Rabbits offer family-oriented project, business, hopping sport and supper, too

“Here comes Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail.”

That ole familiar Easter time tune came to life during the recent Youth Rabbit Show at Cico Park in Manhattan.

And, the sport of rabbit hopping is rapidly increasing in popularity throughout the country, according to Lil Peck, who attracted considerable attention with a demonstration of rabbit hopping she hosted during the show.

“The children who were exhibiting their rabbits got to see if their show animals could hop, and it really created lots of fun and excitement,” claimed Peck of Manhattan.

“Some of the smaller rabbits could jump higher than the larger ones.  The dwarf breeds seem to have more power proportionately and can really excel,” Peck said.

At the show, Peck had a hopping course set up and had her own rabbits there to explain to others how to train their projects to jump the obstacle course. “Some breeds are just natural jumpers,” Peck claimed.

While she’s just getting started herself, and informing others about the unique rabbit sport, Peck said the American Hopping Association for Rabbits and Cavies (which are guinea pigs) conducts official sanctioned events. The American Rabbit Breeders Association recognizes the sport and has activities planned with that aspect of the industry, too.

“An official course features ten jumps up to two-feet tall in a straight 60-foot line. Jumps are initially set at lower levels and moved higher for elimination rounds,” described Peck, claiming certain rabbits can jump as high as four feet.

“It is a height-and-timed competition with judges there to make sure entries follow certain guidelines,” Peck added.

Besides hopping around, rabbits offer a number of opportunities, insisted Peck, in her “second life of the rabbit business.”

“We had rabbits as a hobby project when our children were growing up, and that was my first life with rabbits. Then after ‘retiring’ last fall, I came back to rabbits, so this is my second life,” described Peck, who’s actually been in a variety of professions. She’s raised dogs, had a horse production, training and riding instruction business, and been heavily involved in website design, which she continues, although not taking new clients.

“Rabbits are really family oriented. This show was for youth, but typically there are youth and open divisions. Competitions are very family friendly. Even compared to dogs, rabbits offer a slower, more relaxed lifestyle, it seems. Everybody just loves rabbits. Kids love rabbits… they just like them.That’s the reason I enjoy this so much,” Peck contended.

Of course, most people think of cottontails first, and jackrabbits second, when “rabbit” is said, but ARBA recognizes 47 rabbit breeds, noted Peck, who now has Angora rabbits.

“I got into Angoras, because there is a ‘spinoff’ hobby,” she related. “I shear my rabbits and spin my own yarn for knitting and weaving.”

While many consider rabbits just as pets, they are also often produced for their meat to eat. When questioned about “eating” her rabbits, Peck seemed to shy from the question: “Oh they’re too bony.”

However, she clarified, “As families have returned to ‘urban farming,’ and ‘back to nature,’ there are several growing rabbits for the meat. Some families exhibit show-fattened rabbits, collect their blue ribbons, go home, harvest the project and have it for Sunday dinner. That does help kids better understand agriculture production.

“With the declining economy, rabbits can help families lower their food bill with a high protein, low cholesterol meat,” Peck added.

Although there is national commercial production of rabbits for meat, selling for as much as $5 a pound, with a rabbit fryer typically weighing about four pounds, most families just produce  them for their own consumption.

For those interested in raising rabbits, Peck informed that commercial meat rabbits can be bought for just a few dollars. “Even top quality show animals can be purchased for $30 or so, but I’ve heard of national champions bringing $1,000,” she said.

Typically one would buy two does and a buck to start an operation. “Facilities can be purchased, but it’s more economical to build hutches,” said Peck, who constructed her own rabbit housing.

Feed quality is important, and is typically available at most farm stores. “That cost can add up, too, but rabbits are relatively efficient,” Peck evaluated.

Somebody said: “Give a man one rabbit, and he will eat for a day; give a man two rabbits, and he will feed his family and his neighbors and return you 64,768 rabbits in change.”

Peck argued, “That could be true in some instances, but it does depend on the breed. There are differences in rabbit libido and litter size. Still, it is best to start out slow.”

Gestation for rabbits, which will start cycling at six months of age, is 30 days. Litter size can be up to a dozen babies, again depending on the breed, with some half or less than that.

While a doe might raise four litters a year, Peck said, “Breeders of show animals are more considerate of animal welfare, and generally just produce two or three litters annually.”

Like any project, rabbit shows have stringent criteria for selection, and judges, especially those qualified for ARBA-sanctioned events, must go through rigorous training.

“Also, like with other livestock, exhibitors must know how to show their rabbits. Showmanship is a key part of the project for youth,” Peck said.

“Tom and Cherie Trieb are the Riley County 4-H Rabbit Project leaders and do an excellent job assisting youth, and even adults too, in all aspects of rabbit production. They raise and show rabbits, so they have firsthand experience, which is best,” Peck credited.

The recent Manhattan ARBA-sanctioned youth-only rabbit show was sponsored by the Riley County Rabbit Raisers 4-H Club in partnership with the Cap City Rabbit Breeders.