So you've finally decided to make the plunge and get into raising Holland Lops? That is super exciting! As you will soon find out, Holland Lops are like potato chips - you can't have just one. Here are a few tips as you embark on your journey as a new show Holland Lop breeder:
Things to do before buying rabbits:
Things to do when buying rabbits:
Things to do after buying rabbits:
Things to do before buying rabbits:
- Buy a copy of the ARBA Standard of Perfection. You can order it off the online store on arba.net. This is a book that describes in detail precisely what an ideal example of the Holland Lop would look like. It has example photos of ideal structure and also details the breakdown of points for each aspect of the rabbit's conformation - i.e., the body is worth 32 points out of 100, so is very important, while fur is 7 points out of 100, so it is less important. The SOP also lists all the recognized colors in the breed as well as general and breed-specific disqualifications. Read your SOP often. Don't expect to understand everything right off the bat, but the more you read it, the more comfortable you will get with the basics and general terminology. Make notes and write down any questions you may have at this point. Then read your SOP again.
- Join the American Rabbit Breeders Association and the Holland Lop Rabbit Specialty Club. With your ARBA membership, you will be able to register rabbits in the future, as well as apply for any Grand Champion titles your rabbits may earn. There are many other benefits to an ARBA membership, but one big one is that you will get a subscription to the Domestic Rabbits magazine, which is full of helpful articles on all things rabbit. Joining the Holland Lop Rabbit Specialty Club is also super important! With your membership, you will be able to compete for local and national sweepstakes points. You will also get a copy of the Holland Lop guidebook, which is a wealth of valuable information on every aspect of our breed. Additionally, you will receive a subscription to the Hollander magazine, another wealth of information on all things Holland Lop!
- Attend shows. This might seem like putting the cart before the horse, but in reality, attending shows is one of the best ways to get a feel for the hobby and see if it's something you really want to do. The general public are allowed to attend the vast majority of shows, so feel free to come visit for a couple of hours! There, you can watch the Holland Lops being judged, get used to how a show is run, and make connections with local breeders. Most breeders would be more than happy to spend a little time talking to you about the breed and answering questions. Just make sure to catch them when their rabbits aren't on the table and be respectful of their time. ;) I know for a lot of us, striking up a conversation with experienced breeders might be daunting, but in reality, most Holland breeders are very welcoming to newcomers. You may even be able to find a future mentor this way, or someone from whom you can purchase your foundation stock.
- Purchase supplies ahead of time. You'll need to purchase cages, food dishes, water bowls/bottles, a grooming table, grooming supplies, and many other supplies. Talk to your new breeder friends and see what they recommend.
Things to do when buying rabbits:
- Remember your Hollander magazine you got with your HLRSC membership? Surf through it! Figure out which zone (group of states) you are in, and look for the zone director. Shoot them a message on Facebook explaining that you are new and eager to start raising this breed, and ask for recommendations of breeders from whom to purchase foundation stock. Our club has a fantastic board of directors, and I am sure they would be more than willing to help you! Another option is to surf through the pages with the local and national breeder rankings. Pay close attention to quality points and herdsman rankings in particular. This gives you the most information about who has the most consistently winning, highest quality herds. Go on Facebook or online, and see if you can find these breeders' rabbitry Facebook pages or websites. Not all will be up-to-date, but it could give you some helpful info about their stock and general availability.
- Reach out to a couple of breeders over Facebook or their website. A lot of the old-time breeders aren't as active on social media, which is not a red flag by any means, but does mean you might just have to email them. Explain to them that you are new, eager to make a start in the breed, have been studying the breed standard, and are looking for the right foundation stock.
- Stand out among inquiries. A lot of successful breeders get inundated with more inquiries than they have rabbits to sell. This means not everyone is getting a rabbit. To give yourself the best chances of acquiring rabbits, most breeders appreciate a short but thoughtful paragraph or two introducing yourself and talking about what you are looking for, and are more likely to want to help you than if you send a quick "Hi, how much are your rabbits?" message. While every breeder is different, I know I personally feel more motivated to help someone who puts some thought into their inquiry than someone who only seems interested in pricing.
- You don't need to spend boatloads, but be prepared to drop a couple hundred on a quality rabbit. You should be able to find good quality foundation stock for $200-400 apiece. Hollands are one of the more expensive breeds because there is a very high demand combined with a low supply because they just don't produce very many babies. If the rabbits you are offered are out of your price range, don't attempt to barter or complain about pricing. Instead, thank the breeder for their time and move on.
