We can all remember the invigorating feeling of getting your first rabbit. It seemed perfect and adorable beyond all means. It was the starting of something new; it had promise, this sense of unwritten perfection.
But, we may also remember that rabbit's first show, and the sinking feeling of a judge trying to muster up a nice comment, such as "nice fur" or "poses well".
Having been a county wide 4-H rabbit leader for six years, I have seen this scenario all too often, kids having bought their first rabbit, proceed to cry at the end of their first show. This discouragement is never a good way to begin a new hobby. So how do you start right?
For starters don't give into the "cute bunny" temptation. Pet store bunnies will never show well, neither will raffle rabbits. Raffle rabbits are basically given away for free. A common misconception among beginners is that raffle rabbits are simply kind donations but are still good quality. Not in rabbits! These are what I call "barely showables," and they usually have so many faults that they may as well not be shown at all. Pet store bunnies are even worse. Animals obtained from pet stores rarely have pedigrees and are oftentimes unhealthy. Typically rabbits from pet stores come from bunnymills and breeders that produce rabbits in great quantities. One major rule: don't be rushed to get a rabbit. This will only lead to hasty decision and
Go to a show before buying a rabbit. At your first show don't go to buy, go to watch. If you are occupied seeking a rabbit you tend not to focus on watching judging and learning what constitutes a good rabbit. Watch all the breeds you are interested in being judged, and listen to comments that render a good or bad rabbit. Don't be afraid to ask questions, if you hear a term like "slipped crown" and don't know what it means, just ask. Rabbit people are generally very nice and happy to help. By being attentive at the show table, you can usually observe who is winning and make contacts with other enthusiasts. Once you know who has the "Best of Breed" you have already narrowed down many perspective breeders to just one or two. Sometimes breeders will bring rabbits to sell, but you will most likely have to talk to them and arrange a time to pick up a rabbit or meet at another show. One quick tip: don't be discouraged if the "breeder of your dreams" doesn't have anything for sale just then, their rabbits will oftentimes prove to be worth the wait.
I always recommend to my 4-Hers to pick up rabbits at a show, for one specific reason - second opinions. Take the rabbit you are considering and show it to one or two judges. Ask them for their opinion on the rabbit. Waiting till the afternoon can be beneficial because you can take the rabbit to whichever judge(s) looked at that breed on that day. The breed will be fresh in the their minds, as will the animals brought to show in it. Ask them how the given rabbit would have placed in the group of animals shown that day. This is a great way to gage what should be expected in terms of the rabbits show performance, and can ultimately help you discern if this is the right rabbit to start off with.
If the judge and other knowledgeable people agree it is good, go back to the breeder for a few more questions. I always remind my 4-H kids to ask: "Why are you selling this rabbit?" If it's a buck, the answer will oftentimes be, "I have too many bucks", but it still can't hurt to ask. Breeders breed to improve their lines, so it is legitimate to enquire why this specific rabbit doesn't help with that goal. Note that breeders will not usually sell their best rabbits.
Finally, to address a question that comes from 4-H parents every year, "How much should I pay for my son/daughter's first rabbit?" The first question you need to answer for yourself, is how into this is he or she going to be. Parents know their kids best. Is this a passing fancy or something that will last a lifetime? With rabbits you usually get what you pay for. Many beginners think some breeders are so expensive due to high price tags, but in fact they probably have a higher level of quality in their barn. And as anyone will tell you, you should buy the best rabbit you can afford. It costs the same amount to feed a good rabbit as it does a bad one.
Starting in rabbits can be scary and daunting, but starting right can make a huge difference in the rabbit experience. Youth, who start with quality animals, are more likely to stick with it and ultimately succeed. The kids in our rabbit group who start with show quality animals are more excited to go to shows and wish to work hard on other skills such as showmanship. They also tend to show more dedication throughout
the years. When kids start with lower quality rabbits they gravitate towards a more passive experience and usually don't return for a second year. To sum it up: sit back, don't rush, and carefully pick your first rabbit.