found this myself with my Self Blacks many years ago; though, later, selection for size and adult quality produced a group of cavies of the slower-maturing, longer-living type. Clearly, there are other genes at work that can become closely associated with the ones controlling coat or colour in a particular breed or strain, such as produced the well-known viability problems in Satins. It is possible, with patience, luck and then selection, to break the links; but certainly certain characteristics are regularly encountered in connection with certain breeds.
As stated previously, because of the sheer impact of their size and power along with the mass of sparkling colour, the adult Silver Agouti is, as Steve says, "without doubt the best show pig." In his experience, boars tend to be bigger and remain fitter than sows; and he has found it impossible to breed from sows and then get them back into show condition - they often remain too 'baggy'. Steve did once try to keep a sow purely for showing as an adult, "but she wouldn't stay fit and I wish I'd bred from her."
However, the outstanding Silver shown by Vic Bailey in 1992 and 1993 was an adult sow. Research of the CAVIES archives reveals that Vic reported that he had "bred her from a dilute; but she had not had a litter herself as I left it too late to breed with her." So, again, perhaps different strains behave in different ways; and you have to learn by experience; and this is another issue that it would be most interesting to hear about from other breeders.
Clearly preparation is important in the Silver Agouti. Unless guard hairs are carefully groomed out, the coat will appear too dark; and uneven grooming will lead to uneven shading, a very bad fault. If you are a less than perfect groomer, it is best to leave the cavy underdone rather than overgroomed, as the latter will certainly spoil the cavy's appearance completely by generating dark patches.
The best technique is the "Moistened Finger and Thumb Roll-Out" method that is far better demonstrated than explained in print. Generally, it is preferable to do a little each day for one or two weeks before the show ("Take it steady, do a little and keep looking to see which areas still need grooming" advises Steve); although Malcolm recalls that Vic Bailey sometimes would groom the cavy hard several weeks before the show and let the coat grow in the weeks immediately before showing. Whatever method is employed, Steve strongly believes that it is necessary to remove the guard hairs from the head, face and feet of the cavy too (you would do this by carefully rubbing over these areas with moistened fingers), thereby creating a much improved appearance and reducing the chances of the head or feet's appearing too dark. He also suggests that too many fanciers ignore the shoulders, as guard hairs can be harder to remove from this area - but again it has to be done; whilst "paying particular attention" to areas of long ticking can improve the appearance here too. Of course, removing white or long-ticked hairs by tweezers would constitute improper preparation; and no fancier would ever stoop to paying particular attention by these particular means. Oh no indeedy.
Both Malcolm and Steve advocate bathing show Agoutis, this being necessary to create the silky, glossy coat required by the Standard. In Steve's case this is done 2-3 days before the show, in Malcolm's 1-2 weeks; though the difference may be that in the extremely beautiful but impoverished area of North Yorkshire in which Malcolm lives few people can afford to spend their hard-earned cash on electricity to power a hairdryer; whereas the borders of Wales are a land of Milk and Honey and such extravagances can be entertained without a second thought - so that in those parts you can leave it to almost the last minute before you bathe your cavies.
The Silver Agouti is now established as the most successful of the Agouti type. Its success largely comes from the impact of the shape, size and sparkling colour of the adult in particular. To breed a good one is likely to take skill, luck and patience, as there are many factors, some difficult to balance, to get right. The breeding difficulties reported by several breeders, and the lack of the large specialist studs that used to exist many years ago mean that patience, too, will be needed when trying to obtain the right stock. But amongst adult Non-Selfs in particular, Silvers are regularly one of the most serious contenders for top honours; and to breed and show a good one must be a source of great satisfaction, for these are usually, as the late great Aubrey used to say, "much admired by all."