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This article first appeared in Cavies magazine in 1995. Thank you, Cavies, for permission to use it in this website. Readers are encouraged to subscribe to Cavies, the only magazine published by and for the Cavy Fancy.

CAVIES MAGAZINE (January 1995)

WHAT’S IN THE SHED? VIC BAILEY

Interviewed by Peter Gammie

  Although they have almost all kept a number of other varieties with very great success, the quality of some fancier’s stock is so consistently high over long periods of years that their names become inextricably linked with a certain breed of cavy.  A few examples which spring to mind are Radeglia Beige, Phillips Black, Palemoon Whites, Handleys Goldens; a full list would be very lengthy.  The subject of our visit this month is without doubt one of the leading figures of this genre, current National Cavy Club President and legendary Silver Agouti breeder Vic Bailey of County Durham, the quality of whose stock has on many occasions moved veteran and battle-hardened judges close to tears of admiration at the table.  Our visit to Vic took place late in October and was fact our reporter’s second visit in four weeks, judging commitments on the previous occasion having limited his contact with the Bailey stud to lurking in the dark outside the door for a surreptitious smoke.

THE SUBJECT

  Vic’s first experiences with exhibition livestock was when he began showing rabbits about 40 years ago, keeping Ermine and Castor Rex and English.  Young Vic travelled by bus to shows with local fanciers Edwin Pye and father.  In those days, there were a lot of shows in the North East, mainly held on the first floor above pubs and clubs.  The Pyes also kept cavies, and after a couple of years Vic acquired his first pigs, smooth Tortoise and White with which he had “limited success”.  These were followed by the first Silvers, and some Abys.  Apart from the Pye Silvers, Vic subsequently acquired a young boar from prominent Silver Agouti fancier of the time Harry Badcock, which had won third in the NACC YSS.  All Vic’s Silvers originate from these first pigs, bar one acquired later as an outcross from Vic’s long time rival with Agoutis Pat Kelly, whose stud of Golden and Silver Agoutis was consistently successful at top shows throughout the 1960’s and 70’s.

  The cavies gradually began to outnumber the rabbits, and eventually took over completely about 10 years ago – “they need less space and don’t smell as much” said Vic.  The problems experienced by many fanciers in obtaining a regular supply of fresh green stuff and roots for their cavies throughout the year are not of course a problem for a keen gardener such as Vic.

THE SHED

  Vic’s shed is situated on the largest of his three allotments only a few yards away from his house, on a high hill subject to a bracing easterly wind at the time of our visit.

  The shed itself is 20’x 8’ in size, of sturdy timber construction with a felt roof, which is insulated to prevent condensation so far as possible.  Vic acquired the shed about 25 years ago, it having previously served as a garage and part of an old station!  The wire door is kept open at all times during the day, a solid external door being shut last thing at night.  Hay and other food stuffs are stored in separate sheds on the allotment.

  The shed contains a total of 67 pens, the majority of these 24” x 15” x 15” and built 4 high in each block, some being capable of enlargement by the removal of dividing centres.  There is a larger block of 6 pens each 30” x 24” x 15”, used exclusively for breeding purposes.  A door serves each row of pens, all of which have one and a half inch litter boards.


FEEDING & MANAGEMENT

  Vic keeps to a fixed feeding routine which has served him well over many years.  Whole oats and hay are fed every morning.  In the evening, greens and roots are fed, together with dry broad bran for breeding stock (to prevent overweight problems), show and rearing stock receiving an equal mix of broad bran and high protein goat mix.

  Cauliflower leaves are obtained from a local greengrocer, chicory and spinach being grown for summer feeding and kale and mangolds for the winter, together with other greens and roots available.  Vic now tends to avoid feeding grass to his cavies due to fears of chemical spraying on available sources, which has been blamed by more than one fancier this year for the loss of substantial numbers of stock.

  So far as breeding and cleaning out are concerned, Vic is keen to ensure that all waste cavy material is recycled onto the garden, the cavies later reaping the benefit when they receive food grown in it.  For this reason, most of Vic’s cavies are bedded on a thick layer of newspaper with a covering of hay, rather than on shavings, which are only used for Whites and Silvers ready for showing to avoid the possibility of staining.  The wood shavings do not break down as well for garden use as does the newspaper.  As a rule of thumb, the cavies are cleaned out once a fortnight.

  Vic has regularly used Ivomec in the past, but has recently experienced difficulties in obtaining supplies and now uses Equalan paste (designed for horses) once or twice a year, this containing some of the same active ingredients as Ivomec.

