Meatpens & Livestock Shows

           October through March is livestock show time in Texas. Most county and major livestock
           shows include rabbit meatpen competition. With the exception of the Breeder Listing,
           comments are intended for all readers. This article is based on my children's experiences
           and countless conversations with rabbit judges and Texas breeders who have generously
           shared their expertise.




  Contact at least 2 breeders four-six months before the county show to reserve a litter.

Do this in MAY...... NOT in AUGUST!!!!!

  Most counties accept any ARBA-recognized commercial meat breed, however, do check the rules for your county show.

  Does should be bred 100 days before day of show judging. Be sure to tell the breeder the date of your county show, so he/she can plan appropriately.

  If possible, raise 6-8 fryers to select ONE meatpen. This gives you a better chance of selecting a matching trio of fryers.

  A meatpen consists of a trio of matching fryers weighing 3-1/2 to 5-1/2 pounds.  **Read your county rules for weight limits. The meatpen is judged for (1) meat type, (2) condition, (3) uniformity, and (4) fur. See the ARBA Book of Standards - "Standards and Guidelines for Judging Meat Classes."

When you get your rabbits home, place them in the cage and leave them undisturbed for 18 hours.  This allows them time to get used to their new surroundings.
If your rabbits are not eating, they may not be getting water.  So check to make sure that the water supply is working properly.  They will normally not eat their regular ration for a day or two.  

First things first-find out what brand of rabbit pellets the bunnies have been raised on.  Try to stick with this brand or get enough of that feed to mix with whatever brand you are planning on feeding.  When switching brands you should mix the 2 brands 50/50 for about a week.  Any change in diet should be done gradually.

After a few days, you can start removing your bunnies from the cage one at a time.  Take the bunny out and set it on the grooming table or other table you have for it.  Make sure the surface is not slippery.  You can use a carpet pad to set them on.  Set the bunny on the table and try to pose them in the proper position.  Hopefully you have been taught this at your 4H or FFA meetings.


              General Posing Guidelines

The front feet should rest under the eye and the back feet should rest under the hip.

Set your bunny in this position and stroke them a few times.  The young ones will not stay in this position long, but if you are consistent they will learn to sit for longer periods of time.  This position is a natural resting position. 


You should brush your bunnies several times a week.  It is easy to brush their fur in this position.

Take each bunny out separately and work with them for a few minutes every day.

             Tips for Beginners

1. If possible, keep kits (baby bunnies) with doe until show check-in.

2. If #1 above is not possible....keep litter together unless one gets under/over weight, ill, or start fighting.

3. Provide pelleted food at all times up to 3 weeks before the show.

4. Handle the fryers every day: trim tips of toenails, pet, "set-up," etc.

5. Lightly swab inside of ears with baby oil to prevent ear mites (3-4 weeks before 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 marker. Use letters, numbers, or symbols. This is so you can track each rabbit's progress.

9. How to clean that stained fur? Click here.

               Three Weeks Before Show

1. Handle and weigh rabbits daily. Judges can do their jobs easier when the pen of 3 sit still. And posing can be the determining factor when he/she is looking at two identical meatpens.

2. Monitor feed and weight gains for each rabbit on index cards.

REMEMBER: Your goal if to get 3 rabbits weighing and looking alike by show day.

3. Feed a tablespoon of conditioning mix to each rabbit to enhance fur and condition. This is in addition to the regular pellet food. Want drop-dead, gorgeous fur? Email me.

4. Give rabbits a daily grooming by spraying hands lightly with water, stroke rabbit from head-to-tail to remove dead fur. Do one tail-to-head stroke for each 10 regular strokes.


5. TWO WEEKS BEFORE SHOW- Fryers should weigh 4 to 4-1/2 pounds. That way it's easier to work them up to 5-1/2 pounds in 2 weeks instead of holding them back for 2 weeks. Holding feed back to control weight means the rabbit will lose flesh condition, hurting your show chances.

               Selecting Commercial  Meat Type Fryers

Keep in mind how meatpens 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 Judge Mike D'Amico. Click here. Study and then examine as many fryers as possible till you understand what he means by "commercial type."


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 2-3 ounces of each other.

NOTE: Do not have one outstanding rabbit and 2 mediocre-typed rabbits in your meatpen. 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 from 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 meatpens.

               Showmanship  (click HERE)