Jan 28, 2014

Waste Management

Today's topic is one that is not often discussed, but everyone who raises rabbits needs to deal with.  To put it politely, it's "waste management".  This won't be a comprehensive discussion--I haven't actually composted rabbit manure, only tossed it straight on the garden--but I'll go over methods that I've used.

The  main thing to remember is that whatever method you use, you need to contain the manure at least once a week, especially in warmer months, when flies are out.  This is because the life cycle of a fly is as little as 8 days from egg to adult (blow flies are only 143 hours, which is just over 5 days).  If you don't keep ahead of them, you'll have a lot of flies, which increases your risk for fly strike.

Besides flies, it's still important to keep the area clean in order to keep ammonia levels down.  Anyone who's ever kept a rabbit inside their home knows just how quickly ammonia smells can build up in just a few days. Ammonia can cause respiratory issues with rabbits, besides just being unpleasant to be around. It takes me about three days to notice ammonia smells from my house rabbit's cage, which has ammonia-locking cat litter in the tray.  So unless you have an extremely well-ventilated area and very porous flooring (e.g., well-drained dirt), you'll want to clean up just to keep ammonia down.

For people who have cages that are allowed to drop directly on the floor, or dirt, things are a fair bit more simple than for people who have to deal with trays or stacked cages.  If you have single-tier cages with plenty of clearance underneath, it's as simple as shoveling it out into a container or delivery vessel (e.g., wheelbarrow).  In the past, I've dumped directly on the garden, dumped into a wheelbarrow or wagon and dumped that into the garden.  Currently, I shovel everything into feedbags, which I can then sell, give away, or use in my own garden.
Shoveling manure into feed bag.
Using back of rake to scrape under cages.
Right now, most of my cages are in two- or three-
tier stacks, and while the bottom level doesn't have tray, it has a rather low clearance below the bottom cage (maybe six inches).  I've found that the most practical method for getting everything cleaned out from under the bottom cage is to use a short-handled, flat-backed garden rake.  I could probably use a short-handled hoe, but I don't have one, and I find that the tines on the rake are handy for breaking up piles.  Once I have everything scraped out from under the cage, I can shovel the pile into a feed bag (or wheelbarrow).
Plywood floor under cage after scraping.

No matter how well you scrape, you'll never get everything off the floor, but you can get close.  If you really want to get clean, you'd probably have to use a scrub brush with soap, water, and maybe a little CLR to get rid of the calcium.  Who wants to do that?  Just remember that the floor will never be the same after you've kept rabbits on it.

Square-nosed shovel fits squarely into trays.
If you have stackers, you most likely also have trays (although some crafty people have rigged up slanted dividers to direct manure behind the cages instead). When I first had trays, I would just dump the trays directly into a wheelbarrow or onto the garden, and scrape anything that stuck after the initial drop.  I've noticed that the trays don't get very clean that way.

Tray that's never been dumped--
only scraped clean with a shovel--
since it was purchased a year ago.
Notice it still has some galvanizing.
My favorite method for cleaning out trays is to use a square-nosed shovel.  A square-nosed shovel fits nicely into the corners of the tray, and allows me to scrape the entire thing clean.  Of course, it still won't be completely clean, but it's much better off than when it's just been dumped out.

Pile of manure in back corner of tray.
Occasionally, you run into tricky situations with clearing out trays.  I have a few rabbits that insist on using one of the back corners for their potty station.  While it's nice that they have one spot, it can make things difficult for removing the tray, especially when clearance for the tray is narrow.  Clearance is usually only an issue in hutches.  Commercial-style stackers usually don't have a lip hanging underneath the cage which would catch the pile.

Rotated tray so that the pile came out first.
If that tray is over another cage, I try to avoid dumping it into the cage underneath (no one wants to get showered with rabbit berries, and they certainly don't want it in their feeder).  I have a plywood board that I can slip on top of the lower cage to catch (or at least redirect) any spills.  Then, since it's in a hutch, there's room to rotate the tray so that the pile comes out first, rather than at the back of the tray.  The result is that the lip under the cage pushes the pile back into the tray instead of out (and likely into the lower cage).

Sprinkling stall freshener on tray.
No matter if you use trays or just scrape floor or dirt, it's usually a good idea to spread the trays (or floor) with some sort of odor control.  I use a stall freshener, like the kind that horse-owners use.  I could probably make some, myself, if I had a grinder.  It's essentially just ground up corn cobs soaked in essential oils (citronella, clove, peppermint) and garlic powder, which keeps the smell down and prevents flies.  During the warmer months, I also dust the trays with diatomaceous earth, which works mechanically to kill bugs.

