Erin Marble, a 15-year-old from Vancouver, really wanted a rabbit. “My mom said ‘Okay you can show it at fair.’” After researching, they found out that for kids, 4-H was the way to go if you wanted to exhibit at the Clark County Fair. Erin joined the Country Critters Club when she was in third grade. She now belongs to the Royal Rabbits 4-H club.
Erin shows both meat and “fancy” rabbits. Her fancy rabbits include two mini Rexes, which are known for their incredibly soft coat. “They are a great starter rabbit because of their temperament,” Erin explains. And she also has a one Dutch rabbit – they have marking similar to a French bulldog.
Erin’s meat rabbits are New Zealands, which is one of the larger breeds. Unlike other 4-H market projects, rabbit 4-H’ers have to breed their own market animals. Erin has two bucks and two does that she breeds. This year she has about eight kits (baby rabbits). She has a very practical reason for choosing her all-white New Zealands for her market project. “It’s easier not to get attached to them,” she says. “They all look the same, and I don’t name them.”
After she shows them in fair, they will be sold at the junior livestock auction. To get the best price, Erin has to travel to local businesses and market herself and her rabbits.
“I go out and talk to businesses and introduce myself and my project and ask for their support as either a buyer or an add-on donation,” she explains. In past years the projects have supported the Youth Efforts Against Hunger program (YEAH). The buyer could donate the purchased meat at the auction to YEAH, and also the 4-H’er had the option to donate a portion of their auction earnings to the program.
Part of 4-H is learning a lot about whatever project you are involved in. In Erin’s case she knows a lot about rabbit meat. “It’s actually one of the most heart-healthy meats,” she tells me. “It’s lowest in sodium and highest in protein per ounce. It’s an all white meat and lowest in cholesterol.”
It is then I confess to her that I have never eaten it. “Neither have I. Actually I am a vegetarian by choice,” she says laughing. “My family likes to eat it, though.”
So how did a vegetarian end up raising meat animals? “I started out with the fancier breeds, but some of the other kids in my club were doing the market rabbits and making money,” she responds. “I wanted to make money, too. And it’s a good way to give back to the community through YEAH, and it supports my fancy rabbit project.”
Before her mother would allow her to do the market project, however, she told Erin she had to research the project: what businesses she was going to market to, what YEAH was, etc. “It was a really good experience, and last year was my first year doing market rabbits,” she says.
That first year she had the champion fryer that fetched $500 at the auction, though Erin says that the average is around $250-300 a head. She also sold a “pen” for $135 a head. A pen is a group of three identical rabbits. She also got add-on donations, which are those from people who do not bid on the market animal but want to support the 4-H’er.
In addition to rabbit 4-H Erin also does public speaking. She started with that project as a fourth grader – which explains why she is so articulate when being interviewed. She and her friend completed a project together that first year, and they earned a blue ribbon at the Clark County Fair and a special merit at the Washington State Fair. That same year she was awarded a Reserve Champion in showmanship with her rabbits. “To this day that is one of my biggest accomplishments; it’s one of the things I am most proud of because I really put myself into it,” Erin says about her showmanship award. Last year her presentation on mutations received a Judge’s Award at the county fair and another special merit award at the state fair.
Erin’s tenacious attitude has helped her get far, and I am sure she will go much further. A couple years ago she was club president, and this year she is the club reporter.
One of her favorite things to do at fair is the “small animal round robin.” Intermediate and senior 4-H’ers swap animals with each other. Each youth shows a rabbit, guinea pig, poultry, dog and cat. “It’s really fun because you have to learn quickly how to show each of these different animals. Erin was Intermediate Grand Champion and overall Grand Champion in 2016.
If that was not enough, Erin is also on the Clark County Fair Junior Advisory Board. “This year, I helped create geo-filters for the fairgrounds for Snapchat and invented an actual fair Snapchat, and we are going to use that to reach out to the younger fair goers,” Erin explains.
The other project Erin is working on is boosting the number of open entries in the exhibition hall at the Clark County Fair. This is for all Clark County residents who want to enter their sewing, art, baking, photography, etc. To enter, go to the Clark County Fair Exhibitor Guide, find your class and click on it to get the form. Entries are accepted Tuesday, August 1 and Wednesday, August 2 from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the fairgrounds.
You can meet Erin and her rabbits at the Clark County Fair August 4-13. For more information about joining 4-H, visit the Washington State University’s Extension office website.