There’s something about those cute Netherland dwarf rabbits. Just ask Carley and Leah Cargile.
The Silverdale sisters, ages 9 and 7, are preparing to show their Netherland dwarfs at the Kitsap County Fair for the second year in a row. Both of them are active members in the South Kitsap Musketeers 4-H Club.
“Once I saw a Netherland dwarf, I knew I had to have one,” said Carley, who will be in 4th grade this fall. “When I first held one, it felt like I was holding a baby rabbit. I really like the breed because they are so soft and they stay small.”
Together, the sisters have nine rabbits and will be taking seven to show at the fair. All of them are Netherland dwarfs, except for Bella, who is a Holland breed.
“Bella was our first rabbit,” said Leah, who will be in second grade this fall. “We showed her the first year, but this year’s she’s going to be part of the ‘Pet Me’ farm.”
That is where kids can actually touch various animals while at the fair.
The sisters joined 4-H about two years ago at the urging of their mother. She gave them a choice of what animal they could raise and they chose bunnies.
“My girls are the fourth generation in our family to be in 4-H,” said Katie Matteson. “And the second generation to be in the same club.”
Katie was active in 4-H from 1991 to 2005. She showed guineau pigs, rabbits and horses. And her mother is a leader in the South Kitsap Musketeers.
The girls attend two 4-H meetings each month at the Bethel Grange and learn about how to show their rabbits. They also learn record-keeping, and keep journals for each rabbit on their growth and habits.
Each summer, they also go to a youth camp, do special projects in the community, and when they reach sixth and seventh grades, they’ll take a trip to Olympia to learn about the State Legislature. As teens they may get to go to Washington, D.C. to be at a presidential inauguration. Youth can participate in 4-H from kindergarten until they graduate from high school.
As for caring for the rabbits, it’s a year-round thing.
“This isn’t just about showing rabbits at the fair,” said Katie. “It’s about learning to care for an animal for as long as it lives.”
Each day, the girls feed their rabbits. An average Netherland dwarf eats about a cup of food a day, some in the morning and some at night. And the girls make sure the rabbits have fresh water each day.
They have to clean the cages, once or twice a week. They have three rows of three cages stacked as “condos” and the rabbits are kept in the garage.
“We have some hawks and eagles around,” said Nick Matteson, Katie’s husband. “So the rabbits don’t go out unless they’re on a leash.”
And each rabbit needs to be held each day.
“Sometimes it’s hard to hold each rabbit each day and give them enough time,” said Leah. “They usually hop toward the front of the cage and say ‘get me out.’”
The best part of having rabbits, the girls said, is getting to hold them.
“We like to watch them explore around the house,” said Leah. “They usually head down the hallway and want to go in all the rooms. We have to close all the doors so they don’t get lost.”
As for the fair, the girls will pack up their rabbits and take them to the fairgrounds the day the fair opens. Their rabbits will be there for the entire fair. When it’s their turn, they will show each rabbit before judges and use the techniques they’ve learned in 4-H. And each 4-H member will have barn duty.
“That’s where we stay at the (rabbit) barn and answer any questions that people have about rabbits,” Carley said. “It’s fun to see people look at the rabbits and tell them all about them.”
The sisters also show their rabbits at three or four other competitions throughout the year, including those at Enumclaw and Monroe. The wall in the dining room is filled with ribbons they’ve won with their rabbits.
And while it can happen, the girls don’t worry about their rabbits getting loose while they are at the fair.
“Just maybe Bella,” said Leah. “Because she can jump high.”
They enjoy finding out which rabbit will win the “favorite” status, in which each person visiting the rabbit barn can cast a vote for their favorite rabbit. But winning isn’t really why they have rabbits. They want to let people know that rabbits make good pets.
As the girls father said, some people don’t understand raising rabbits for show.
“They say ‘Why are you putting so much money in to these rabbits? Are you going to eat them?’,” said Nick. “What the girls are in this for is to raise the quality of the breed, to refine the genes and show the best rabbit they can.”
Kitsap County 4-H served more than 2,200 youth in Kitsap County through unique clubs and after school programming in 2015. 4-H members develop life skills such as public speaking and independence through projects from dogs, to quilting, to robotics. Families can visit the Kitsap County Fair to see more of the projects that members can participate in.
If you are interested in learning more about Kitsap County 4-H visit www.wsu.edu/kitsap/youth/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org. 4-H is open for enrollment of new members from Oct. 1 to March 1.