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Archive for Sunday, December 2, 1990

RABBIT BOY

December 2, 1990

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Isaac Ulrich hops off the school bus each weekday afternoon at his rural Baldwin home and heads for the barn to feed his rabbits.

The 12-year-old rabbit breeder feeds and plays with and talks to about 70 rabbits every night before heading into the house for supper.

An hour's worth of chores regularly stretches to two or three before he's done, confides the boy's mother, Vicki Ulrich.

"He's very self-motivated," she added. "He's just that kind of kid."

Of his fascination with rabbits, Isaac says simply, "I think they're pretty neat."

Neat enough, apparently, to stick to a grueling schedule of competitions.

Every weekend from July 27 to Oct. 21 this year, Isaac and his mother, and 20 or so of his fanciest rabbits, hit the road for shows and fairs all over the state.

Among his awards are numerous purple and blue ribbons from the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, the youth division at the October Kansas Rabbit Breeders Association Show in Hutchinson, and sixth place last year in the Kansas Rabbit Breeders Assn. statewide Youth Sweepstakes.

SWEEPSTAKES awards are earned by an accumulation of points gained at particular shows.

For the competition year just under way, Isaac has set his sights on first place in the state association's Youth Sweepstakes, and Mrs. Ulrich noted he's well on his way to achieving that goal.

Cold weather signals a let-up in the heavy show schedule until early spring, she said, although this weekend they were scheduled to go to Sedalia, Mo., for the Missouri State Rabbit Breeders show.

The youth's winnings are evidence of the success of his breeding program, something he's worked on since getting his first two rabbits about three years ago, according to his mother.

The youth started in the rabbit business with a couple of pets Big Foot, a mini lop, and Baby Love, a Californian in need of a home.

Both remain in his herd today, and Isaac noted all his Californians are descended from Baby, which came as a gift from a school friend.

WITH BIG FOOT and Baby Love in hand, Isaac said, it occurred to him he might work with rabbits as a 4-H project.

A member of Palymra 4-H then, he has since switched to Vinland Valley 4-H, where his mother is now the rabbit leader and a growing number of fellow 4-H'ers are catching Isaac's enthusiasm for rabbits.

Among them are Isaac's younger brother, 7-year-old Jordan, and Borge Fagerli, a 16-year-old exchange student from Norway who is living with the Ulrichs this year.

The boys also are enrolled in the sheep project, and Isaac's older brother, Luke, concentrates on registered shorthorn cattle.

As a 4-H'er new to the rabbit project, Isaac bought a couple of bucks from Tracy and Mark Elston of Twitchin' Whiskers Rabbitry, located between Overbrook and Lawrence.

Mrs. Elston is superintendent for the Douglas County Fair's 4-H rabbit division, and she and her husband also are big winners at breeders' shows.

MRS. ULRICH said the Elstons recognized the seriousness of Isaac's interest and asked him to do their chores when they were away at shows. As his expertise and interest grew, the Elstons introduced Isaac to the breeders' show circuit, and he now shows rabbits for them, as well as for himself, when he's at the competitions.

"He's absolutely amazing," Mrs. Elston said of Isaac. "He's done so well.

"I"ve latched on to him because he is so dedicated."

Isaac said showing rabbits to be judged doesn't bother him but "when I do showmanship, it makes me nervous."

In showmanship, the judge evaluates Isaac's skill at showing the rabbit, rather than the rabbit itself.

By paying him in pedigreed rabbits for his work, Mrs. Ulrich said, the Elstons have helped Isaac increase the size and quality of his herd.

So far, the boy said, he's stuck with his original two breeds, mini lops and Californians.

The mini lops, Isaac explained, can be different colors, including opals, blues and chinchilla, but Californians all have white bodies and dark points.

MINI LOPS' heads are supposed to look "kind of like a bulldog," he explained, and their bodies, as they're set up for the judge, look like half a basketball.

Since Isaac's herd has grown so large, his father, Matthew, helps him out by watering the animals each morning, but the boy is on his own for the rest of the work.

With the herd growing daily, it's a challenge to keep up.

Isaac explained that rabbit babies are born year 'round. When a mother is about ready to deliver, he said. he places a special nesting box in the cage, which she prepares for the newborns.

"They mix hair with hay and make a nest," Isaac explained. "It's real soft and warm."

When temperatures drop, he sets up a heat lamp, which serves to keep babies alive and, in the case of mini lops, to ensure their ears flop properly.

If the long ears get too cold, they won't fall over as they're supposed to, and a mini lop with ill-flopped ears can't be shown.

The youth said he feeds his rabbits a special mixture of oats and rabbit pellets, with some sunflower seeds and precisely three raisins a day added to put a sheen on their fur and just the right plump to their bodies.

"If they eat too much," he explained, "it isn't good for them."

As the rabbits grow up, Isaac and Mrs. Elston evaluate their quality.

Some he keeps to show and breed. Others he sells as show animals or as pets. The pedigreed show stock can sell for $35 to $100 and pets go for $25.

Still others are culled from the herd. The Ulrichs have someone else butcher the culls, and most end up in their freezer.

They taste just like chicken, Isaac and his father noted, but Mrs. Ulrich confessed, "We just can't kill 'em (ourselves)."

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