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By Martin Harrison 

The Golden was the original Agouti colour, or so I thought.  I was shown a copy of a cavy book by Fur & Feather from 1900 which states: "...at the Crystal Palace show of 1880, the first Agouti was seen, this caused quite a stir, and it was a grey.  There is also a red variety..."  So from this I would think the grey was the Silver, and the red being the Golden.  It goes on to say the grey had come from a cross with a Tort and White, and the red had been crossed with a Self Red.  I have been told the Golden has a different gene to that of the other Agoutis.  Perhaps this comes from the Self Red.  The Golden is the only Agouti that doesn’t require or produce a dilute.  All the other colours were made up using various breeds including the Dutch, Himalayan and Tort & White to establish each colour.  The Golden was always the most popular of the Agoutis until recent years, where the Silver has taken over.  As the Golden has a different gene it can not be crossed with the other colours of Agouti, as all you get are muddy coloured young, which are of no use on the show bench or breeding programme (this is what I’ve been told, and have never tried it).  With the other colours you can cross them and get mixed litters, not that this is advised, other than with the Lemons to Silver, and Cream to Cinnamon where you do need to breed them this way in order to maintain the correct colour. 

The Goldens are a slightly smaller pig than the Silvers.  They don’t produce dilutes, but are bred by putting lighter ones to darker ones in order to attain the correct shade.  During an AGM of 1944/45 it was decided to change the colour of the Golden Agouti.  In his Secretary's report in the Agouti Club year book of 1946,  Reg Lodge the Secretary of the day writes: "Since we altered the colour of the Golden from the dull Golden colour to the rich Golden colour, we are on the way to a great improvement.  Golden fanciers have done well in producing the desired change of colour in so quick a time.  Good luck to you all".  It is believed from this time breeders had tried to improve the colour and type, by crossing the Self Black to the Golden Agouti.  This wasn’t particularly successful as most of the youngsters were black, although some of the youngsters were still used and eventually mainly Goldens were produced.  In some breeding lines you still get some black youngsters born which are usually of good type. 

My first Goldens were from Steve Davies, this line does throw the odd black.  I then bought Ros Lockwood’s stud of Goldens, when she let them go.  Again this line also produced some blacks.  I have always discarded these youngsters, but I have been told by some Golden breeders they do use them and in fact one breeder told me her best Golden come from one of these blacks.  I do have a very nice type, large Golden sow, although she has good ticking, she is light in colour and belly.  So I’ve decided to keep a typey golden bred black boar to put to her and see what I get. 

One of the problems with the Golden Agouti is hemmed ears.  I have very rarely found it in the other colours, but it can be a problem with Goldens.  Although the ears only have 5 points, a hemmed ear does spoil the look of a pig and many judges will mark a pig down for it.  In the guidance for judges the standard states that ears free from hems are to be preferred.  I try not to use any pigs with hems in my breeding programme, and I must say I find I get fewer pigs born with a hem.  Although some of the good ones do have a hem, it is very tempting to use them but I tend to send them to the pet shops.  Another problem with Goldens is a light streak around their neck and up their cheeks, these normally have a light chest and belly.  These I also disregard as it always comes out in the offspring.  I tend to find the darker ones don’t have this, to get the right shade on the body, chest and belly, which are of a darker shade; you tend to find the feet dark or black.  Some judges will mark the pig down again because of this.  The standard does state the feet should be ticked to match the body and chest.   But on the guidance for judges, it does state that dark and unmarked feet (although this is a fault) should be preferred to light or uneven feet. 

Another thing I find with the Goldens is their noses seem to go bald especially on the adults.  Why this is I don’t know, although I’ve been told it’s a fungal thing and to use tea tree oil.  Of course once it is bald, this is when you tend to use it, but it then takes quite a while to grow back, and in some cases it doesn’t.  I try to treat them once a month, with the tea tree oil, and this does seem to help.  It’s funny because the other colours don’t seem to have this problem.  The nose has very short and fine hair which is rubbed easily, is another possibility for the nose going bald. 

I’m sure all Golden breeders will know about the white and red hairs, these are a fault when showing.  You have got to remove all of these before they go on the show bench.  I always groom them first when preparing them for show; this will take out some of these hairs, the rest I use tweezers to remove them.  Normally they don’t seem to have many white or red hairs until they reach adulthood.  One of the places you tend to overlook is their cheeks, and this seems to be the first place a judge will look.  When selecting your breeding pigs, the older breeders swear by using pigs with a few white and red hairs in, which they believe helps to give you the correct shade of the Golden.  I do tend to use these pigs, but I am careful that they don’t have too many, as you don’t want to increase this.  I have seen some pigs, covered in white hairs, but would never use these.  I did buy a young Golden sow, a while ago with very nice colour and type.  I brought her home and within a month she was covered in white hairs (she had obviously been groomed before being sold).  I did breed from her once, she produced a lovely sow, very big and typey, and of good colour.  By the time she was three months old, she was covered in white hairs.  The both of them went to the pet shop.

Lastly, I think you have got to pay attention to the undercolour, making sure it is dark black, this will give you a nice crisp ticking on top, and this can be so easily overlooked.  Some breeders, in particular new breeders of the colour aren’t quite sure what shade the Golden Agouti should be.  The correct colour according to the standard is deep black under colour with dark golden ticking.  Belly, to be rich mahogany and free from brassiness.  Ears and pads black.  Eyes Dark.  Some Goldens we see tend to be a dark oak type of colour, and some have light golden bellies.  This is wrong; you do need that dark mahogany colour, with the rich mahogany belly, and of course the ticked feet if at all possible.  Of course this is the ideal and we don’t very often get this.  The main problem is getting hold of the correct breeding stock.  As all the Agouti colours are quite low in number, new fanciers are lucky to get any pigs at all and the ones they do get often need a lot of work, in many cases.  Although most breeders will help you out with a pig and give you advice.  Due to the shortage of stock you do tend to use all your sows to breed with, in order to build up your stud.  However I think you do need to be very selective as soon as you can, otherwise you can get bogged down and lose sight of what it is you are trying to aim for. 

A fit and well prepared top show quality Golden Agouti is striking and can see good success on the show bench, proved in recent years with Steve Davies’ u/5 sow,  Katrina Goodship’s adult sow and Cherrone Stud (Kate Duncan’s) adult sow reaching the Best in Show line up at the UK’s premier event, the Bradford Championship Show.  The highlight though being  Best in Show at London Championship Show 2006 for Steve Davies’ stunning under 5 month boar.