Rabbits, chickens offer opportunities for urban children
By TIM HEARDEN
ANDERSON, Calif. -- For Dustin Miedema, raising rabbits for his annual 4-H project has been a lesson in capitalism.
The 13-year-old Shingletown, Calif., resident had a friend who got $900 when her rabbit meat pen was named grand champion at a local fair, and he was hooked.
Now he sells his rabbits' manure as fertilizer, sells the harvested meat, sells live rabbits as pets and once sold the fur from one of his animals.
"I've thought about doing lambs, but I'm not so sure I can because we only have a half-acre," Miedema said moments before showing his meat pens at the Shasta District Fair on June 17.
The youngster is one of what appears to be a growing number of 4-H and FFA members who are passing up pigs, calves and lambs for smaller animals such as chickens and rabbits.
At the recent Silver Dollar Fair in Chico, Calif., for instance, the number of rabbit pens was increased from 30 to 40 to meet popular demand as the fair discontinued its poultry division because of health concerns several years ago.
"I don't know if we're seeing a drop-off in larger animals, but we are seeing an increase in smaller animals" brought to the fair, manager Scott Stoller said.
The reason is twofold, Stoller and others say. First of all, it's cheaper to carry a rabbit than a steer or pig, and the smaller animals allow kids in urban areas to participate when they otherwise wouldn't have been able to.
"Rabbits are a back-porch project," Stoller said. "You don't need a backyard, you just need a porch. It affords kids who don't have the land or resources the same opportunity as kids that do, which from my perspective is a great thing."
One of those urban kids is 16-year-old Cody McGrath of Redding, Calif., who was taking rabbits to the Anderson, Calif., fair for the first time. He got involved in FFA several years ago and has mainly done ag mechanics projects.
"I didn't really want to sit in class all day. I'd rather be outside on the farm working," McGrath said. "I wanted to do a meat pen. We don't have the space for big animals, and rabbits were a small project."
The Shasta District Fair has started auctioning off all of its rabbit meat pens rather than just the champions so that all the participants have a chance to make some money, livestock superintendent Simmie Stayer said.
Robin Miedema, Dustin's mother, said being able to take part in an animal project has been a big benefit for her son.
"It's huge," she said. "The benefits are huge because my son is learning entrepreneurship and responsibility with these rabbits. A lot of kids these days have no responsibilities. They don't even have to do the dishes. He is taking responsibility."