Megan Malone is fine with the idea of giving rabbits as pets around the holidays, especially Easter when there’s a bunny even named for the day.
In the days before Easter, and most gift-exchanging holidays, the Buena Township resident said she’ll receive several emails to her business, Heavenly Hoppers Rabbitry, asking if any Holland lops bunnies are available for sale.
But if you’re thinking of purchasing a rabbit from Malone at the last minute, her answer is clear.
“It’s always ‘No’,” she said. “Even if I had a rabbit, I would still tell them no. That person is making the decision at the spur of the moment. If that person is ready for the commitment of a rabbit, they would be in touch long before.”
Don’t take that as reluctance on Malone’s part to share her passion for rabbitry, or the process of breeding and raising rabbits for show, pet, or other purposes. She said she wants to make sure the pet will be taken care of. And she has a waiting list about a month long of people along the East Coast who want her Holland lops.
Some involved in the South Jersey rabbitry scene have handled rabbits for most of their lives, often starting through county agricultural programs. They stay with it to pass on their love for rabbits to the general public and to show rabbits aren’t just animals for Easter-time. An online rabbit breeder directory places five rabbit breeders in Atlantic and Cumberland counties.
In fact, working with rabbits was a big summer activity for Malone.
When she was a teenager growing up in Cumberland County, Malone got involved with her local 4-H program. She raised a fluffy Holland lop rabbit that she showed, as well as a long-haired guinea pig, at the county fair and other animal shows. Malone always had pets growing up and shares that now with her two daughters, who are 13 and 5. (They got a horse this past Christmas).
Malone came up with the name of her eventual business — Heavenly Hoppers Rabbitry — when she was 15 years old, two years before she got married. She became a stay-at-home mom, and her children and husband became her full-time job.
About four or five years ago, she decided to pursue that teenage dream.
“There comes a point as an adult when you ask yourself, ‘Is there anything in my life that’s not mom or wife or kids?’” she said. “I went right back to 4-H in my mind.”
Galloway Township’s Becca Schroer didn’t have to go far back into her memories of 4-H to pursue rabbitry. That’s because she’s still involved in 4-H.
Schroer is a 17-year-old junior at Absegami High School who has been in the Atlantic County 4-H program since she was 11. Doctors told her it would be a good idea for her to get a pet as a means of therapy; Schroer has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“They just understand you when you’re having a bad day. They put a smile right on your face,” she said. “I’m completely off my (ADHD) medicine since I’ve had rabbits.”
She still participates in four clubs through the Atlantic County 4-H, but now also runs the A to Z Rabbitry in Galloway Township.
From the original Havannah rabbit she first showed, Schroer now has 18 rabbits anywhere from 5 1/2 years old to 4 1/2 months, of six different varieties. She breeds males and females together, and will raise the infant bunnies until they are at least eight weeks old.
Once they’re old enough to sell, Schroer said she interviews potential buyers to make sure the rabbits will go to a good home. She also offers tips on her Facebook page for rabbit enthusiasts. For instance, did you know rabbits can’t survive on lettuce? (Their digestive systems don’t break it down, she said).
Malone says people may think that spring is the time for rabbits to produce like, well, you know, but her bunnies have their own timelines.
“I have one little bunny who, from 10 weeks old, would make little nests in her cage,” she said. “She could smell all the mommies around her. She was dreaming about being a mommy.”
Malone decided to focus on the Holland lop breed, known for their downturned, floppy ears, the same rabbit breed she showed when she was in 4-H. Holland lops have a personality comparable to a a dog, she said: curious attention lovers. Malone said Holland lop bunnies sell themselves based on those traits.
Her rabbits are kept in 60-inch long cages in her home’s playroom, where her daughters keep their Wii gaming system. That way, the bunnies are raised around people and other animals; she has cats and a German shepherd dog. Schroer also has a lot of animals around, from dogs to free-roaming chickens.
Though both breeders do this as a business — selling their rabbits along the East Coast — both said they get excited to bring a bunny to a new family. Malone said “pick-up day” is an exciting time for her, even though she is giving up a baby bunny.
“I think (rabbit breeding) just fits the South Jersey lifestyle,” she said. “We’re passing on the 4-H lifestyle. I really do believe that.”