I know that there has been a great deal of disucssion recently concerning companions for your pets. At the end of the day, unless you are going to be the companion. why on earth did you get it? Pets require a certain amount of interaction with their owner, not the sop of another animal put in with them, that they might not get on with, and who, in the territorial manner of rabbits, may have a dominance fight at any time. I have been keeping rabbits since the 1980\’s, and long ago gave up on any idea of sweet bunny attitudes. These are animals that need their own territory, and will aggresively protect it from others of their own species, so with no further ado, on to the housing.
Where housing of the rabbits are concerned, I will only house individually. Babies are weaned at about 6 to 8 weeks old into a community pen. At three months old they have their first clip – yes I do clip this early wool, as I am going to throw it away. It is too soft to make a quality yarn. The weight of this wool is taken and used to assess the babies. They are then also separated into individual cages, or if I am, as usual, short of cage space, I will put two of the same sex into each cage. At six months, they are clipped again, and at this stage they must all go into their own individual cage.
From this age onwards the wool is usable, and I find that the rabbits during their normal territorial squabbles will either chew off each others wool, or matt it during dominance arguments, especially the males. This is also the stage at which I decide who I will breed with, and who will go into the wooler section of the rabbitry. I still feel that each rabbit needs its own territorial space or “hole”, which the individual caging gives them. The males may go walk-about if given the chance, but females are real home bodies, and seem to enjoy their own territory.
The only time I ever find a female out of her cage is when she is wishing to breed – however this presence of a willing female on the floor can lead to a mass exodus of males all chasing her. By the time you have caught them all, cleaned up the bites, unmatted the tangles and removed the knots, you know why you house them individually in all wire cages!!
Size wise a 50 x 50cm to a 50 x 60cm is used, and the heights on my cages are 38 to50cm high. I have found no difference in longevity or health in my rabbits in the various size cages. The floor must be of a size that the foot of the rabbit is supported, whilst the droppings can fall through, and the sides of a size that the head of a kit cannot go through if one accidentally ends up on the wire if it clings to tightly to a teat at feeding time. Using the same wire size, weaner cages are usually about 100cm x 50cm, giving space for about 8 weanlings to go in at a time.
Deal with ammonia build up by sprinkling agricultural lime under your cages, it will neutralise the urine.
Feeding of Angora
Feeding of the Angora is another area that has changed. Whilst water is always on tap, and good quality hay must always be available, it has been found that the supply of wool is very closely bound to the quality of the feed. In fact, aside from genetic traits, feeding has the single highest effect on production A feed too low in protein will lead to poorer wool production. The production of wool, like the production of meat is based on protein availability.
This is in fact a reason that we battle with conception and kit production on our highest producers. You always have to sacrifice the one for the other – either plenty of kits or plenty or wool – both depending on the protein available to the doe. Some of my highest production and biggest litters ever recorded came when I had access to Lucerne blocks which I fed ad lib along with my normal feed, the extra protein giving me up to 40g more of wool per harvest. Almost an extra harvest when you consider that I expect a minimum of 120g per rabbit per plucking .
Fibre is needed not only for the healthy movement of the gut, but also to remove the excess hair eaten by the rabbit during its daily grooming. This is also where the importance of individual caging manifests again, there is much less wool chewed and swallowed in rabbits caged individually. I never run adult Angora in communities.
We must remember that we are keeping a “manufactured” breed that does not occur naturally. For this reason, it is more prone to problems associated with the removal of excess wool. The wool will block the gut unless helped along by plenty of fibre. Whilst the long hair gene is a natural mutation, it like hairlessness is not viable in wild conditions. This mutation has been further manipulated and enhanced to give the long haired rabbit that we keep for its wool. Even the arctic hare which grows a long coat during winter goes short haired in summer. Good fibre is found in quality hay, as well as in fresh cut grasses such as kikuyu
I very seldom give any fruit other than banana, which I have also found to help against wool blocks. However, you must watch your sweet fruit and added carbohydrate as these lead to fatty deposits, especially around the ovaries of the females, leading to loss of offspring, from poor conception and difficult birthings.
A quick note on breeding here, I will always clip my angora does on the day I breed them. This gives a month’s growth before they give birth, and does away with the problem of the young getting tangled in the plucked coat of the mother. Before I started this, I often had kits either strangled or losing limbs to tourniquets of the mothers wool. After all, wool is strong enough to make yarn, which is created by twisting, so making a tourniquet in the nest box is quite easy.