Youngster Makes Rabbits Her Business

FOCUS ON PETS

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Pine Mountain Rabbits is owned and operated by Ashley James of Pine. Ashley just turned 14, but she began her business at age 9 while looking for a 4-H project. Her very first rabbit, named "Juliet," was a Mini Lop. Juliet was a pet and lived in Ashley's bedroom. Rabbits seemed like a doable 4-H project, not requiring a lot of money or space.

Ashley quickly determined that she wanted to breed show rabbits and she learned that the breeding stock was most important. She selected the Mini-Rex as the breed in which to concentrate her efforts. These little guys, with gorgeous velvety fur, come in many colors; the color combinations make up the 14 varieties of this breed. Their adult weight is less than five pounds.

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Ashley James is proud of her rabbits and her wins in the show ring. She explains how a rabbit is groomed and positioned for the judge.

She bought a pregnant female, the best she could afford at the time, and was on her way. Before long, the crew outgrew the bedroom. Hutches were built outside. Last year, a rabbit barn was built to house this growing business. That barn is already almost filled to capacity with 53 rabbits in a variety of colors including black, black and white, brown, white -- the combinations are endless. Feeding all these rabbits consumes 50 pounds of food a week. Cleaning all the cages is an endless job.

Rabbits can have a litter every four months, but a conscientious breeder knows that the females need time between litters to regain their body condition. Ashley's breeding program is aimed at producing the perfect Mini Rex. Those babies that do not exhibit show potential in the first few months are sold as pets to her friends and through pet stores. The better ones bring more money when sold as show quality rabbits. The few choice ones become part of her breeding program.

A computer program keeps track of her rabbits, their breeding lines and the show results from each of them. Each rabbit has a family tree going back several generations and therefore it is easy to see which lines produce the best offspring. When a particularly good baby appears, the information on this computer program will help determine future briefings.

The rabbits live in cages in the barn, but do get to go outside to enjoy a bit of sunshine and grazing on the grass.

A 2-by-4 placed across the cage floor provides exercise which helps develop muscle and makes the rabbits look better in the show ring.

Ashley spends lots of time in the barn with the rabbits and takes them out of their cages for a bit of cuddling and grooming. She works with them on the grooming table to teach proper show etiquette and positioning. The grooming table is new and very fancy. It folds to be easily transportable when on the road, as it is a vital and familiar part of preparing for a show. Grooming consists of running a hack saw blade through the coat and clipping the nails.On the back of her white grooming smock is her logo for Pine Mountain Rabbits. The barn wall is covered with winning ribbons.

Showing is the highlight for rabbit breeders. Ashley and her mother, Kim, travel to many shows in and around Arizona. While away from home, the rabbits are brought into the motel rooms at night to insure their safety and also to avoid any stress for the animals as it can lead to pneumonia.

At the Gila County Fair in Globe recently, Ashley earned the Best Junior Showman award. This event does not judge the rabbit, but only the showmanship of the handler; how she prepares and presents her rabbit. Most shows have divisions for youth, 18 and under, and adults. Ashley often competes against the adults and regularly wins. The adults are not always happy to be beaten by one so young. Show quality rabbits are judged on texture of coat and the body shape. The coat is most important. A Mini Rex should have a shiny velvety coat that looks like glass.

Ashley breeds her rabbits with hopes of producing new, interesting colors. However, she knows that the consistent color that wins in the show ring is black. She is always breeding for that amazing glassy-black, mirror-like coat.

Ashley belongs to a variety of state and national organizations for rabbit breeders, including the American Rabbit Breeders Association, the National Mini Rex Association and the Arizona Rabbit Breeders Association. She is also active in 4-H.

Ashley is serious about her rabbits. She is constantly learning all she can about rabbits so that she can improve her breeding program. When she turns 18, she wants to become a registered judge. To do that, she needs to know and be tested on all of the many breeds. Her goal is to continue breeding for that perfect rabbit, forever. But also, she plans to be a veterinarian. Ashley is proud of her rabbits and her ability to compete with the best of them. "Youth can make a difference." She said.

Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.

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