Dress Out Rates

Keeping track of your live weights, dead weights, and calculating percentages will help you know if you're on the right track for breeding.

Keeping track of your live weights, dead weights, and calculating percentages will help you know if you’re on the right track for breeding.

Caution: be aware this post discusses processing rabbits. If this is disturbing to you, please scroll on by without comment.

 

Our initial purpose for breeding rabbits was to create a sustainable food source for our family. In our state, it is completely legal to raise rabbits for your own consumption, although you may not sell them to others for anything except animal consumption. Our desire to have this all-natural meat option factored into which breeds we selected for our rabbitry, as well as what breedings we pursue as we continue moving forward.

 

As meat breeders, having a strong dress out percentage from our rabbits is incredibly important. This is where we are rewarded for the days we care for animals in harsh weather, the multiple times a day we water every rabbit by hand, etc. If you don’t actually get a return for your investment of time and energy… what is the point?!

 

Our goal for all of our rabbits is a minimum of 50% dress out rate. The dressout percentage is the percent of the live animal that ends up as carcass. Generally, the carcass weight is taken immediately after skinning and evisceration and is commonly known as the hot hanging weight. (Evisceration is the removal of viscera (internal organs, especially those in the abdominal cavity). This can refer to: Disembowelment, removal of the internal organs of an animal.) Other people may refer to this as the bone-in weight.

 

We have some breeds that will just barely clear 50% dress out and others that are closer to 59% Obviously, the higher the dress out percentage the greater return you’ll have on your investment. After that you have to figure in your cost of feed and, if you’re really daring!, the cost of your time management in order to figure out what your actual cost per lbs. of meat is in comparison to what you can get on a little styrofoam platter at the grocery.

 

Here is yet another area where keeping precise records is important! For us this means our records make note of every rabbit ending up in the cull pen is weighed live, weighed dressed out (bone in, kidneys, liver, and heart saved), and the percentage calculation.

 

Now that we’ve been keeping our records for awhile we can start tracking which bucks and does have the strongest results, which breeds are most productive, whether we have higher percentages based on the season, etc. It’s really fascinating if you’re a rabbit nerd (as we are)!

Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish

Be careful not to be Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.

Be careful not to be Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.

The 2016 ARBA National Convention is coming up in just five weeks! Eek!

 

We are busy getting our rabbits evaluated for show and sale, handling them daily, and experimenting with a new conditioning mix this year in preparation for the national show. After a long summer of watching rabbits grow we are having fun getting our hands busy with them again!

 

One of the exciting aspects of the national convention for a rabbit breeder is the opportunity to purchase new animals that will (hopefully) push your rabbitry to a higher level in the next year. However, this can be a really overwhelming adventure for many, so here are a few thoughts based on our own experience:

 

Don’t be Penny-wise and Pound-Foolish. Many times people are searching the for sale posts, looking specifically for the cheapest rabbit. I absolutely understand that you have a budget and need to stick to it – but also be aware that in choosing to save the $10 from one rabbit to another you might be losing out on a body type or genetic strengthening that will end up costing far more than that $10 in the long run. Truthfully, you get what you pay for in most cases. If you want to be competitive, find out who the most competitive breeders are in your breed and seek them out. The price tag will likely be higher – and it’s still worth it because you will see the impact in your upcoming litters.

 

Do your Research. When deciding where to buy, research. Check the Breed Club Sweeps Points. Clubs are a wonderful starting place to find your new additions, but I know breeders who have incredible animals who are not excited about their breed club and aren’t members. (We fall into that category with a few of our breeds!) Also, be aware that club sweeps points are not always an indication that that particular breeder is breeding competitive rabbits. The points system may mean that they just enter a LOT of subpar rabbits or travel to a LOT of shows and earn a quantity of points. Ask around. Attend shows and watch how people interact with your seller. See if you can talk to people who have been customers of the rabbitry in the past. Utilize social media! Join Facebook groups that are relevant to your breed and do a search for the breed, rabbitry name, or the owner’s name. You’ll likely be able to find out a lot about who is considered knowledgable about the breed in that group, how they raise their rabbits, and any issues they’ve had that will help inform your decision about whether you want to do business with them. Be aware that many times the people posting the most on fb groups may not actually be breeding the most competitive rabbits.

