Something About Shebas

What do these two creatures have in common?


Apart from the fact they are products of the 1960s, they tend to be adored by the public and many of those who work with them but are cordially detested by some of the Powers That Be in their respective worlds. In the case of the Daleks, some actors and directors hate them and in the case of the Sheba Mini Yaks some judges and some breeders pour on them a similar level of scorn the aforementioned actors and directors reserve for the Daleks. On the other hand, their respective aficionados become quite passionate, even one-eyed and irrational in their defence. Put simply: you either love ‘em or hate ‘em.

The Sheba Mini Yak is an Australian breed, created by Mrs Wynne Eecen (founder of the NSW Cavy Club) in 1969 from crossing an old-style Abyssinian with the "Wombat Faced Peruvian" which was really a rather bad Sheltie from an era before we were allowed to import stock from Britain. (We can’t do that these days, either). Basically, it is a semi-longhaired Abyssinian.

The original breed standard (which can be found in Mrs Eecen’s book, Pigs Isn’t Pigs, Favoretta Publications, 1974) is said to have been based around one animal, presumably "Marmaduke" (star of television, book and song – probably the only cavy to have a pop song written and sung about him). If so, this is no real problem. After all the breed standard for the Norwegian Forest Cat is based on one animal, "Pan Truls".

The breed standard as given in Pigs Isn’t Pigs calls for a "Heavy, sturdy thick set animal" with a head described as "squarish in aspect, with parakeet frontal and mutton-chop whiskers". The fur is to be "medium texture, thick and luxuriant." and the animal to be shown "Rosetted, in a natural state, not to be highly groomed or to have hair parted in the middle". The ideal length of coat is to cover the feet or floor level. They appear to have been classed as longhairs at that time.

Until recently, they were classed as Coarse Coats, along with the Rex and the Abyssinian. The most recent standard (Australian National Cavy Council Approved Standards for Exhibition Cavies August 1994 edition) calls for the coat’s texture "to be as coarse as possible but with lustre", the density to be "even all round", the length "to cover the feet only, even all round with no sweep", the fringe "to be forward over the face", the moustache "to be likened to Mutton Chop Whiskers"; the head "to be broad with short nose, eyes to be large bold and wide spaced. Ears to be large, rose petal shaped and drooping with good width between" and the shape and size "to be cobby, thick set and firm fleshed, broad at the shoulders and large throughout. Presentation is to be "without a parting and in a natural rosetted state". Additional remarks state" The hair should be sufficiently coarse to prevent impression of flatness. It should stand away from the body around rosettes at neck, sides and rump. The fringe is not required to cover the face completely, features and moustache (Mutton Chop Whiskers) should be visible…"

A request was made to the Standards Review Panel of the Australian National Cavy Council to review the standard. For some reason (I am not sure how or why) this resulted in the breed being de-standardised so from Sept. 2005 it can only be shown in the Unstandardised Class while a new breed standard is worked on with a view to being submitted to the Standards Review Panel. A draft standard has already been submitted but it is by no means satisfactory to all Sheba breeders and the discussions among those breeders with email certainly revealed some differences in what we all think a Sheba should be. My own view is that we really need to get together physically and have a hands-on workshop. Possibly we should set aside some time at the National Cavy Show this year, though not all Sheba breeders go to that.

There are problems with the Sheba, of course. One is coat length. Shebas often have coats longer than their feet, some even have sweeps. Another is getting the right lift in the coat (the presence of rosettes and their placement influences this) while at the same time they should have partial frontals ("parakeets") and mutton chops. Those with the good parakeets and mutton chops often have flatter, heavier coats (the Peruvian in their heritage).

It is generally thought that the use of imported Peruvians or Abyssinians in Sheba lines damaged the breed, though some old timers say that even in the 1970s, Shebas often had coats growing past their feet and photos in Pigs Isn’t Pigs show Shebas with flat, heavy "Peruvian" type coats. Certainly the original breeds they were derived from no longer exist and, most likely, neither do the original Sheba lines.

