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Raising rabbits can be rewarding, but isn't something to rush into

April 22, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Emily Hartsock raises Lionhead rabbits on her farm north of Waynesboro, Pa.
Photo by Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

They've been models in photo shoots.

They've won ribbons at shows.

And people will drive through snowstorms to have one of their own.

Maybe it's because they're just a hare unusual.

Such is the life of a Lionhead rabbit — one of the newer breeds of bunnies in the United States.

What makes it so special?

Undoubtedly, it's the fluffy mane that surrounds its face, similar to an actual lion. But it's also the petite size, the short ears and the fact that it often doesn't look like a rabbit.

Emily Hartsock wasn't sure what she was looking at the first time she saw a Lionhead.

But it was love at first sight.

"About three years ago, I had pulled into the parking lot of a Tractor Supply store and saw a lady unloading a crate," she said. "I walked over and saw these tiny creatures with a mane of hair and flat faces. I didn't know what they were — but I had to have one."

Today, Hartsock breeds Lionheads.

"They are the sweetest animals around," the Waynesboro, Pa. resident said. "And the cuteness factor is off the charts. It's funny, but it's not always children who fall in love with them. It's adults."

Weighing about 3 pounds, Hartsock said they are a really small breed that has a big following.

There are Lionhead rabbit clubs, sanctioned shows, websites and conventions. You even can buy Lionhead T-shirts, tote bags and coffee mugs.

"They've really taken off in popularity," she said.

Hartsock said she has people from all over the country contact her about her bunnies.

"I had a woman in Arizona who wanted me to fly one out to her on a plane and a student from Penn State University who traveled through a near-blizzard to buy one," she said.

She also had a photographer use several of her bunnies for a photo shoot.

"People love Lionheads," she said.

Hartsock, who works at The Franklin Learning Center in Chambersburg, Pa., said she has been an animal lover all of her life and had rabbits when she was a child.

"But I never expected to be raising rabbits as an adult," she said.

Hartsock said she also is focusing on developing a Lionhead that will stay about 2 pounds in size, a pound less than the breed standard.

In addition to selling rabbits, Hartsock said she has several as pets — including Stanley Steamer, who has a personality all his own.

"He loves to play tag," she said, "and if you call his name he comes running."

Despite what some people think, Hartsock said rabbits do interact with people.

"They're sensitive to strangers and responsive to their environment," she said. "They love to play and socialize with people. And they have individual personalities."

Hartsock said Lionhead rabbits come in a wide variety of colors. She specializes in the shaded family with Siamese sable coloring; and the pointed white family, which includes black, blue, chocolate and even lilac, which she said is "beautiful."

But they are best known for the full mane that surrounds their face, she said.

"There really is nothing like it. When people first see this breed, they can't believe it's a rabbit," she said. "When they're young, they look like Persian cats."

Hartsock said Lionheads make great pets because they are so calm and personable and stay small in size. They also are relatively low maintenance.

"But they're not a toy," she said. "I always tell people that owning a rabbit is a commitment — like having a dog or a cat as a pet. And you have to interact with them. You can't just keep them in a cage all day. If you can't make that responsibility, then you shouldn't have one."

She also suggests finding a veterinarian who is familiar with the breed.

Hartsock said it's not unusual to see a spike in interest this time of year, when people often want to give a rabbit as an Easter gift.

"Unfortunately, many are abandoned after the holiday," she said. "I tell people rabbits will get bigger. They will require you to take care of them. And they can live up to 10 years. It's not a decision you should make on a whim. Think about it."

But if you make a commitment to love the Lionhead, "it will bring you so much happiness," she said.

More information is available by contacting Hartsock at

4-H'er returns to raising rabbits

Growing up on a farm, Karlie Hose said she can't imagine a life without animals — and that includes rabbits.

"I raised rabbits when I was a kid," the 19-year-old said. "And about three years ago, I wanted to get back into it."

So when it came time to buy a few bunnies, she decided to go Dutch.

"I really like the Dutch breed of rabbit," Karlie said. "I had one as a child and it was a favorite."

Karlie said she talked it over with her father, who agreed that she could buy a few rabbits.

"I came home with 13. That was my version of a few," she said.

Today, she has 30.

Karlie describes the Dutch bunny as "adorable."

It's compact and weighs about 5 pounds, but its most dominant characteristic, she said, is its marking — a white belly and white midsection, which resembles formal attire.

One of the oldest domestic rabbit breeds in the world, they come in a variety of colors, Karlie said, and are popular as both pets and show rabbits.

She also has several Californian rabbits, she said, which weigh twice as much as the Dutch.

As a 4-H'er for many years, Karlie said she participated in the group's Rabbit Club and did some shows.

But now that she's a student at Hagerstown Community College, where she is studying nursing, Karlie said raising rabbits is just a hobby.

"At one time, I was showing animals every week or every other week. I just don't have the time now," she said.

She does breed and sell,  "but it's not an actual big business," she said. "I might place an ad every now and then."

Because she doesn't have a lot of free time, Karlie said the Dutch rabbits are perfect pets.

"They're a really easy project," she said. "There's not a whole lot of work involved."

And the calm Dutch rabbit, she said, is a particularly good pet for children.

"An older rabbit may have a hard time adjusting to children," she said. "But the younger they are, the easier they adapt."

Karlie said her rabbits live outside in an addition built on to the family's garden shed.

They have heat lamps in the winter and fans in the summer and when it's really hot they enjoy ice bottles.

But while they are cute, Karlie said people should think about the responsibility of owning a rabbit.

"It's sad that a lot of rabbits end up abandoned or in shelters," she said. "It's a long-term commitment. People shouldn't just jump into it."

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