 

Buy “Part” Animals. I heard this term recently and wasn’t sure what it meant, so then I had to find out! A “part” animal is one that has a specific strength that you’re looking for. So maybe you’re seeing a trend of long shoulders in the animals you’re producing but you have decent back ends. You’re not necessarily looking for a rabbit that is going to be perfect all over, you’re looking for one that has great shoulders so when you breed it to your big-bootyed bunny you will produce a well balanced rabbit! The key to this is actually knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your own rabbits well enough to know what you’re looking to add. Pay attention to what judges or trusted breeders say and be humble.

 

Be Realistic. No one is going to sell you their top animal and you shouldn’t expect them to do so. You can still find very good additions to your rabbitry if you’re realistic about your needs. Be aware that in many cases if you put a post on facebook about “I just bought this rabbit and it sucks, blah, blah, blah…” you are making it very difficult for yourself to find other breeders to sell to you in the future. Buying a rabbit is a risk. It just is. Even if the rabbit is amazing, it might not mix well genetically with your lines and you’ll have a dud. Complaining about the breeder is not going to solve the problem in 99% of the cases.

 

Keep Your Vision. I was recently at a show where the rabbit of an acquaintance won Best in Show. I knew the winner had been working their breed for many, many years, culled hard, and traveled often to learn how to better their rabbits. That rabbit that won Best in Show was the result of a long, consistent habit of learning, breeding, culling, and comparison. However, none of that history was visible to the casual onlookers yet that dedication was evident in the animal. If you are eager to be competitive, commit for the long haul. Keep a vision in your mind of your goal, and actually work for your vision! You cannot expect to have wild success as a top breeder if you aren’t willing to sacrifice for your rabbits as this is not some type of a get rich quick scheme. Determine your rabbitry goals and move forward confidently in their direction… then see where you are in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years!

 

Have fun breeding!

Blame it on the Wind

Someone please tell me they are also hearing Milli Vanilli singing in their brains after reading the post title? Please?! Just in case you missed the joys of being a 90s kid, here you go, in it’s full non-rabbit related splendor:

 

 

 

That’s good stuff, that.

 

Now, about the rabbits. Do you know what? My area has a “red flag warning” issued by the National Weather Service today, regular wind gusts of 40mph-50mph are expected with isolated gusts even higher!

 

Friends, that’s strong enough that our 3 year old could be knocked off his feet.

 

Maybe it’s a sad statement, but my immediate reaction to this news was to think of the rabbits in two major areas:

  1. Protection
  2. Sneezing

 

Protection. Wind is a more threatening weather condition than cold to a rabbit. Rabbits, with their nice warm coats of fur, can be extremely happy in below freezing weather. They thrive in brisk temperatures and breeders in very extreme cold climate report great success with their rabbits. Give them a bunch of hay or a box and they can withstand almost any temperatures (assuming they also have access to non-frozen water).

 

But the wind. Oh the wind.

 

There is something about wind that can take a rabbit’s life in an afternoon. I don’t fully understand it myself but I know it is true because of the experiences of multiple friends in our town. When the rabbits don’t have a wind break they can go fast.

 

Please, give your rabbits a wind break. A wind break that won’t go flying in the gusts! Our location has strong winds all spring and we’ve actually had to put several things in place to shelter the rabbits. One is the tall fence of our yard, another is a structure to block the wind, another is using the natural vegetation to block the wind. In areas that might still get wind we also put corrugated metal sheeting.

 

The tricky part is to block the wind while not removing the potential air flow that is also necessary for your rabbit’s health! Study where your wind typically hits and adjust on that side accordingly!

 

Sneezing. If you’ve been reading this blog for long you’ll know that we have a zero tolerance attitude toward rabbits with respiratory issues. If we suspect something is off we remove them from the herd. We practice quarantine religiously. We are those types of anal retentive people.

 

That being said, we occasionally have rabbits who sneeze. Our first spring having rabbits I heard a sneeze and that rabbit went directly to the cull block … where we found not a single thing awry with it upon autopsy. The second rabbit sneezed…. and we had a repeat, second verse, same as the first.

 

When the third rabbit sneezed my spouse (who tends to be pretty reasonable) said, “The last few days have been the windiest this year so far… and we have a dirt yard… and your own eyes are almost swollen shut with allergies… and I think we need to stop bopping them on the head only to discover they’re totally healthy. Animals sneeze. That’s life… not always a pure indication of illness!”

bunny

And he is right. Completely accurate. We need to be reasonable in our animal raising. If there is crazy wind and something sneezes, it’s absolutely possible they have dust in their nose and are trying to clear the way they’ve been designed to clear dust: by sneezing it out. If a rabbit sneezes after drinking water, it’s absolutely logical that it has water up its nose and it’s using its natural defense structure against drowning correctly: by sneezing it out.

