ANGORA RABBITS: An Introduction

Angora rabbits are not only a source of enjoyment and quiet companionship; they are also the source of a wool that is incredibly soft and warm. Handspun into fine durable yarn, it is seven times warmer than sheeps' wool and so light that it provides warmth without weight. Angora wool is continuously renewed and gently harvested during the rabbit's natural molting process, thus, the Angora rabbit need never be harmed for its wool.
Before you buy any stock, and before you decide to make the personal and financial commitments required to successfully raise Angora rabbits, take the time to visit and talk with those breeders actively raising rabbits, and, if you can, those who no longer do. Learn as much as you can before you get involved.
In your search for a breeder, look for a reputable one - one who shows concern for the rabbit's health and contentment. Work only with a breeder who is willing to give you information and support.
Depending upon your interests (pet, show, or wooling stock) look for a breeder whose rabbits live in healthy, comfortable surroundings. Hold a rabbit to feel its muscle tone, which should be firm; its weight, which will vary with type and age of the rabbit; its general condition (it should exhibit a healthy, uniform coat, bright eyes, and clear breathing); and inspect it for ear mites and encrusted ears, a runny nose and sneezing, weepy eyes, crooked teeth, difficulty in moving, and listlessness. It will be easier for you to assess or judge the rabbit that you intend to purchase if you visit rabbitries or attend rabbit shows beforehand.

SUPPLIES

Should you make the decision to raise these enchanting and personable animals, you will need to invest in equipment, materials, and supplies before you bring your rabbit home. Housing must provide protection from the weather and animals and must be maintained in a sanitary manner to ensure your rabbit's good health. Wire cages are recommended because they are easy to keep clean and sanitary. Routine wire brushing to remove droppings, urine deposits, and wool buildup, combined with occasional washings with a disinfectant (dilute chlorine bleach solution), and firing the wire with a propane torch will keep the cage clean.
To provide easy access and protection from animals, cages should be hung at least three feet from the ground. Provide shelter against drafts and precipitation in wooden hutches or in a shed or barn. Good air circulation is also needed - ventilation is crucial because it removes odor, moisture, and heat.
Feeders are also needed. The two most popular types are (1) the snap-on metal "J-type" feeders with screen bottoms that sift fines from the feed and (2) the heavy-duty, chew-resistant crocks. These crocks may also be used for waterers, as can water bottles with ball-tip "straws." Any and all such equipment must be routinely cleaned and sanitized.

HEALTH

Healthy stock, properly housed and fed, are those most likely to remain in good health. Routine inoculations are not required nor is routine medication except in extenuating circumstances, as, for example, during shows, stress, and disease outbreaks.
Angora rabbits are particularly prone to wool block. Symptoms include a decrease in the size and amount of droppings, going "off-feed," and if left untreated, failure to thrive or death. Treatment includes enzymes like papain or bromelain, restricting pellet feed, and increasing exercise until the condition clears. Prevention is the best route - do not overfeed your rabbit and maintain its grooming schedule.
Stress is a generalized condition that can cause a number of health problems in rabbits. Treatment should begin with an attempt to identify and correct, as much as possible, the source of stress, which might include a change in temperature, in environmental conditions, or in routine. Rabbits thrive on routine and schedule. Be consistent and calm, and your rabbit will benefit. Avoid abrupt changes. A healthy and well-cared-for animal will tolerate gradual changes. (more comprehensive discussions of rabbit diseases can be found in a number of other sources, some of which are listed near the end of this pamphlet.)

NUTRITION

Closely associated with rabbit health is the subject of rabbit nutrition. A rabbit's digestive system is quite different from that of many other domestic animals. They are able to store portions of feed in their system where internal bacteria will ferment the ration into the nutrients needed for activity and growth. Indigestible roughage passes quickly through the system and does not provide nutrients. It is important not to overfeed a rabbit; fat rabbits are not healthy and tend to have difficulty breeding.
Young rabbits should not have lettuce, cabbage, and greens as they cause diarrhea. While practices vary, it is known that Angora rabbits can thrive on 4 ounces (by weight) of a commercial rabbit feed containing 18% to 20% protein, usually alfalfa-based. If treats are given, it is best to give them on a regular basis and not more than twice a week. Limit choices to low-­moisture foods (apple twigs, carrots, .bread cubes, oats, unsweetened cereal, seeds, and nuts) and do not give them too much. Feeding large amounts of treats cuts down on the amount of pelleted feed the rabbit should be consuming to provide energy for growth and protein for wool.
To keep their digestive system in good working condition, it is recommended that a handful of clean, dust- and weed-free hay be given daily to each rabbit. This hay is meant for roughage and need not be of high nutritional quality.
Water is an extremely important component of rabbit nutrition. Fresh water should be given daily and replenished as needed. Rabbits will not eat if they do not have enough water to drink.

