Most people wouldn’t think of making a career out of rabbits, but Chase Austin has done just that. The 34-year-old is now a renowned rabbit judge and breeder.
“As a kid, I liked to try and do different things to make money,” he says. “My local feed store in town would always sell baby chickens and ducks. I asked them one day what I could raise that they would buy from me, and they said baby bunnies. I got on the computer to research, and ended up finding an ad for rabbits. I ended up coming home with, like, 30 rabbits. I was only ten years old!”
From then on, Austin spent his childhood going to rabbit shows, buying show quality bunnies and gaining insight on what it would take to be a professional rabbit breeder, while also picking the brains of his mentors Kathy Hillery and Ken McCracken, both of whom he says played an vital role in helping him become who he is today. Today, Austin is a professionally licensed rabbit judge, traveling all over the world to judge shows, while also operating his own rabbit farm, Boling Bunny Farm, and rabbitry supply company, Texas Custom Cages, in Fort Bend County.
Never did he think selling a few bunnies as a kid would morph into a full-fledged career.
“When I was growing up, I was made fun of for the whole rabbit thing,” he says. “Everyone, especially my family, told me to get serious and start thinking about college and an actual career. Yet here I am, going on all-expenses-paid trips around the world to judge professional rabbit shows. I never could have imagined this. This past year, I was actually invited to judge a national show in Sweden, and being one of the only American judges they’ve ever had made it a really big moment for me.”
Austin also educates and trains owners of rabbit farms, offering tips and tricks to help make sure the businesses are running smoothly.
“I think one of the most important things I’ve found is that many farms aren’t keeping actual records, which is a vital thing you must do,” he says. “Rabbits have a short production life compared to something like cattle or even goats, so keeping good production records is very important to keep you going on the right track.”
When he isn’t traveling the world and helping rabbit-farm owners, Austin is back home at Boling Bunny Farm, where he helps provide show rabbits and cavies for 4-H and Future Farmers of America kids, making sure they have the right cages, carriers, and show equipment to participate in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“My main objective is to provide show animals for these kids,” he says. “That’s really important to me. We have a huge program that we do with the inner-city schools in Houston that has taken nearly non-existent FFA and ag groups and really turned them around. A lot of these kids that could not afford large livestock or didn’t have any ag experience or opportunities are now able to participate in our rabbit program.”
Growing up in a rural area, Austin felt alone and different because of his sexuality. It was getting involved with rabbits and joining ag programs that made him feel like he belonged, something he hopes he can give to the next generation.
“Growing up gay was a hard thing for me as a kid because of where I was in a rural town,” he recalls. “Being gay was not well accepted, and it took a lot of years to even become comfortable with myself. The only place where I felt comfortable was at rabbit shows, which is a very LGBTQ-friendly hobby and association. Joining the American Rabbit Breeder Association and meeting a lot of the people really helped mold me into the person I am now.”
Austin has seen firsthand how confident and motivated kids become, which inspires him to make sure more and more students get on a path to enter events like the Houston Rodeo.
“A lot of very shy, quiet, demure kids finally find a way to break out of their shell and become comfortable with who they are as human beings,” he says. “That’s an amazing thing.”
Going forward, Austin would love for the Boling Bunny Farm programs to continue to grow, as well as branch out to other small animals such as guinea pigs.
“I would love to get involved in other Texas cities,” he says. “Right now, we primarily work in Houston. It’s a lot to handle, but I would love to try and grow that into a bigger program. One of the other things that we started doing is turning to guinea pigs. While the rabbit project has grown by leaps and bounds, rabbits are a little difficult for some kids, especially the ones in apartments or government housing. The American Rabbit Breeder Association also includes show-quality guinea pigs, which is an easier animal to handle for kids who live in apartments. We’ve been working on trying to build that area up, especially for the Houston Rodeo. I just want to help as many kids as I can.”
For more info, visit facebook.com/BolingBunnyFarm.