So, you're thinking of getting a rabbit for 4-H? That's great! The 4-H experience is one that I cannot preach about enough. I raised rabbits for my entire 4-H career and they are a wonderful project for the first year 4-H'er right on up to us big kids!
Now, it's very important that you begin your search very early on, way before your fair's ownership deadline. There's nothing more frustrating to a breeder to receive an email that demands a specific breed and gender of rabbit that is needed by the end of the week. It causes panic and stress for everyone involved. I highly suggest scoping out shows as early in the year as possible. Talk to breeders and exhibitors and pay attention to how the show works. It will really help you have a feel for what's going on on the day of your show at fair.
As for choosing your breed – your first rabbit should be easy to handle, and probably on the small side. I don't recommend choosing a breed over five to six pounds for your first bunny. This will make learning handling and showmanship much easier. Havanas, Mini Lops, Dutch, Himalayans, Thriantas, and Creme d'Argents are a few good ones that are a handle-able size and are known for having sweet personalities. I don't recommend large or giant breeds for first-time rabbit owners simply because they are more difficult to handle, making showmanship difficult. On the other end of the spectrum, the mini and dwarf breeds are easy to handle because of their size, but they are not known for having temperaments ideal for a newbie. You may have noticed that I did not recommend breeds such as the Netherland Dwarf, Holland Lop, Jersey Wooly, or Mini Rex. Although these breeds are very common, I don't advise them for young 4-H'ers for exactly that reason. Because competition within these breeds is incredibly intense, it can be discouraging to begin showing with the big dogs (bunnies) right off the bat.
So, you've picked your breed, you've scoped out some shows, now it's time to make a purchase. Buy from a reputable breeder only! Pet store bunnies are very overpriced and rarely come with a pedigree, which is important for your first rabbit. Even rabbits from the feed store don't make the best 4-H rabbits. Buy only from a reputable breeder. Only get a purebred, pedigreed rabbit, and avoid anything advertised as "4-H quality." Show quality will cost more, but it is worth avoiding heartbreak and disappointment in the future by bucking up the cash for a good rabbit. Look for an adult rabbit, preferably one that has been used for showmanship before. Experienced rabbits are great for first time 4-H'ers, and older members are often glad to see their beloved showmanship rabbit get passed down to someone who will spend time with him and work with him again. Some great places to look are Craigslist, BestFarmBuys.com, and Hoobly.com.
When you finally find a rabbit you like, check it over for cooties! Runny eyes, nose, and bottom are all no-no's, as well as hairless sores on the feet and dirty ears. These are all signs of illness or parasites, neither of which you want to bring home. A clean rabbit is a healthy rabbit. If you happen to be at the breeder's rabbitry, make sure that the cages are clean and the other rabbits look healthy also. Remember that you vote with your dollar – don't support an unsanitary, unhealthy rabbitry.
After you get your new rabbit home, be sure to PRACTICE handling your rabbit! The judge will definitely notice if you haven't been working with him, and showmanship will be much more difficult if you don't.
Now that you've done your research, it's time to get shopping! Happy showing!