It’s that time of year when breeders will start receiving calls for 4-H/FFA projects. This time of year, has me excited for these new projects for youth, but it also concerns me. Is the breed of rabbit the youth picked out right for this youth? Is the breed of rabbit going to work for what the youth had in mind? Does the youth understand what type of care and requirements owning a rabbit requires? All these things go thru my mind when I receive the call/email/text.
When your youth lets you know that a rabbit may interest them in a project for Fair, sit them down. Ask them some basic questions.
Why do you want a rabbit?
What do you want to get out of this project?
What type of equipment will be required?
Have the youth do some research. Write down their answers or set a time to do a follow up conversation regarding these questions. Make sure the youth can answer the questions with at least a good understanding about what raising a rabbit entitles.
Find out if the youth wants to get a rabbit because Johnnie next door has one. Maybe they have seen the cute rabbits on TV or heard about them from a classmate who has one. Explaining to the youth what type of care goes into this project. Explaining to them that they will need to do daily as well as a weekly and monthly basis. Daily feeding (checking to make sure the animal is cleaning up their feed), cleaning cage issues and watering. Use this time to also handle the rabbit and watch the rabbits actions, movements and attitude. Weekly they will need to clean manure either from a pan or possible under a drop cage. Monthly, the rabbit will need to have their nails clipped. Also do a monthly health check (checking teeth, vent, foot pads, etc). This is done in order to check for any problems and be able to fix them quickly. Once this is established and understood, then moving on to the next question.
What do they want to get out of the project? Are they just wanting a project animal or do they want to raise a meat project or possible raise rabbits for show? If the youth just wants a project animal then obviously this will be an easier decision. We will just need to find out if the youth plan to do showmanship also. This is a certain skill sets that will need to be practice over and over. Showmanship is best to find a mentor in the county to help. A local 4-H club/rabbit group can help with this. Find out if the county fair uses a local showmanship guide or do they use the ARBA showmanship guide. There may be differences in the steps.
The youth want to raise a meat project. Then, let’s find out if they want to raise a meat pen, single fryer or roaster. This conversation needs to be had ahead of time because all of these projects require a certain time to be bred and kindle. Requirements for these projects can be given to you by your fair superintendent. Roasters need to be 6 months old. Single fryers need to be 10weeks old. If Stewers are an option then take the time to look up all of these in the ARBA Standard of Perfection. There is a detail description of each meat class. It will tell you age requirements and weights for each different class.
If we are looking at possible raising rabbits for show then we will want to consider what type of stock we choose to buy the first time around. For any of the above project areas it’s best to seek out reputable breeders who not only can explain what the breed requires for care and feeding, but also will be there to answer any questions you may have down the road. Project animals don’t have to have the best quality to be projects. They just need to be healthy and free of disqualifications. A breeder who is knowledgeable will be able to provide you with a good animal. If show stock is what you are interested in, then show stock will require a bit more selection. Doing your research and finding good quality animals is important. If you start out with mediocre rabbits, then more than likely you will produce mediocre animals. If you start out with good quality animals, then more than likely you will produce better show animals. Find a breeder who knows their stock. They will know how they mature, how they show, what attributes they need more of or what can be done to improve the confirmation.
So now that we know what the youth wants to do with their project we should have a conversation about what type of breed are they interested in. Ask questions. Find out are we looking for a 4-class compact rabbit or a 6-class full arch animal. Different breeds require different feeding requirements and different cage environments. We can put a Dutch in a 24x24 cage but wouldn’t recommend that size cage for a full-size Checkered Giant. Mini Rex should have a wire bottom with a foot pad that they can get off the wire at times, where Belgian Hares require a wooden floor (which means more cleaning!). This is the time where the youth should check out the ARBA.net website to review the different breeds that are out there. Find one that the youth can handle. Can they pick it up without struggling. If they are going to do showmanship, can they turn the rabbit over with ease? Once they have their choice down to 3 or 4 breeds, find out what is available locally or how do you arrange transportation to get the animal to your house. Contact breeders to find out more about the breed. Set up a time to meet with them. Take a list of questions with you. Before you go, ask about the price per animal to make sure you are prepare to spend that much. Figure out if you are only interested in buying one rabbit or maybe a trio (2 does, 1 buck).
Before you bring home any rabbits make sure you set up your cages. There are many local cage dealers who you can purchase your supplies from. They are very knowledgeable on what you will need for your rabbits. They will know what you need for the breed of rabbit you are purchasing. Water dishes, Feed dishes or gravity feeders, resting pads, etc are all supplies that you should begin with. Some may want to entertain their rabbits with toys. I have used practice golf balls (they are plastic and have holes that the rabbit can pick up with their teeth) or regular golf balls. There are many other options out there.
Feed is the next discussion that needs to be looked into. You can walk into any feed store and many options to purchase. I suggest you speak to the breeder whom you are purchasing from. It’s best not to switch cold turkey onto another feed. A mild switch is best. Ask the breeder for some transition feed to mix with what you were able to purchase. If the feed is what you have already purchased then you won’t need it. Now everyone will have their own opinion of what feed is best. Some of us will tell you what works for us. They will tell you all the different things their feed can do. There are other options of rabbit feed that you can’t purchase in your local feed store. Check out Heinold Feeds. There are many dealers thru the US. They can help educate on what feed is the best for your breed of rabbit. There is Oren Reynolds (which is a favorite among many breeders), General Formula, Family Formula, Wool Formula and Show Formula. They also have different toppers which your rabbit may enjoy too (TNT and Doc's Rabbit Enhancer). Choosing a good nutritional rabbit feed along with clean fresh water is essential to the health and condition of your animal.
Next step is bringing your rabbit(s) home to enjoy. Learning how to care for them and love them is a great learning experience for youth. Not only do they learn important life skills (responsibility, planning, organization, care, etc), but they will create a great bond between themselves and the rabbit. Enjoy! But most of all don’t be afraid to ask any questions you may have.