Keeping rabbits for meat, fur and wool is a project that can be done without great expense. Many people, after having rabbits for a while, begin realizing the wonderful different breeds available and are drawn to showing rabbits. It can be intimidating to see people with dozens of rabbits at a show – but it only takes one to win!
Perhaps you want to start with a breed you already keep, or perhaps you want something different. Before you start buying rabbits do some research. It will save you money and heartache in the long run! Look objectively at your space available. Review your management practices. Join ARBA – American Rabbit Breeders Association. This gives you a wonderful book with much information, a magazine subscription and much information. Go to some shows and just watch. Get a copy of the “Standard Of Perfection” and look through it honestly weeding through what catches your eye – perhaps you like the lop ears, or are struck by the beautiful fur and colors of the Rex or the challenge of producing properly marked Dutch. Talk to breeders and exhibitors of the breed(s) you’re interested in. Most people will be happy to talk to you if you aren’t holding them up from getting to the show table. If you’re learning ask questions!! Go watch the judging of the breeds and listen to comments from the judges. This “trains” your eye to look with a keener view towards selecting a show prospect long before you’re there. You’ll learn to identify low shoulders, off color and other traits, and you may pick up tips for handling rabbits too. When you’re talking to the exhibitors after showing have them show you properly posed rabbits and how to spot good traits and faults. If you do your homework you’re doing a couple things – you’re learning to spot a *show* rabbit and you’re teaching yourself also to recognize traits to avoid. Some things – such as a discolored toenail – aren’t hereditary but other things are. For breeds that have exacting color patterns or different colors see what a good color is. You can get a lot of information online and in books but there is nothing that beats going to a show and seeing RABBITS.
When you’re deciding on selection of a breed be sure and have a plan for culls. For example, if you’re already keeping rabbits for meat your cull rabbits can still fulfill that. Do not count on the pet rabbit market for small breeds and even more so for large ones. Some breeds, such as those with particular markings, will have more culls produced than others. While breeding the best to the best increases your chances of a show rabbit not all born even of that breeding will be showable. While some might be useful for breeding others will have flaws that decrease their value and usefulness. You can figure if you have four brood does you can easily have two litters of rabbits per month – and if each is 6-8 that’s a dozen to 18 bunnies to sort through and pick showable from not. If you’re lucky you’ll have a few show bunnies from that selection – those should go into individual cages. I’ve tried raising them in groups and it just doesn’t really work. Black rabbits can get problems with small white hairs from damage to the skin from toenails of siblings or, worse, a nip that grows in white means your show bunny became a breeding only bunny – spots are disqualifications. Black rabbits need to – even more than others – be kept out of the sunlight. I once had comments from a judge my black buck was sunburned (hair) and next to some others he was – even though he was in a garage with no sunlight. It finally dawned on me although the door was closed light penetrated enough to discolor him – I moved him and when he molted (shed the coat) I took extra care to keep him BLACK and he began winning!
I’ve tried several feeds and some are better than others. A good show feed is needed for the show rabbits. It’s more expensive but something like the Purina brand show feed gives an extra edge to coats not only on fur breeds but on regular breeds too. Fiber is often overlooked – good hay, addition of up to 10% of the ration beet pulp (test feed it – not all rabbits like it) and occasional treats of dandelions or a handful of clover kept show rabbits in top condition and health. For those choosing to do wool breeds – the angora or fuzzy breeds – be dedicated to grooming not only your show rabbits but keeping the broodstock done up too.
So you’ve been attending shows to observe and learn, you have individual cages set up and feed stocked up. It’s time to get your starter rabbits. Save up and get GOOD show rabbits. What breed you have is going to somewhat influence how much you’ll have to pay. In doing your research you’ve learned what can be useful in a breeding animal even if it’d disqualified at a show. Get two pair of good show or breeding stock. Many times if you’re patient – and you’e been talking with breeders so have connections – be patient and you can start with less expense. You can take the shortcut and buy a show rabbit – you can expect to pay upwards of $50-75 for those. Or, with selective shopping you can get some retired show animals for breeding. Perhaps there’s a doe who through injury has a discolored toenail, or a buck with a nip out of the ear. Those things are not passed to offspring and if other traits are built up it makes for being able to get breeding age stock for a little less than show stock. The important thing is they’ll produce your show babies. By getting two pair you can get a good start in keeping some replacements and show babies. Get a junior (under 6 month) buck and older buck.
