Three Little Ladies Rabbitry, Jersey Wooly
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Rabbitry Co-ops

Since at least 1995 the Holland Lop Rabbitry Specialty Club has permitted co-ops to compete together in its competitions. Until this year not much has been said about co-ops. However, several new co-ops began competing in the sweepstakes this year which seemed to raise a few eyebrows.

What Is a Co-op

A co-op is when two or more breeders join their efforts in rabbit raising in some way to become a single unit. Now this can take on many forms. Sometimes they may share a barn and all the work and effort that go into that one barn. Sometimes the members of the co-op will keep their own herds and share in their breeding programs. Sometimes they create their own co-op rabbitry name. The bottom line is that two or more breeders join forces to improve their herd. As far as rules regulating the showing of co-op rabbits, weíll address that in a moment.

Benefits of a Co-op

Many times the first thing someone sees with a co-op is the point standings in sweepstakes and many other factors are left out. Unfortunately, this is further fueled by the variety of comments left on message boards and in forums. We all benefit from co-ops. I know that sounds like too broad of a statement, but after pondering it for a while, I think youíll find that itís true. If a breeder improves their herd through a co-op then the pool available for everyone continues to improve. One of the main reasons co-ops are formed is to improve their herds.

Imagine for a moment that your herd has a particular area of weakness. How do you improve on that weakness? Well the first thing you might do is seek out a rabbit that is strong in that area. Youíll go to rabbit shows, search the internet, and talk to other breeders looking for that one perfect rabbit to add to the herd. After a dedicated search of a month you find a doe. You might get 5 litters out of her in a year, and hope that the weakness is improved. Youíd probably be careful about things like inbreeding and want to purchase another rabbit. The search would begin again. As you can tell the process would be very slow.

But what if someone had several rabbits strong in your herdís area of weakness and you form a co-op. Now all of a sudden you have impacted your herd in a substantial way. The pool of rabbits available not only to you but also the other breeder has been greatly increased. Instead of improving your herd by 4 or 5 litters in a year, now maybe it is increased to 15-20 litters. Since you wouldnít keep every rabbit that has been born, you would probably sell those you werenít keeping. As a result of better breeding generated by the co-op, the pool of rabbits available to all rabbit breeders has improved.

Finances of co-op members are also helped. Anyone that has been raising rabbits for any length of time understands that itís the love of rabbit breeding that keeps us going and not the money you make, or should I say invest. Investing in cages, barns, feed, grooming supplies, and travel expenses yields little to no income from breeding rabbits. Co-ops can often travel together, reducing not only their travel time, but enjoying each others company on the way. The money saved could be used for purchasing better stock.

Neither would both co-op members have to travel to every show. You could actually take a day off once in a while. Constant travel can wear us out, and make us more venerable to illness. There are many other benefits we could go into like shared cost of medications. How many of us have huge bottles of something because thatís what was available, but only needed 4cc. So many things could be said in favor of co-ops. Honestly, they sound real good to me.

Regarding Points

I think everyoneís first thought is that co-ops gain a huge advantage by showing together. In our original article on the subject, A Few Facts about HLRSC Co-ops, I broke down what points the new co-ops would have if their points were combined from the last sweepstakes year. Obviously, this year, things will change and the results wouldnít be identical, plus the sweepstakes this year are 18 months, and rabbits change over time, etc, etc. But in review of the numbers, the co-ops only move up slightly or not at all had they been combined in 2004-05. By far, more non co-op breeders actually move up in standings because of the co-ops than move down.

You might ask why that analysis is important. Well, it shows that co-ops gain very little advantage in the point standings by entering into the sweepstakes as a co-op. And there is only a slight impact on those that are not part of a co-op. If the co-op breeders donít have quality rabbits from the beginning, they wonít be able to place well once they do co-op. Co-ops place well, because they have good rabbits from their conception.

In future years I believe the newly formed co-ops will definitely see improvement in their standings, not just because they are a co-op, but because of their improved herds. I think that challenges us all to continue to improve our herds and keep up with them. Competition in this way is a good thing, and I think will help improve the breed.

Legitimate Concerns

Over the past couple of weeks, I have received many emails regarding breeders concerns about co-ops. Many of the issues are very complex, and difficult to write about in a short article, but Iíll do my best.

One of the biggest concerns is the size of the co-ops. Co-ops are not limited in any way to the number of breeders that can be involved in the co-op. So in theory ten of the top breeders could join forces and just blow away everyone in pointís standings and in quality points. This would certainly create an unfair advantage for that co-op. However, once you understand the complexities of showing and registering rabbits in a co-op, you will see that this is very unlikely.

ARBA rules govern the ownership and showing of rabbits in a co-op. All rabbits shown by the co-op must be co-owned by all the members of the co-op. This means that any rabbit registered by a co-op member, must be registered in all of the co-op members names to be shown. Furthermore, a rabbit not registered in all of the owners names, cannot be shown by the co-op as a co-op entry. All show entries must be in all the co-op membersí names. That means when forming the partnership, rabbits already registered would have to be transfer into the names of all the co-op members. This is a pretty big feat for a two member co-op, let alone a co-op of say even three or four. There are those rare few that will have the win at any cost mentality, and so this doesnít rule this out as a possibility, but still remains unlikely.

Another issue is showing in two locations on the same day. This would be uncommon as most co-ops like to travel and show together, but is something that is possible. One member of the co-op could show in one location, while another member travels to another location and another show. This would create an unfair advantage for the co-ops. This issue would actually be possible for an individual, simply by having someone else transport and show their rabbits for them at another show.

What Now?

We enjoy showing rabbits. We love breeding them and seeing those cute little bald babies, and holding those newborns in our hands as they squiggle all around. We still get excited when we earn points at a show. Spending time as a family and seeing our friends at shows is something we look forward to on the weekends. We still get excited when one of the rabbits bred from our barn gets a best of breed. All of these factors played a role in why we started raising rabbits. Do we strive to put the best rabbit we can on the show table? Absolutely. We can still have that enjoyment whether there are co-ops or arenít co-ops, but it would be difficult to have that same enjoyment without friends.

So letís continue to discuss co-ops. Letís debate about their advantages and disadvantage. But letís not hurt friendships and potential friendships over this matter. Letís be sensitive to what others have to say, and when we say it lets be kind. We all have that one thing in common, that thing we canít get away from, that thing we travel hours for on a Saturday, the thing that keeps us awake when one of the bunnies is ill, The Rabbit Habit!