A third sticking point is that all too many have been shown with dirty coats in a quite disgusting way as it is commonly believed that washing a Coarse Coat robs it of its coarseness. I’ve certainly come across some very smelly specimens at some shows and can’t really blame those judges who dislike them if they have had to handle such grotty little pigs.

One issue is what group they should be in. In Queensland they show them as Longhairs and the provisional standard wants them to be placed in that group. I can’t see the logic myself, except that it would allow the coats to be trimmed but as trimmed coats in Longhairs can and often are penalised, I can’t see the point. The other Longhairs’ coats grow at 2.5cm a month. The Sheba’s hair is much slower growing and just does not present with the wealth of a Peruvian, Sheltie, Texel or Coronet in full coat. In my view, they should no more be in Longhair than a Somali or Balinese should be in Group 1 (Persians, Maine Coons, etc.). Coarse Coat doesn’t quite cut it either.

In fact, the problem is with the title "Coarse Coat" as really, only the Rex has a coarse coat. Often Abyssinians are not that ‘coarse’. I have been told that originally this group was called "Coat Cavies", in other words, the coat carried most of the points so perhaps they should resume that name and leave the Sheba where it is.

So what’s my idea of a Sheba, then? It should be a big, cobby animal with a broad face – I aim to work to get bigger faces and more solid bodies on mine. The coat should look tousled, rumpled, scruffy, the worst case of "bad hair day". This is down to the rosettes and their placement to get the correct lift to the coat to create this effect. Heavy flat coats with centre partings (or even without centre partings) are not on. The coat should not have a sweep nor grow too long. In addition, the animal should have "mutton chops" growing forward and a partial frontal, a parakeet also growing forward over the face. Getting a frontal of a decent length is hard. As I said above the ones with the better frontals and mutton chops are those with the heavy flat Peruvian coats.

Of course, one of the most frustrating things about Shebas is that they chew their coats. Even if kept on their own with plenty of hay, they still chew.

This pig has a suitably scruffy appearance but the frontal and mutton chops are not as full or as long as they might be.

This one has a full frontal (possibly a bit too full as it almost covers the face unless brushed aside), and mutton chops are good and long but the coat is flat without much lift as the picture below shows

So very much a work in progress. As for the Daleks, they are here.


Pipsqueak Cavy Stud

Tamar Stud

Bivoir Cavy Stud




The Sheba Mini Yak,as most people know, was created in the late 1960s by the founder of our club, Mrs Wynne Eecen. Sheba-type cavies had been turning up in litters for many years and doubtless had been “buried under a lot of carpets” to borrow Dr. Pat Sheumack’s phrase in relation to the development of the Somali cat.  As happened with the Cashmere Lop and the Somali, an effort was then to develop them as a separate breed.


Mrs Eecen used, as her foundation stock, two now extinct breeds, the “Wombat-Faced Peruvian” (a Sheltie-type cavy) and the old-style Abyssinian. Careful breeding over several years led to a new breed which bred true and which she named the Sheba Mini Yak, ‘Sheba’ for one of the foundation animals, a Wombat-Faced Peruvian named Queen of Sheba, and ‘”Mini Yak’ be cause she thought the hair was yak-like.


However, the genetic waters soon became muddied when some breeders sought to ‘improve’ their lines by using imports of the English Peruvians and Abyssinians. Some, perhaps, were not very careful in their breeding programs even before this resulting in Peruvian-style cavies without the required lift to the coat.


Further confusion arose when some breeders, particularly in Queensland, decided they were longhairs and thus accepted a longer coat which tended to appear anyway because of the above mentioned Peruvian infusions. Other states classed them as Coarse Coats, though interestingly, a careful reading of Mrs Eecen’s book, Pigs Isn’t Pigs and the show schedules of the 1970s indicates that she considered them longhairs as well. It should be remembered, though, that ‘longhairs’ of those days did not have the very long coats we know today. Indeed, Mrs Eecen considered the 40 cm coats of the English Peruvians “freakish”.


Despite the muddle that has developed over the years, most people know what a Sheba should look like, that is, a “hairy explosion” of a cavy. What we don’t know, really, is how that looked is achieved and the breed standards over the years (there have been several) are not much help.


