HARRISBURG, Pa. — Chloe Plesic has always liked rabbits, but the animals have taken her further than she ever imagined.
At the Pennsylvania Farm Show this week, the Adams County 4-H’er showed the grand champion rabbit meat pen for the second year in a row.
She also won best in show for the Californian breed, and she took best in breed for both the Californian and Mini Lop breeds.
In the process, the 15-year-old Plesic has built a business and earned a little money for her college fund.
Plesic got her first rabbit five years ago from a pet store. Her herd grew quickly after she joined her county 4-H rabbit club, and she started her business, CP Rabbitry, while still a preteen.
Chloe now keeps 150 to 200 pedigreed rabbits at a time. The animals live in pens in her parents’ finished two-car garage, which is heated and air conditioned.
Chloe maintains some Mini Lops, the breed of her first rabbit, but she also raises the top two meat breeds, the New Zealand and Californian.
While Chloe sells some rabbits for pets and show, she said the rabbit meat market is larger than one might think. The Plesics have gotten calls from New York restaurants, as well as families and pet owners.
“Rabbit meat for dogs is really big right now,” Chloe said.
Chloe herself finds rabbit meat delicious, and doesn’t see anything strange about eating the high-protein, low-cholesterol flesh.
“God put animals on this earth for us to eat,” she said.
Chloe helps her father, Chris, butcher the rabbits the family eats, and she hopes to increase her butchering skills.
Rabbits are all white meat and cook like chicken, according to Chloe’s mother, Becky.
Selecting the three rabbits for the Farm Show meat pen entry is a multistep process.
Chloe breeds a number of does, and the litters are free-fed until about a week before the show.
Then Chloe weighs all of the candidates to see which ones fit the narrow weight parameters. “Our biggest problem this year was we had overweight rabbits,” she said.
That challenge eventually winnowed her options to two pens. Dad took the New Zealand group, and Chloe got the Californians.
“We thought the Cals were the best, and he wanted me to have my best shot,” she said.
Rabbits in the same meat pen are expected to look identical, and Chloe’s did. They all had the breed’s signature white coat with dark nose and ears, and they all weighed in at 5.4 pounds apiece.
Even with uniform animals, some showmanship is required. Rabbit competitors must present their animals in the ideal pose associated with their breed.
Chloe did all that during the competition in the Large Arena, and on Tuesday, she sold her grand champion rabbit pen in the Farm Show’s junior livestock sale. John Rock Inc. bought the rabbits for $900.
Chloe thought her grand champion win at last year’s Farm Show would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so she was really surprised when she won again this year.
“I’m still excited for next year, and I’m ready to go for three,” she said.