Why German and German hybrid angoras?
German angoras were bred for wool production. Unlike French, English, Satin, and Giant angoras, the Germans must pass a wool productivity test in order to be registered. They are also bred to grow their coat continuously, so they do not loose a lot of fiber due to shedding. This means that they must be clipped or sheared to obtain the wool, which results in greater yields and less likelihood of wool block occurring from ingested fiber. The personality of the Germans is extremely friendly and docile because they must be easy to handle for grooming. In my experience, Germans are the most consistently friendly breed, making them excellent pets as well as wool producers. The fiber productivity, ease of care, and gentle temperament has made the Germans the breed of choice at SFF.
Because colored purebred German angoras are still hard to come by, I use hybrid (crossbred) angoras in order to breed towards colored rabbits, with a specific focus on random-extension colors (harlequins, tri-coloreds, magpies). My goal is to bring German-quality wool to an animal that has greater genetic diversity and is more tolerable of the hot climate in North Carolina. I want to reduce the amount of wool on the feet, face, and underbelly for less wasted wool and a healthier animal overall, while maintaining synchronized coats as best as possible.
Can angoras be raised outdoors?
Yes, with certain considerations. Angora rabbits are more sensitive to heat than short-haired breeds, and they will suffer when temperatures go above 90 F. If you plan to raise your angora(s) outdoors, you must be prepared to keep their wool clipped short in the summer months and provide them with cold granite tiles, frozen water bottles, and air movement (fans) to keep them cool. If you plan to have only a few rabbits as pets, it is best to move them indoors during the summer.
Why do you prefer clipping rather than plucking?
Imagine that you’re wearing a sweater over a long-sleeved t-shirt. Next, you will put on an insulated vest, and on top of that a nice, thick winter coat. You will probably feel pretty warm, and most likely, a bit restrained in movement. Now imagine wearing this attire on a nice summer day. This is most likely a good representation of how an angora rabbit feels when it has a full coat of wool. Angora fiber is one of the most insulating materials known to man, and the rabbit is the victim of humanity’s innovation, stuck in its own coat.
Although plucking an angora relieves the rabbit of part, and sometimes most, of the wool, it is a labor-intensive process that requires the owner to wait for the right moment to collect the fiber, since the rabbit must be shedding its coat. It also tends to be harder on the rabbit’s skin, because even the most gentle technique requires some measure of pulling, and frequently causes damage to the hair follices.
In contrast, clipping is very gentle on the rabbit’s skin, since no pulling is needed. The rabbit gets a break from wearing the big coat, which helps to prevent common angora problems, such as wool block and overheating (usually characterized by a rabbit going “off feed,” i.e. not eating). The wool can be collected relatively quickly on a schedule that is determined by the owner. The final result is better fiber output, because the rabbit starts to grow a new coat immediately after clipping, without having to wait for one coat to shed out before the new coat can grow. A rabbit that is clipped also requires significantly less grooming and stays cleaner (you do not need to worry about wool getting felted or tangled by hay, for example). In other words, a clipped rabbit is allowed to behave like a regular rabbit until the coat grows back.
Collecting angora fiber, when done properly (either by clipping or plucking), is not cruel to the animals and is in fact enjoyable and necessary to the health of the rabbit. My rabbits relax on my lap while I clip them– it is like a bunny spa, soothing to both the rabbit and to myself!
Clipping does require some practice, but it is (in my opinion) a necessary skill for any angora owner. I’m always happy to teach anyone interested in learning.
What tools do you use for clipping and grooming?
My preferred tool for grooming my rabbits is a blower (2hp dog drying blower). This parts the fiber down to the skin and blows out any dust and foreign particles. I generally avoid brushing the rabbits (except to remove tangles), since it pulls out the fibers and reduces the density of the wool. A well bred, properly housed and maintained angora requires little to no grooming if they are clipped for their fiber.
