Some Days The Postman Brings Better Mail Than Others...
© Alan S. Bias
Permission granted for nonprofit reproduction or duplication of photos and text with proper credit for learning purposes only.
|2013 IFGA Michigan Guppy Breeders Show Results|
Blue, Red, Green and Yellow. Four bags and four little round stickers. Each bag containing a single Vienna Lower Sword. The folks at my local Post Office still are not quite sure what all the fuss is about. They have come to accept my near weekly mailings of guppies in Styrofoam boxes. Always handling them with a much gentler touch than I when moving a box from counter to bin, or at least in my presence. What they are less familiar with is when a recognizable box shipped the prior week returns on nearly the same day the following week. They have come to understand my prized show entries are returning from a long journey to locales they have never had a chance to visit themselves...
So, what drives an adult individual, myself, to spend the greater part of a year or more in producing a single fish only to pack it in a plastic bag and mail it across the country? Much less spend many years or even decades in developing them into a recognizable strain? As a teenager the desire to raise guppies was already long in place. This after my late father had put one of his tanks in front of my high-chair while still a toddler. In the early 1960's he had started keeping common types of guppies and at one time built up to six or more tanks. This, according to what he told me in later years. None had filtration to my knowledge. Instead relying on frequent water change, floating plants and low stocking rates. Similar to research laboratories of old. One container in particular stands out in my mind to this day. It was a large round bowl with a flat bottom. If memory serves, it was likely 5 gallons or more in volume. Purchased while he was stationed in Orleans, France and intended as a large goldfish bowl. If my addition is correct, I've been keeping and breeding guppies in some form or fashion for nearly 44 years. From the age of 8 I have been maintaining my own tanks of guppies in attempt to propagate strains and explore the hidden world of guppy genetics.
I am also pretty sure the large round bowl met its demise at my hands in one of many moves after nearly a decade of service. My first real tank was a meta-frame 10 gallon tank with colored gravel and a corner box filter. No polyester floss in use in 1969, it was charged with fiberglass angle-hair and real charcoal. Lighting a simple incandescent bulb in a metal fixture. Heaters at this time were a luxury, and heat generated from the light fixture served in its place.
My first tank contained a basic population of fish for the day; a single cori, a zebra danio, a pair of guppies, and a neon tetra or two. At this time my dad was posted to his last duty station Fort Ord, CA after returning from Vietnam. I distinctly remember going to the local department store in neighboring Monterrey, CA and being able to pick out a couple Neon Tetra's at .99 cents apiece. On another visit a wonderful pair of Half Black Reds, likely from Florida farm stocks. From the first litter produced by this female I was able to raise about a dozen males in the same simple ten gallon setup to equal the size of their sire. A feat I could hardly accomplish today with pet shop stocks. A very viable strain.
By the age of 10-12 I had accumulated a greater number of tanks than my father had at his peak level of interest. I was also very busy de-evolving every fixed strain available at local pet shops One could hardly call it breeding as I really had no idea what comprised a strain, much less how to maintain it. Within several years I had managed to read most commercial publications of the time focusing on guppies or live-bearers in general. Being a teenager and living in central Virginia in the early 1970's made guppy breeders about as accessible as going to the moon. No thoughts of attending a show in person. Such notions belonged to those living in big cities. Guppy breeders were mysterious group of names appearing in the "For Sale" section of a couple monthly aquatic publications or infrequent photos in a rare book.
This all would change for me in my early twenties, a year or so after first joining the International Fancy Guppy Association (IFGA). Initially the only benefit of membership consisted of a monthly bulletin and addresses to purchase stock. My first real contact with an actual living breathing IFGA member came in the form of a phone call from a newly retired Florida Breeder, actually two. With it came an invitation to drive 300 miles roundtrip to their homes and see a real Fishroom. A drive that would become a regular occurrence on my part for the better part of a decade. They had both retired and moved to coastal Eastern Virginia. A small town called Irvington located on a peninsula referred to as the Northern Neck.
From my first meeting with this gentleman, I realized not only had I found a true friend, but a mentor into the world of breeding guppies. He knew no strangers and offered not only his knowledge, but also his stocks freely. His name was Elvin C. Cooney. Known to guppy breeders as "Old Man Cooney" or simply "Cooney". His stories were not limited to guppies, but that of life in general. From bounty trapping 300 skunks one year as a youth in his Pennsylvania hometown to help cloth his family during the winter and frequenting the home of a notable scientist named Albert Einstein while a mere lad.
|A. S. Bias (l) & Elvin C. "Old Man" Cooney ca 1990|
In the company of Old Man Cooney I would attend not only my first IFGA Annual, but many more in the following years. Cooney liked to breed Black Delta's and Half Black females. To this day the largest females I have ever seen were in his tanks and nearly three years of age. For the next several years with Bill Schoenbauer in tow we would make our yearly trip to an IFGA show. As he told it, it seems Bill had been shot down 3 times in his military service. He also indicated if we wished to fly to a show we were welcome to go ourselves, as no one could order him to do so after retiring. Bill also liked to breed Black Delta Guppies and also Red Albino's. A review of the IFGA yearly class totals during the 1980's will reveal their successes. Bill hated too drive and Cooney had trouble sexing his litters, much less driving on a crowded highway. So the three of us traveled many miles by car with me at the wheel. One would think the age differences of a twenty year old traveling with two 65+ year old men would leave little in common. In truth, it was just the opposite as we all enjoyed breeding guppies and associating with those who also did so.
|Blond Schimmelpennig Platinum DS, 1st place 2012 Gateway Guppy Associates|
For the most part stock breeding is a personal adventure. A solitary relationship between you, your breeding program and fishroom. Yet, a breeder does not have to be a loner. Benefit is often derived from focusing on other aspects outside the fishroom. In my case it reduces time spent in the fishroom and allows more time for results to mature. There are many facets that comprise the world of guppy breeding. Friendships formed, knowledge garnered and passed down to others, club meetings, publication of results, and stock exchanged.
|2011 World Guppy Contest Winner|
One thing most livestock breeders like to do is share the success of their results in some form or fashion. Be it in conversation with a local breeder, written publication, sale of stock, or entry in a show. Help support the future of the IFGA, your local club, and guppy breeding in general. Send a couple of your best fish to a show. Priority mail is still an inexpensive and reliable means of transport. Entry fees have remained constant for a number of years, often at the expense of the host club.
Who knows in the end you may find that, some days the Postman brings better mail than others...
|Blond Vienna LS with Purple Body Mutation|
Set your goals wisely and obtain foundation stocks geared to meet them. It is much easier to build upon the positive results and knowledge of successful breeders than to start from scratch.