Note: this article is written for Holland Lops, but much of it applies to all breeds.
So much of your success in show rabbbits depends on your start. Follow these tips to help you get off on the right foot!
Step One: Go to a show.
You can find ARBA sanctioned shows listed at www.arba.net. You do not need to register or do anything else in advance. Just show up. You can learn a lot about Hollands in this one step. The main things you want to find out are
1. Is showing rabbits something I would really enjoy?
2. Are Holland Lops the best breed for me?
Now it is hard for me to believe that anyone would pick any other breed than a Holland Lop, but there are some considerations. First, Hollands aren’t the most docile breed. Look to Dutch or Himalayan for that. But neither are they known for biting or being overly problematic. Hollands are best for people who want a more curious, affectionate, but sometimes animated rabbit.
Also consider this: there is generally a lot of competition in Hollands. Choose this breed only if you are willing to invest a good deal of time (and/or money) before you see a lot of success on the show table. It took me almost two years to grand my first homegrown Holland and I have an aggressive breeding program. [But once things began to click, they continued to click.]
Speaking of money, Hollands do cost more than many other breeds. That’s something to consider up front. If your budget is $25 per rabbit, choose another breed. I should note here, though, that Hollands have a long show career compared to other breeds. While some breeds show best for a matter of months, a good Holland buck may be competing well for five years. I know a buck that got his first Best of Breed at 7 months, and took a BRIS last weekend at almost 6 years of age. You can get your money’s worth out of a Holland.
To learn how a rabbit show works, visit our section on rabbit shows.
Step Two: Join the ARBA
Now that you’ve decided that you do like showing rabbits as a hobby and Holland Lops as your breed, you should join the American Rabbit Breeders’ Association at www.arba.net. You will receive a manual on raising rabbits that is worth the small cost of joining. Also, once you have joined, you will be able to obtain registration certificates on your qualified Hollands. Read more about registering rabbits here.
Likewise, you should also join the Holland Lop Rabbit Specialty Club, a national specialty club for our breed. You can contact them through www.hlrsc.com. Again, you will receive a manual, but this one is specific to Hollands. Read all you can, both from these manuals and on the internet.
Step Three: Prepare Your Equipment
Plan your rabbit housing and either purchase or build cages. You will like the result better if you plan ahead instead of purchasing cages on a reactive, gotta-have-it-now basis. Rather than having a collection of mismatched cages that do not fit your space well, think about how you really want to operate even before you purchase your first rabbits. I’m a hanging cage fan. I built my barn with just one layer of cages in mind. But if you are using a small shed and need to stack cages with trays, think about that now. It would be a waste of money to start in one direction and then have to change strategies. Remember, you will need more cages than you think because it takes cages to grow out babies. Plan to fill 1/3 of your cages at first and leave the rest for future growth (and it won’t be that far in the future!)
See our section on rabbit equipment for more information on what you need.
Step Four: Purchase Your Starter Stock
Purchase a very few good quality rabbits from at least somewhat related lines. Get help from someone who has been successfully showing Hollands for awhile. Most of us purchased whatever rabbits were available because we were so excited we wanted to get started yesterday. We might luck up with some good stuff, but by and large, we will buy a lot of rabbits that we will re-sell in the not-too-distant future. Chances are, you will ignore this advice. Or think you are following it until the next nicer Holland becomes available. If you buy too much from too many lines and end up having to pare it down, don’t feel bad. That’s how most of us did it.
Step Five: Show Your Foundation Stock.
I waited until I had my first The Nature Trail’s rabbit before going to a show. I should have gone earlier and shown my brood stock. I would have learned more about what I was dealing with earlier on. Learning is the biggest goal in the beginning – even more important than producing winning rabbits.
Steps Six, Seven, Eight, and so forth:
Now you are ready to breed rabbits, learn more about the details of conditioning, culling, dealing with problems, etc. You may want to join a local or regional club. You will learn how frequently you are able to show, budgeting your time and energy, and balancing your other responsibilities. You can start to make goals for yourself – earning your first leg, earning your first leg with a rabbit you produced, earning a senior leg, granding a rabbit, etc.
The biggest lesson to learn in this stage is to lose your fear of being stuck with rabbits. You will want to keep your bunnies for several months before deciding which to cull. It is great advice to keep your first litter from a particular line until adulthood. Becoming very familiar with what you are working with, and especially how it matures, should be one of your goals.
For The Experienced: Probably the majority of you who are reading this have already been through these steps. Perhaps it was a walk down memory lane. Perhaps you wish someone had told you these things when you got started. If you have advice to add, don’t hesitate to add a comment. You can help me help those who are just getting started in the wonderful world of Holland Lops!