I use a pair of bandage scissors for clipping my rabbits. These can be purchased cheaply at any pharmacy and are excellent due to their dull point (to prevent accidental cuts in case the rabbit gets spooked) and the rounded guide edge that allows for getting close to the skin without cutting it. I also use this tool for trimming nails, since I usually combine nail trimming with clipping.
Do you use the fiber from your rabbits?
My mother is the dedicated fiber artist in my family. Through her, I have learned how to work with angora fiber, but my skill is (admittedly) limited. I prefer to spend more time with the animals than with the spinning wheel.
Should I spay/neuter my angora(s)?
If you have no plans to breed your angoras, I highly recommend both neutering bucks and spaying does. Intact bucks tend to develop nasty male habits, such as spraying urine. Female rabbits are highly susceptible to ovarian and uterine cancers, which can be prevented by spaying, thereby extending their lives significantly.
In my experience, neutered bucks make the best pets. Does tend to have hormonal fluctuations that can make them moody and less cuddly at times (spaying can alleviate some of this, but even spayed does are rarely as friendly as a buck). This is why I always advise first-time angora owners to consider getting a buck– they will accept all of the love you can give them!
What books/resources would you recommend for new angora owners?
I highly recommend for anyone considering angora ownership:
– Completely Angora (2nd Edition), by Sharon Kilfoyle and Leslie B. Samson (3rd Edition coming soon)
My other favorite rabbit resources, which are not dedicated only to angoras but include useful information are:
– Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits, by Bob Bennett
– Rabbit Housing, also by Bob Bennett
– The New Rabbit Handbook, from Barron’s. 1989 edition
For those with an interest in breeding, I also recommend the ARBA Standards of Perfection and ARBA Raising Better Rabbits and Cavies (noting that German and French/German angoras are not a recognized breed by ARBA)
There are many angora resources online, including the IAGARB website and angora-related communities on Facebook and other social media. These are all great ways to get informed.
Do you use your rabbits for meat?
My rabbits are quadruple-purpose livestock: Fiber, Meat, Pelt, and Manure.
The primary purpose for my angoras is wool production. However, rabbits are famous for their fast reproduction, and not all animals are breeding-quality. For this reason, I do occasionally raise and process rabbits for the kitchen table. If you plan to breed angoras, you must have a humane end strategy in mind for all animals that you produce, whether that is keeping them for the rest of their lives or humanely processing them for consumption. I honor the life of the rabbits by giving them the same love and care as any of my other animals, by giving them a quick and painless death, and by using all parts of the rabbit. For many including myself, knowing where the meat comes from is preferable to purchasing grocery-store meat from animals that were raised in questionable conditions.
I understand that this can be a sensitive topic for those who view rabbits solely as pets or wool animals, but the reality on a farm is that the best kind of livestock is one that can fulfill multiple roles. The following information is intended for those interested in breeding angoras as a multi-purpose animal. Please stop reading here if this subject upsets you.
My angoras are slow-growing in comparison to meat breeds, and angora does are often clumsy mothers. If you are looking to fill your freezer quickly, you will probably be better off using a dedicated meat-rabbit breed. However, given a few months to mature, angoras do fill out very well and have excellent, fleshy carcasses. This is especially true of the hybrids, since they carry more of the commercial French body type that is ideal for meat rabbits. I usually wait until the second or third coat has grown in before harvesting (approx. 6-8 months of age), to ensure that I have a nice fluffy pelt for tanning, in addition to plenty of meat on the rabbit. I use a Hopper Popper and Hopper Hanger to process my rabbits. Skinning an angora rabbit with a full coat can be a little more challenging than skinning a regular rabbit due to the extra bulk of the wool, but the basic technique is the same. Be sure to use a good sharp knife that can cut through both the skin and the wool.
I have tanned angora pelts using the egg-yolk method (brain tanning without using brains) with good success. I still have plenty of learning to do when it comes to tanning but hope to share my knowledge as it develops.