GROOMING AND HARVESTING

Remember that rabbits are nocturnal animals, thus their activity is stretched out over a 24-hour period. For that reason, it will probably be wise to "tend to" your rabbits trore than once a day. Regularity in schedule and procedure will not only keep your Angora healthy, your close attention to the animal will let you know when it is out of sorts, generally exhibited by a change in behavior.
Once your Angora rabbit is eight weeks old, its coat will have begun its regular Molting process. There is usually an 8-10 week interval between harvests. Between these harvests some grooming should be done. You will need a wide-toothed metal dog comb, a small pair of scissors, guillotine-like dog nail clippers, and a puppy slicker brush. With these tools you can comb or slice out mats that might have developed in the coat, keep the growing coat free of tangles, clip long toenails (hold nail between your thumb and finger, don't clip too close to the quick), and brush dirt from the coat, and your clothes. Many Angora rabbit raisers prefer to hold the rabbit when grooming and harvesting; others prefer to use a grooming stand. To check for developing mats, each week run your hand over your rabbit's coat. Take steps to remove these mats quickly before they continue to grow.
Do, however, avoid excessive handling and combing since it may cause uneven coat growth.
The prime form of Angora wool is the mature, ripe fibers that are naturally released or shed by the rabbit and plucked by the groomer. It is wise to separate any soiled or matted wool from the high-quality wool which is ready to be spun as it is harvested from the rabbit.
When storing wool, try to keep as much loft or air between the fibers as possible. Try not to compress the wool and avoid extremes in temperature and excessive humidity. Pressure, heat, and moisture will produce felt or matted wool. Keep wool in smooth-surfaced containers like covered waste cans (metal or rigid plastic waste cans) or smooth, nonpasteboard-type cardboard boxes. Avoid plastic bags and if the wool must be stored for long periods of time, consider adding cedar or camphor moth repellent.

BREEDING

The first rule in breeding rabbits is "don't, unless you are prepared to live with the consequences." That may mean finding good homes for young bunnies, housing them yourself, or culling if necessary.
The gestation period averages 31 days. Before breeding, the doe should be groomed and cleaned, especially around her tail. She is then taken to the buck's cage. Does are usually too territorial to allow bucks in their cages without fighting. Once it has begun, mating occurs very quickly.
About three days before the expected kindling date, a nest box should be placed in the doe ‘ s cage. These may be made of metal or wood and must be clean and sanitary, with no residual odors that the doe might find offensive. Several inches of clean bedding, made of straw or wood shavings, for example, should be put in the nest box. The doe will use these shavings, along with wool she will pull from herself, to make a nest for her young, know as kits. The average litter size is five to seven.
It is best to leave the nest box alone for the first day when the mother will be under stress. Later, check to see that the bunnies are not tangled in any pieces of bedding or wool and remove any that may have died. The mother will normally nurse her young once or twice a day, and as long as the bunnies are together in the nest, the indications are pretty good that all is well with the litter. The bunnies will use the nest box for at least four weeks, or until the time that they have their own wool coats and are able to get in and out of the nest box on their own. It is wise to clean out the nest box and put in new bedding about two weeks after kindling. Once the bunnies are able to get around the cage, remove the nest box permanently to prevent the mother and her young from excessively soiling the nest box.
Most mothers will wean their young by the time they are eight weeks of age at which time many breeders put the young in separate cages. But others prefer to leave the babies with the mother until they are twelve weeks old, feeling that this added time under maternal influence helps the young overcome the eventual stress in going on their own.
Angoras are sexually mature by six months of age. It is usually best not to breed them until after that age, allowing them maximum physiological development.

 

Written by Bonnie Fortini for Maine Angora Producers
Copyright 1990