Many fairs and rabbit shows have a class called a Meat Pen. If you are buying rabbits for a 4H project, this may be one of the options you want to try. To compete in a meat pen class, you must have three young rabbits that are ten weeks old or younger from the same litter. They each need to weigh between three and five pounds. The winning pen will contain three rabbits that are almost identical in appearance, weight and condition.
It is best to prepare by knowing the rules for showing meat pens before you begin. Join the American Rabbit Breeders Association and purchase the Standard of Perfection. This will let you learn about all the breeds recognized by the association and learn the rules for showing meat pens as well as showing individual rabbits, competing in fur and other classes. When you join ARBA, you will receive a book that teaches you about caring for rabbits properly. The book covers show rabbits, meat rabbits and pets.
You can raise your meat pen from litters born to your own rabbits, or you can purchase a meat pen from a rabbit breeder. Most meat pens are purchased when the rabbits are between four and five weeks old. This allows you to raise them yourself to the proper weight and age for competition.
Meat pen competitions are dominated by New Zealand Whites and Californians. These two breeds are most frequently raised for meat, so they have been bred to develop quickly. Other breeds that you may see in meat pens include New Zealand Reds or Blacks, Champagne D’Argents, Palominos, American Sables, Chinchillas, Cinnamons, Crème D’Argents, Rex, Satins, Silver Fox, and Silver Martens. All of these breeds have been raised to provide nutritious meals to families all over.
If you are breeding your own meat pen, count back ten weeks from the date of your show. This is when the rabbits must be born. Your doe must be bred four weeks before that, since gestation is between 28 and 31 days. If you don’t have breeding stock, it is best to start looking for some at least four or five months before the show. Does should be a minimum of six months old before they are bred. If you are waiting on a single doe, you may end up without a litter. Your best bet to get the best meat pen possible is to breed several does at that time. If you have the time, let them have a litter before you need to breed for your show. This lets them learn how to parent their babies and you’ll have fewer mishaps.
When buying stock, you’ll need to weigh your options between buying from a commercial rabbit breeder and someone who raises show stock. Ideally, you want rabbits that will grow fast like those developed by commercial breeders, yet at the same time, they need to fit the standard for their breed like show rabbits do. Go to a rabbit show if you can and meet the breeders of the types of rabbits you are considering. Even if they don’t have stock for you to purchase, they may have contacts with others or be able to give you good advice on what to look for and how to achieve your goals.