These are by no means the only ways to do things for rabbit waste management, but it's what works for me.

Jan 24, 2014

Frozen Water Bottles

Baby, it's cold outside!

It's another frozen winter day out there, this morning.  I'm just glad that this is the low of the day, not the high, like we had a month or so ago.  Brrr!

My path to the rabbitry.
It's been a rather cold winter here, and has remained fairly cold for long stretches of time.  We did see one day in there that hit 50, and we have had some rain, but that hasn't improved things much.  As it is, my path to the rabbitry from the back walk has been a solid sheet of ice for almost two months, now.

Lavender's winter eye circles and darkened dewlap.
One of the fun things, though, about having rabbits in winter, is watching how the rabbits change with the weather.  It's particularly hilarious watching the markings on the Californians.  I think every single one of my Calis has eyebrows right now, and a couple have dark dewlaps.  My herd buck even has hip stripes!

For many rabbit-raisers, winter is the most challenging time.  The root of the problem is usually in making sure that the rabbits have a constant enough supply of water.

A lot of people prefer to switch to crocks during winter, but I really can't bring myself to switch to them.  A few reasons I haven't switched to crocks is that I would still have to either bring the crocks in, or else bring out a pitcher (several times, since I have a couple dozen cages to deal with) to fill them up.  In addition to that, I would have to unlatch each cage and negotiate around nosy rabbits in order to retrieve each crock, which would undoubtedly add several minutes to my watering routine.  Another reason is that when the crocks do thaw, it's not uncommon for rabbits to get themselves wet (especially if the crocks aren't secured), which can be very dangerous.  Also, crocks tend to make people lazy.  Many people get into the mindset that since the rabbits still have ice, they have access to water.  They don't.  Ice requires precious calories in order to melt, especially if that energy is applied by licking the ice, which requires a lot of muscle movement.  They'd be better off eating snowballs than licking an ice block.  That's not to say that using water bottles doesn't have its downsides during winter, but it works for me.

Bottles thawing on the counter.
There are two good methods for dealing with water bottles during the winter.  The laziest way (which works well until temps are staying below freezing even throughout the day) is to simply have twice as many bottles as are in use at any one time.  While one set of bottles is serving the rabbits, the other set is inside, thawing.  I have found that it is best to set the bottles up on a towel on the counter.  The towel is there to catch puddles from condensation, and the nozzles spitting when air bubbles dislodge the ball. I have tried leaving the bottles in a tote or the sink to let them thaw, but 12 hours later, all of the bottles still had at least some ice, and some of the nozzles weren't even unfrozen.  I should have thought about it before I tried.  Cold air sinks, and with no bottom outlet, the cold air from the bottles just pools in the tote, keeping the bottles pretty much in a recursive refrigerator.

Running hot water onto bottles for faster thawing.
The other method for thawing water bottles takes more time at each watering, but allows you to use only one set of bottles, and you can rotate in thawed bottles more quickly.  This is the method I use when temps are so low that the bottles require more than the customary morning and evening rotation.  Put a plug in the bottom of your sink.  Dump all of the bottles into the sink.  Be careful when doing this, especially if it's really cold, because the frozen plastic can crack easily from sharp hits.  I broke a couple nozzles this winter from being too hasty in dumping the bottles into the sink.  Fill the sink with hot water.  While the bottles are in their bath, go do other chores (feeding the rabbits, checking them over, making dinner, etc.)  Usually ten minutes is enough to at least thaw a fair amount of water and loosen up the nozzle, but the longer you can let them sit and the more water to thaw, the better.  I've found that any more than 20-30 minutes usually makes the water ice-cold.  If the water has gone cold, and there's still not as much water in the bottles as you'd like, drain the water and refill the sink with hot water again.

Icicle where a water bottle dripped.
When filling bottles for freezing temperatures, use unheated water.  For one, you don't want the rabbits to burn their tongues when they attack the water bottles (which they will do, especially if the bottles have been frozen for any length of time).  Also, if you're using hot water from a hot water heater, it will more than likely have deposits in it which will make it freeze faster.  Also, don't fill more than 2/3.  If you're leaving some ice in the bottles, only fill halfway.  Water expands when it freezes.  If there is nowhere for it to expand to, it will break your bottles open to get out.  Some people have said that their bottles drip more when they don't fill them up all the way, but it really doesn't matter when the bottle is just going to get frozen before the rabbit can drink it all anyway (and if you're counting ounces of water, you're either living in a desert or too much of a penny-pincher).

