Showing rabbits is only one reason for raising them, but for some folks it’s the only one. They love the fun and thrill of competing and winning. They enjoy spending a day with friends who have the same interest. They often make show day a family outing, with a tailgate picnic, a fishing trip or local sightseeing.
One of the most rewarding aspects of showing rabbits is learning from the other raisers and the judges what you have done wrong and right so you can overcome your mistakes and oversights before another show date arrives. Raisers who hope to sell breeding stock try to build a record of winning that will attract customers.
What can you win? There are trophies, ribbons, and special prizes put up by other competitors. There are breed-club sweepstakes points and grand championship leg certificates, and simply the judge’s nod of approval. Except for some state fair exhibitions, there is not a lot of money to be won, and that probably does more than anything else to keep rabbit shows as honest and fair as humans can make them. You’ll always find friendly competition and none of the brutally serious attitudes that prevail at dog or horse shows.
Rabbit shows don’t receive a lot of publicity in local newspapers. That’s probably because they are not spectator oriented; they’re really only fun for the exhibitors or those who plan to exhibit.
Local and state clubs and breed clubs sponsor the shows. If you belong to local and breed associations, you will learn about rabbit shows near you via club newsletters. If you belong to the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), you will find a listing of upcoming shows in each issue of Domestic Rabbits magazine and on the association’s website. The listings include the show date, as well as the name and address of the show secretary.
Contact the show secretary and ask to be put on the postal or email list for the show catalog. There is no charge for this catalog, which gives directions to the show, the time to arrive, the entry fee, and the prizes offered. The catalog also lists the breeds that are sanctioned, which means the breeds that will receive sweepstakes points. Any recognized standard breed may be shown, whether listed or not.
On the day of the show, pack up your rabbits in crates or carriers large enough to allow them to turn around but small enough to fit in the backseat or trunk of your car, where they will ride nicely if the day is not too warm. Most rabbit shows take place in the spring and the fall, but on a hot day keep your contestants as cool as possible. I use all-wire carriers that provide the same ventilation my hutches do. They can be easily made or purchased.
Most show secretaries specify in the catalog that you must arrive at least an hour before the judging starts. Upon arrival, get in line for your show cards and pay your entry fee if you haven’t already done so.
Be alert to announcements by the show superintendent, who will call for the various breeds to be brought to the show tables. It is your responsibility in most instances to carry your own stock to the table.
Judges evaluate rabbits by classes, grouping them first by breed, then by variety, age and sex, in that order. If you raise New Zealand Whites, for example, the first class on the table will be senior bucks; the next, senior does; then 6- to 8-month bucks; 6- to 8-month does; junior bucks; junior does; and perhaps, prejunior bucks and does. Seniors are 8 months and older; 6-to-8s are, not surprisingly, 6 to 8 months; juniors are under 6 months; and prejuniors, if any, are usually about 3 months of age.
Showroom classes for smaller breeds, such as Tans, are simpler. Seniors are 6 months and older; juniors are under. In some shows, does and litters and meat pens of three fryers each vie for prizes. Fur classes also are special, with separate entry fees. The prize money is a percentage of the entry fee. In fur classes, normal white fur, normal-colored, Satin and Rex furs are judged separately. I like to enter Tans, which go in normal-colored fur classes, because invariably they win. Tan fur, although classified as normal, exhibits greater sheen than that on any other rabbit except the Havana, including the Satin. And you don’t see too many Havanas, which were used to create the Tan breed, entered in shows. It’s not unusual for Tans to cop all the top places in normal-colored fur. I expect them to be put in a class of their own, like Satins and Rex, one of these days. In the meantime, at the expense of the other breeds, Tans are cashing in.
A class of Rabbits might contain, for example, 12 senior bucks. The judge looks them all over carefully and measures each individual’s worth by two yardsticks. One is the standard for the breed, which he should know by heart but usually has nearby for occasional reference. The other is comparison, one animal against another. One by one, the rabbits are placed, from 12th to 1st, and the judge dictates remarks about each one’s good and bad points to a recording secretary, who writes them on a show card that becomes the property of the animal’s owner. The show secretary indicates placings on a show-record sheet, which becomes the basis for awarding trophies, ribbons and special prizes, and for the report to all exhibitors and to the breed clubs. If the show secretary does not issue you a complete report of the show (most report only to you what you have won), you can find a comprehensive account in the newsletter of the breed-specialty club. To receive this newsletter, of course, you must be a member of the club.
Let’s say your New Zealand White senior buck wins its class of 12. If there were at least two other exhibitors, you have won a “leg” on a grand championship. Two more legs wins you a grand championship certificate. But that means winning at two more shows – and it’s not easy.
Your first senior buck is held aside by the judge until the first senior doe, 6-to-8 buck and doe, and junior winners are chosen. Then he or she looks all these rabbits over together and chooses the best New Zealand White. If that’s your buck, it becomes best of variety, probably wins a rosette ribbon, and is held aside until the class and variety winners of New Zealand Red and Black varieties are chosen. The judge then selects the best New Zealand. If your New Zealand White buck wins best of breed, you’ll probably get a trophy. If there is to be a best-in-show winner, your buck can compete against the best of the other breeds, perhaps for a silver cup or a similarly sought-after prize. If you take that home, you doubtless will consider your time and effort at raising rabbits well spent indeed.
Actually, there are other prizes to be won as well. If, for example, your buck had lost out to a doe for best of variety or best of breed, then it might have won the consolation best of opposite sex, which usually gets a trophy, too.
I’ve learned to not be too happy if I win, nor too sad if I lose. The judges are all too human. If I win, the judge is one of the best. If I lose, that judge has a lot to learn. Just kidding. Seriously, the judge’s verdict is not the last word. If you win consistently, over a period of time under a number of judges, you can begin to take real pride in your herd. But isolated, individual verdicts should never influence your opinion of your stock.
As I’ve said, when it comes to choosing which of your rabbits to enter in shows, you know best. As you breed, you will want to keep an eye on the calendar for spring and fall show dates. Try to breed for animals that will be at the top of the age limit for their classes; for example, 5 1/2 month juniors, 7 1/2 month 6-to-8s. Don’t show seniors older than 1 to 2 years, however, as they probably won’t do as well as they did in their youth. Practically never will you win with a doe that has brought up a family.
Fur and flesh condition are two prime considerations. Do not enter a rabbit if it isn’t in the peak of condition, because judges will give it short shrift. In addition, watch for disqualifying features, such as crooked teeth, spots of the wrong color fur, or off-color eyes or toenails.
You must be familiar with the standard for your breed. The complete Standard of Perfection is available from the ARBA.
Once you have selected your candidates, give them special attention for weeks and even months before the show. Put them in the best possible fur and flesh condition. Successful exhibitors all have their own formulas for feeding for top condition, and I’m no different.
Mixed horse feed with molasses is a great fur conditioner, as is wheat germ oil on top of rabbit pellets. Sunflower seeds also work well.
Milk and mangel beets plus oats will put weight on those that need it. Powdered milk is not expensive. The consideration of cost relates to how badly you want to win. If milk pays off with a big win and breeding-stock sales, it’s cheap indeed.
Brushing with a curved-wire-tine slicker brush, then with a bristle brush will speed a rabbit through a change of coat.
Regular feeding and a constant source of water do more, of course, to keep well-bred rabbits in top condition than anything else I know.
Watch your young show prospects from an early age, even when they’re still in the nest box. At weaning time, retain the best prospects for shows, and keep them for some weeks before narrowing your choice of show candidates. Actually, you should breed only from those you feel will produce good show stock, but you will have to choose the best among the offspring.
Excerpted from Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits.
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