Conditioning Holland Lops
by Lisa Maddock-Sheets
What is condition on a Holland Lop anyway? When starting out in rabbits I asked an experienced breeder about this "condition" called condition.
What, exactly, was this condition some rabbits had and others didn't? Was it contagious? As hard as she tried to explain it to me, I was hopelessly lost. I didn't understand how feeding an animal had anything to do with this thing called "condition". I figured it was one of those things that was genetic and you either had it or you didn't.
What a difference a few years make. Now I understand what condition is and strive to have the best-conditioned animals I can. It's one of the traits in my lines that I breed for. Yes, having that smooth top line (where you run your hands down the animal's spine and don't feel the bones) and nice firm, well-fleshed hindquarters is partially in the genes. Most breeders will tell you that genetics is 75% to 85% responsible for a well-conditioned animal. I disagree, I say it's a 50-50 split between genetics and feeding.
So, let's get down to the basics of conditioning. The best way I can explain condition is by conducting a little clinic. Take out a bunny and pose it. Now, run your hands from its shoulders to its tail. Do you feel bones all the way down its back and two distinct bulging bones above its tail? If so, your animal is not in good condition. Can you grab a large amount of loose skin in front and on the sides of its shoulders? The animal is flabby, which is the other extreme of being out of condition. Take out all of your animals and run this little test. If every one of them is out of condition, you need to improve your feeding practices. As an aside, most does coming off litters will be out of condition as will older animals. As Hollands get older, it is harder to hold their condition.
If you find that all of your animals are flabby, then you are feeding them too much. The average Holland should get 3-4 ounces (or less) of food per day. The rule of thumb is 1 ounce per pound, more than that for does with litters. If they are all rough, then gradually increase the amount of food you are giving them. If ALL of your animals are bony and you can feel two very distinct bones above their tail, then this may be genetic. You will need a well filled out animal to breed that out. But in the meantime, there are some tricks that can hide some of that roughness with good fur and some extra flesh, and this is where good feeding practices come into play.
If you want to add tone and meat on those lean bones feed some "extras". By extras, I mean more than just rabbit pellets. This can take the form of hay, whole oats, oatmeal, or whole grain human cereals, preferable a combination of these "goodies". I mix together an oatmeal can of one-half whole oats (crimped oats in the winter when it's cooler--but not in the summer as the molasses is too hot a food for sweltering temperatures), 1/4 unsweetened oatmeal and 1/4 high fiber, low salt, low sugar cereal. I mix it all together and give them a handful of timothy hay en route to the shows and once a week, more often if I've taken a rabbit to several shows in a row. I always feed the animals before and after a show.
Oats keep the weight on, and oatmeal helps to keep their poops from going soft when traveling or during changes of weather and the cereals are high in fiber, something that Hollands need to keep a nice coat. Twice a week I give them a papaya tablet, which can be purchased from any health food store. It's a fallacy that short haired animals cannot get fur block and this is one way to prevent it. The show animals are given a teaspoon of dry wheat germ on their food every other day during show season. This adds shine to their coats and seems to help them hold a nice coat during the season. I operate on the theory that I don't want to eat the same thing every day and I think that rabbits enjoy a variety of foods to keep them interested in eating.
Obviously conditioning a flabby rabbit requires a reduction in some aspects of its diet and I'd recommend an exercise program. Now before you decide to have me committed, let me explain. The way humans lose weight is to take in less calories and burn up the excess ones. This holds true for bunnies, too. Get yourself a play pen or designate an area in your rabbitry for exercise, then let the flabby bunny get some exercise by running and jumping around for 15 minutes a day. Another trick is placing a block of wood between the bunny's water and his food dish. This way the animal will have to jump back and forth to eat. This will build up shoulders and tighten up flabby bellies. A well-conditioned animal can move up the table rather quickly even if it has other faults because judges appreciate a smooth animal. On the other hand, a beautiful out of condition animal can be moved down the table. How many times have you heard a judge say, "this is a better animal than it appears today" or, "this animal wins on condition"? Having an animal that is in good condition can make the difference between first and second place. Now which would you rather have?
HLRSC Official Guidebook - 5th Edition 2002