Foundation-line cats in our pedigrees
The Art of Breeding Maine Coon foundation stock
by Phyllis Stiebens, Kumskaka/Behold cattery
Q: What is a foundation stock cat?
A: At the beginning of the Maine Coon cat, in the upper Northeast part of the USA, there were shaggy stocky sweet cats (strays) the people grew to love and to keep around as family members. They called them “shags”, “Maine cats” and later, “Maine Coon cats”. Most started out as brown tabbies, but many colors were kept as beloved family members. These cats who were kept and then registered as the beginning of our Maine Coon show breed were called foundation. They were our beginning cats, unrelated and pure American. The stud books are still open and thus cats are still able to be added as our foundation stock cats and thus keep our genetics healthier.
Q: Where are these cats found?
A: While this breed first started in the area of Maine and upper NE from docking ships at these ports, it grew to include other northern states, then mid states and now includes all cats on the continental part of the USA and Canada. America is a land where people take their animals with them and up until most recently, people did not neuter/spay and thus kept their shaggy felines and many generations of offspring as part of the family. The cats have since diluted the shaggy start of the breed a bit since unrestricted breeding with the “locals” are found all over USA (including Maine and the NE). It can take more time to “weed out” the undesirable traits that may show up from this local stock ‘breeding’ but an experienced breeder of Maine Coons can watch carefully of what to keep going or end in traits.
Q: What is the purpose of adding new stock to the Maine Coon breed?
A: Any animal, wild or domesticated, needs to be kept with a healthy amount of unrelated stock (genetics) to keep the breed healthy and able to live in today’s world. When any breed of animal is inbred, problems start to occur. In the Maine Coon cat, for many years, too many people wanted show wins and thus bred to the same lines over and over until it started to show some serious problems. Problems such as fertility problems, lower immunity to diseases, unfriendliness and sometimes feral personality traits as well as shy or skittish traits. Later there were also problems with cats unable to breed, birth or raise babies at all. All these problems spell the beginning of problems and will eventually be the end of the breed. In the Maine Coon cat, we call these most used cats in the stock the top 5 and clones. A percentage of these are given for a pedigree and the lower the numbers, the lower the inbreeding amount will be. Most show lines are now up to 75% top 5, and this does not amount to much unrelated stock any longer. Problems are bound to be showing up! New foundation stock is needed.
Q: What do you look for in finding a suitable cat to add as fdn stock?
A: A novice should never attempt this! One has to know the Maine Coon breed, its traits in looks, size, coat, personality and all the little quirks that make this a special breed and only a breeder of many years will be able to do this. And even with a breeder who does know this breed, they can find a kitten which they “think” is suitable, only to raise the kitten and as a young adult, see that it is no longer one to be mixed into the breed. Other times, we may raise a kitten seeing a nice F1 cat (first generation stock is known as F1) but once giving birth to a litter, can see that this cat should not be in a breeding program. Maybe the look is totally wrong, maybe coat is wrong, or shape of body is wrong. Maybe health isn’t good and maybe there is a genetic problem in a baby, and this is not to be allowed. [Why bring in new stock and bring in more problems than we have now?] Looks are extremely important but not everything and we must be able to be serious and take a responsibility to what we add to the gene pool, including health and “build”. An F1 cat has a big responsibility and must improve the breed it is added to, or why add this cat at all?
Q: How do you add a new stock cat to a breeding program?
A: Upon finding a cat that has all the looks, coat and resembles a Maine Coon, it must first be taken to a vet. Tests are first step. A Felv/FIV negative test is step one. Then a CBC before bringing home. If all goes here, then vaccinations, worming, flea treatment as well as any meds that may be needed to get into good shape. After 2 weeks of being isolated, it is best to redo the Felv/FIV blood test. If still negative and personality/health look good, introduce into a small group of your cats and see how things work. Usually there are no problems, but on occasion, even the best-looking ones will not fit in. You do not need a troublemaker. But it can be hard to know what situation this kitten lived in, and so mild temperament problems can be allowed and bred out in next generation. Once you have a suitable kitten and want to give it a try, register with ACA in California. They are the only cat association to allow new stock to be added to the Maine Coon breed. Online look up: American Cat Assoc in California
Q: What do you do with a new F1 stock cat?
A: You have 2 choices here… either you can #1...breed to another F1 and thus keep a kid or two as F2 and replace the F1’s as long as no problems have shown up, or #2... Breed to a show line Maine Coon, thus, creating early fdn cats with better type and size and quality, but also having less fdn stock in that line to work with.
Q: What kind of problems do you decide to eliminate a line for?
