By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Katlyn Roberts of Liberty is keeping alive a family tradition that's been passed along from one generation to the next.
The 14-year-old Liberty girl raises rabbits -- just like her two older brothers, her mother and her grandfather before her.
Katlyn brought 22 of her rabbits with her this week to show at the Adams County Fair, which opened Wednesday and continues through Tuesday at the fairgrounds near Mendon.
She not only competed in Thursday's 4-H rabbit show, but she also will compete in Saturday's open rabbit competition for all comers.
She got hooked on rabbits early in life. Her oldest brother, Zach, started raising rabbits as a 4-H project in 1999 -- the year Katlyn was born. Then her other brother, Austin, started raising rabbits three years later.
"We've had rabbits ever since I was born," she said.
Katlyn's mother, Carolyn Roberts, who is superintendent of the 4-H rabbit show, started raising rabbits herself when she was a little girl growing up on the family farm in rural Liberty. Carolyn learned about rabbits from her father, Raymond Maas Sr., a lifelong rabbit breeder who had an influence on everyone in the family.
"I never did show rabbits," Carolyn said. "We just raised them for fun. It was just another family pet on the farm."
Carolyn instead showed cattle in 4-H competitions. But after she got married, moved to town and started raising a family, she wanted to get her kids involved in 4-H as well. Since cattle-raising isn't allowed within the city limits, Carolyn told her kids they would have to find a different animal to raise for 4-H competitions.
Rabbits were it -- and they've been a big part of Katlyn's life ever since.
Not only did Katlyn grow up around the furry critters, as soon as she turned 8 and became old enough to join the Burton Flyers 4-H Club -- a 46-member unit led by her mother -- she started raising her own rabbits and hasn't looked back.
"It's just nice being able to have an animal around that you can hold," she said.
Katlyn actually has about 30 rabbits at home. She spends about an hour each morning and another hour each evening feeding, watering and caring for them.
She loves the rabbits because they all have different personalities.
"There are grumpy ones and sad ones," she said. "You can tell when they're in a good mood or not."
Katlyn tries not to get attached to the rabbits, because after a couple of years most end up getting sold or butchered for food.
She refuses to take part in the butchering process. "I don't like seeing that," she admitted.
It's hard enough just to see most of the rabbits that she raised being sold. That's because she gets to know the animals so well through daily contact.
Katlyn has several rabbits that she regards as her personal pets. One is Peanut.
"That's my nickname, so I kind of named him after me," Katlyn said.
The other is Oddball -- a rabbit that stands out because "it doesn't match at all" any of her other rabbits, she said.
"They're my special bunnies," Katlyn said. "I will never sell them."
Katlyn is particularly close to Oddball -- a big, mixed-breed rabbit with an uncommonly pleasant nature. In fact, Oddball was Katlyn's automatic choice when she decided to enter Thursday's 4-H costume contest in which rabbits and their owners dressed in matching costumes for judging. Katlyn and Oddball were both attired as bumble bees.
"He has his own bee costume and so do I," Katlyn said.
Katlyn, who will be a freshman this fall at Liberty High School, is eligible to stay in 4-H until she turns 19. Then she'll have to give up competing in 4-H rabbit shows. But she still plans to keep raising and showing rabbits in other competitions.
"I may cut down a little bit, but I'll still come up here to the county fair and show," she said.
And the tradition will continue.