Katie Keating likes her rabbits rare.
No, not that way.
The 11-year-old Mansfield FFA student doesn’t eat bunnies. But when it comes to raising projects for the Fort Worth Stock Show and other agricultural competitions, Keating likes animals that are kind of uncommon, and fun to cuddle. Her choice of Blanc de Hotot — solid white rabbits whose eyes are lined with black, giving them a distinctive Captain Jack Sparrow look — was as much about the breed’s rarity as its other attributes.
“I like them because they’re so much bigger,” Keating said. “I like to snuggle.”
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Her three hereditarily eye-lined rabbits were among more than 1,400 entries from about 35 breeds in in the youth show, said Tony Ball, one of three rabbit show superintendents. Last week’s open show, in which adults may compete, had 1,000 entries. The junior rabbit show is one of Fort Worth’s great-equalizer livestock competitions.
“A lot of these kids don’t have room to raise hogs, sheep or steers,” Ball said of FFA and 4-H students who brought their furry projects to the junior rabbit show Thursday in the poultry barn at the Will Rogers Memorial Center compound. “The rabbits are judged according to the American Rabbit Breeders Association’s standards of perfection, on a 100-point scale.”
“What’s important depends on the breed,” said Ball, who also is a rabbit judge. “It’s the muscle development in the Californias and New Zealands; the markings in the Dutch; or the length and suppleness of the ears for the English Lops.”
Ball said he’s mostly out of the rabbit raising business, but only a few years ago he was still breeding New Zealands, “because I could show them, and I could eat the ones that weren’t good enough to show.”
Rabbit meat can be used any way a cook uses chicken, Ball said.
“My mother-in-law’s rabbit and dumplings was really good,” he said.
But most of the youngsters who show rabbits aren’t about to eat them, Ball said. Mental images of the Easter Bunny and Bugs Bunny get in the way. The public tends to see them that way, too, keeping rabbits off butchers’ blocks in most markets.
“There’s a bigger market for rabbits in Europe,” Ball said.
But that doesn’t mean the ag students are any less interested in raising them right.
“Most people who have these rabbits put a lot of effort into showing the best animals they can,” Ball said. “For some of these kids, the shows in Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston are like the Olympics. They go to a lot of county shows, but this is big.”
Kylie Johnson would attest to that. Getting ready for her second Fort Worth Stock Show, she and her little brother, Colton, were pampering an American chinchilla named Lucy.
“I was disqualified last year because my rabbit was underweight,” said Johnson, a home-schooled 14-year-old from Watauga. “I put a little more weight on Lucy with a different kind of food.”
Keating said her 19 rabbits at home keep her busy, feeding and watering them every day and grooming them — brushing their coats and clipping their nails — every other day.
“I got into the agricultural leadership program at Tarver/Rendon Elementary because I wanted something of a change from sports,” said Keating, who admitted she still plays volleyball. “I hope to continue breeding and showing them through high school. I plan to raise and sell show rabbits.”