To take another breed as an example, we know what an Abyssinian looks like. We also know that look is achieved because the breed standard tells us. There should be four rosettes aligned around the middle and four around the rump with two optional ones on the shoulders. We know that the ridges should be strong and well defined and that the rosettes must not be flat or open.


The Sheba also has rosettes but we don’t know how many and where they should be to give it that tousled, bad-hair-day appearance. Coat density, texture and length are other issues we lack data on. If the coat is too dense it will not have the proper lift and will fall flat like a Peruvian. Too sparse and it will not have the correct fullness and so on.


While I am aware that one or two breeders have been keeping detailed records for a number of years recording coat length, density and rosette placement, we really need more people doing it to get a clearer picture and that data needs to be shared so we can build a database.

This database will tell us what rosette placement and quantity will give that SMY look. What this means is noting the rosette numbers and placement on the babies and seeing how they develop as they grow older. If for example, it is found that eight or more rosettes randomly placed gives us the right look and less than eight aligned do not, then we need to breed those cavies which throw eight random rosettes.


This database will also do the same for the coat. Most of us have cavies in our sheds with slow-growing coats. Again this means measuring the rate of growth and breeding for the slow-growth as one or two breeders have been doing for a number of years. After all, the reverse must have occurred with the Peruvian. If we look at the Peruvians of 1903, we can see the coat in many cases is no more than floor length with a sweep. Over the years, they must have bred for length so that only those with longer coats were kept. Thus we ended up with the spectacular Rapuntzel-like specimens we see today. The reverse must be done for the Sheba and the long-haired ones bred against.


We need to find out if this is possible, if we can indeed breed a ‘semi-longhaired’ cavy and prove it because, despite the “nay-sayers”,  there have been no studies done, for or against. If the coat does continue to grow, albeit slowly, this needs to be shown, too.  Even if it does, this need not be a problem. It simply means that the Sheba does not have a particularly long show life. Many longhairs do not, either. Most retire around 12-18 months. Rex rabbits often don’t either because the short dense plush coat starts to get a bit long and open.


The end result of all the record-keeping and breeding is to pool the information gained, and write a report on it which can form the basis of a new breed standard. This is even before we can think about a new breed standard, never mind its wording. As has been said to me on a number of occasions, “Without the animal, you can’t have a breed standard”. We need raw data. Once we have it, we will be in a better position to write a breed standard because we will have a clear idea of what we want and how to get it.


Ideally we should have workshops (as was done with the revision of the Abyssinian cat breed standard in recent years) where the data can be shared. It won’t do much good if it remains in individual caviaries so we need to find a way to share it among those working on the breed. I favour face to face and hands-on as earlier attempts to get breeders to work together via electronic means have not been terribly successful, possibly due to lack of time or lack of confidence in their writing skills or ability to express themselves on the part of some.


This will not happen overnight. It could take a number of years. To take an example from another fancy, a rabbit breeder in Canberra took five years to refine the Polish rabbit to the fine boned, porcelain animal we see today. The Polish, like the Sheba, breeds true, there is a breed standard but the rabbits Jean was working with were large, coarse animals who were a long way from that standard (probably the result of inferior imported stock). She said they broke her heart at times but she persevered. That was one breeder working alone with an animal whose gestation period is less than half that of a cavy.


On the other hand, turning to the cat fancy, the Somalis (semi-long-haired Abyssinians) took five breeders three years. Cats have the same gestation period as cavies.  As Pat Sheumack (“mother of the Somalis”) explains, “Over the next three years, every Abyssinian kitten that was born [they had to use Abys, no outcrossing to long-haired breeds was permitted] was photographed and immediately registered and all its details and pedigree were recorded and when thirty of these were obtained, the report was submitted to the governing council. As a result the longhaired Abyssinian…became a registered entity, could be exhibited apart from the shorthairs and was eligible for champion status in its own right” (“A brief glimpse into history” by Patricia Sheumack, The Abyssinian vol. 38, no. 1 (Jan. 2004))


So what we need are:-

·        some more people willing to take up the challenge of the Shebas, to breed, record and take notes

·        to pool that data so we have a database and we have a solid foundation on which to build a breed standard.

