Rabbit type and associated care and harvesting –
I did this for a club newsletter, but thought it to be of use.
I will first deal with the English, which type I have bred towards. It would have been pointless for me to breed towards a German type (other than a few very good big specimens to retain and not lose the type), as I wished to have the colours, which would have disqualified them on the show bench. Your typical English weighs about 2.4 to 3.4kg, or 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 pounds – there is no ideal weight given. Most of mine are around the 3 – 3.5kg weight range. Germans weigh up to a wopping 5kg in comparison.
The English has been bred to moult every four months. This means that the hair reaches an optimum length of about 10cm in this period, and proceeds to loosen from the follicle. At the same time it is being replaced by secondary growth. This secondary growth will be about 1 – 2cm long when the loose coat is removed.
Only the long loose fibre is removed, and any wool that is still attached to the hair follicle is left behind. It may take two sessions to remove all the wool, as the back and shoulders tend to release before the hips and throat. The wool under the belly, and on the feet and legs is only clipped when necessary and discarded as it is too short to be used. Plucking produced the best quality, prime fibre, giving top garments and wool, with no fly-aways.
Plucking must always be done by trained personnel to prevent the rabbit being over plucked and the short fibres also being removed. The rabbit will release its hair once it is being plucked, but any short fibre mixed with the long will compromise the quality of the finished product. If the rabbit is not in moult, this will also injure it and damage its skin. Retaining the short new coat means that the rabbit suffers very little temperature shock when harvested
The only time I ever pluck a rabbit bald is when my husbandry practices are not up to standard, and I allow the wool to knot, by not removing the wool in time, or having the misfortune of a rainstorm during harvesting time, nothing felts wool as well as moisture on a moving rabbit. These felts and matts either have to be clipped off with all the associated regrowth problems or preferably eased off with very gentle stripping.
Should a rabbit in moult be clipped instead of plucked, you will remove the tips of the new coat, thereby having little short pieces of fibre that cannot be twisted into the wool at spinning. These fly off the finished garment, and stick to everything creating a mess and giving Angora a name for being an inferior, shedding wool. As stated, this plucking is repeated every three to four months.
The German Angora which has no moult break, will be clipped as soon as the wool reaches the required length – about 7cm in 3 months. This explains the higher yield of the clipping system, as 4 harvests are made each year, giving an extra harvest. Wool is produced much faster immediately post harvesting, slowing down on a monthly basis – your feeding of your rabbit should reflect this with about 140g per day of pellets being fed post harvesting dropping to about 100g per day prior to harvesting. This wool is usually commercially spun and used in the medical field. Should you try to pluck a pure bred German Angora, the wool would be pulled out by the roots, damaging the follicle and compromising future production. The skin can also be torn very badly, even though they have a “release mechanism” that clicks in as soon as they are being dragged by the hair by a potential predator. They will release their hair if you persevere, but they will not be relaxed about the experience!!
This clipping must also only be done by trained personnel. The skin of the rabbit is very folded and wrinkled, and these folds and wrinkles can be cut right off by someone who does not know what they are doing, leaving huge cuts in the rabbits. Whilst a small nick will hardly bleed, and heals incredibly quickly, the large cuts can lead to excessive blood loss and death. This is the exception rather than the rule, but is something to be very careful of when you clip.
What I do when I clip, is use a pair of craft scissors with a rounded end, so that you do not poke holes in the skin. The scissors is slid into the hair parallel with the skin, and then turned at 90 degrees to the skin for the cut to be made, thereby minimising the risk of cutting the skin as well as the wool. I will only use a new scissors, and discard the scissors when they get blunt, rather than trying to sharpen them. Battling with your scissors is the quickest way to hurt the rabbit, and I find that replacement is much cheaper than injury. The scissors are all still quite suitable for cutting paper, and I probably keep half the school kids in my area supplied with the discarded scissors!!
Finally, our crossbreds can go either way in their harvesting requirements. The breeder would have to observe the characteristics of the rabbits, and decide which harvesting method to use. If your rabbit creates huge matts and felts of hair every three to four months, then it is an English type and needs to be plucked, as the wool is moulting and matting – the more you clip, the more it felts. If it has a coat going past 15cm, with no sign of an end in sight, then clip, as the type will be nearer to German – do not try and pluck this rabbit, you will hurt it and make it very resistant to future handling.