BREEDING & RECORDS

  Vic tries to mate all his sows at six months if possible, and will use a boar for breeding from three months old if he seems ready.  Usually a boar is kept with one or two sows, but in unusual circumstances a boar may be run with up to four sows.  Vic stressed that he aims to breed from every cavy he keeps, a pig with no breeding potential having no place in the stud.

  Vic always tries to remove boars from sows prior to littering and to let sows litter down individually.  He finds this helps him in keeping records, and also helps to prevent some of the Silvers from indulging in their unwelcome habit of chewing their babies’ ears.

  Fortunately, Vic has no problem in finding homes for wasters as pets, which is unusual in view of the mainly dark coloured breeds he keeps (which are often not favoured as pets).  Breeding records are kept on a card index, each pig having a card and each pen an allocated section for the cavies housed in it at any time, the card moving with the pig.  In the past, Vic only used to go back one generation foe each pig on its card, but with more time available to him now is increasing the information shown for each cavy to utilise in his more elaborate breeding plans.

THE SATINS

  Vic has achieved some notoriety with this breed since having been dubbed “The Satin King” by our features editor some while ago.  At the first mention of his shiny chums, Vic was somewhat on the defensive – “I’m cutting down to one boar and about 8 sows” he reassured us.  “I only got them as some competition for Pauline” (Avery of nearby Hartlepool from where Vic’s Satins originated).  Vic finds the satinised coats very attractive, and thought that the breed would have prospered in the fancy, but feels they have been held back due to problems with size, coat faults and (although not in Vic’s stock) teeth.  “The breed needs more experienced fanciers to concentrate on them and to sort out the standard.  Satinising every breed does them a disservice” says Vic, who is firmly of the belief that Satin cavies should be restricted to solid colours.  Vic feels that there is currently a lot of crossbred stock from Satin (and other) breeding programmes being passed on as purebred stock to new fanciers, who are soon disappointed when mixed offspring result from matings.

THE PE WHITES

  Vic has kept this breed for about 7 years, with a fair amount of success (“I’ve been beating Johnson recently” he grinned).  His original stock was in fact was obtained from Jim Johnson, subsequently being out-crossed to stock obtained from Stan Heslop and the late Roy Watson, former President of the ESCC.

  Vic had about 14 Whites at the time of our visit.  They were generally good coated pigs of good size, substance and colour, but not quite the quality of head points to compete with the very best of the breed.  Vic adopts the tried and tested breeding method for this colour Self of mating a short headed boar to plainer headed sows of good size and with larger ears.

THE BLACKS

  Vic has kept this breed continuously for about 30 years, the original stock having been acquired from much lamented North Eastern fancier Joe Ridley in an attempt to create an interest in the cavies for Vic’s wife Jackie (“it didn’t really happen!”).

  Over the years, Vic experienced problems with “red eye” in his Blacks, and fresh stock from Graham Phillips has been bred in to try to cure the fault.  Vic had a good breeding season with Blacks in 1994, and had about 30 in his shed at the time of our visit.  Generally, his Blacks have good frontal, eyes and ears, but could benefit overall from better size and profile.

  However, in the past it was with a Black that Vic achieved his “best” win, mainly every fanciers dream of Best in Show at Bradford Championship Show, with an adult sow in 1975.  Nowadays, Vic generally restricts his Black showing to local shows, where he has had a few BIS wins this year, but has not been as successful in major shows in recent years as he has been in the past.

THE SILVERS

  These are of course the foundation of the stud, and Vic makes it quite clear that all the other breeds are very much “second strings” to his beloved Silvers.

  He has been the undisputed top breeder of the variety for several decades, experiencing great show success throughout that period.  Almost all senior fanciers would admit that Vic has been very unlucky not to have achieved his ambition of BIS at Bradford Championship Show with a Silver during that period, although he has been runner-up, and featured in the last six on many occasions. The acid test for the quality of any stud is of course success at specialist breed club stock shows, and NACC records are a testament to Vic’s phenomenal achievements in this respect, winning the adult and young stock shows on occasions too numerous to mention.  Silvers which have achieved this top award tend to stick in Vic’s mind, in particular the ASS winning pig from the mid 1980’s, which the notes on his breeding records simply refer to as “best pig for me ever”.  As always attaching great importance to local shows, Vic also remembered that this cavy had won the Durham and Northumberland Cavy Club Jubilee Show, “and would have won a lot elsewhere as well, although my records from that time aren’t very detailed!”

  Another more recent big winner to spring to Vic’s mind was the sow who was so successful in 1992, winning BIS at Saltaire, London Championship Show and the NACC ASS.  Although he regularly shows both boars and sows, Vic’s personal preference is for showing sows – “better type and coats”.  In addition to usually having better heads than his boars, Vic also commented that a number of his Silver sows had slight folds on ear.  This does not worry him unduly; he regards this as only a minor fault and a feature of the strain.

