Washington hosts its first nationally sanctioned rabbit show

Union photo by Andy Hallman

Grace Hiller, left, and her mother Ruchel pet one of the family’s rabbits at the Washington County Fairgrounds. The family has about 100 rabbits.
Union photo by Andy Hallman Grace Hiller, left, and her mother Ruchel pet one of the family’s rabbits at the Washington County Fairgrounds. The family has about 100 rabbits.

WASHINGTON — Saturday, Nov. 2 was a historic day for Washington County 4-H, as it was the first time the group has hosted a nationally sanctioned rabbit show.

The rabbit show, officially titled the 2019 Go-Getters 4-H Youth Rabbit Cavy Club Show after the 4-H group that put it on, was held on the Washington County Fairgrounds. Chad Dolan, father of a couple of Go-Getters who showed rabbits Saturday, was among those who helped organize the event, sanctioned by the American Rabbit Breeders Association.

Dolan said nearly 750 rabbits were shown that day. He’s not sure on how many competitors there were, but estimated it must have been a few hundred.

“This event was an overwhelming success,” Dolan said, adding that it appeared the Go-Getters had more than covered their expenses. Dolan said the extra money will go toward Go-Getter programs, and for planning next year’s event, since the Go-Getters hope to make hosting an ARBA show an annual tradition.

Dolan has two daughters, 15-year-old Kyleigh and 11-year-old Ryann. The family owns close to 40 rabbits, and shares the chores associated with caring for them. Kyleigh not only showed rabbits Saturday but also helped the judges. She was one of the organizers of the show, too, and said she had a long day of showing 20 rabbits and doing other volunteer work on the side. Kyleigh, a sophomore at Washington High School, said she was thrilled with how well the show went, and plans to make next year’s show even better.

Doug Hoyle, one of the Go-Getters’ club leaders, said the local 4-H Club had to become nationally recognized by ARBA in order to host a show that awards ARBA points. He said the club parents and leaders helped organize the event, but it was the 4-H kids who took on the responsibility of pulling the show together. He hoped that the show would draw attention to rabbit breeding as an industry, and “show the world what they don’t normally see outside of the county fair.” Saturday’s show superintendent was fellow 4-H Go-Getter club leader John Wagner.

The show attracted rabbit enthusiasts from far and wide, and from close to home. Ruchel Hiller and her daughter Grace live in Crawfordsville, and they care for about 100 rabbits. They take their rabbits on the road, traveling to shows up to two hours away, so it was nice to finally have one in their own backyard.

The Hillers took 17 rabbits of various breeds to show at Saturday’s event. The breeds included mini satin, mini lop, New Zealand, Californian and Florida whites.

Ruchel said the judging at an ARBA show is similar to that conducted at a county fair. One difference is that judges tend to spend more time in one-on-one dialogues with the competitors at county fairs, whereas at open shows, the judges write their comments on a card.

Grace said she was pleased with the results of Saturday’s judging, which landed her a ribbon for the best of six class. Grace was also oh-so-close to winning best of show. Grace said that raising rabbits is a fun and rewarding activity. Rabbits are easier to handle than larger livestock, though they still require taming. Before competition, their nails must be trimmed and their coat cleaned. The family has all kinds of rabbit breeds, from the enormous Flemish giants to the diminutive Netherland dwarfs.

Grace said the thing she enjoys most about rabbit shows are the other humans. She’s made a number of great friends through showing rabbits, and regards the other competitors as a “second family.”

Ruchel said that even though Grace is a senior at WACO, Ruchel and her husband are nowhere near retiring from the show arena. They compete in open shows, plus Ruchel has a niece and nephew (Isabelle and Quincy Duvall) who will likely be showing rabbits for years.

Eleven-year-old Cooper McCarty of Bloomfield had a fun day showing, made even better by the ribbons he took home for best of breed in junior doe and for best opposite (similar to a reserve champion at a county fair, where the second place finisher is the opposite sex of the winning rabbit).

McCarty said he has between 34-40 rabbits, and has been raising rabbits his whole life, including showing them the past two years. This is the third open show for rabbits he’s participated in this year. In addition to rabbits, McCarty shows sheep, for which he’s won awards at the Davis County fair.

McCarty is eager to hear from the judge or read their opinion after the show. He said the judges are looking to see if the rabbit has developed good meat (in the case of market animals), and are on the lookout for even the smallest imperfections. For instance, he said judges will deduct points if they spot a pimple, or if they feel the rabbit’s nails are too long.

One thing McCarty has learned is that how rabbits are cared for when they’re newborns can influence their appearance later in life, such as when it’s time to show them. If rabbits are not kept warm right after their birth, their face will turn a grayish blue color that will stay with them for the rest of their life.