Jan 23, 2014

Cost of Feeding Rabbits Pellets

I just ran through a rather interesting exercise in just what it costs to feed rabbits.  A conversation came up about someone who claimed that a nursing doe could be fed on $30 a year.  I discovered through some math that it's not even possible to feed a buck (much less a nursing doe) for a whole year for that much unless your pellets are less than $11 per 50 lb. bag (I haven't seen prices like that in 10 years).  You may be able to have feed costs that low if you feed with forage or fodder, though.  I really need to get that working...

It's probably a good idea for everyone to understand how to break down their feed costs, and estimate what various configurations might cost.

Calculating Cost Per Pound of Feed

(Cost per bag) / (Pounds per bag) = Cost per pound of feed

Depending on the deal of the day, a 50-lb. bag of pellets costs me anywhere from $13.33 to $16.90.

If you've ever done budgeting, you know that you should always estimates costs high.

$16.90/50 lbs. = $0.38/lb

But, for sake of seeing just how low our costs can be:
$13.33/50 lbs. = $0.2666/lb, which rounds to $0.27/lb

Cost of Maintenance

(Ounces of feed per day per rabbit) x (365 days) / (16 ounces per pound) x (cost per pound) = Cost per breeder per year

I feed my breeders a cup of feed a day, which weighs about 6 ounces.

6 oz. x 365 days / 16 oz. x $0.38 = $52.0125, which rounds to $52.02 (always round up when budgeting).

6 oz x 365 days / 16 oz. x $0.27 = $36.95625, which rounds to $36.96

This is how much it will cost just to maintain each breeder every year, without adding in the costs of nursing a litter.

Cost to Processing Age

There is a study on feed conversion of various meat breeds on a certain diet.  The pellet they used in the study was only 16.5% crude protein, which is on the low end, but it serves for making estimates.  They looked at what it cost to grow rabbits from weaning at 28 days old to 70 days old.  I never wean earlier than 35 days (5 weeks), and usually don't wean until 56 days (8 weeks).  Several studies I've read suggest that weaning before 5 or 6 weeks results in less efficient feed conversion.  Also, feed with 18% crude protein usually results in better gains.  Given all of that, using the study's results of 3.5 lbs of feed per pound of gain is a high estimate, which serves our purpose for budgeting.

In the study, the average weight at weaning was around 18 oz, which is a pound more than most kits are born.  If you assume an extra 3.5 pounds in feed from birth to four weeks per kit  (to get that first pound of gain), that's 2 oz. a day per kit in extra feed for the doe.  If your doe has 8 kits in a litter, that's a pound of feed per day.  For me, that would be 2-2/3 cup extra (so 3-2/3 cup all together).  I don't think I've ever had a nursing doe eat that much food in a day all by herself.  If you estimate that 3.5 pounds to cover the doe's extra feed for the entire course of nursing (I'll go with 8 weeks), it translates to 1 oz. a day per kit extra, which translates as 1-1/3 cup extra (2-2/3 cup total) for a litter of 8.  That's still on the high end of what my experience is.

At 10 weeks, when I normally process, my rabbits average close to 5 pounds.  5 pounds of gain x 3.5 pounds of feed = 17.5 pounds per rabbit to 10 weeks.

If you want to estimate your own feed per kit, keep track of how much feed you give the doe from the time you increase her feed (I start giving extra the day she kindles; others prefer to up the feed for the last half of pregnancy).  Subtract the amount for maintenance (in my case, less 6 ounces per day).  When you wean the kits, record that total net amount.  From there, add in the whole amount of feed that you are giving the kits until 10 weeks.  At 10 weeks (or whatever age you process or sell the kits), divide the amount fed by the number of kits in the litter.  That is how much feed it takes to get each rabbit to processing age.

