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I am a huge advocate of children starting their showing journey with rabbits and poultry. Relatively speaking, both are reasonably affordable, and easy enough for a younger child to raise and care for. They’re a great “gateway” livestock animal!
When it comes to choosing a rabbit for your child to show, there are several considerations. It’s not as easy as waltzing up to your local pet store and picking the cutest rabbit there! The first step to choosing a rabbit will be determining what classes your fair has available. Some fairs only have meat pen classes, while others have open classes that allow all recognized breeds.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to assume that your fair offers open classes and allows your child to pick from all ARBA recognized breeds.
After you have verified your fair’s classes, you will need to decide on whether or not you want to just keep one rabbit, or if you want to breed them expand the project for your children. If you have multiple children showing, often breeding is the best choice. This will allow you to save money from purchasing multiple animals, but also allows you to get back some of the funds invested through the sales of the rabbits not retained for showing. This is an excellent introduction to business for your kids!
When it comes to determining the breed, you will need to decide what your goal is. If you want a rabbit for meat, obviously, a lionhead won’t be the best choice. Sit down with your child and decide if you want a rabbit for meat, fiber, or strictly show and pet value.
Show and Pet:
American Fuzzy Lop
Blanc de Hotot
Although these breeds are usually categorized in this manner, there is nothing saying that other breeds cannot be used for other purposes in some instances. For example, I know mini rex breeders that use them for meat. With that being said, if you try and enter mini rex into a meat pen class, they will easily be beaten by the specialized breeds.
It is easy to think that since your child is young and small, that choosing a small breed for them would be ideal. This is NOT always the case! In some cases, the slightly larger breeds have more docile personalities. Breeds that I have PERSONALLY seen work very well with children are Lionheads, Angoras, Hotots, Jersey Woolies, Himalayans and Mini Rex.
As with any animal, there are exceptions to the rules when it comes to personality and behavior. Also, especially if you have younger children, make sure that they are supervised with the rabbit. Often young kids fail to know their strength or consequences of their actions. This not only prevents the rabbit from being accidentally harmed, but you can watch the rabbits body language to help prevent bites or scratches by a stressed animal.
If possible, I highly recommend attending a local rabbit show so that you can interact with multiple breeds before you buy.
Each breed has its own breed standard. This standard defines the animals preferred conformation, accepted colors, accepted markings, and even HOW the rabbit is shown. For example, you do not show a Himalayan in the same way that you show an Angora, they need to be set up differently.
After you choose your breed, you need to make sure to familiarize yourself with the breed standards. You do not want your child to put in the work and effort into a project, only for them to be disqualified immediately because their rabbit is not an approved color, has an off-color nail, or some other, easily prevented issue.
After you have chosen a breed, and educated yourself on the breed’s standard, you can then begin looking into their requirements for food and housing. Smaller breed will not need the same cage space as a Flemish Giant. If you purchase your supplies before choosing your breed, you risk getting the wrong items.
Likewise, different breeds also have different nutritional requirements. On average, standard rabbit feed has about 14-18% protein. Fiber breeds, and meat breeds have higher nutritional requirements than some of the smaller breeds. It is best to talk to a breeder that specializes in your particular breed for specific information on how to best feed your new rabbits.
Be aware, many feed stores do not always keep the higher protein feeds in stock. Double check with your feed store owner to ensure that they have the feed needed, or can order it. In the event that they cannot, or will not, order a specific feed, there are ways that you can add the additional nutrients through supplements.
Foot Relax Pads- These allow your rabbits a safe place to rest off of the wire bottom of the cage. They’re affordable, and a highly recommended addition to your rabbit’s cage.
Cage Tags- Although not required, I do really like cage cards. There are options available for general information, breeding dates, “take me to the show” and more. They are a great visual to help your child with their project, especially if you have multiple rabbits.
Transport Cage– If you are “goin’ showin” you will need a transport cage for your rabbit. These cages allow for your rabbit to be safely transported, and to stay clean because they have a wire bottom. Just like regular cages, different breeds may need different sizes, so be sure to check the size needs of your rabbit before buying.
Nail Clippers- One of the things that the judge will check at the show is the condition of the nails. In many breeds, off color nails are a disqualification, so the nails are automatically checked. Long or unkept nails are not only a danger to your rabbit, that could catch and rip it out, but a sign to the judge that you didn’t care for your animal to the best of your ability.
Tattoo Pen- Ear tattoos are required for most shows and breed registries. If you are purchasing a rabbit from a breeder, make sure that they have an ear tattoo at the time of purchase. In this case, if you do not intend on breeding, you won’t need a tattoo pen. However, if you are planning to breed, then you will need to tattoo your rabbits, and those that you are selling.
If you’re still not sure where to turn for help with your rabbit project, do not be afraid to reach out to your local 4-H and extension agent. They should be able to recommend local breeders, as well as tell you if there are any rabbit shows coming up in your area.
If they are not able to assist you, reach out to the ARBA or the breed specialty organization. They can often direct you to local breeders or the regional chapter for the ARBA.
Showing rabbits is a very rewarding project for kids (and even adults)! There is a lot to learn from the smaller livestock and they are often overlooked for the bigger, flashier show animals. Don’t neglect to see the value of a small animal project to your child. Take advantage of the lessons in husbandry, business, and planning that can be gained from showing rabbits.