Rabbits are a serious business, and Jean Harris comes to shows to win. Many competitors at rabbit shows around the country recognize Jean when she walks in, but would consider her a friend first and a competitor second.
Jean Harris: Show to Win
Now retired, Jean was first introduced to rabbits through her children in 1972. The rabbits started out as 4-H and FFA projects. When her children left for college, Jean decided to continue to take care of the rabbits and show them.
What started as a project soon turned into a large part of Jean's life.
"I have two different breeds," Jean said. "I have Dutch, which is considered a fancy breed. I also have New Zealand's, which are a commercial breed. They come in different colors, but I primarily have black and broken black, which are black and white ones."
Jean keeps her rabbits in two separated locations because of the two different breeds she has.
"I have about 150 rabbits," Jean said. "I have a building I built about 12 years ago that I have 80 cages in. The New Zealand's are housed there."
Jean began keeping Dutch rabbits after her grandchildren were done showing them for their 4-H and FFA projects.
"I have about 30 pens in our horse barn that house the Dutch rabbits," Jean said.
The main reason Jean has rabbits is for showing. She likes shows because they give her a chance to see her many friends from around the country and a chance to see many different kinds of rabbits.
"My most rewarding moment was winning in a very large show—a national show," Jean said. "I had Best of Variety-black a couple years ago. Winning Best in Show with my rabbits is very rewarding."
Jean even breeds her own rabbits.
"I prefer breeding in the morning because I have found that if I breed them in the morning they will usually have their babies in the morning, and I'm more of a morning person," Jean said.
Jean breeds several does at one time so that she has four to five batches within a couple of days of each other.
"New Zealand's are a commercial brand," Jean said. "They're larger and are considered a meat rabbit — I do sell some fryers for meat."
Every 8 to 10 weeks Jean will go through the rabbits and keep the ones she wants to show.
"Any that I feel are not show quality will go off to a processor and I'll keep the others to show. Some I'll show for a while and then sell," Jean said.
A very important aspect of having winning rabbits is making sure they are fed a nutritionally balanced diet.
"We've been feeding Purina® feed for 25 years, and it has provided us with many, many good quality show rabbits," Jean said. "The feed helps condition the rabbits to be winners."
Jean lives in Washington but goes to many shows out of state. She finds out about shows through the American Rabbit Breeder's Association, which has a list of sanctioned shows on their website.
The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) is an organization with over 23,000 members that brings together rabbit owners from around the US, Canada and abroad. ARBA provides a list of approved shows, connections to breeders, information on many kinds of rabbits and much more.
Since she is a breeder, Jean is an active member of ARBA. She is also the President of the Washington State Rabbit Breeder's Association.
"When one of your home-grown rabbits wins Best In Show—that is the ultimate joy," said Jean said. "It really makes all the dedication worth it."
Rabbits like companionship, so be sure to give them attention, like a daily grooming, to get them used to being handled.
Getting a Handle on Your Rabbit
(& Interacting with Guests)
When handling your rabbit it is important to support its forequarters with one hand and its hindquarters with the other. If you do not support your rabbit in this way it can result in spinal injuries to the rabbit. Never pick up your rabbit by its ears!
Here are some guidelines when socializing and introducing your rabbit to new animals and people.
Socializing with Other Rabbits
Rabbits are sociable animals but just like humans, rabbits are picky about who they interact with. Before introducing your rabbit to another there are several considerations to keep in mind.
However, you may find that even when both rabbits are neutered and of the same age, they may still have different temperaments and may not be friendly towards each other.
- Consider the reproductive status of your rabbits. It is more likely that two unspayed rabbits will become aggressive with each other.
- Age matters. Rabbits prefer their friends to be closer to their age. This is natural since rabbits of different ages have different temperaments.
- Introduce the rabbits on neutral territory. Set aside a space in your home where your rabbit has never spent time, making sure there are no objects in that space behind which the rabbits can hide from each other.
- Place the rabbits in this area at the same time. If they are in separate rabbit carriers, let them come out of them on their own accord. If you force them out, they may become agitated.
- As the rabbits begin to get to know each other one will begin to assert its dominance over the other by chasing it around your designated pen area and mounting it. Newly introduced rabbits should not spend more than 20 minutes together but you can repeat this introduction for the next couple of days or even weeks until you notice the rabbits warming up to each other.