 

It’s absolutely wise to isolate a rabbit that’s sneezing and observe it. If it’s just wind then the sneezing will subside. If the rabbit is unhealthy, it will become evident within a few days. Don’t be hasty.

 

It is right to be vigilant about the health of your herd, but also remember to be reasonable. It’s an Occam’s Razor idea: “Among competing hypothesis, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected” or — in other words — don’t bop the bunny on a windy day!

 

 

 

 

 

Roundup of Rabbit Pedigree Programs

One of the basic needs for a rabbit breeder is the ability to track rabbits genealogy over time. This is one of the first tenets of rabbit raising we picked up from Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits. KEEP ACCURATE RECORDS.

 

The problem with this, however, is how you plan to do it. If a rabbit is going to have an accurate pedigree, there are a lot of ways to store the information! This post will serve as a compilation of the rabbit pedigree programs that exist to date (as shown by internet searching. Hopefully it’s accurate, don’t shoot the messenger if something is forgotten!)

 

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Traditional Pedigrees

The traditional way of pedigree record keeping is a handwritten pedigree. These are available from the ARBA store (https://www.arba.net/store/) and include the required three generations, complete with spaces to fill out weight, color, tattoo number, registration and grand champion numbers.

Another option is to use a pedigree template, like this one from The Nature Trail Custom Rabbit Pedigree Design. They will design a template that can be used repeatedly, each time you can type in the rabbit’s information. Pricing: $30 (as of post publication).

 

Database-based Pedigrees

Over time, smart folks have come up with the idea of creating a database pedigree program. Instead of having to write every bit of information in the pedigree, the rabbit’s information is entered into a database. Then, anytime that particular rabbit is selected in a pedigree it will automatically load and the information will populate!

As long as the original information entered is accurate, you have accurate pedigrees from that point forward, easy-peasey. The following are simply listings. We don’t have personal experience with each one of them! (We have used Kintraks for years because we have Mac computers.)

 

For Windows-based computers (PC):

Evan’s Software. Arguably the most popular pedigree software, particularly designed for those using a PC, Massechusetts-based Evan’s is reported to have excellent customer service; their webpage text exhibits a strong sense of humor on the part of the developers. Evan’s offers a service to import existing pedigree information from other databases. Pricing: $69-$89 (as of post publication).

ZooEasy. Designed for those using Windows-based computers, ZooEasy allows you to report pedigree information, medical data, finances, contacts and serves both ARBA members as well as members of the British Rabbit Council. Pricing: $59 (as of post publication).

Breeder’s Assistant. Designed specifically for dog and cat pedigrees using a Windows platform, Breeder’s Assistant can be used for all sorts of animals, including rabbits. The Breeder’s Assistant also included information stating it can import data from the Church of Latter Day Saint’s genealogical database. They offer several different types of pedigree formats, including a circular pedigree. So unique. Pricing: $99 and up (as of post publication).

Easy Rabbit Pedigree Generator. This CD-based software designed for Windows computers may be what you’re looking for if you can get past the gimmicky sales pitch of their website and want a simple, functional pedigree design. Pricing: $17 (as of post publication).

 

PC or Mac computers:

KinTraks. For many years, KinTraks was the only pedigree program available for Mac users – this is why we originally chose it for our rabbitry. Over the years, though, we have appreciated that it was a one-time purchase, the customer support is quick and personal, and the interface is very easy to use. There are a lot of ways to customize the pedigrees as well. Trial version of 100 records offered for free. Pricing: $18 (as of post publication).

Bunny Trails Software. Bunny Trails can run on Windows, Mac, or Linux systems, and was created by rabbit breeders for rabbit breeders. Includes a free app that will work on the iPhone, iPad, or iTouch and offers support for tracking show points and performances (this could be very handy for recording information during the show). Pricing: $59 – $79 (as of post publication).

