Top Ten Tips for New Breeders/Exhibitors
My husband Pete Chavez and I have been showing and
raising English Angoras for about four years now and
have managed to achieve a good level of success in
our rabbitry and on the show table. We attend almost
all of the national conventions and specialty shows
and our bunnies consistently perform well. Even if
your goal is more modest, but you wish to work toward
the best performance possible, you could try a few
things to improve it. Following is a list of 10 tips
that have helped Pete and I achieve the best that we
1. If you are completely new to rabbit raising,
spend at least six months to a year investigating
the particular aspects and standards of the breeds
you are interested in.
This may sound like a very long time, but it takes
awhile to learn about raising, breeding, and showing
rabbits successfully. You cannot learn body type, density,
texture, or condition in one day at one show. Different
breeders and judges will have differing opinions. It
takes time to form your own opinions and to learn what
to look for in purchasing breeding or show stock. Buy
some books on your particular breed interest. Many
people make the mistake of buying a whole bunch of
rabbits from a breeder without doing their homework
and start mass production right away. This can lead
to mediocre show animals and instant overcrowding.
2. When you are ready to purchase, buy the best
Buying the best doesn't always mean paying the most
(although price very often does reflect quality). It
is far better to start with three outstanding specimens--or
at the very least, an outstanding buck and some very
nice does, than to settle with inferior stock. I look
at it like this...the winning exhibitors already have
an edge because they have been working at and producing
the best that they can over a period of time and you
are just starting out...in last place. It takes time,
effort and some luck to produce good offspring, and
the better the stock you start with, the less time
it will take. In fact, you may never be able to devise
a breeding program that will gain good quality from
mediocre rabbits. Why waste the time, energy, and cage
Sometimes outstanding breeding stock may be available
at very reasonable prices especially if you are not
fussy about colors or age. Some reputable breeders
from time to time will need to cut down on the size
of their rabbitry for a variety of reasons (overcrowding,
illness, moving), and this may be the ideal opportunity
to get an older proven animal. You may also find a
quality animal that cannot be shown due to a disqualification
that may not be genetic such as a broken tail or toe.
One of my best breaks in obtaining quality stock was
when another breeder got out of rabbits and I was able
to obtain some of her best animals.
3. Start off small.
Don't rush into a major breeding program right away.
You may think you need a lot of animals to fill classes
and that you will be able to sell all of those extra
unwanted bunnies. Well, most other exhibitors have
a lot of bunnies to spare, too, so if yours don't have
something like winnings or good bloodlines that create
demand, you may be facing bunny overload. Remember,
even after you have done your research, it still takes
time to learn about all the subtle aspects of your
breed. Believe it or not, it doesn't take a large herd
to produce show winners. The success that Pete and
I have has been achieved with a rabbitry that seldom
ever tops 30 animals. (Obviously, if you are breeding
commercially, this would not apply.)
4. Become friends with your competitors.
This is important for several reasons. First of all,
showing rabbits isn't much fun if you don't like any
of the people. While beating a competitor you don't
like may be satisfying, you won't always be the winner.
Some of my closest friends are my competitors, and
I have learned very valuable information about the
breed we raise and it has contributed greatly to my
successes. Sometimes they can be a sympathetic shoulder
to cry on when we run into major setbacks because they
have very likely been in our shoes. This may end up
being the most satisfying part of your experience with
rabbit raising because friends can be around long after
your interest in showing has died.
5. Time your breedings carefully.
This method worked for us in the very beginning when
our rabbits weren't yet up to the quality of our competitors.
By carefully planning the timing of your litters to
be staggered from your competition, you can often win
some junior classes mostly on development and age.
These smaller wins can be enough reward to help maintain
your interest until your line reaches its potential.
This method can also work in senior classes. Some judges
like a more mature senior coat, whereas others like
a fresh younger senior. This is why I never breed more
than two litters at one time. This method may be limited
in areas where weather restricts breeding times, but
careful planning can still make it work. You can also
time your litters to be a specific age for a major
national or specialty show.
6. Be selective with your stock and don't keep
This can be very difficult for some breeders who either
think a whole litter is great or want to hang onto
them for a long time before they make up their minds.
It can be much more difficult to sell an older animal
than a cute junior. Some bunnies can be sorted out
early for sale, whereas others may not reach their
potential until they are well into senior age. Generally,
I try to narrow down a litter to one or two by 12 weeks
old. Occasionally, if I have what I think is an exceptional
litter, I may hang onto the bunnies longer for only
two reasons. One, to make sure I keep the right one,
and two, if they are really nice, it will
be easier to get good homes for them later on. There
been several situations where I have let bunnies
go that were really "keepers", but I am glad that
I was able to keep my numbers down. When your buyers
something wonderful, it will only serve to improve
your reputation. I still manage to keep enough of
the outstanding ones to remain successful. Overall,
less than 10 percent.
7 Be diligent about the health and cleanliness
of your rabbits and rabbitry.
Old rusty wire bottoms will soil a bunny's feet and
possibly cause sore hocks. This will lead to sickly,
poor conditioned rabbits on the show table. Every effort
you make to preserve the cleanliness of your rabbitry
will show up on the show table. One contagious rabbit
can quickly infect an entire herd if not properly cared
for, removed, and possibly culled. These are simple
things that any breeder can do to enhance the quality
of their stock. I would also add feed selection under
this category because it directly relates to the health
of your rabbits and their appearance. Consult with
other breeders to see what feed mixtures they are using
if you have questions.
8. Be ethical and honest in your dealings with
people have the attitude that "somebody took
advantage of and burned me, so I am going to do the
same back to them or to somebody else." If you intend
to stay in rabbits for any length of time, ethical
behavior is a very important requirement. While some
people can live with themselves if they're dishonest,
their reputation will eventually catch up with them
and expose their conduct. If you are selling a rabbit
with faults, share these with the buyer. The rabbit
might have enough good qualities to override those
faults, or maybe the buyer is looking for a specific
feature and not care about the fault. Have pedigrees
ready on for-sale animals. Don't make up ancestries.
Prepare a flyer giving care information about your
particular breed. Have a policy for return or replacement
rabbits that is made known to the buyer.
9. Join your local and national clubs.
Again, these clubs are a source of information and
friendships that will provide ideas and tips on improving
your herd and avoiding disasters. There are guide books,
newsletters and outlets for advertising your stock.
10. Have fun and volunteer.
If you are not having fun, you probably won't be around
long enough to achieve many successes. Success may
not always be measured by how many awards you take
home at the end of the show, but rather by the improvement
and self-satisfaction that you have accomplished in
achieving goals and forming lasting relationships.
Many of the people that work so hard to put on a show
go unthanked and unappreciated. They love to show as
much as the next exhibitor, but it takes volunteers
to put it all together and make it work. Try clerking
for a show or helping set up or clean up. You will
get to know the judges better as well as making new