In sum:
(maintenance feed per day in pounds) x (days from increasing feed to weaning) = doe's maintenance feed to weaning

 ((weight of feed fed from day of increase to day of weaning) - (doe's maintenance feed to weaning) + (weight of feed fed from weaning to processing)) / (number of kits in litter) = weight of feed required per rabbit to processing age

If you feed 6 oz. of feed a day as maintenance, don't increase feed until kindling, and wean at 8 weeks:
6/16 lbs/day x 56 days = 21 pounds maintenance feed for the doe

49 lbs fed to cage from kindle to weaning - 21 pounds doe's maintenance + 112 pounds fed from weaning to processing = 140 lbs fed to entire litter

140 lbs / 8 kits = 17.5 lbs of feed per kit to get to processing age

(pounds of feed to get to processing age) x (cost per pound of feed) = cost per rabbit to processing age

Using my own numbers:
17.5 lbs x $0.38 = $6.65 per rabbit to processing age

17.5 lbs x $0.27 = $4.725, which rounds to $4.73 per rabbit to processing age

Cost Per Year

(cost of maintenance per breeder) x (number of breeders) = cost per year for breeders
(cost per rabbit to processing age) x (number of rabbits produced per year) = cost per year for processed rabbits
(cost per year for breeders) + (cost per year for processed rabbits) = total cost per year

Let's do a couple comparisons, here.  First, let's assume that you have a single pair of breeders, and you get four litters of 8 kits each year.
$52.02 x 2 = $104.04 for breeders
$6.65 x 8 kits x 4 litters = $212.80 for processed rabbits
For a total of $316.84

With the minimum costs:
$36.96 x 2 = $73.92 for breeders
$4.73 x 8 kits x 4 litters = $151.36 for processed rabbits
For a total of $225.28

(Already, you can see how getting feed on the discount days really adds up)

What happens if you add an extra doe to double your production?

$52.02 x 3 = $156.06 for breeders
$6.65 x 8 kits x 8 litters = $425.60 for processed rabbits
For a total of $581.66

With minimum costs:
$36.96 x 3 = $110.88
$4.73 x 8 kits x 8 litters = $302.72 for processed rabbits
For a total of $413.60

What if you just doubled the production of one doe, so that she was producing 8 litters a year?  That would require that you breed back 2 weeks after kindling, and wean kits at 5 weeks.  Technically, that would probably reduce the feed efficiency of the kits, and you may have to replace the doe much sooner than if you weren't breeding back until weaning, but for sake of simplicity, we'll just assume it still costs the same amount to feed the kits to processing age.

$52.02 x 2 = $104.04 for breeders
$6.65 x 8 kits x 8 litters = $425.60 for processed rabbits
For a total of $529.64
Minimum costs:
$36.96 x 2 = $73.92
$4.73 x 8 kits x 8 litters = $302.72 for processed rabbits
For a total of $376.64

As you can see, it pays to increase production of a single doe (within limits).  But, it comes with risks.  Namely, if a doe can't recover after weaning a litter, or doesn't maintain her weight, you'll lose out on an entire litter, if not the doe herself.

What Do You Use These Figures For?

You can use these figures to determine how much you need to sell each rabbit for in order to recover feed costs (nevermind water, nesting materials, labor, equipment and replacement breeders):

(cost per year) / (number of processed rabbits to sell) = minimum price per processed rabbit

$316.84 / 32 kits = $9.90125, which rounds to $9.91 (one pair, 4 litters, at maximum cost)
$225.28 / 32 kits = $7.04 (one pair, 4 litters, minimum cost)
$581.66 / 64 kits = $9.09 (one trio, 4 litters per doe, maximum cost)
$413.60 / 64 kits = $6.46 (one trio, 4 litters per doe, minimum cost)
$529.64 / 64 kits = $8.28 (one pair, 8 litters, maximum cost)
$376.64 / 64 kits = $5.89 (one pair, 8 litters, minimum cost)

$3,764.22 / 480 kits = $7.84 (one buck and ten does, 6 litters per doe, maximum cost)

Those prices reflect the absolute minimum you can charge per rabbit in order to recover your costs, and that's provided you actually sell all of them.  If not, that's the cost you're eating (literally).

The other option, if you're not selling everything that you're producing, is to divide by the number you do sell, instead.  If you want to make allowances for what you're eating, subtract the value of what you're eating from the cost per year before dividing.  

So, if you're eating a rabbit a week instead of buying chicken from the store, you might be saving $5 a week, which is $260 a year, but keep in mind that you're also cutting out 52 (or however many) rabbits you would have otherwise sold. 

($581.66 - $260)  / (64-52) = $26.81

 If you're keeping records for profit and loss for your rabbitry, and you're keeping them separate from your household expenses, record each rabbit you eat as "sold to family for dinner" and price it at whatever you would have paid for another similar meat (chicken, pork or turkey, of about the same weight or number of meals) at the store.

