Big Bunny

Braelynn Jamison holds Marge, a Flemish giant rabbit, at her grandparents' home in rural Maquoketa, Iowa, on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021.

MAQUOKETA, Iowa — A rural Maquoketa family with a passion for raising rabbits recently won the state title for the biggest bunny for the second time.

Marge, a Flemish giant rabbit, tipped the scales at 18.5 pounds at the Iowa State Fair this summer to snag the honor. She is owned by Tom and Deona Casel and their adult daughter, Mallory Jamison.

“When you go to the fair, there’s not very many like this, so everyone wants to meet Marge,” Deona said.

They also took home the biggest rabbit trophy in 2019 with another Flemish giant rabbit, Rosie, which weighed 21 pounds.

For the Casels, raising rabbits is a longtime family hobby that began when Mallory showed rabbits in 4-H as a child.

As Mallory aged out of the program, the Casels first thought they would downsize their rabbit population but quickly decided they weren’t ready to part with their long-eared friends. A 4-H contest judge suggested the family take their rabbits to American Rabbit Breeders Association open-class shows.

Now, the family shows rabbits nationwide under the name Casel’s Rabbitry. Tom, Deona, Mallory and Mallory’s daughter, Braelynn, all contribute, as well as one of the Casels’ other daughters, Courtney Veach, and Veach’s daughter, Hailey.

The Casels currently have about 120 to 150 rabbits at their home, including Flemish giant rabbits, mini lops, mini satins and Polish rabbits.

Some, such as Marge, have names, but many do not.

“When you get a shed and keep making more cages, you run out of names,” Deona said. “I’d have to go get a baby book.”

The Casels learned quickly that some aspects of rabbit breeding were well-guarded secrets.

“We would ask people what they fed them, and it was like asking them how many times they’d been married or something — a question you wouldn’t ask,” Deona said. “Nobody would tell you nothing.”

The Casels’ rabbits enjoy a high-protein rabbit feed, but Tom said raising a quality rabbit requires more than the right food. He gets up at 2:30 a.m. to give the rabbits water before leaving for work, and their cages must be cleaned regularly as well.

Though the process is time-consuming, the Casels cherish the family bonds the bunnies have created.

“With us, it’s all about having fun,” Tom said.

The family has shown rabbits in states such as New York and Nevada. Next month, they will take 12 to 15 rabbits to the American Rabbit Breeders Association national competition in Louisville, Ky.

While Marge gained fame for her size, the family also has earned many awards in “best rabbit” contests, which are judged on body structure, fur quality and other criteria.

Deona said the family’s travels have introduced them to friends across the country.

“We’ve met friends from all over,” she said. “We like to win, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also about the people we’ve met.”

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