I’ve already confessed to y’all my previous statesmanship. I promise I’m not one of those “Everything is Bigger” yahoos and I don’t have a drawling accent. My only lingering southern habits are calling all carbonated beverages cokes — When I say I want a coke, I also want to be asked what kind. The answer is always Dr. Pepper, never Coke-a-cola. I don’t make the Texas rules, I just follow them. — and favoring y’all over my Missouri relatives’ default of you’uns (pronounced ye-uns).
There was quite the debate at the Rapp family dinner table over the correct spelling of you’uns but it all comes out in the warsh, as they say.
Anyway, despite my deplorable lack of the state-specific sense of superiority that innately inhabits all Texans, I was once state royalty.
Let me immediately and succinctly disabuse you of the notion that this title was in any way related to my outward physical assets. No beauty contests were ever entered or won by me. I accumulate accolades academically and agriculturally or not at all.
(Although, our neighboring town’s high school beauty pageant took place in a rural, dairy-heavy area where in order to be named the Dairy Festival Queen, contestants had to be beautiful and also able to milk a cow, and I always thought that was the best sort of contest there could be. Imagine if all the Miss America hopefuls had to drive a tractor as part of their requirements. It’s just a suggestion.)
The journey to the throne of Texas Rabbit Princess is based on memorization, spokesmanship and breeding knowledge. And is the reason I can tell you rabbits are in fact lagomorphs and not rodents. There’s your nugget of knowledge for the day.
It’s important to note that when my journey as a rabbit breeder and owner began, around 2003, I think, I was already facing a nearly insurmountable obstacle. My local ag science teacher, who conveniently lived in my home and responded to “Dad” had vowed that there was one county show project he would never — I repeat NEVER — allow his students to participate in.
You got it, rabbits.
But, they’re so cute. They are so soft. And think about how much less work and money one of those little critters is than a steer… sure.
Next thing he knew, he had agreed to drive across the state to pick up a group of meat pens, not only for me but for several other students. There were a few complications to our plan.
Meat pens typically are shown in groups of four, but often times purchased as groups of 6 to have a few alternate rabbits. That means we were picking up a heck of a lot of baby bunnies…and we had no carrying cages.
That’s fine, we decided to use cardboard boxes.
Then, the rabbits need to be kept on the same feed for consistency. So we purchased several bags of feed to keep everyone going through the next months.
Also, not a problem. We just tossed it in the back of the truck.
And, then, it rained.
So we had my mom, dad, younger brother in a carseat and me in the backseat with about four sacks of feed and forty bunnies who had learned to hop in and out of their boxes on a four hour journey.
We still laugh about that trip to this day.
Cardboard boxes turned into special carrying cages turned into buying a travel trailer with a generator so the bunnies could travel in air conditioning through the Texas summer.
One meat pen turned into exploring breeding rabbits turned into a new barn big enough to hold our 250 breeding stock. (That escalated quickly, as rabbits do.)
Here’s where I say that yes, it’s funny that our rabbit business exploded so quickly. But, it did several things for me, as a third through sixth grader that are very important in my overall life story.
First, it gave me something to be an expert about. Middle schoolers are rarely experts on anything. They are perpetually stuck between childhood and adolescence and its honestly a weird, terrible time. The confidence I gained by knowing everything there was to know about these little fuzzies was pivotal.
Secondly, it taught me skills I carried with me for the rest of my life. The capacity for genetic understanding and improvement in rabbits is astounding. Changes happen so fast and manipulating colors, size, fur quality are exceptionally easy with the right understanding of basic genetics. I used rabbit genetics for science projects, 4-H speeches and even my early-level animal science classes at college.
Thirdly, it gave me a chance to interact with people of all ages and walks of life with a common interest as our guide. A few years ago, I interviewed a couple for Farm Talk that I originally met competing at rabbit shows, those connections were lasting and made an impression on me.
So, if your kids are considering doing something you think might be frivolous or dumb, evaluate the possibilities for the activity to have a positive impact on their life before you give a hard no.
My cattle-breeding, cattle-loving family went out on a limb for me in a big way (in some ways they’re still paying for it as my dad is now also known as a rabbit expert and has to judge all of the local county shows) and they supported me while I explored something new before I returned to the cattle-showing fold with a firmer foundation in agriculture and in life.
As county show season approaches, it’s important for me to also note that while I won the Texas Rabbit Princess title and was runner-up for the national rabbit princess title, as well as competing on a national rabbit judging team and winning both locally and nationally in breeding rabbit shows — I competed horribly in my own county.
I was legitimately dead last one year. Me, the Texas Rabbit Princess. I introduced our county to the joys of rabbits and took the program from 15 pens to over 50, only to frequently be placed 40th or below. I bred and sold the Grand Champion pen one year and taught a showmanship clinic that educated the showmanship winners.
So, don’t tie all your hopes and dreams to that county-level performance, it can definitely get the best of us.