Bloodlines

One aspect of Koi understanding that is still far from accepted even when it is understood is the importance and relevance of individual bloodlines. It is fair to say that unless you fully understand the importance of bloodline then you can never really understand Koi at all. The bloodline of a Koi and the traits of that line can and do make very significant differences as to what you can expect from the Koi in question.

 

So, firstly, just what is a Koi bloodline? Who better to ask than the Japanese Koi breeders them selves? However before we do this I feel I should point out one essential fact. I learnt very early on that when you ask a breeder a question you should never take the first reply that you receive as fact. Now I do not mean that you may have been given an incorrect answer as such, but that you should always double check. Ask everything again and again until you are completely satisfied with the reply. Let me explain. Many years ago a hobbyist accompanied a buying trip to Japan upon which I was a member of staff. The gentleman in question was not totally convinced that what he had been told by dealers with regard to over wintering his Koi was totally true. Whilst visiting one breeder who does speak English the hobbyist asked me to ask what this particular breeder recommended as a winter keeping regime. I suggested that he ask himself so as to get the information absolutely first hand. This he promptly did. He asked if the breeder “gave his Koi a winter”. Yes was the reply from the breeder, I stop feeding and allow the water to cool. At this point the hobbyist gave me a look as though to say you see they don’t need the heating and feeding in the winter time that he had been told they did. I then asked him to ask the breeder exactly what he meant by giving his Koi a winter. With a look of some confusion the question was asked. The breeder explained that he brought the temperature right down to 15 degrees C, 60 degrees F and reduced feeding to only twice a day. The hobbyist was flabbergasted at the difference in the replies as he saw it. I had to explain several things to him that you have to bear in mind when asking such questions in Japan. In this example whilst the breeder spoke good English he did not know the word for “reduce” so he could not say to “reduce the amount of food given” so he simply said “stop feeding” as he thought that this would mean a similar thing. A minor thing that had a large knock on effect to the reply! With regard to the recommended water temperature the 15 degrees C that the breeder mentioned is the absolute lowest temperature that he ever allows his Koi to experience. So to him this was cold! When I then went on to inform the hobbyist that if he asked the same question the next day at another breeders premises he would probably get a totally different answer he just looked at me. All breeders have their preferred way of doing things. You can never say “Oh, in Japan they do this and this”, who in Japan? Where in Japan? When I Japan? I mention this only to help the following question and answer, hopefully, make more sense.

What exactly is a bloodline?

The Japanese use the word “keito” to describe bloodlines. This word translates in several different ways, some of the most common being as “trademarks” or “traits” or “characteristics”. We can see from this just what they are getting at. The “Keito” dictates the characteristics of a breeders parent sets. Remember not all Koi parents from the same breeder will share the same characteristics. Let’s go a little further.

Every individual bloodline has its own particular characteristics, and whilst it is true. That only Kohaku and Sanke actually have genuine bloodlines it is now equally as true that most varieties have established lines at least to some degree or another. It is a fact that all Sanke originate from the Torazo line of Sanke. Similarly Tomoin Kohaku are said by many breeders to be the original high class Kohaku. Some lines can be described as “temporary” in so much as it is sometimes the case that a breeder who may be well known for producing particularly good examples of a variety of Koi relies on only one female parent Koi. If he cannot select a future parent Koi from his production then, naturally his line may well vanish when anything happens to his lone female parent as he may not be able to produce Koi of such good quality any more.

Also some bloodlines are not as old as others. A good example of this is Dainichi. Minoru Mano, the man behind the Dainichi bloodline was so successful that he managed to establish and to stabilise his own line himself. So successful was he and so good is the Dainichi bloodline that many, many breeders now use Dainichi parent Koi or at least have Dainichi blood in their own lines. Matsunosuke is another example of a particularly successful line that is now included in numerous breeders lines.

So how does the bloodline of a potential purchase affect the Koi hobbyist? To be honest if you are not worried about the future potential or lack of it, of a new Koi then it really does not matter. However if you are serious about your Koi and wish to maximise the chances of growing on a genuinely high class Koi then the bloodline is very important indeed. For example;

I have dealt with breeders whose Kohaku can be sexed at Tosai with 90% certainty. How do they do this? Easy, if their Tosai Kohaku have strong red pigmentation then you can be almost certain that they are male. However other breeders whom I purchase from have Tosai Kohaku that all have very strong colouration but this has no bearing upon their sex whatsoever. Again some breeders from whom I regularly purchase the Showa variety have Koi that until three or four years of age have very soft orangey coloured hi pigmentation and this is fine. At around four years of age the hi will strengthen beautifully and the Koi will look magnificent. On the other hand I know breeders from whom I would not dream of purchasing Showa from if the hi was weak looking as I would know hat it would never strengthen. All of these differences are due solely to the bloodline of the Koi in question. We can see that it is not acceptable to assume that with any one variety there are hard and fast points to look for, to do this can be very misleading indeed. Another example of how bloodlines can differ between the same breeders Koi is the Sanke variety from Sakuma Koi farm in Isawa. Sakuma San uses Sanke parents from Sadazo bloodline also from Matsunosuke line as well as his own established Sakuma line Koi. The Sanke from the Sadazo line have nice body shape from two years upwards, lovely and full and they only get better. However his Sanke produced from his Matsunosuke line parents are much slimmer until four to five years of age and many people look at them and assume that they are all male when in fact the opposite is the case. The Koi are slim due to their bloodline and only fill out later on and this is when they attain a fantastic body shape.
They spend the first four to five years putting on length, this growth then slows and the volume comes. But if you don’t know the bloodlines of this breeders Koi!!

Omosako Koi farm use several different parent sets for their world famous Shiro Utsuri and these have very different traits. Whilst some Koi have very strong Sumi patterns from Tosai onwards which change very little as the Koi grows others have very faint Sumi indeed. If you did not know the bloodline of these Koi you would almost certainly not wish to purchase this type of Koi as you would probably think that the Sumi was never going to strengthen. Grow one of these Koi on however and you will find that at five years of age the Sumi pattern is as strong as any other Koi form this very famous breeder. Again though, if you did not know this you could be totally mislead by what you think may or may not happen with the Koi. Yet again this difference is completely down to the individual bloodlines from the same breeder.
If you were to see a young Shiro Utsuri from the parents who produce the strong Sumi in the young offspring that had weak colouration you should probably avoid it as it goes against the traits of its line. We should be starting to see where we are going with this now.

We are so often told to look for such and such when buying a particular variety of Koi and this is so often completely wrong and misleading. If we are serious about selecting a Koi that we wish to achieve a very high level of accomplishment then we must know its bloodline, not what variety it is!! How often have you been told that “all” Chagoi grow to very large sizes? Many times I bet. The truth is that if you wish to grow a Chagoi or any other Koi to a truly large size then you must find out the size of the mother. The female parent dictates the potential size of the off spring. She does not guarantee it but she does dictate the potential size. If the mother is only 60cm then there is very little, if any, chance of the off spring attaining a size larger than this. If on the other hand she is 105cm then the off spring have a very good chance of reaching a similar size given the correct conditions. If a Koi lacks the genetic ability to grow to a truly large size then no keeping techniques on earth will coerce it into doing so. This is just one more reason why knowledge of the bloodline is vital.

Many people try to shrug off the importance of bloodlines and to convince others that they are not important. However if you are serious about Koi and are striving to do the very best that you can with them then this knowledge is absolutely essential. Whilst there are never any guarantees with regard to the potential of any Koi what we must do is to try to minimise the chances of being disappointed and this is exactly what knowing the traits of a particular Koi’s background can do for us.

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