  Vic’s stud comprised about 30 Silvers at the time of our visit, including six breeding boars and six dilute sows.  Vic would never advocate using a dilute boar however, as the colour and ticking qualities are not evident.  Dilutes bred from dilutes are always discarded as pets, as are the very light coloured pigs which are always produced in Silver breeding.

  Vic’s method is to use a big, broad headed boar of show quality colour and ticking, aiming to compensate on any eye and ear failings by crossing to sows which are stronger on these points.  Boars with better type but slightly lighter than ideal colour may be used to darker/dilute sows.

  Vic stresses that Silvers are not easy to breed, and for several periods over the years he has great difficulty in producing youngsters.  For the past couple of years he has experienced problems with losing sows in pig and struggling to produce live youngsters.  However, this year a new source of hay and oats has improved the situation immensely.  Vic adheres strictly to a line breeding system and due to the increased availability of young stock for selection this year, is currently working on two separate lines.  Hopefully, these will produce a bigger gene pool in the stud, and can be inter-bred in the future to produce a better percentage of show pigs and breeding stock (for Vic himself and to satisfy the constant demand from others).

  Vic has of course supplied stock to many fanciers over the years, and feels that the majority (or atleast a good percentage) of the competitive Silvers around at the moment are descended from his strain. “My Silvers used to be unusual for their size, but it is now common for several of the largest cavies at a show to come from the adult Silver class”.

  When invited to show us what he considered to be the best Silvers in the shed at the moment, Vic explained that his recent best winner was an adult sow fast approaching the end of her show career, and selected as “hot prospects” for the future three very promising youngsters, two sows and a boar.  All were of very good shape with good eyes and ears and excelled potential of colour and ticking, with very good level bellies free from the lightness that spoils so many otherwise good Silvers.

  Vic mentioned that all three of these had been bred from the same boar, and the famous Bailey grin was again in evidence as the proud father was introduced to our bemused reporter.  This boar was of very good type, but to an outside observer would have been considered too long in ticking and light in colour and on belly to have his place in the stud of the Master.  Vic’s knowledge of the pedigree of his Silvers meant that he has been able to use its hidden qualities to their full potential in the breeding pen.

  As always an ambassador for the British Cavy Fancy, Vic told us that what was in his opinion the best Silver he produced during the year had been sent to Australia!


THE VEGETABLES

  In addition to his cavy fame, Vic is of course well known for the size of his produce, being an accomplished propagator and exhibitor of Onions and Leeks, most notably winning Best Onion at the Northumberland & Durham County Show three years out of four.

  The two hobbies combine well, the produce being grown on the allotments alongside the cavy shed and benefiting from the readily available source of natural manure.

  For the last two years, Vic has also been cultivating alpine plants.  Although he may possibly show these at some stage in the future, at the moment he is gaining experience in propagation and cultivation.  Vic told us that many of the alpine plant societies hold “open days” in leading member’s gardens, when other members are invited to attend.  Vic has found these events most helpful in his early days with alpines, and feels strongly that local cavy clubs should follow suit.  In addition to the “educational” aspect of these open days, they are also welcome social events and can prove to be a useful source of club funds if a modest admission fee is charged.


MORE OF VIC’S VIEWS

  Vic is a fervent believer that a strong National Cavy Club is essential to the well being of the cavy fancy, and was immensely proud of his recent election as President of the NCC.  However, throughout our recent visits to his home, his dedication to his local clubs (in particular the Durham & Northumberland Cavy Club, of which he is Secretary) was clear.  Vic believes that the “grass roots” local shows are the key to introducing new fanciers to our hobby, and that for this reason the survival and welfare of local clubs is of very great importance.

  He is concerned that many North-Eastern clubs have folded during his years in the fancy, mainly due to falling entries.  Vic supports every local show he can sometimes at the loss of being able to attend larger events which he would otherwise have liked to attend.  This explains his somewhat controversial decision not to attend the National CC Combined Stock Show at Solihull in August last year, on the basis that he was already committed to a D&NCC Stock Show being held on the same date.

  We asked Vic if he could think of one suggestion which would most help the advancement of the cavy fancy.  After some thought, he replied that he thought it was a pity no “complete” food was available for cavies which was capable of meeting all their dietary requirements and keeping them in show condition.  He thought such a product would greatly enhance the appeal of keeping cavies to the general public, particularly the many people who might otherwise be deterred by the worry of making arrangements for feeding over holiday periods.

  And what of Vic’s unfulfilled ambitions in the fancy?  Yes, we are back to that elusive Bradford BIS with a Silver.

  Sadly, we can categorically confirm that Vic will not be in the running this year – because he is judging Non Self u/5’s!