How to Buy Show Rabbits that will Win ARBA Shows

Last Updated on December 18, 2022 by Ellyn Eddy

Here are five tips on how to buy show rabbits that I learned the hard way.

As show breeders, we have high hopes for the rabbits we buy. Sure, there are some people who seem to have unlimited funds and cage space, and can grab every rabbit that strikes their fancy, but for most of us, adding another bunny to our herd is a big deal.

We don’t want to mess up. We don’t want to spend $375 on a rabbit that’s going to place last in its class (trust me, I’ve been there).

On the other hand, we don’t want to pass on rabbits that could potentially boost our herd to the next level. Sometimes excitement clouds our judgment when we get the chance to purchase a certain color or bloodline we’ve been hoping for. It’s especially difficult when we are new to the hobby and haven’t quite mastered the Standard of Perfection yet.

The truth is that less is more when it comes to buying show rabbits. You’ll do better in the end to make fewer purchases, but really, really smart ones.

Everyone gets burned at some point, so I want to share some of my experiences with you. Here are a few things I learned the hard way about buying show rabbits:

Five Top Tips for Buying Show Rabbits

1. Get a Second Opinion

We’ll start with my first mistake first: don’t shop alone. Join a 4-H club, or a local ARBA club, or simply mingle at shows and make friends before you go rabbit shopping. Meet people who have been in the hobby for many years and have seen success at state or national levels. 

Once you’ve made friends, ask one of them to help you go pick out some stock. They should be able to spot health issues, attitude issues, and faults or disqualifications that you may miss when shopping by yourself. Even if you have some experience raising rabbits, it always helps to get a second opinion.

2. Be very cautious about buying “sight-unseen.”

Okay, so it’s a well-known breeder. Okay, so the rabbit has a great pedigree. Okay, so they e-mailed you pictures, and it’s a color you really, really, really don’t want to pass up.

Still, don’t buy the rabbit until you see it in person. Great bloodlines don’t always make great rabbits. Photos can easily hide faults.

There will be another chance to buy a show rabbit in that color. In most cases, it’s not worth the risk. Even if the breeder has the best of intentions, sometimes they can miss a DQ or accidentally sex the rabbit wrongly, and you’ll want to check it yourself before you had over the cash.

3. Only buy one or two rabbits at a time..

It’s been said many times, and it’s true: winners are bred, not bought. You won’t be consistently excelling on the show table until you have established your own line and are producing your own winners. You may start with several bucks and several does, but after a few generations, you’ll find that all your keepers tend to go back to the same handful of rabbits.

This is the foundation of your line. You’ll want to sell almost everything else at this point. If you start with too many rabbits, you’ll have a lot more you need to find homes for when they don’t turn out like you wanted. Plus, if the gene pool is too broad, it will take longer to find those few crosses that “click.” It always is wise to start small and build your herd piece by piece.

4. Don’t buy based on show record alone.

In fact, don’t buy on show record at all. Anyone who’s been around shows for a while knows that the judging can be very inconsistent.

A rabbit that won several legs in one part of the country may not place well in a different area, under a different handler, or under a different judge. More importantly, it might not be what you need to fix an issue in your herd.

Don’t let anyone pressure you into a purchase by flaunting a rabbit’s achievements. I’ve seen rabbits win at the national convention that I wouldn’t buy.  Instead, shut your eyes to show records and hunt down a rabbit that has the body type you need.

5. Absolutely get the pedigree at time of sale.

The seller should have the pedigree available to you at time of sale. If they say, “I’ll mail it to you later,” insist that they at least jot down the sire’s and dam’s names, colors, and ear numbers for you.

Also make sure to get the seller’s name, e-mail address, and phone number before you go. Unfortunately, many buyers have been promised a pedigree in the mail and then never received it. If we were talking about pet or meat rabbits, it wouldn’t matter as much, but a show rabbit loses almost all its value when you lose the pedigree.

Ideally you should see the pedigree before agreeing to the purchase. That way you can spot problems such as color genes in the background that will clash with your existing herd.

One time I paid $200 for a rabbit, only to find out, once I got the pedigree, that it was five years old. Don’t waste your money like I did.

Most importantly: Patience wins Rabbit Shows

Although these pointers should help, still don’t despair if your first rabbit purchases turn out to be treasured pets instead of your top show bunnies.

It takes time to not only learn how to pick out a good rabbit, but also figure out what you need to improve your herd. Everyone gets there if they stick with it – I’ve seen it happen dozens of times.