A: If something small shows up, it can be bred out…like weak chin, small un-tufted ears, little shy or skittish, or smaller size. But if you get a problem that will ruin the looks, shape of body/tail, or any ‘type fault,’ then this is first reason to stop that line and not work with it. Another reason to eliminate a line is weak health or sickly cat. Just an URI and isolated? Then try antibiotics and see if it goes away quickly. One reason to add new lines is to add health vitality so do not add one that will make health problems which are not needed. If you get bad personalities in the cat or its kittens, then end that line right away. If there are any breeding problems (C-sections, miscarriage, unable to produce babies at all or similar) then it’s a bad cat to add. It's possible that cat is very inbred, even though it may be a “farm cat”. Once you get babies if there is any genetic problems, such as pectus (flat chest), crooked legs or knees, over or under bite of jaw, crossed eyes, and a variety of other problems…do not add any kitten from this line. Be selective and careful! Only add the best cats for the best gene pool!
Q: Where can I go to find a suitable fdn stock cat for breeding?
A: In USA and Canada, you can keep your eyes open. It is harder if you know nothing of the kitten and you are taking more chances on whether they will produce Maine coons or just domestic longhair kittens (an experienced breeder will know the difference). When you see a free kitten ad or sign, go and visit. If you can see a parent or both that can help. Ask as many questions as you can. If some people tell you they have Maine coon kittens to give away, ask more. Just because someone calls them “Maine coons” actually does not mean that’s what they are. Go to a show and listen to how many visitors say they have a Maine Coon cat. But ask about them and they say a vet told them they ‘looked’ like one or they saw a photo of one in a magazine and they are sure that’s what they have. If you have nobody to ask questions of, you are taking more risk and you will have to be more careful to watch traits, health and risk adding undesirable things. Best situation is a family who has at least the mama and they travel with their cat and still have her. Often the girl gets outside, gets bred by unknown tom and you then register this kitten as an F1 and be selective to only keep what looks/acts and is built like a Maine coon cat. Nowadays you will be unable to adopt from a humane society or similar place as they neuter/spay before allowing adoption. Things have changed a lot in this area over the past 20 years.
Families used to "trade" kitties at the local pound or humane society, and it was totally normal to do so way back then. You could find out the family's names and addresses for anyone donating a kitty (if you worked there or knew the people working there) and call or stop by to visit and find all the information they knew on that particular kitty. Things have changed so much now however, that you cannot get an
unspayed/unneutered cat from an animal facility or even pet store and if you do, you will never get any information from them about original families due to privacy of information in USA. If you find a family who owns both parents, indoor cats, as well as any other relatives…then this is best situation but harder one to find. On occasion you may find a stray and like it enough to give it a try. If you are willing to work at it for a while and see how things develop and be willing to waste all your time and money if it does not turn out proper, then go ahead and rescue this feline and see about registering as an F1. It is hard to do this because the chances are usually not worth all the work/time/money, but it can be done if someone were willing and dedicated.
Q: When can the fdn stock be shown in American show associations?
A: CFF will take F3’s and this is the first generation able to leave ACA which does not show. Then at F4, you can register and show in TICA and ACFA. Once to F5, you can register in CFA but cannot show until your pedigree is up to F6. After this it is considered a full show line Maine Coon cat. (with a little less inbreeding which is awesome!)
Q: Is it worth adding new stock to your Maine Coon stock?
A: You will not make any money at it for years and may lose total lines when just one single problem shows up. You will not get respect from other breeders until your lines are considered out-cross of at least F4 and since cats are less in size and quality for many years, you will not win any show awards. But if you want to help the future of the breed, if you are willing to do it with another breeder or two where you can mix each other’s lines and find problems easier in doing so, and if you are willing to make very less money for many years for your kitten sales, then it can be a very rewarding experience. It is great to know you have helped the future of the breed. It is a very time-consuming hobby of years and years, it is an expensive hobby with a never-ending amount of money going out (it seems anyhow) and it is a lot of stress and sometimes worry. But.... It is amazing to watch each generation get bigger size, shaggier coats, better type and frills and know that you helped produce this… then it is totally worth it all.
This project is not for the faint of heart. It is not an easy project nor a cheap one. You MUST be serious to keep only the best and not to share with others who can ruin a line by doing it all wrong. You must be serious in all aspects before you even start to attempt breeding new early foundation cats and lines. Once you are willing to take the next 5 years minimum to work on a new line and willing to give it up if needed, then it can be such a rewarding experience. You may make mistakes and choose kittens you “like” but who are not proper quality for fdn stock. You may have to take longer to fix such lines or just end them and start over. But it can be very fun to do if you are daring.
Q:Is this breed worth all the effort, time and expense?
A: I say yes!
copyright of Kumskaka and Behold Maine Coon cattery, updated 2022. Permission to repost or use in own site is possible if asked prior to being
shared. Phyllis Stiebens has the right to deny use of this article.