- Signs that the rabbits are warming up to each other include grooming each other, licking, snuggling and chasing each other playfully.
- Remember to stay calm and patient because this can be a long and stressful process.
Socializing with Other Pets
When your rabbit has become comfortable at home and you feel it is time to introduce it to the other family pets, use the following guidelines for smoother interactions.
Socializing with Children
- When introducing a rabbit to your dog, keep your dog on a leash and your rabbit in its cage.
- Allow the rabbit and dog to sniff each other.
- Your dog should be able to respond to commands such as 'No,' 'Stay' and 'Down' in case it becomes too excited and begins to charge the rabbit cage. Make sure if your dog does this to discipline it with 'No' and back it away from the rabbit cage. Praise the dog when it follows your commands and calms down, so it will begin to learn that it needs to be calm to be around the rabbit.
- The rabbit and dog should never be left alone or unrestrained.
- If your family has a cat, make sure the rabbit has a place to run and hide in its cage from the cat.
- Your rabbit and cat need to get used to each other's smells and sounds so they don't interpret each other's movements or sounds as a signal of an attack.
- If you decide to let your rabbit out of its cage where the cat may have access to it, always supervise!
When introducing a baby or child to a rabbit you'll need specific rules. It is important to have boundaries between children and rabbits so they can interact safely and appropriately with one another.
Always follow your intuition when introducing a rabbit and child because you know your rabbit and/or your children better than anyone, so it is up to you to make sure there is a safe and comfortable environment where the two may coexist.
- Provide a hiding place for your rabbit so if it feels overwhelmed by a child's high energy level it has a place to retreat to.
- Limit your rabbit's time with strangers, as it may become frightened or agitated.
- Teach children to treat the rabbit gently, sitting quietly next to the rabbit and gently stroking its fur.
- Depending on a child's age and maturity and for the safety of the rabbit and the child it may be best to keep the rabbit in its cage while the child is present.
- Always supervise your child and rabbit's interactions!
- Make sure your rabbit has toys of its own, so it does not decide to chew on your child's toys.
*Information gathered from http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/small-pet-care/general-rabbit-care.aspx and http://www.petco.com/Content/ArticleList/Article/32/21/892/Socializing-Your-Rabbit.aspx.
Purina® Rabbit Chow™ Fibre3® Formula Natural AdvantEdge® is a natural*, corn-free rabbit feed that provides superior nutrition for rabbits of all ages. It helps younger rabbits get a great start and helps older rabbits maintain ideal body weight. Free of all fillers, preservatives and artificial colors, Fibre3® Formula Natural AdvantEdge® Rabbit Feed provides complete nutrition, giving your rabbits the feed they need for growth, health and longevity.
Get to Know Purina® Rabbit Chow™
Fibre3® Formula Natural AdvantEdge®
As always, when changing your rabbits from one feeding program to another, make the change gradually, over a five- to seven-day period. Mix the new feed with the old, gradually increasing the amount of the new feed (it's always important to allow time for the rabbits' intestinal flora to adjust to any new feed.) Continue to feed at the same time each day. Clean the feeding dish daily so uneaten food does not become stale and moldy. And always provide plenty of clean, fresh, cool water to rabbits at all times.
- The Natural AdvantEdge®—superior, consistent, natural* nutrition FREE from all fillers, preservatives and artificial colors
- High fiber—for normal digestive tract function and overall health
- Corn-free—created especially for the unique needs of rabbits
- Great for rabbits of all ages—high fiber content is ideal for both young bunnies to help them get a good start, and to help older rabbits maintain ideal body weight
- Added lactobacillus, yeast and yucca shidigera—supports digestive health and aids in odor control
- Complete, natural* nutrition—no additional supplements necessary. Great for rabbits of all ages and perfect to maintain a healthy body weight
- High-quality plant proteins—loaded with natural nutrients found only in plants that optimize vitality and support immune function
- Highly palatable—for proper intake and growth
- Purina® FeedGuard® Nutrition System—stringent quality standards help ensure many of the industry's highest quality ingredients available are used. It ensures greater nutritional consistency bag after bag and considers all key nutrients and their interactions with each other to better support overall rabbit health
*with added vitamins, minerals, and trace nutrients