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Beltrami County Fair: Raising rabbits right for Risberg

Emily Risberg works with her Californian meat rabbits on Friday before today’s Beltrami County Fair 4-H Rabbit Show. MOLLY MIRON SPECIAL TO THE PIONEER

BEMIDJI — Third generation 4-H member Emily Risberg started her show career nine years ago as a Cloverbud when she was 5-years-old.

Emily, now a member of the Beltrami Bobcats 4-H Club, raises rabbits in the city of Bemidji at their Irvine Avenue home. She said the family set out their management practices for the current 35-38 rabbits and received approval from neighbors and the Bemidji Planning Commission.

“I had to get a permit because I have so many rabbits. We raise them as livestock,” Emily said. “We have a pedigree for every rabbit.”

Cloverbuds, for club members ages 5-8, and regular 4-H, for members 9-19, serve a range of interests. The organization started in 1902 in Minnesota and a few other states to educate farm children about livestock and best agriculture practices. And the farm orientation is still important. However, city residents are encouraged to join, but they generally don’t have the opportunity to show livestock.

“You don’t have to have critters to be here, but once we get you here (at the county fair) you start falling in love with critters,” said Deb Risberg, Emily’s mother and superintendent with her husband, Ed Risberg, of the Beltrami County Fair Rabbit Barn.

Emily raises Himalayan, Holland Lop and Californian rabbits for show and meat. Deb said rabbits are an efficient source of meat as they are ready for processing in three-and-a-half months from the time the doe is bred. “It’s just very lean red meat,” Deb said.

Emily said rabbits are shown on a table, and for showmanship classes they must be trained to pose.

“You have to practice with them quite a bit,” she said. “If you work with them a lot, they learn to pose by themselves. It’s surprising how smart they can be.”

Emily times the breeding so her market rabbits, those raised for meat, are ready as fryers in time for the county fair. She breeds another litter to be ready for the Minnesota State Fair. And, in spite of the common assumption, timing rabbit breeding isn’t always simple.

“Sometimes they’re stubborn about it. Sometimes it’s real easy,” she said.

She said she sells as pets the rabbits that don’t qualify for show or for meat.

“A lot of these are pet rabbits, just to have fun,” said Deb, gesturing as the cages full of bunnies in the rabbit barn.

Article by Molly Miron, Special to the Pioneer