Sauer hops into rabbit judging after years of showing

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After showing rabbits as a kid, McGregor native Zach Sauer is now a rabbit judge. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Rabbits first sparked Zach Sauer’s interest in 2005, when, as a kid, he attended a county 4-H workshop. He began showing at the Clayton County and Iowa State Fairs along with American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA)-sanctioned shows.

“I was doing well and got more and more into showing, then started going to the national convention,” said Sauer, a McGregor native who’s now in veterinary school at Iowa State University.

In high school, his herd ranged from 100 to 200 rabbits at one time. Now, he has around 50 to 75, which reside on a farm outside Ames. Over the years, he’s owned more than 30 different breeds, but the cinnamon, aptly named for its russet-colored fur, has always been his favorite.

A few years ago, Sauer decided to make the transition into judging. The process isn’t a simple one. 

First, explained Sauer, one must hold a rabbit registrar’s license (giving them the authority to register animals) and register at least 35 rabbits over two years.

After two years, you can apply for a judge’s license through the ARBA, Sauer said. 

“You have to take written and oral exams and shadow judges,” he added.

Once the license is granted, you have the authority to judge shows not just in the United States, Sauer mentioned, but also in Japan and Indonesia.

Sauer said he’s traveled all over the country to judge.

“The show season is heavy in the spring and fall,” he said. “Because of vet school, I can only do one or two shows a month.” 

According to Sauer, the ARBA recognizes 49 rabbit breeds. At shows, each breed is broken down into varieties, then separated into classes by age. The rabbits are then subdivided by gender, he continued. Judges pick the best of breed—the best of the animals represented. The reserve, he noted, is the best opposite, meaning it’s the best rabbit that is the opposite gender of the winner.

“Only the best of breed winners come up for the best of show,” he said.

Local shows feature anywhere from 200 to 1,000 rabbits, Sauer said, while the national convention involves 15,000 to 20,000.

“I enjoy both types of shows,” he shared. “It’s an honor to judge any show.”

There’s a special place in his heart for county fairs, though, Sauer said. That’s where he got his start.

“In the summer, I take on a couple county fairs,” he said. “They’re not as high stakes, but I still enjoy that level. It means a lot to help kids, to take the time to work with them and give them advice.”

Just a few years out of high school, Sauer said he’s one of the youngest rabbit judges. However, when you realize he started in fifth grade, timeline-wise, it’s not that uncommon, he added.

Sauer said he hopes to continue judging through vet school and beyond. Interestingly enough, he’s not planning to specialize in rabbits as a veterinarian. Rather, he plans to focus on poultry medicine or research, as a way to keep work separate from his other passions.

“[Rabbit judging] is something I enjoy. It’s stress relieving,” he shared. “It’s my hobby.”

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