As soon as the front latch of each metal cage was lifted, three rabbits hopped out one after another to be judged by Mike Withrow.
He was looking for the market rabbit with the best overall meat.
In a rhythmic pattern, Withrow made his way down the row of rabbit cages and would stroke their fur with his thumbs, examine their hind legs and then place them back inside their cage.
More than 200 students from Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo and Starr counties competed in the judging of market rabbits Tuesday at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show.
According to Troy Fitting, the RGV Livestock Show superintendent of rabbits, competitors raise their rabbits for about two months beginning in January.
During the competition, each rabbit is checked for anything that could cause disqualification, such as ear mites, body mites or broken teeth.
The goal is to raise three identical rabbits with weights ranging from three and a half pounds to five and a half pounds.
Fitting said prize-winning rabbits are ones that are all identical with wide shoulders, good, hard loins and full rear-ends.
Harlingen CISD students Julia Macmanus, 15, and her sister Naomi, 12, placed first and second in the Californian rabbit division of the competition.
“I feel so proud of myself for winning breed champion because taking care of my rabbits took a lot of time,” Naomi said. “Next year, I plan on working as hard as I worked this year and hope to do even better than I did this year.”
Julia said what she enjoys most about the competitions is the “family atmosphere and making new friends.”
As soon as Naomi and Julia were given their awards, their family and friends jumped up from their seats on the bleachers and began cheering with excitement.
“I’m very proud of them because they’ve worked so hard,” said Nancy Macmanus, their mother. “I didn’t grow up with this so it’s great seeing the value of it and how they’ve grown with responsibility and leadership. I wish I had done it when I was a kid.”