Heaton Rabbitry

Selecting a Californian Rabbit Meat Pen For Texas Show

Selecting a Californian Rabbit Meat Pen For Texas Show
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By: Pamela Heaton

A beautiful single fryer rabbit.
A rabbit meat pen should have 3 just like this one.

When you get ready to select your rabbit meat pen your rabbits should be within 2 ounces in weight.  This will require that you work on your rabbit meat pen project from the very beginning.  To get your meat pen within 2 to 3 ounces from the top weight to the bottom weight will require you to usually seperate the animals and regulate their feed starting at 5 weeks of age.
The day you get ready to select your rabbit meat pen should be cool.  If the weather does not cooperate that day then select them early in the morning or late in the evening in the shade.  If you can seperate your pen into seperate pens like a carrier this will help to settle them down and give you a place to mark their cage on the top. 
You will need a long mirror.  I suggest one that is used on the back of a door.  A mirror will be your best friend.  It will allow you to see the back of the rabbit at the same time you are looking at the front end.  You can really see the lower hindquarter this way.  It will also allow you to get a real picture on how all three rabbits look like together on the table.  A mirror is better than just looking at them with your eye.
I make a chart: weight, shoulder, depth, loin, rump, lower hindquarter, and fur.  I seperate the rabbits into groups within 4 ounces of each other.  Many times I will have a heavy weight and a lighter weight class to look at when it is time to select the pen.  It does not hurt if the weights break down into three groups.  Then I look at each rabbit and give them a ranking in each class on the chart.  I then pull together all the rabbits that have excellent in all 6 classes.  I try to get three to match out of that group, however, if that does not work then I pull the rabbits that were marked the next best in loin, rump, and lower hindquarters.  I do look at shoulders but it is the last thing that I worry about.  If you have trouble deciding if they are the same depth, lay a ruler across their backs and see if they all touch the ruler.  If one has a lot more depth than the others it will be easy to see.  You will not need the ruler after a few times using the mirror.  It is better to go with the heavier rabbits for your pen.
The American Rabbit Breeders Association book of Standard does a really good job describing what the rabbits should look like for your meat pen.  However, I will try and tell you what I look for when selecting the best rabbit.  I want my rabbit to start right behind the neck and start rising.  You do not want to be able to put a finger behind the neck before they start their rise in depth.  I like them to be so wide that it is difficult for my hand to reach across their shoulder.  There should be a little taper to their hindquarter but not to much because we are not raising show rabbits.  You want your hand to go down their midsection and across their hips without catching on their hip bones.  It is best to have a finger nail tight loin but one finger is acceptable.  They should round over their rump and go into a full lower hindquarter.  You do not want to go over the rump and go straight down.  This is called chopped on the show table.  A good description for looking at their rump in a army helmet cut in half.  Their fur should have a fly back texture.  When you run your had on their fur from the rear to the head the fur should fly back.
Try and stay with the same litter because of the genetics.  You can use different litters but you have to be careful of bone structure and fur.  If you do mix litters try and stay with the same buck as the sire of both litters.
Do not pick your pen more than 24 hours in advance because the rabbits gain weight each day and change body structure as they grow.  I usually pick my pen the night before the show and then check them an hour before they go on the show table.
Please check for ear canker about 5 days before the show.  If you see just a little then use something for dogs in their ear.  If it is bad then use ivomec in their ears.  It will be clear in a few days but may cause their fur to slip if you use ivomer.  Warning be careful you do not want to get the medication of their fur.  They will sling their head when you put medicine in their ears.
A Few Tips:
     Find someone with lot of experience selecting meat pens and invite them over.
     If you get tired take a break.
     If the rabbits get tired take a break.
     Wear long sleeves.
     Mirror, mirror, mirror
     Seperate the rabbits before you begin selecting them.
     Mark each rabbit with a tattoo or a sharpie.
     Make a chart.
     Judge each rabbit individually.
     Have a digital scale.
     Use a ruler for depth.
     A wet cloth for their fur.
     Select your pen within 24 hours of the show.
     Try and stay within the same litter.
Good Luck and have fun.
                               Mrs. Heaton

Make sure that you have followed all your county rules.  I suggest that you take a copy of the rules with you to the show.  If an official changes the rules the morning of the show, SHAME on them.  However, to cover yourseldf ask them to initial your set of rules witht the changes.