COLUMBIA — Matthew Barnes, 11, brings a black and white rabbit out of a cage in his backyard and starts to brush its fur.
"This is Thumper. He was last year's winner," Matthew said. "And his son, TJ, looks exactly the same as him."
TJ, which stands for Thumper Junior, and Midnight are the two rabbits the Columbia youth will enter into this year's Boone County Fair Rabbit Show on Thursday.
As the winner of last year’s Rabbit Show, Matthew has prepared the rabbits to be in prime condition so he can defend his title. The 11-year-old has to monitor the rabbits' age, weight, shape and teeth. Matthew said both of the rabbits he will bring to the show are five months old, which is an age that’s best for them to show their quality.
Before he began showing rabbits, Matthew showed chickens in the fair for two years. He began raising rabbits just a year and a half ago, so he and his mother, Missy Barnes, were surprised when he won the Rabbit Show in his first year participating.
Because of her love for animals, Missy Barnes started to raise chickens and rabbits in their backyard with her two sons, Matthew and Nick Barnes, 15.
Their mother said that by learning to take care of the animals, the kids had the opportunity to develop a good sense of responsibility and learn how to care for animals.
"When there are people coming to our house, (Matthew) likes to take them out and talk about his rabbits," Missy Barnes said. "He just becomes an ambassador."