Global Pedigree Project. The Global Pedigree Project is cloud-based, meaning that if you have an internet connection you can use it, regardless of whether you’re accessing the internet on a Mac or PC. Once a part of the Global Pedigree Project, users can search any rabbit within the database, whether it is in their barn or not. (I have asked my friend with Global Pedigree to double check factual information on rabbits for me – a really handy feature!) The upside? Lots of shared information and the ability to look at what other breeders have uploaded. The downside? It could be really easy for people to falsify their pedigrees using data from other rabbits. The emailed pedigrees are very well designed. Subscription based service. Pricing: $12.50 – $75 (as of post publication).

 

Do you have any pedigree programs to add to this list? What are your personal experiences using them? Leave your response in the comments!

When Rabbit People Become Family

keep calmThere was a really big rabbit show this weekend, Ohio Mini Convention. People from literally all four corners of the country gathered to show off their bunnies, but something else really interesting happened – they renewed friendships, caught up on life, and (contrary to what some might imagine happens at a show) admired the quality animals on the show table simply because… a well-formed rabbit is a thing of beauty.

 

One of my friends posted on facebook, “It’s almost impossible to explain to ANYONE why you show rabbits. Why you drive hundreds of miles and spend a lot of money so someone can give you their opinion on your rabbit that you are most likely going to keep loving no matter what.

“It’s about feeling part of a community, feeling like you belong even though you all come from different places, occupations, upbringings. It’s acceptance. It’s laughter. It’s getting to know and care about someone you might not have ever met any other way. I am humbled by the kindness. I am even more thrilled that it still exists.”

 

When I read this, I can’t lie, my eyes got a little watery (or perhaps I was just preparing to wash my face like a caveman… either way, I was moved). Those words my friend wrote are true.

 

I look back to our very first show, when we attended wondering what on Earth kind of wierd people would spend an entire Saturday in a barn with rabbits?! It didn’t take long for us to see the value in an environment that offered all sorts of people coming together for their quirky hobby. We were hooked.

 

This past January our state show secretary became life-threateningly ill. I was talking to my husband about it when our 8-year-old daughter came up. “Ms. Joan is sick?” she asked. “Yes, very,” we replied. That night… and every single night until Ms. Joan was released from the hospital, one of the kids would pipe up during prayer, “And God, please protect Ms. Joan and heal her body and let her know she is loved.”

Rabbit show

The rabbit show kids with Ms. Joan’s life-sized get well card.

When we attended Arizona State Convention, people had buttons made to support her, a larger-than-life-sized get well card was passed around, Ms. Joan’s first facebook post on the state group was greeted with responses that involved many exclamation points. We have become family.

 

Rabbit people tend to be good, compassionate people. I have seen support raised for rabbit families in car accidents, fires, etc. This strange grouping of people who love their furballs has managed to create something that is hard to find in our current culture of status updates and sanitized photo opportunities: community and relationship that stretched across differences.

 

One sign we saw at the National ARBA show this past year? “For five days you don’t have to explain to anyone why you raise rabbits.” Admittedly, it’s a funny hobby, but man, it’s one worth exploring. Yes, it takes a bit of time to get to know people, and a willingness to carry on conversations, but our favorite aspect of rabbit shows has become the people we meet and the conversations taking place around the tables. Try it!

five days

West Coast Classic 2016

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WCC 2016 Showroom at the Reno Convention Center – 14,000+ rabbits!

We love West Coast Classic.

There. I’ve said it. And I won’t take it back.

 

This show has become a highlight of our year, it’s well-run, well-attended (14,000+ rabbits this year!) and within driving distance for us. What’s not to love?!

 

Because we raise rare breeds it’s sometimes difficult to find other breeders to show our rabbits against. In order for us to know that we’re on the right track with our breeding program, it’s very important we make the effort to get out of our immediate area at least once a year. For us, that opportunity is West Coast Classic.

wcca

On our way to Reno!

It’s a 10+ hour driving commitment, and since we have our school co-op day on Fridays that has meant we arrive in Reno in the wee, wee hours of Saturday morning. This year we brought our oldest girls and they also competed in the youth contests.

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The West Coast Silver Fox Club sponsored a specialty this year – and look at those prizes! So thankful to Lynn Fischbeck for her handiwork as well as the dedication of Morgan Elliot in promoting the club and donating some really amazing aprons sporting the club logo!

