DALLAS -- Stefani Cavender, 15, has been involved in 4-H for three years. During that time, she has raised goats and rabbits for sale as a way to support her real passion: Sparky, her 15-year-old Arabian gelding.
This year, Cavender won a Young Entrepreneurship Award for her many side businesses, which include raising goats for sale and raising very unique Lionhead rabbits.
"I started raising rabbits in November and I chose the Lion Head because they are a new breed," Cavender said. "I wanted a breed that would sell and make money, but would not be too much work to care for," Cavender said.
Lionhead rabbits originated in Belgium and are a cross between miniature Swiss Fox and Belgian Dwarf rabbits. They have long hair around their faces, resembling a lion's mane. They have a rounded head, shorter ears and are small - only about 2.5 to 3.5 pounds fully grown.
Cavender sells her rabbits for between $25 and $50 depending on their age. She said she doesn't breed them during the winter, so she'll probably have just one more litter before this winter sets in.
"I don't like having babies born in the winter because they can die in the cold temperatures. It's best to wait for warmer weather," Cavender said.
From a certain angle the Lionheads in Cavender's pens look like Guinea Pigs; at least the smaller ones do.
When she opens the door they don't scatter, but sit docilely and watch for her next move.
When Cavender picks up a young doe, the other two scoot into a corner, but still don't seem too alarmed. Cavender pulls the fluffy doe close to her body and supports its entire frame with her right arm.
This is important. According to the National Humane Society, rabbits are fragile. Their bones are so delicate that the muscles in their hind legs can overwhelm their skeletons.
Because of this physiology, a struggling rabbit that is not properly restrained and supported can snap its own spine.
Cavender's rabbit kicks a little, but settles in against her chest, calmed and soothed by the girl's gentle hands.
"I'm probably going to breed them this week. The gestation period is a month, and it takes 6 to 8 weeks for them to wean," Cavender said. "I should have babies for sale in mid-November."
While rabbits are adorable and people who raise them call them affectionate, social pets, they aren't like cats or dogs. They have specific care requirements.
For instance, most people don't realize that rabbits, if scared badly enough by another animal, can die of heart attacks.
The National Humane Society urges people to carefully research books and web sites on rabbit care before adopting. Rabbits have special diet needs, require regular grooming (because they can't cough up their hairballs like cats) and should be spayed or neutered to reduce aggression and problems with litter box training.
For more information on rabbit care: www.hsus.org or www.rabbit.org
To see more pictures of Cavender's rabbit herd or to adopt a Lionhead rabbit: www.miniblessings.blogspot.com.