By Travis Finkle, Angora Rabbit breeder and Rabbit & Cavy Judge #856.
Exhibitors quite often ask me what, as a judge, is my biggest pet peeve. That question is easy to answer: dirty or unruly animals. It upsets me every time this happens because it is something that can so easily be fixed. Ideally, if you are taking any rabbit to a show, it should be a show quality rabbit that is clean, well conditioned, well groomed, and well behaved.
You have received the catalog for an upcoming show and you’re deciding which rabbits to take. Let’s start here. Before you write down your entries, go out to your rabbitry and look over all the animals you are considering for this show. Take a little extra time to inspect each rabbit for the following things:
Underside of body
I am going to discuss each section in order as if I was judging the rabbit.
Molt: When you put a rabbit on the table this is the first thing any judge is going to notice. If a rabbit is in a horrible molt the fur will be flying before the animal is even picked up. We don’t like to touch animals in a molt this bad, the fur get over our entire body, in our eyes, in our hair, stuck to our hands, on the other rabbits and dirties the show table. With temperatures up and down and constant weather changes molt can be impossible to stop. Slightly molted rabbits I fault minimally. However, we all know those animals that are in a full blown molt, they must be faulted heavily because a rabbit in sever molt will not only loose points from condition but also from fur and color, which adds up to a lot of points being faulted. Do yourself and the judge a favor and enter a different animal.
Posing/Table Manners: Before I flip the rabbits over I like to pose them. I’ve found with posing the rabbits before flipping them, I am able to get a better pose out of the rabbit. This can make or break a first place animal from a second place animal or turn a beautiful rabbit into a not so appealing rabbit. You should take the time to work with your rabbits on posing well before any show. Judges should know how to handle and pose each breed properly. I give my full effort in getting an unruly animal every possible chance for me to get a good look at it. That said, we are not here to train your rabbits to pose. That is your job. We expect the animals to have basic table manners and pose readily. There is just no excuse to enter a rabbit that is a biter. Leave them at home.
Weight: Be sure to weigh your rabbits before the show. Far too often juniors are DQ’ed for being overweight and seniors are DQ’ed for being underweight. Many breeds will allow these larger juniors to be bumped up to an older age class. It only takes a few seconds to weight them and save you from a weight disqualification and the wasted entry fee.
Condition: If you rabbit is overweight or underweight because of condition that is not a quick easy change. Condition on average is worth 10 points, although poor condition can result in loss of more than 10 points because it affects type for a fat or thin rabbit, and most emaciated rabbits have poor coats and sometimes poor color. I will fault overly conditioned rabbits much less than under conditioned rabbits. If you can feel the spine on your rabbit it would be best for you to leave that rabbit at home with some extra feed. An extremely thin rabbit gives a bad image of both the owner’s husbandry and rabbit breeders in general. To bring a rabbit that looks like it hasn’t been cared for; this is something we should all be concerned about with legislation going on now. Far too often I pick up a rabbit whose coat is sticky and wet. No one wants to touch a rabbit like this. If the rabbits coat is sticky that means you have not groomed that rabbit in quite some time. These animals will go to the bottom of the class. If the coat is just wet I will often wipe it off and continue to judge. Sticky rabbits are just gross!
Toenails: I can’t tell you how many times older rabbits with super long toenails or junior animals with razor sharp toenails have scratched me. Scratches like this are easily avoidable when a rabbit has properly trimmed toenails. Clipping toenails should be done on a regular basis with all of your rabbits, even the ones that are just brood animals and will never leave your rabbitry again. It is best to clip the toenails on all the rabbits going to a show at least three days prior to the show. Clipping the nails at the show is too late. Right after the toenail is clipped it can still be very sharp as it takes a few days for the roughness of a freshly clipped toenail to grown out. Consider that a rabbit with very long toenails can’t sit squarely on its feet and therefore won’t pose as well, causing it to loose many point on type.
Sex: We have all made this mistake before, entering a buck as a doe or a doe as a buck. Especially with those junior animals that like to trick you, check the sex one last time before you make your entry. This is also a good time to check for disease, missing testicles and split penises.
Teeth: I can’t remember the last time I disqualified a rabbit for malocclusion. I can honestly say breeders have done a good job with breeding this out, especially over the past three years. Broken or missing teeth disqualifications happen at every show.
Underside of Body: This, of all the show preparations is the biggest issue for me as a judge. Many times I pose a beautiful animal that has a great coat then I flip it over to find a wet, matted, feces covered bottom or sore hocks. Many people have animals that look beautiful but they forget to flip them over. The condition of the underside on the rabbit is just as important as the condition over the back. No judge wants to put his or her hand into wet, sticky feces! If I can’t sex the rabbit without getting feces on my hand I’m not going to do it. Be sure to flip all your rabbits over and check for these things, a sore hock is another disqualification that happens often but can easily be avoided.
The above applies to all breeds of rabbits and cavies with a few breed specific modifications. These few simple things may help your rabbit place higher than it would if you ignored them, additionally some of these quick checks will even save you from having your animal disqualified.