September through March is livestock show time in much of Texas.
Most county and major livestock shows include rabbit meat pen competition. Comments are intended for all readers. This information is based on past experiences and breeders & judges that have generously shared their expertise.
Meat Pen General Information
•A meat pen consists of a 3 of young rabbits commonly called “Fryers”, weighing 3.5 to 5 pounds. (Check with your County as the rules are not the same everywhere) The goal is to raise 3 identical fryers. Meat pens are judged for (1) meat type, (2) condition, (3) uniformity, and (4) fur. See the ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) Book of Standards. This is the ARBA link for Book https://www.arba.net/store/store.php
“Standards and Guidelines for Judging meat Classes.”
•Most counties accept any ARBA recognized commercial meat breed. But some Counties only allow White New Zealands and Californians. Other counties may have classes for White New Zealands and Californians plus a separate class for AOB’s (All Other Breeds), and that class sometimes includes mixed breeds. In shows with separate classes for different breeds of rabbits, all class winners’ show for Grand and Reserve Champion. CHECK the rules for your county show and talk to your County Agent or 4-H rabbit advisor.
Tips for Beginners •If possible, buy and raise 5 to 6 fryers from a single litter to select a trio for a meat pen. This gives you a better chance of selecting a matching trio of fryers.
•Fryers are rabbits no more than 70 days old at the time of the show. Does need be bred 100 days (3 1/3 months) before day of judging. A breeder may need as much as 2 to 3 months prior notice to organize his breeding schedule. Plan accordingly.
•Contact at least 2 breeders five to six months before the county show to reserve a litter/s. Be sure to tell the breeder the date of your county show, your breed date and the validation date so he/she can plan appropriately. Then follow up with the breeder 30 days and 1 week prior to your breed date to ensure he/she can still breed for you.
1.It is best to wean the kits (baby bunnies) at 4 to 5 weeks of age. If the kits are left on the mother until 6 weeks or later they will be slower growing and softer muscled.
2.Keep litter together unless one gets under/overweight, ill, or the kits start fighting. Be sure to have a cage large enough for the number of kits you are purchasing. Keep a smaller second cage available for separating the over eaters, fighters, sick etc.
3.Fryer rabbits do best on a diet with a minimum of 21% fiber and a maximum of 16% protein. There are several good Rabbit feeds out there that provide a balanced ration for your rabbits. Check with your breeder and see what they feed. Generally your rabbits will do best on the same feed. Most good rabbit feeds are a well balanced diet and supplementing is not needed or recommended.
4.Handle and pose your fryers every day; trim tips of toenails.
5.Lightly swab inside of ears with baby oil or mineral oil to prevent ear mites (3-4 weeks before the show).
6.Provide a constant clean water supply.
7.Play a radio 24/7 to get rabbits used to noise.
8.Mark the left ear of each fryer with a permanent tattoo. Use letters and/or numbers. This allows you to track each rabbit’s progress and success.
Check with your advisor for details on tattooing and your County’s rules for tattooing. Some Counties require the kits be tattooed at validation, others require you tattoo your own.
Three Weeks before Show
1.Handle and weight rabbits daily. Judges can do their jobs easier when the pen of 3 sits still. Posing can be the determining factor when he/she is looking at two similar meat pens. If the Judge cannot get them to set up, chances are he will not be able to take the time to judge them. Remember the Judge will be looking at from 30 to 300 meat pens in a single show.
2.Monitor feed and weight gains for each rabbit on index cards. REMEMBER: Your goal is to get 3 rabbits to weigh and look the same by show day.
3.Give rabbits a daily grooming by spraying hands lightly with water, stroke rabbit from head-to-tail to remove dead fur. Do one reverse tail to head stroke for every 10 regular strokes (head to tail).
4.TWO WEEKS BEFORE SHOW – Fryers should weigh 4 pounds. That way it’s easier to work them up to 5 pounds in 2 weeks instead of holding them back for 2 weeks. Holding feedback to control weight means the rabbit will lose flesh condition, hurting your show chances.
Selecting Commercial Meat Type Fryers
Keep in mind how meat pens are judged:
•Meat Type 40 points
•Condition of Flesh 30 points
•Uniformity of Body & Weight 20 points
•Fur 10 points
Let’s discuss each one.
1. Type is the shape of the body. Study the handout, Courtesy of B*B Rabbitry.
2. Condition is how the animals look and feel: firm, solid, and clean. Again all 3 should show the same condition. Skin should be tight over the body. Hopefully, the fryers have never been picked up by the scruff of the neck…that pulls the pelt away from the muscle, making for flabby-feeling shoulders.
3. Uniformity is how well you have matched all 3 fryers. They should look like carbon copies or triplets. A judge advised me that matching TYPE is the most important consideration. It’s nice to have them at the same weight, but not the top priority. Do try to get them within 2-3ounces of each other.
NOTE: Do not have one outstanding rabbit and 2 mediocre-typed rabbits in your meat pen. That one “Superman” is really obvious to a judge and makes the others look bad. Instead go for 3 matching mediocre rabbits if that’s all you can match. Save “Superman” to “kick butt” in the single Fryer competition.
4. Fur is fur. It should be clean with no chewed or bare spots, and in “prime.” That means it should show the natural texture (what you feel) and density (what you see) as described for your breed of rabbit. When in “prime,” the fur will naturally fly back to its smooth natural position when stroked form tail to head. FUR is often what determines Grand Champion from the Reserve Champion. It’s the final determining factor when the judge is looking at 2 identically-typed meat pens.
If you would like more information or to order your meat pens please contact us.
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