Clarifying a few misconceptions about Angora Rabbits and the wool they produce, I recently showed at the 2016 Royal Agricultural Show, and put this together based on the questions we were asked.
- Rabbits are indigenous to Europe, and England : This is FALSE. The rabbit was indigenous to Italy, and was introduced into the rest of Europe and England as a meat animal when people started settling and farming. The rabbit burrowed and escaped into the wild and was naturalised. This is a clear warning that it is not a good idea to keep these animals free ranging, as the impact on the ecosystem by feral rabbits is damaging. Australia and New Zealand, where they were released into the wild as a food source, are a vivid reminder of the damage these animals can do.
- The Angora rabbit comes from the same country as Angora goats, cats and sheep. This is FALSE. The Angora rabbit is a mutation, that occurs naturally in all rabbits, but is not viable in the wild. It was first seen in England in the 1700’s, and has been kept and bred as a farm animal since then. At the time, the term Angora was used to confuse people and make them believe that the rabbits were something exotic.
- The Angora rabbit produces wool like a sheep. This is a TRICK question J. Yes, you do get crimpy wool like a sheep, but this is all a modified hair. Unlike a sheep, which does not moult its coat, and the wool just keeps growing (Remember Shrek, the New Zealand sheep who produced about 27kg of wool when he was caught after 6 years and shorn?), the true Angora has a natural moult like all other hairy and feathery animals, and this is the fibre that is collected and made into yarn.
- Angora rabbits are killed for their wool. FALSE, the Angora has a natural moult every 3 to 4 months, and this wool is brushed, combed or stripped off the rabbit, and used or discarded by the owner. – Much like you do for your long hair dogs and cats. – In fact, if you are a fibreholic, this dog and cat hair can also be spun into yarn. Only problem is losing the smell. Anything you make from it smells like a dog, especially when wet.
- Angora rabbits will die if the wool is not removed. TRUE, if the wool is left on the rabbit, it will be ingested into the gut in the rabbits normal, daily, personal ablutions. A rabbit cannot regurgitate like a cat (those ghastly hairballs), but has to pass the wool through the gut. If there is an excess of wool, it will ball up and block the gut, killing the rabbit. The excess wool must be removed. This is so common in neglected rabbits that have not had the wool removed, that it has a name, Woolblock, and is listed as an Angora disease. Secondly the wool starts to mat on the rabbit, and creates a very nasty, and dirty “armour” of wool. If this is left, sores or injuries under the wool become septic and maggot riddled, eventually killing the rabbits.
- Keeping Angora rabbits is a business . FALSE, the cost of keeping angora rabbits and spinning the wool is so high, that it is impossible to do this commercially. Each rabbit must be individually housed and cared for, and all wool collected and spinning is by hand. It takes about 90 hours to produce a kilogram of wool. In the Western world, the angora is purely kept as a pet or show rabbit, with the wool used by some fibreholic owners to spin their own yarn for garments.
- Angora rabbits must be housed individually. TRUE. These are special needs rabbits, and not for someone who does not have the time to care for them properly. They need their own individual cage, as they may eat each others wool if they have dominance squabbles. This will of course kill the wool eater. Your rabbit is very territorial and will fight if forced to share a cage. Always remember, this is true Nature, not the pretty cartoon fantasy. There is no courtesy or sharing in the animal kingdom. The weaker animal, irrespective of sex, will be bullied by the stronger.
- Angora are special needs rabbits. TRUE. The care of the Angora is not just in caring for the physical wool. They are not as hardy as normal coat rabbits, and more prone to disease. They need to be treated for parasites frequently, and need a special high fibre diet compared to other breeds – mine get fresh cut kikuyu daily to keep the gut mobile. This is to prevent Woolblock from occurring. The cage must be kept scrupulously clean, as any wool build-up can harbour parasites. The wool must be constantly checked for matting, and this must be removed immediately. As soon as the wool breaks and starts moulting it must be removed immediately, you cannot just leave it till you have time. This can kill the rabbit.