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Reader's Stories


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 can:

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 stock available.

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 space?

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 too many.

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 have 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 get something wonderful, it will only serve to improve your reputation. I still manage to keep enough of the outstanding ones to remain successful. Overall, I keep 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 other people.

Some 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 friends.




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