Three of Mahli Dronen's rabbits won blue ribbons at the Benton County Fair last year, her first time showing any animal there.
This year another of her rabbits, Judge, took the Grand Championship. He's a grey Mini Lop, about 7 months old.
"That makes him the top rabbit at the fair this year," she said with a big smile.
Mahli, 11, lives in Pasco and is a member of Rada Rabbits and Cavies (another name for guinea pigs) 4-H Club.
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She owns 10 rabbits and took five of them to the fair. Two of them are destined for someone's dinner table and will be sold at auction Friday.
The two she sold last year netted $500 for the pair, she said. She hopes bidders will be just as generous this year.
"It really motivates you to do well and study everything you can about your rabbit," she said.
One of the rabbits Mahli took to the fair, Oreo, a black spotted Holland lop, is extremely friendly and won a blue ribbon last year.
"I brought her to the fair mainly for people to pet," Mahli said.
Petting the animals is encouraged in the Rabbit Barn. Don't try that with a steer or hog.
But walk in the Rabbit Barn anytime and you'll find at least five or six rabbits and guinea pigs out of their cages and ready to meet the public. That's one of the reasons superintendent Aggie Mowry calls her barn the friendliest at the fair.
It also has the most exhibitors, 100, and animals, almost 325. The number of exhibitors and 4-H/FFA rabbit/guinea pig clubs has grown in the eight years Mowry has been in charge, she said.
"This year we have exhibitors representing 11 clubs. That's most we've had that I know of," she said.
She believes cost is one factor of their popularity.
"They're not expensive like a steer and you don't need acres to keep them in," Mowry said.
And rabbits and guinea pigs are affectionate. In fact, Chloe Schmidt, 12, who owns a Peruvian guinea pig, said, "If guinea pigs don't get a lot of attention they'll get mean and die fast."
Her long-haired guinea pig, Snickers, took Best of Breed and Best of Variety. This was Chloe's first time showing at the fair. She lives in Pasco and is a member of the World Winds 4-H Club.
Beyond winning ribbons and earning money selling their meat animals, "kids grow at the fair," Mowry said. "They learn life skills and how to talk to complete strangers and explain the care, feeding and uniqueness of their animals."
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org