Hopping into some new housing

REEDSVILLE – Nearly 60 members of the Mifflin County 4-H rabbit club Bunnies ‘R’ Us were hopping for joy as they set up for the 60th annual Mifflin County Youth Fair, thanks to the new rabbit pens they received as a result of a local teen’s Eagle Scout project.

Kevin Cahill, 18, of Derry Township, joined the Boy Scouts of America at age 7 and the rabbit club at age 8. When it came time to choose an Eagle Scout project earlier this year, constructing the new pens was on his list of possibilities.

“I was looking for something that really fit the criteria and this definitely did,” Cahill said.

Some of the rabbit pens were in use when the club started about 30 years ago. Before that, 4-H members who wanted to show rabbits belonged to community livestock groups. They received a book on rabbits and worked from that, raising the animals according to the text and attending general 4-H meetings.

The late Judy Spicher, who had three children raising rabbits at the time, approached Ron Soccio, of Decatur Township, about pulling the 4-H members who raised rabbits into one countywide group so they could focus on their animals and learn the specifics of raising and showing bunnies.

“She was involved in rabbit club but she didn’t really want to be the leader,” Soccio said.

Soccio agreed to lead the group, provided he had help. Spicher agreed to do that and Bunnies ‘R’ Us was born.

In the beginning, the club held monthly meetings and trainings, showing only breed-class rabbits, such as Mini Lops, Dwarf Hotots and Mini Rex. Within five years, club members were permitted to show market rabbits as well. It was a way for the members to put some money in their own pockets for their efforts, but since market rabbits must be younger than 10 weeks old, raising one isn’t much of a commitment. To show a market rabbit, a 4-Her must raise and show a breed-class rabbit as well. Breed-class rabbits require nearly a full year of work, which brings the 4-H slogan, “Learn by doing,” to life for club members.

The original pens were 30 inches deep, and over the years Soccio, who raises rabbits himself, repaired or replaced damaged cages himself. Eventually he started making them 24 inches deep, which provided plenty of room for the bunnies and allowed more space between the rows of cages for club members and fairgoers. Still, the wire mesh on the original pens became rusty and the majority of the cages began to show their age. On top of that, the pens couldn’t all be stored indoors because of their size. Many of the original pens were kept in the rafters of the livestock barn at the Mifflin County Youth Park in Reedsville, where they were susceptible to vandalism and theft. With 104 spaces in the pens, club members started talking about the need for replacements but weren’t sure how to go about making it happen.

“Kevin needed the project and we were glad to give it to him,” Soccio said.

Cahill presented a plan to his scoutmaster, which listed estimated costs, supplies and volunteers needed to complete the task. The plan was subsequently approved by the Juniata Valley Council of BSA committee as well as the Mifflin County Youth Fair committee, which provided the funds for the project.

Soccio then taught Cahill how to build the pens. From May 8 to 28, Cahill lead a group of 14 volunteers made up of fellow Bunnies ‘R’ Us members, scouts and families. At one work day, Cahill said they had more volunteers than tools and had to buy extra wire cutters just to keep everyone busy.

When all was said and done, the group constructed new pens with 72 spaces for rabbits, but because some of the old pens were still in good shape thanks to Soccio’s efforts over the past few years, club members still have space for more than 100 rabbits.

Cahill said the project helped him gain confidence and the hardest part was being in a leadership role over adults, which he had never done before.

Members of Bunnies ‘R’ Us set up the new pens on Thursday last week and brought their bunnies to the fairgrounds on Sunday. The rabbit shows begin at 9 a.m. today and market rabbits will be sold at the livestock auction, which begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, at the Youth Park in Reedsville.