- Don't go overboard on purchasing rabbits! I cannot stress this enough. You do not need to buy 10 rabbits right off the bat. It will not make you improve any faster, but will make your gene pool less consistent and harder to understand and manage. Instead, buy 3 or 4 related rabbits from the same breeder. Be a breeder, not a collector.
- Don't collect a million colors. Most of the best quality Holland Lops out there are broken and solid black torts, blacks, and (more recently) black otters. It will be easier to find high quality examples of these colors than most others. If you want to work on a 'project' color, that's fine, but try and stick to one specific project color and keep in mind that it will be tricky. I have plenty of articles on raising colored Hollands that are more in-depth than I can go within the scope of this article.
- You should not feel uncomfortable or nervous in your dealings with the breeder. Beyond the bit of anxiety that a lot of us get in these types of situations, please trust your gut and back out of any sale you don't feel good about before you put money down. There are lots of great breeders out there, but there are a few unsavory ones too. Trust yourself if you have a 'bad feeling' about a sale.
Things to do after buying rabbits:
- Don't go surfing Facebook for advice. There is so much poor information out there. Many people who seem like they know it all have never even had a class win, and even some of the experienced breeders might offer opinions that aren't helpful or relevant to you in particular. On that note, don't start offering advice yourself until you are several years in, experienced, and have proven yourself on the show tables. This may seem harsh, but we can all do our part to reduce the amount of misinformation online.
- Read your Standard of Perfection again. And again. And again. I apologize for reiterating, but the Standard of Perfection is the most reliable and accurate source of information on this breed and all others. Facebook is not the best place to look for information on evaluating Hollands. There is a lot of poor information out there. Read your standard.
- Make notes. Close your standard, write everything you can remember about the breed, then open your standard and review. Find gaps in your knowledge and seek to fix them. Also, make notes on your rabbits! Write down your observations of different aspects of their structure. Your opinions and evaluations will change with time, but improvement comes from critically evaluating what you think you know, and part of that is forming some thoughtful yet flexible opinions.
- Take tons of photos. You don't need to be a great photographer, but oftentimes, you can see faults more clearly in photos than you can in real life. While photos can be deceiving, they can also be a tool in your arsenal. One thing I did when I was starting out is made a folder on my laptop with every photo I ever took of my rabbits. Each rabbit had its own folder, which was placed in a 'Sold' folder when they left the barn. By photographing my rabbits frequently from a young age, I was able to carefully document not only how that individual rabbit developed, but how my lines tended to develop as a whole. I was able to observe trends, find what certain rabbits tended to produce, whether certain faults in certain lines tended to correct with age, whether those faults tended to be exacerbated with age, and whether I made 'good' choices in my keeping/selling decision in hindsight. I actually still do this to this day! There is always more you can learn about your herd.
- Enter shows! Even if you place bottom of the class, there is always something you can learn. While not every judge is going to be an expert on Hollands, try and observe any trends in their evaluations of your stock. More importantly, chat with your fellow Holland Lop breeders and get their opinions on your stock. Ask questions and see what you can improve.
- Be an active member of the community. Volunteer at shows, help run rabbits to the table, write for the judge, and do what you can to help within the realms of feasibility as a new breeder. You don't need to help with everything right off the bat, but when there is an opportunity to help, try and step up!
- Unlock your inner artist and draw! Grab a pencil and paper, set aside twenty minutes, and draw a picture of what specifically you think an ideal example of a Holland Lop would look like. Go back to your Standard of Perfection and see what you could improve. Even if you are 'artistically challenged', you can still benefit from this form of learning.
- Find a mentor. Not only can a mentor help improve your knowledge of the breed, but they can also often help you with hands-on evaluations and answer your questions about rabbit care, nutrition, health, and shows. Keep in mind that a mentor is not something you are 'entitled' to - it occurs organically, just like a friendship! Remember those local breeders you talked to at a show before you got your foundation stock? Perhaps they would be willing to help you! Mentorship doesn't have to be 'official' - it can just be someone you chat with when you need help. Another great resource would be the person from whom you purchased foundation stock. These are just a few options, and if you don't get a mentor right off the bat, that's okay too! It will happen with time.
- Most importantly: Be teachable. This is the absolute best way to become successful, not only in Holland Lops, but also in life. Be open to criticism. Constantly question what you think you know. Be open to changing your mind when presented with better information. Be open to nuanced conversations, and be prepared for situations in which there is no right or wrong. Understand what you don't know.
- Have so much fun! Holland Lops are such a delightful breed, and you owe it to yourself to have the best possible time raising them. Good luck in your Holland journey, and I look forward to seeing you at the show tables in the future!