(Originally published in Cavy Capers June 2007)




At the 2011 ADM,  the delegates voted to accept the Standard Review Panel’s (SRP) proposal that the Sheba Miniyak be given a full standard; that it be the same one as when it was first standardised and that it be shown in the longhair group.


So, what is a Sheba Miniyak (aka Sheba, SMY, Mini Yak, Miniyak)? It is an Australian breed, that is, it was developed in Sydney by our club’s founder, Mrs Wynne Eecen in the late 1960s and announced to the world (or at any rate the Sydney press) around March 1969. It was created by crossing the old-style Abyssinian with a kind of Sheltie which gloried in the name “Wombat-Faced Peruvian”  Remember, this was before imports were allowed, and there were many varieties such as Melbas, Salmon Agoutis, and so on which had been developed from stock which had been imported no later than 1908.  The Shebas were selectively and carefully bred until they bred true.


Mrs Eecen christened her new breed  Sheba Miniyak (and that is the spelling she uses) “Sheba”, from the name of a foundation sow, and “Miniyak” because she thought it looked like a little yak, a view still shared by some members of the public today. It is essentially a long-haired Abyssinian, the rosettes giving it its characteristic tousled look. It differs from the Peruvian, which also has rosettes, because the rosettes are many and all over its body, not just two on the rump.


The poster boy for this new creation was Marmaduke  Miniyak, star of television, book, press and song – possibly the only cavy to have a pop-song written about him. Some claim the standard was based on him as if it were some sort of criticism of the breed whereas it is not uncommon with cats – the  Norwegian Forest Cat  is based on one animal “Pan Truls”, for example.


Mrs Eecen always regarded the Sheba as a longhair and as a longhair it was shown until the mid-1990s. Back in those pre-import days, longhairs’ coats were not wrapped and tended to be floor length anyway (probably because they broke off). Basically they were a time-capsule of what longhairs had been because in the early 1900s, the longhairs in Britain also were floor length and unwrapped.  She regarded the long coats as developed in Britain by the 70s as “freakish”.


Below is the Sheba standard as set forth in Pigs Isn’t Pigs, the one the SRP proposed to be used now.




Heavy, sturdy, thick set animal



Squarish in aspect, with parakeet frontal and mutton-chop whiskers

25 points


Medium texture, thick and luxuriant

20 points


Rosetted, in natural state, not to be highly groomed or have hair parted in middle

20 points

Condition, size and colour

35 points

Remarks: Ideal length – covering feet or floor level


Eecen, W. Pigs Isn’t Pigs, Favoretta Publications, 1974 p. 110


From around 1995 the Sheba was shown in the Coarse Coat Group and there it remained in most states and the National until 2005 when it was de-standardised. In 2004 the SRP was asked to review the Sheba standard because of some on-gong problems (the standard had had minor revisions done to it over the previous decades). In 2005 they recommended it be de-standardised and breeders work on a new standard.


Many breeders gave them up but those who continued to work on them looked at things like coat length, rosette placement (where and how many to produce the Sheba “look”), coat density and so on. A draft standard was produced, actually there seemed to be several draft standards floating around at one point to add to the confusion.


There are problems with the Sheba of course, one being coat length. It does grow longer than the feet. Research has shown that it grows at 2.5 cm a month the same as any other longhair. The reason it seems to “slow down” or stop growing as the animal gets older is that the coat breaks off at floor length. This I have found from my own observations of not only my Shebas but also my unwrapped Merinos, Coronets and Shelties. This is why longs are wrapped if intended for show.


Wrapping a Sheba, however, is problematic because of the rosettes which, for best results should be as plentiful as possible and randomly placed all over the body. Splits, lifters and doubles are all the better.  They should not be aligned, either, especially around the middle of the body as this gives a “waist” which is most undesirable. 


In short, what constitutes a disaster in an Abyssinian would be fine in a Sheba or put another way a bad Abyssinian would make a good Sheba. 