When you see numbers like these, you realize just how important it is to find ways to scratch out just a little more savings, and sell a few more byproducts.  I try to buy my feed on days with the best discounts.  I could probably save more if I could ever get my fodder to work out right.  If I could ever motivate myself to tan more hides, I could make a nifty profit off of them, too.  Some other ideas to sell are manure, dried rabbit ears (great dog treats), rabbit feet, felted fur, or even raw fur (fly fishermen supposedly use it).

If you'd like to calculate all this without having to do the math, I've made a calculator here.  Let me know in the comments if something doesn't work right on the form.

Jan 21, 2014

In the Beginning...Oh the Mistakes!

A number of people  have been encouraging me lately to get a blog going for my rabbit project, so here we are!  I figure the best place to start would be with my experience first getting started.  Maybe you can learn a few things from the mistakes I made.

I first started raising rabbits,  myself, back in the late 90s.  In the early 90s, my best friend's family ran a commercial rabbitry, and I occasionally helped out.  All of the kids in that family were in 4-H, even those too young to officially compete, and were always happy to teach someone else all about what they did.  When I was first allowed to get my own rabbits (I had been asking for years), I was allowed to on the condition that I would be completely responsible for all of their care, and would have to process all of the unsold ones, myself.

The Setup

My father built a double-decker hutch for my rabbits, based off a plan that was in my Project Handbook.  It had four 24"x42" compartments, with 1/2" hardware cloth making up the front and side walls, and more hardware cloth covering up the plywood that made the back wall.  Doors were made with a 2x2 frame, with hardware cloth on the rabbit side.  They each took up half of the front of each cage, and swung outward like normal doors.  They were locked using a spring clip through a ring.  My father also had 1" deep metal trays custom made for the hutch.  He made sure that all of the wood that the rabbits might possibly get access to was untreated.  He did use pressure-treated wood for the legs, though, to prevent rot.  The roof got leftover shingles from re-shingling our house.  We also bought brand new feeders and water bottles from the local livestock supply--all of them Little Giant brand.

For those of you who are familiar with raising rabbits, you may have caught a few things wrong just with our initial setup.  First off, hardware cloth is not the ideal rabbit flooring.  1/2" squares are an okay size, but larger rabbits' poops tend to get caught in it.  Also, hardware cloth tends to have a somewhat sharp edge. I was lucky to not have to deal with sore hocks from the flooring (although my rabbits were all given plywood boards to sit on, which may have saved them).  After a few years, though, I was dealing with calcium deposits from the rabbits' urine, poop piles from overly large poops (especially from does that had recently kindled), and corroded floors (which ultimately led to us having to disassemble the entire hutch to take out the floor wires; lesson: don't build walls on top of flooring, since you'll likely have to replace the floors). We should have gotten 14 gauge, 1/2"x1" galvanized-after-welded mesh, as the best option for flooring, but that can be very expensive.  Never use anything less than 16 gauge for floor wire.  Galvanized-after-welded resists corrosion better than galvanized-before-welded.

While having the doors swing outward was handy, it was very important to always lock the cage.  Without the latch, the rabbits could quickly push the door open and hop away.  Also, having the door hinged on the side, rather than from above, meant that the door was useless for holding any kind of weight without suffering damage. (Short term weight was okay, but any kind of long-term or permanent fixture would eventually cause the hinges to sag.)  That meant that water bottles had to be hung on the non-door part of the wall, in whatever space was left after installing the feeder.  Does with litters require a feeder at least 7" wide, and I've seen 11" wide feeders come in very handy, especially for meat breeds.

Another issue with our initial setup is that 1" deep trays fill up very quickly.  Even with weekly cleanings, I often ended up dumping some of the poop from the upper cages into the lower cages as I pulled the trays out.  They might have been serviceable if the slot they went in wasn't so tight.  Also, 24"x42" pans are rather unwieldy, even for a teenager.

A related issue I came across was that the gap left above the divider between the lower compartments was enough space for rabbits in the lower compartments to jump through to the neighboring compartment, when both upper trays were removed.  The divider was 24" high, and the gap was only about 3", but it was still very easy for a rabbit to clear.  I ended up with a couple unplanned litters because of that gap.

