I wanna preface this by saying THIS IS OUR OWN EXPERIENCE. If you find value in it then great, but I assure you every breeder has a different strategy and I don’t judge theirs I only know what works for us. Take it or leave it.
Every breeder has their own strategy and method for evaluating young rabbits for show. We’ve had some breeders tell us that they don’t make selections until 6-8 months old. That’s not how we function though at our rabbitry because of our limited space, aggressive strategy and strict selection process; However, every rabbits is different, every rabbits produces differently, every bloodline develops differently, and every pairing produces differently so you have to learn YOUR lines and how to navigate them.
We have found that the best way for us to accurately evaluate our rabbits is to frequently make notes of development and age so that we can track how specific attributes change over time. Then we can look at a young rabbit and feel relatively confident about how they will develop. Yes, there are always surprises - both good and bad. But, we then make an effort to explain why they developed unexpectedly (many times, surprises come from specific bloodlines and that’s why learning how specific bloodlines develop will help). For example, litters that come from Havana has a tendency to be coarse (some are coarse at 6 weeks, some develop temporary coarseness at junior prime, and some at senior prime). But we know that 95% of the time, the coarse coat is just a phase and eventually molts out. Therefore, when evaluating Havana litters we have to excuse texture.
Let assume a litter of 8 and no rabbits have any DQ’s…Our process is this: 6 weeks is the first time you can look at top-line so this is our first viewing and checking for DQ’s. Then by 8-9 weeks old we have removed the bottom 2 rabbits and likely declared them as pet quality just even based on ethics because they were not the top ranking in the litter. By 12 weeks we have removed another 2. In some cases the top 4 have been very consistent in quality and other litters we removed 4 at this time and decided only 2 were worthy of growing out further. 3rd and 4th place will be sold for show if they as nice enough (some at 12 weeks, others that were more consistent quality are as old as 20 weeks depending on how long we felt we needed to grow them out to make the right decision). Then by 14-16 weeks we show the remaining buns (2-4) for the first time with a favorite in mind - 90% of the time our favorite going in does the best and the show just solidifies the decision.
This process will definitely seem crazy to many long time breeders because its an aggressive strategy that many will argue doesn’t give the rabbits long enough to really mature, but personally, its extremely efficient for space and feed consumption and all I have to say is look at the progress we have made in basically a year…..if we didn’t have the average quality, consistent success, and aggressive progress then maybe Id agree. This strategy isn’t for everyone, but our tracking of specific attributes and correlating development stages has given us an edge by allowing for younger, accurate evaluating. I’m sure there is one or two rabbits that I probably would’ve regret not growing out, but I happy with our current progress and it works for us so that’s what’s important.
When we evaluate for type there are a few attributes that we’ve found that translate well when the rabbits gets older. Firstly, you must work under the assumption that ALL RABBITS (well Rex at least) will elongate and widen with age. When we look at rabbits under 12 weeks old, overall loin width and fill is lower on the priority (it moves higher up as the rabbit ages though).
6-10 weeks old:
#1 length of body (aka compact-ability)
#2 overall height ratio vs length of body
#3 high point (is the rabbits tall but flat over-top? Does it have a clear high-point? )
At this age the shortest bodied, tall, compact rabbits with the most “pointy” high point will turn out better in the long run. A flat rabbit will have an early peak, while MOST “pointy”, distinguished peaks will develop further back. One thing I think most breeders miss is that no rabbit shows its depth at this age - depth comes later for us. So a “mid-peaked” rabbit at 8 weeks develops a properly placed, deep peak later on and, again, flatter top-lines develop mature early peaks. Our deepest rabbits showed a further peak at this age, but those are the nuances you have to learn and, generally, this rule has worked. I have a theory that the reason most Rex are not properly peaked or flat is because people try and evaluate depth too young because that flat rabbit has a false appearance of depth- just a theory.
10-12 weeks old:
Assuming we have only kept the rabbits that have promising top-lines and lengths of body then we can now further evaluate other attributes.
#1 Looking from as top-down perspective, balance of shoulder width and how it carries width over the hip. Making note of pinched or narrowing loins
#2 Width of lower hindquarters
#3 Shoulder length
At this age we start looking for rabbits more balanced overall in width.
12-16 weeks old:
This stage is more litter specific but we begin to weigh pros and cons of each rabbits strengths and weaknesses. Also we take into account fur quality at this point - deciding how good is the type vs how good is the other ones fur (because you rarely get a rabbits that had the best type and fur, both, in the litter). MOST IMPORTANTLY, our decision is based on the question: DO WE HAVE A GOOD PAIRING WHEN WE BREED THEM? If you don’t have a good pairing for their weakness, or if they don’t carry an attribute that your herd needs versus the other rabbits, then there’s no point in keeping them. ITS ALL ABOUT GOOD PAIRINGS and I cannot stress that enough. Many times we sell rabbits that we liked better or that would beat our keepers because we needed a specific attribute from that one rabbit.
This is obviously very general and every litter is different especially when we know certain bloodlines develop differently and so we have to make exceptions or no exceptions for individual litters.
Prime Growth Example
This doe is a beautiful example of the stages of growth our rabbits go through. Some bloodlines develop more predictably or more dramatically but this doe developed consistently enough to see the phase.
Starting at 8 weeks in the upper right and going clockwise the ages of the doe are as follows: 8 weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks, 14 weeks, and finally 20 weeks. She will continue to fill out and come into a mature body but between 8 and 20 weeks they make the most dramatic changes.
8 weeks - The Baby Stage: this is the best time to do evaluating until 12 weeks old again
10 weeks - The Growing Outward Stage: this is a dangerous stage because they often don’t look as nice as you remember and sometimes this can compel you to change your 1st and 2nd place positions but stick to your original evaluations and wait it out!
12 weeks - The Growing Upward Stage: at this point the rabbits develops the height to once again balance their width and you can being to evaluate other attributes
14 weeks - The Awkward Coat Stage: the rabbit has a starting resemblance of the junior coat but also tend to begin looking hollow after so many growth spurts so give them time to fill out
20 weeks - Junior Prime: the junior now has a decent, judge-able first prime coat and is prime showing age.
8-Week Old Buck Example
This is a promising young buck at 8 weeks old. He is a great example of what we look for at that age. He already has a great peak placement which means he will be extremely deep as he develops. He also has a gorgeous top-view with super promising width. His peak looks only slightly further back than most at this age, but we know from experience that those mid-peaked babies grow deeper peaks so his will only be better.
This doe came as a surprise to us because she developed depth so dramatically that it was impossible to determine at 8 weeks. But by the middle picture at 14 weeks she looked like a different rabbit. It just goes to show how the peak pushes back as they develop after 8 weeks and depth always comes later!