Some people believe using the English Peruvian and/or the English Abyssinian in the Sheba lines rather ruined them. However, a close examination of the photos in Pigs Isn’t Pigs coupled with memories of older exhibitors who visited Mrs Eecen in the 1970s suggest that long, heavy, flat Peruvian type coats have always been a problem. One breeder recalled that Mrs Eecen kept  them in banks of cages arranged according to coat length with the shorter coated ones at one end and the longer coated ones at the other.


Shebas like Rex look the goods as babies. They nearly all have a nice tousled look with good lift in the coat. However, as they mature and the coat grows longer, it can flatten out with the weight, at around 7, 8 or 9 months. So a promising youngster can turn out to be a bit of a mop without the desirable “hairy explosion” look.


Given the fact that it is difficult to wrap a Sheba,  they would be left “au naturel”. This means their coats will break off and thus be penalised on the bench because the length would not be commensurate with their age (as longhair coats should be). Also the ends would show the coat had broken off. So I would envisage a fairly short show life for a Sheba now it’s in the Longhair group but then many people only show the other longs for about six months.


Another problem is that little dears have a bad habit of chewing their coats, either their cage mate’s, or more annoyingly, their own. They do this even on the way to a show, as I discovered with one I took to Russell Vale, back when they could be shown. Did it coming down the Bulli Pass, didn’t he?


Something else to note is that they should be washed. When they were being shown before, there was a tendency of some exhibitors not to wash them because they thought this affected the coat quality, making it feel soft and not coarse. The result was some quite grotty, smelly pigs. Washing them a month before the show will give the coat time to coarsen up again but still keep the cavy ‘nice to know”.


Shebas are endearing little creatures with loads of personality and are terminally cute, especially as babies.  They are always a big hit at displays which is why so many are in the Patting Circus. I often tell the story of the teenage girl at the Bungendore Show some years ago who saw one, a cream and buff sow, on her board and stopped her friend to take a photo. “I want to take that to my hairdresser. That’s exactly how I want my hair done!” Or the girl on the Purina stand at Sydney Royal who called out to one I was taking back from the Show Radio studio, “Hello trendy guinea pig!” So, Sheba as fashion statement?


 Originally published in Cavy Caper Sept. 2011




Buff/White Boar born 1 Oct. 2007 (Reguli Gensai x Reguli Wollombi) Diagram of placement 2.5 weeks old in photos


White/Black/Buff Boar born 1 Oct. 2007 (Reguli Gensai x Reguli Wollombi) Diagram of placement 2.5 weeks old in photos


 Buff/White Sow "Reguli Acushla" born 1 Oct. 2007 (Reguli Gensai x Reguli Wollombi Diagram of placement 2.5. weeks old in photos

This was taken in Sept. 2008


White/Black Boar born 20 June 2008 (Reguli Genichiro x Agemaki) Diagram of placement Photos taken 3 August 2008


Agouti/White sow born 20 June 2008 (Reguli Genichiro x Agemaki) Diagram of placement Photos taken 3 August 2008


Buff/White/Agouti sow "Reguli Viva Diva" born 20 June 2008 (Reguli Genichiro x Agemaki) Diagram of placement Photos taken 3 August 2008

More photos taken 7 Sept. 2008


Golden Agouti/White boar born 25 August 2008 Diagram of placement Photos taken 7 Sept. 2008

More photos taken 5 Oct. 2008


Buff/White sow "Reguli Condesa" born 25 August 2008 Diagram of placement Photos taken 7 Sept. 2008

More photos taken 5 Oct. 2008


Gold/White boar "Reguli Genta" born 25 August 2008 Diagram of placement Photos taken 7 Sept. 2008

More photos taken 5 Oct. 2008

Some quite nice baby Shebas - the Gold and White was born in April 2011 (photo taken July 2011) and the tricolour was  born in June 2011 so was just under four weeks when the photos were taken.


Because rabbits as pets are strictly forbidden in Queensland (incurring a $30,000 fine and the death of the bunny), they have come up with the following:




[Capital Country Cavy Club] [Reguli Cavy and Rabbit Stud home page]