The First Rabbits

I was very lucky not to have run into any issues with my first rabbits. My very first rabbit was a buck that my friend had been fostering for the animal shelter.  When I went to the animal shelter to adopt him, his paperwork had him down as a "black and brown Dutch", despite the fact that he was a gold-tipped black steel (we just called it "agouti" because we didn't know any better) with absolutely no white, much less Dutch markings, and weighed a solid 7-1/2 pounds (Dutch should weigh no more than 5-1/2 pounds according to the standard).  He was fully grown, but other than that, we had no clue to his age or background.  Fortunately, back then, rabbits from the animal shelter didn't have to be sold with a neuter contract.

My first doe was a meat crossbred from a fellow 4-H member.  The doe was a couple days short of 11 months old when I got her, and had never been bred.  Twelve months old is the oldest you want to breed a doe for the first time. Their rabbitry was dark, with piles of poop under the rusted cages.  The doe's granddam had wry neck (and apparently had for some time, but was functional), the doe's sire was aptly named "Killer", and several rabbits in the rabbitry had malocclusion which required frequent teeth trimming.  Do not buy foundation stock from unclean rabbitries, especially if any rabbits have signs of disease or poor genetics.

Serene, my second doe.
Later that year, a neighbor came by with a rabbit he had caught in his garden.  He knew I had rabbits, and thought it might be one of mine.  He had a rabbit, himself, but no extra cages, so if he kept it at his place, it would have to stay with his buck.  When I looked the rabbit over, it was a doe, so it was a good thing that I had an extra cage available, even if it was in the same hutch with my other rabbits.  She looked healthy, but looking healthy and being healthy can be two different things.  It's very important to quarantine any new rabbits, at least 20 feet away from any other rabbits, for at least 30 days. Like I said, I was lucky.

First Breeding

As soon as I got my first doe home, I put her in with my buck, who was all too happy to complete his job.  (Remember what I said about quarantine?)  I left the doe in with the buck for three days to ensure that she got bred.  At the time, we operated under the assumption that a doe won't go more than two consecutive days of being unwilling to breed.  Fortunately, the doe didn't harm the buck, despite being ill-tempered toward people, and the buck didn't injure the doe, despite his verve for breeding.  Never leave two rabbits together unattended; does have been known to castrate bucks, and bucks can cause injuries to does.

For a nestbox, we built one out of scrap plywood and 2x2s, using a plan in my Project Handbook.  We stuffed it full of straw.  One time I tried using timothy hay, and it was eaten up within a couple of days. I've also used newspaper in a pinch, but it quickly gets soiled.  I gave the box to the doe about two weeks out.  Does may use their nestbox for a toilet if given their box before day 25.  Fortunately, the doe was rather clean, and the box stayed clean.  She delivered 9 kits, only one of which was born on the wire.

I rubbed vanilla extract on the doe's nose so I could take a look at the remaining kits.  Most does really don't care if you mess with their kits.

My sister and I with a couple kits from one of our first litters.
Two weeks later, I rebred the doe (just a visit this time, since she still had nursing kits).  I weaned the kits at 5 weeks old to make room for the next litter.  Weaning younger than 5 weeks can result in weaning enteritis and other health issues; 6 to 8 weeks is ideal.

Through this whole process, I did keep good records, including breeding dates, birth dates, number born, number died (and how), and weights at 3 and 8 weeks.  My records also had spots for how many males and females, but I was terrible at sexing for a long time, so those slots didn't usually get filled out.

Moving On

Celeste, my first Flemish Giant, enjoying the house.
From there, I continued to collect a number of crossbred rabbits, as strays and from other not-so-reputable sources.  I used my crossbreds to produce Grand Champion market meat rabbit trios from my 2nd year of 4-H on.  I also took several champion placements in 4-H showmanship, got close to winning Small Animal All Around a couple of times, and even got a Best In Show with a doe of my own breeding.  I was invited to compete at the state level twice, but never got to go because of other activities.

Eventually, I ended up with a tort mini rex doe bred by Kathy Zaloudek, which launched me into my ARBA show career.  I also acquired a pair of fawn Flemish Giants from Robin Gamroth.  My rabbits became my FFA SAE, with which I was able to compete at the state level (took 1st in District, and then Regional), and helped me earn my State Farmer's Degree.

During college, I was able to keep a couple rabbits as pets, but didn't breed.  After I graduated, though, I got right back into it.  The old hutch has been gutted and turned into a frame for holding buck cages, another hutch has been acquired, and a shed is full of stackers of cages.  This time, I only bought sound stock from apparently-reputable breeders.  I've also decided to stay away from crossbreds, so that I can continue showing and hopefully have more consistent results.  For the time being, I have Californians, white New Zealands, and several colors of Rex.