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Mad Hatter’s Hans Solo placed Best Opposite of Breed under Judge Ryan Fedele – earning this gorgeous wooden plaque that is now in our kitchen. Thank you to Lynn Fischbeck for making it! (www.facebook.com/skylerscollection)

Our Blanc de Hotot received a great compliment from past ARBA President Mike Avesig, he said our doe, Torree, was an excellent representation of the breed. Woo hoo! We’re moving in the right direction!

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The best part about our WCC experience is always the conversation. We were so welcomed by the different breeders, were able to put faces and names together, and thoroughly enjoyed our experience. It always warms our heart when a judge takes the time to educate us and our children on the breed as they are going along – how better to learn?!

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We already have next year’s show on the calendar, May 6, 2017. We will be helping host the Blanc de Hotot National Show as well!

How to Enter a Show and Show Organization

Recently we were asked about how we manage our show entries with five breeds and five show exhibitors – so, with trepidation (because I’m pretty confident you’re going to think this is insanity), I am happy to share with you… the

Rabbit Brain Excel Spreadsheet

 

This is a sample of the excel spreadsheet we’ve been using, along with our pedigree program, to manage our rabbitry. We have some additional pages on the spreadsheet I didn’t include because they contain the contact information of people on waiting lists for our rabbits, but you could be free to take this spreadsheet and make it your own if you find it useful!

 

Even though we all show different rabbits at the show I tend to be the manager of all paperwork! Here’s how we’ve made the spreadsheet work for us:

 

On page 1 I have the rabbits and their tattoos for those coming and going to the current show. This is so I don’t try to take more rabbits than our car can hold! (We’ve played rabbit carrier Tetris before and it tends to make the spouse a tad grumpy!) If we are selling rabbits at the show I will make note of it on the side, who they’re going to, and whether they’ve already paid/has the pedigree been delivered, etc. This “Load Sheet” is what I print when we’re getting the rabbits into carriers before we leave the house to be certain everyone who is supposed to go… Goes!

On page 2 you’ll find an exhaustive list of the showable rabbits we’ve ever shown that might currently go to a show at any point. I keep even our retired animals on this list. They don’t move off it unless they’re permanently removed from the herd. I also never fill in the “class” column unless they are a SR, as this class assignment will change!

 

All of this information is organized the way the show entry form asks for the information:

(Name is only for our family’s purposes)

Tattoo

Breed

Variety (find specifics in the Standard of Perfection as they are breed specific)

Class (clarity is in the Standard of Perfection, this is also breed specific)

Sex

(who in our family shows them)

 

 

The third page contains the actual entries we make to any particular show. This is filled after we take the time to go through each of our rabbits and assess which ones are show-ready. I can easily copy and paste their information from Page 2, fill in the class, and have it ready. This allows me to easily sort the list by the person who is showing that particular rabbit, then by the breed, then by the sex, then by the class using the Excel sort function.

 

Once the entries are sorted by exhibitor I’m ready to do a copy and paste from the spreadsheet to the email for the entry in the show.

 

The only thing wanted for the show entry is:

Exhibitor Name, address, phone number, email

Which show(s) will be entered (many shows have more than one showing and identify this by A, B, C, etc.)

Whether they will be shown in OPEN or YOUTH

Rabbit Tattoo

Rabbit Breed

Rabbit Variety

Rabbit Class

Rabbit Sex

 

It’s easy enough to copy and paste this information into the body of an email addressed to the show secretary. Then I hit “enter” on that email and we’re registered for the show!
Now, once we’ve actually arrived at the show I have a whole different level of tracking I employ. (I stole this idea from a very seasoned shower and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this method!) We have a simple little spiral notebook where we keep all of this information and it allows us to track how each rabbit has done at each show, under each judge. Brilliance!
Show Page

This is our brain while at the show!

You can see that the columns represent the specific show (in this case show A and show B) and the last column is comments. I always separate by Breed and try to have the rabbits grouped by sex and class because that’s how the judge will rank them.
All those smudged-out spots are the rabbit’s tattoo number. Since we call them by name around our house, most of them look very similar, and the judge will rank them by tattoo number, it’s wise for us to have both name and tattoo number written on this show page.
Finally you’ll notice the ranking that the specific rabbit has and how many rabbits were in that particular class. If they take home a Best of Breed or Best Opposite of Breed I can note it to the side and that allows us to see which rabbit will be called up for which show during the Best in Show judging.
I hope these provide some useful visuals for you! It’s only one way of management and it’s working for us, but I’d love to hear what works for you!