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Bob Hessick

by Sue Strandwitz

His walking around the showrooms has now been replaced by a motorized cart, but he is still present as often as he can be at the local and National shows with that great smile and wonderful personality. He is dedicated to his beloved Dutch rabbit and can mentally run through a pedigree on a rabbit like it is visible on a sheet of paper held in his hand. When a rabbit in the Dutch auction is from his herd, there is a tremendous amount of interest in looking it over because he has always been known for his quality Dutch. He is Mr. Bob Hessick from Indiana and I was delighted to have him stop making the rounds with his scooter long enough at the NDS to interview him.
Many years ago, Bob raised pigs on his farm. Ironically, they were the Dutch marked Poland Chinas and perhaps were the reason his eye was drawn to the similarly marked Dutch rabbit when the time came. In 1970, Bob and his wife sold all the pigs and moved to town. He then drove a truck as a living, putting an astounding 2,000,000 miles on the road during his days behind the wheel. But soon after moving to town, Bob came across a little Dutch doe that eventually would be the genesis of his life with this breed. The doe was bred to a black buck from Dave Meyers and produced three Grand Champions in her first litter, with one eventually earning 37 legs. This first Dutch doe, by the way, was a lilac, and Bob paid a whopping six dollars for her.
At the present, Bob raised blacks and blues, and has help from his daughter, Robin, and her three girls, Kirsten (14), Amanda (9), and Allisa (6) when it comes to rabbit chores and showing. The rabbits are housed in stacking cages (3 high) in a 10x16 building with two windows and three fans to help keep a constant air flow. The building is heated in the winter with an electric heater that seldom allows the water to freeze. Cages are 18x24 for single animals and 24x30 for breeding does and litters. Since Bob only keeps approximately 20 does and 4 breeding bucks, there is "stiff competition to stay there". He both inbreeds and line breeds, with more emphasis being placed on the later.
Bob finds that he has best results feeding 16% pellets and barley as a treat. If he is concerned about a doe producing enough milk, he adds shredded unpeeled sweet potato for a few days and finds this to do the trick rather well. Bob did add with a sheepish grin that he "tends to overfeed them a bit" at times. The rabbits get fresh water in their crocks twice daily, which he feels is instrumental in keeping them healthy.
Nest boxes are made of wood and are lined with a layer of wood shavings followed by straw, which Bob prefers over hay for bedding. Bucks and does are put into production at age six months. The kits are weaned around six to eight weeks of age. The mother is removed and the babies are kept together for a bit longer to adjust to the change. Any baby looking especially promising is singled out at that time and given a cage of it's own.
When asked about some of his secrets to his longstanding success, he had several thought to share. Bob feels that he gets his best blue color by interbreeding the black and blue varieties. He has not had problems with eye color on his blues by doing this. He notes that his animals have nice, rich blue and black color that extends well down the hair shaft. He feels good density is due to breeding and will make sure any animal brought into his breeding program possess this trait, as well as a strong hindquarters and loin. Bob culls Dutch with long stops and will keep one with a split stop over anything else. If an animal has a dirty neck, it needs to be correct in other markings to stay in the barn.
When asked about how long he kept his breeding animals, Bob once again gave me his big grin and said, "well, I can't ever sell the really good ones". His oldest rabbit lived to be 10 years old. One of his favorites was "Sinda", who won in Oshkosh and ended up going on to win 18 Best in Shows.
Bob is always willing to stop and talk about rabbits. With his declining health in the past several years, he has found it more of a challenge to raise his bunnies, but immediately gave credit to his family, who never seemed to be far from him, for helping whenever he needed it. As Bob entered into the showroom in Greenville, I had the chance to hear their interaction while checking in their animals and it went something like this:
"Dad, that doe in the third hole (of the carrier) really has a nice head. It's so big - are you sure it's a doe?"
"Yeah, Grandpa, she has a big, fat head!"
"Oh, that doe there? Yeah...that's a doe. And that one two to the left is her littermate. there's two more at home in the barn that looked just as good, but I had to make a choice between them all, so these two are here..."
Bob stood up then and opened the carrier, running his hands over the coat of the rabbit being talked about, while once again seeing how each animal looked now that the big weekend was here. And, of course, he was warmly greeted as other Dutch breeders saw he had arrived. Lots of handshaking and a load of hugs followed.
Bob has been a tremendous influence in the breeding of our Dutch, with his careful attention to quality. Check back in your pedigrees, especially if you live in the Midwest, and you will most likely see his name in one or more of the generations. Thank you, Bob, for a glimpse into your Dutch hobby and may you always have one in your carrier that will give us a run for the money!

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