CORVALLIS – Carla Fillbach’s trip into the world of rabbits began on an Easter Sunday almost 20 years ago.
On that morning, her mother presented the then little girl with her own mini-lopped ear rabbit.
“It was my first Easter bunny,” Fillbach said, with a great big grin. “That’s how this all got started.”
“This” being the large outbuilding behind her house on Popham Lane that’s filled with cages containing rabbits of varying pedigrees that Fillbach is now happily showing to her visitor.
She calls it her rabbitry.
On this day – just before Easter morning – she’s a little light on numbers.
After all, it is a popular time of year for bunnies.
“I only have three Easter bunnies left right now,” she said. “This time of year, they go as fast as I can make them.”
Her cages contain 43 different rabbits, plus all their babies that she’s not yet counted.
“I have four litters right now and more on the way,” she said. “I’m glad we’re past the worst of the cold. You have to be so careful when a cold snap hits. These little babies will freeze to death.”
She walks in between cages to point out the wide variety of different breeds, colors and fur types.
Some of the bunnies looking back will become pets. Others are destined for the show circuit. And some could end up in a pot of stew.
Fillbach’s favorite time comes when 4-H youngsters arrive to pick out their project for this year’s county fair.
That’s where Fillbach learned everything there is to know about raising and caring for rabbits.
“It’s a great program,” she said. “I learned so much about so many things.”
She’ll spend time with the youngsters talking about the different qualities that each breed has to offer and provide some important tips that she’s learned along the way at the dozens of shows she’s attended as a member of the American Rabbit Breeders Association.
“It has about 25,000 members,” Fillbach said, her smile never wavering. “There’s a whole world out there that cares a lot about rabbits.”
She knows that for a fact, as people from all over the state and beyond are finding her to purchase the rabbits she raises just north of Corvallis.
“A good part of it is word of mouth,” Fillbach said. “People know someone who knows me and I get a call. I had a woman come from Butte not too long ago looking for a 4-H rabbit for her daughter.
“She ended up giving my number to the rest of the kids in the club and they called me.”
In the next year or so, she plans to attend the annual gathering of everything rabbit when more than 30,000 of the critters come together at the National Rabbit Show.
“I can hardly wait until I get my chance to go,” she said. “People interested in rabbits are just like those who like horses, dogs or cats. They are really passionate about them.”
“I suspect many of them started just like me with an Easter bunny,” Fillbach said.
Why is it that people like rabbits so much?
“First of all, they’re a lot of fun to have around,” Fillbach said. “They are easy to keep and they can be used for so many different things.”
She opens a cage and pulls out one of her Satin breed by the scruff of its neck.
“Eskimos like them a lot,” she said, stroking its soft fur. “Their fur is really warm. The air shafts are hollow.”
The fur of a mini-rex is like touching velvet.
“People like using their fur for slippers and hats,” she said. “Some use it for fly tying, too. It is so incredibly soft.”
Over the past few years, Fillbach has seen an increasing demand for meat rabbits right here in the Bitterroot Valley. Pound for pound, she said, a rabbit can outproduce a beef cow for making meat and you don’t need a large pasture to raise them.
“I think people are starting to look for ways to raise their own food,” she said. “I’m seeing more and more people interested in getting rabbits for that.”
Over the years, she’s had quite a variety of people interested in buying her rabbits for lots of different uses.
One of oddest might have been her delivery to the U.S. Air Force, which used the rabbits in survival training for pilots in Spokane.
People are still learning about the capabilities of rabbits.
“They are incredibly smart, you know,” she said.
To prove that, some local rabbit enthusiasts are working on training their bunnies to compete in an agility course similar to that used by dog trainers.
“They do that in Europe,” Fillbach said. “They clicker train their rabbits and they do just fine.”
She hopes that folks attending the annual Memorial Day rabbit show in Missoula will get a chance to see it happen.
“We might get something put together by then,” Fillbach said, her smile still beaming. “That would be a lot of fun, wouldn’t it?”
If you want to learn more about Fillbach’s rabbitry, go to fillbachfarms.com.