An Introduction to Raising Show Rabbits
Rabbit shows are judged differently from horse or dog shows. Instead of taking only 1-3 animals to a show and entering the ring with them one at a time, the rabbits are placed on a table in front of the judge. Placements are made based on the rabbit’s physical appearance, not their performance. In order to be successful in showing, you usually have to be a breeder as well as a showman, always producing the next generation of juniors. You improve your performance on the show table by selecting breeding pairs that will produce offspring with proper body type, color, fur, and condition. The American Rabbit Breeders Association publishes a book that tells what you should look for in each breed, called the Standard of Perfection. Of course, it’s always a learning experience and can take a while to understand what the desired traits look like.
Which breed should I choose?
The most common breeds these days are the small ones, because they take less space, less feed, and are the cutest! I am partial to Polish, but other common breeds include Netherland Dwarfs, Holland Lops, and Mini Rex. I love Mini Rex as well. Raising a popular breed has its pros and cons. You get plenty of competition, which is good when you are winning, but can be frustrating when you are starting out. A good way to go is to pick a competitive breed, such as Mini Rex, but a less common variety, such as tortoise or chocolate. Some breeds show all the colors together, such as Holland Lops. This results in enormous classes, where you’re happy to place in the top 5 of 20. Some breeds — like Mini Rex, Polish, and Netherland Dwarfs — separate the colors on the show table.
Larger breeds can make excellent show rabbits, as well as provide a meat source for your family. Medium-small breeds such as Mini Lops and Dutch
Where can I buy show rabbits?
You should definitely go to an experienced show breeder rather than a pet store. Your first rabbits don’t have to be from champion bloodlines, but they should be pedigreed. A rabbit from a pet store will probably not come with a pedigree. Even if it does, it’s in the pet store for a reason — breeders usually only send rabbits to the pet store that are of little value on the show table or the breeding pen.
How much do pedigreed show rabbits cost?
When buying pedigreed bunnies, you often “get what you pay for.” In other words, the more you spend, the better chance you’ll have of winning faster — but that’s not always the case. Unfortunately there are some highly overpriced rabbits out there for sale. They might have champion parents, but a pedigree doesn’t mean very much if the rabbit doesn’t have desirable characteristics itself. In other words, buy bunnies — not pedigrees.
At a rabbit show you will find bunnies for sale, usually between $20 and $75 each. Top quality rabbits of the most popular breeds, such as Netherland Dwarfs, Mini Rex and Hollands, can sell for as much as $200 and up. Is a rabbit ever worth that much? That’s a topic that breeders often debate, and I will probably blog about sometime. I do not recommend spending that much initially. You should be able to get a nice quality starter herd for $150 to $200, maybe even less. Often breeders will give you a discount if you buy more than one from them. In fact, there are several good reasons to buy your stock from the same person. When you buy rabbits from the same line, there’s less chance that you will get unexpected results in the litters due to the hidden genes from mating two totally unrelated rabbits. It’s definitely a good idea to buy a trio from the same established breeder.
How many should I start with?
I think a good number to start with is a trio — two does and a buck — or two pair. That way you can show the buck(s) and put the does into breeding. Or, if you start with a pair of seniors and a pair of juniors, you can breed the senior doe and show the juniors, to see see how things go.
Always start small and grow as you learn. Many breeders, I could probably safely say most breeders, go through a period where they sell off most of their stock and restart their herds, because they have by that time learned what to look for in show rabbits, and know that their herd isn’t what it should be. It’s much easier to start over if you only have 10 rabbits than if you have 30 or 50! If after a year or so you decide that breeding rabbits isn’t what you want to do, you don’t have so many to care for or try to sell.
Part 2 will cover what to look for when purchasing your starter stock.