PALMETTO — For a handful of area youth, Sunday’s Manatee County Rabbit Expo at the county fairgrounds in Palmetto marked a landmark moment — the purchase of the first animal they could show at the county fair.
Since rabbits don’t cost a lot, don’t make any noise, take up little room and are generally docile to handle, they make perfect introductions into the world of FFA, 4-H Clubs and showing breeds at a fair, said Michelle Osborn, organizational leader for Hare Raisers of Manatee County, the only all-rabbit club in the area.
The reason for the expo, which featured about 100 bunnies, was to provide a mini-course on rabbits for children and adults, get more people interested in raising and showing them and sell a few, Osborn said.
Currently, there are about 80 children who show rabbits in the county, she said.
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For Bradenton’s Nadine Curtis, 13, a student at Haile Middle School, Sunday was the beginning of a love affair.
Although Nadine and her mother, Debbie, and father, Rick, came to the Cook Arena with a plan to look at all of the breeder booths and their bunnies before choosing one, Nadine made up her mind after bunny No. 1.
Breeder Joni Olson of Duette Country Rabbits, who raises Himalayans, reached into a cage and placed an 8-week-old white male rabbit on a table.
Olson showed the Curtises how Himalayans are the only “cylindrical” rabbit breed, meaning they don’t have a hump in their back.
“They are known to be very docile and easy for children to manage,” Olson said.
Nadine reached out and stroked the bunny and looked up at her mom and said, “I like him.”
Debbie Curtis looked over at her husband and he reached in his wallet for $20, the price of the bunny, who was soon to be named “Snowball.”
“That’s why they brought me,” Rick Curtis, who showed horses and cows while at Southeast High School, said with a laugh.
“Snowball will eat half a cup of feed a day,” Olson told Nadine. He also recommended feeding Snowball dried cranberries to guard against urinary problems.
Rabbits also can get hairballs, like cats do, but dried papaya is a way to avoid them, he advised.
And what about carrots, which everyone assumes are good for bunnies?
“Carrots to a bunny are like cotton candy to us,” Olson said. “It makes them fat.” Carrots also can make baby bunnies gassy, Olson added.
Olson showed Nadine that picking Snowball up and turning him over to check on his nails was a three-step process — putting her index finger between his ears from behind and bracing his head, then sliding her other hand on his rump and flipping him over gently.
After purchasing Snowball, it was over to the tattoo table where Nadine’s initials, N.A.C., were branded into snowball’s ear by Phil Olson, who used a hand-held tool that looked like a hole-punch.
Olson wrapped Snowball in a towel so he wouldn’t squirm.
“It feels like a shot,” Olson said of the tattoo.
“We feel this will build responsibility,” Debbie Curtis said. “She was supposed to take care of the dog and cat, but we ended up doing it. But this will really be her first animal.”
For information on acquiring a rabbit from a local breeder, call Osborn at 920-7368 or Olson at 723-6393.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686