With Rex I’d make mental notes early on – then at weaning I’d split the bunnies into pens. Definite show prospects went into individual cages – they can see others but others can’t get to them. This allowed assurance of feed and water to that rabbit. Breeding prospects – not quite showable but useful – go into another pen, and you can usually get away with using a good sized cage and housing these in pairs. Those that are left go onto a different program for meat or feeder rabbits.
I’d give names as a point of reference. For example, say your starter rabbits are Bear, Buck, Daisy and Holly – if Buck is your junior buck you’ll breed both does to Bear. When the babies are about a month old rebreed both does to Bear. Two weeks later you pull the bunnies out, making sure of course they’re eating and drinking well. This gives your doe a two week rest between litters. With luck you’ll get a couple showable bunnies out of the first two litters. When weaning put them in individual cages and begin a feeding program of giving them all the high protein conditioning pellets they want. The best way is to figure an ounce per pound of adult weight – adjust if needed, but feed enough that in a 24 hour period they clean up their feeder. In other words if you feed at 7 pm the next night at 7 pm you want the feed pretty much cleaned up and the feeder empty. If it’s empty the next morning feed more…if there’s food left at 7 pm cut back a little. You want to allow as much feed as they want but not letting it sit out and get stale. If at 6:30 they’re cleaning up the last few pellets you’re hitting it good!
So your first babies are about 4-5 months old, looking good. The fur is coming in good, bodies are as the standard says they should be, meat breeds should be firm with tight skin. You’re ready to start showing. Your bunnies should be tattooed young and the tattoo legible. Wipe the ears out and check tattoos as you put them into the carrier. You might put a notecard showing which rabbit is in which slot – in a rush you know for fact you have the junior doe not the junior buck (which gets disqualified in the jr doe class!). Many of us have done it – a sense of humor is important as we’ve all done it. You’ll take your rabbit to the table and there will be several small three sided stalls. Place your rabbit in an empty hole. Be a good sport and don’t point out your rabbit – listen to the judge’s comments. There will be some judges who don’t like your rabbit and others who do. I had some rabbits do poorly under one judge and win under another. You’ll need to make sure your entries are in by the deadline. You’ll need to get your rabbits into the facility and laid out so it’s easy to get them to the show table when called for. Don’t hold up the class if you can help it…being at the table promptly with clean, healthy rabbits not only gives you the maximum chance at winning but also tells the judge and your fellow exhibitors you respect their time – and it helps move the show along quicker. Be a good sport – thank the judge (win or lose) and congratulate the winners. If the judge isn’t rushing into the next breed you may ask a particular question about a particular rabbit you have or ask for clarification.
There’s your regular shows as well as state fair shows and nationals. Be sure to check closing entry dates – while many times shows close that morning those at fairs often have entries close much earlier. There may be additional rules for larger shows also.
Showing rabbits is a way to meet and share information with other rabbit raisers. While for every $200 rabbit there’s a whole bunch of $3 culls and you’ll see quickly it’s not normally a for profit venture, you CAN cover your costs. Those extra breeding ok but not quite showable rabbits at $10-20-30 can pay for a few bags of feed. Those meat bunnies still work in your freezer as well as the unknown background bunnies did. With meat breeds being bred for wide, meaty bodies it may be even more efficient, getting more meat on those fryer rabbits.
When loading up for the show I’d pay particular attention to the time of year and temperatures. Many people use vans that can climate control the rabbits. If you have a pickup with camper shell on it, a draft free space with a blanket draped over it can help keep rabbits from getting chilled. For hotter weather take 20 ounce soda bottles and freeze – when the temperatures increase put one in with each rabbit to lay against.
Showing is a great way to produce rabbits for a homestead and participate in competition with them is very enjoyable. One of the highlights of a trip to nationals was showing the 5th place broken Rex – and although it didn’t win she was a homebred. I didn’t just buy her – I bred and raised her, conditioned her, bit my nails every time a rabbit was picked up and watched as she was picked for fifth over about 30 rabbits. For a smaller herd it was a huge thing.
If you’re willing to do your homework and listen to constructive criticism you can take that ride yourself. It’s an accomplishment that makes it easier to take the setbacks and disappointments, which are many.