November 2008
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Alabama National Fair Hosts First Rabbit Show

   

Jessica Whitten’s Rex doe was named Grand Champion of the Youth Rabbit Show held at the Alabama National Fair. Her father, Wade, proudly holds Jessica’s Banner.

This year’s Alabama National Fair in Montgomery held what might be the quietest, cuddliest animal show and exhibit the fair has ever seen. A row of new, custom-built cages in the perennially popular "Grandpa’s Farm" barn housed over two-dozen rabbits of various sizes, textures and colors in an exhibit that delighted fair-goers of all ages. And on one particular afternoon, young people were encouraged to bring their own rabbits to the fair to compete in the Youth Rabbit Show.

Not only was this the first rabbit show ever held in conjunction with the fair, but all the contestants were competing in their first rabbit show as well.

"It’s been a definite learning experience," said Andy Tipton with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, "but we’ve had an amazing group of volunteers with dedication and passion for the project. They’ve worked harder than anyone we could pay to help us."

Tammy Bradford of Cullman brought a total of five rabbits to the show. Her small Fuzzy Lop was named Reserve Champion.

   
     

The exhibit showcased several different breeds of rabbit as well as various ages and colors within breeds. Information about rabbits was also shared, like the fact males are called bucks and females are does, while a bunny is a young rabbit under 3 months of age. But for most youngsters, details took an obvious backseat to the undeniable draw of twitching noses and fluffy tails.

Young Kaelin Bair of Prattville was surprised to see rabbits at the fair as she and her family strolled through Grandpa’s Farm. She pointed out a small Dutch rabbit as her favorite in the exhibit.

"It’s so cute, and I like the way he scratches his chin," said Kaelin.

The idea to include rabbits at this year’s fair came from the Farmer’s Market Day in July where one particular booth was flooded with visitors according to Tipton.

"Donna Barabas brought some of her bunnies for display, and it was unbelievable the response people had to those animals," he said.

Tipton explained Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Ron Sparks saw the interest generated by those rabbits. The creation of a rabbit division within the Alabama Youth Livestock Association soon followed as a way to involve more young people in Alabama agriculture.

Gary Aycock holds the ribbon his son, Will, received for winning the Showmanship class. His student, Ashley Barber, won for Best Grooming.

"Even kids who live in an apartment can raise and care for a rabbit, and we want all young people to think more about where their food and fiber come from and how much work it takes to produce them," Tipton said.

Donna Barabas of Smith Station who provided many of the rabbits for the exhibit in Grandpa’s Farm served as judge for the rabbit show. She is also the chairperson for the rabbit division of the Alabama Youth Livestock Association.

"Rabbits are judged according to standards of perfection for that rabbit’s particular breed," she said. When placing the classes, Barabas explained to the competitors why she placed the rabbits the way she had and discussed the importance of proper care and handling of rabbits.

"I’m happy to have this opportunity to introduce more youth to how fun rabbits can be. They are so gentle and easy to care for. They require less space and start-up cost when compared with other animals as well, making them great animals for city kids as well as farm kids," said Barabas.

Information about the rabbit show was posted at the rabbit exhibit, and Courtney Koterba said she and her sister Caitlin decided to bring their rabbits to the show just the night before. Courtney’s white Mini Rex took first place in the Junior Buck class.

The youngest competitor in the rabbit show was six-year-old Will Aycock of Blount County who took first place in the Showmanship class with his Holland Lop buck he named Chewbacca.

"I comb it and feed it hay every afternoon at school," said Will. Chewbacca lives at Pell City High School along with several other rabbits that are a project of the animal science class taught by Will’s father, Gary Aycock.

"We went to a rabbit show in Tennessee last year, and I thought a rabbit program would be something hands-on for my students that we could manage on a small scale, since space is an issue in a mostly urban area," said Aycock.

"And we all said yes as soon as he mentioned it," said Ashley Whitlock, one of the students from Aycock’s animal science class.

"We thought it would be easy," said classmate Jessica Whitten, "but it’s not as easy as we thought. Clipping their nails, cleaning their cages, and feeding and watering every day…it’s a lot of responsibility."

But it’s responsibility that paid off. Several of Aycock’s students went back to Pell City with blue ribbons, and Jessica’s Rex doe was awarded Grand Champion of the show.

Tammy Bradford competed in every class at the rabbit show with five rabbits making the trip to from their Cullman County farm to Montgomery with Tammy and her parents.

"Tammy has shown horses, cows, dogs, goats and lambs, but this is her first rabbit show," said Tammy’s mother Pam, adding that going to the rabbit show was less hassle than preparing for other animal shows. Tammy’s Fuzzy Lop rabbit took first place in the Senior Doe class and was named Reserve Champion of the show.

Although this was the Alabama Youth Livestock Association’s inaugural show, Tipton said Livestock IT Specialist Audrey McCord developed a software program that aided in preparation for the rabbit show.

"Audrey does a lot of the behind-the-scenes work in putting together the show manuals we publish by species as guides for young people interested in showing, too. She’s great at what she does," he added.

"Ultimately, the Alabama Youth Livestock Scholarship Foundation plans to award scholarships to eligible applicants who are involved in the youth livestock program. Our hope is rabbits will provide an opportunity for young people without a farm background to take part in the youth livestock program and experience more of what Alabama agriculture has to offer," he said.





 Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.