Vanessa Stickler didn’t join the rabbit industry in a conventional way, but after 14 years of having a rabbitry, she’s in it to stay.
The 22-year-old equine veterinary technologist runs Stickler’s Rabbitry as a hobby.
“It’s just something on the side to do,” she said. “I definitely like to stay busy.”
Though she doesn’t see herself ever doing it full time, she does plan to keep raising rabbits, and hopes to expand the business.
Stickler got into showing rabbits when she was 8. Her father, who worked at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, found a stray domesticated rabbit hopping around the stables and brought it home.
Stickler took that rabbit to show at the Lebanon Area Fair. It ended up getting disqualified, but she met breeders at the fair and bought another rabbit.
Ever since, Stickler has been breeding rabbits both to show and to sell.
She raises Mini Rex and Fuzzy Lops and currently has 40 rabbits. She also has a Checkered Giant but doesn’t plan to breed it.
Most of her rabbits are housed in a small shed, with a few of them in hutches outside.
“I definitely want a barn,” Stickler said. “I’d like to increase to probably 60 (rabbits) eventually.”
She breeds her does twice a year, and typically gets four to six babies, called kittens, per litter. She keeps one from each litter and sells the rest.
She sells about 30 rabbits a year. When she started the business, all her sales were in Pennsylvania, but now Stickler gets buyers from out of state. Some recent sales went to Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas.
Social media has helped expand the out-of-state customer base, she said.
Staying Busy for the Bunnies
Stickler also buys from all over the U.S. and recently bought a rabbit from Canada. But she has avoided buying from or selling to the West, where rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus has appeared in wild rabbits.
The deadly disease can easily spread to domesticated rabbits.
Stickler closely follows the American Rabbit Breeders Association’s updates on the virus.
If the disease makes its way east, Stickler said she would probably run a closed rabbitry, not letting anyone else in the shed or around her rabbits — and no longer going to shows.
There is a vaccine, but it’s pricey and it would have to be administered yearly.
“It would probably cost me over $2,000 to vaccinate,” Stickler said.
But with the disease still unknown in the East, Stickler tries to attend at least one rabbit show a month. She shows in the open category and exhibits eight or so rabbits.
“I like to say I place in the top class at most shows,” Stickler said.
But she typically walks away with more than just ribbons. She uses the shows as networking events where she meets breeders with whom she can buy and sell.
“I feel like my herd’s improved show quality-wise” through those transactions, she said.
In 14 years, Stickler has gotten to know a lot of people in her little-known industry.
“I often forget that not a lot of people know about rabbit shows because I go to so many of them,” she said.
She plans to continue down this rewarding rabbit hole for a long time.