Angoras need a hutch 5ft x 2ft by 2ft high. Because of the Angora’s fine coat a hutch with separate sleeping compartment is not recommended as the restriction of the entrance to the compartment ‘shaves’ the sides of the coat off. They are quite hardy and may be housed outside, however, if this is to be the case it will be necessary to cover part of the front of the hutch to provide shelter for the rabbit during inclement weather. I also feel it is better, during the winter months especially, to have something that drops down to cover the entire front of the hutch in extreme weather conditions ie heavy rain, snow etc. as Angora wool and water do not mix! If hutches are in the garden then make sure they are fox proof, as many foxes will roam gardens even in towns at night.
Breeding stock may be kept on a bed of sawdust covered with barley straw – wheat straw has burrs in it that can get tangled in the coat. Show stock is usually kept on wire 1.3cm (½) x 1.3cm galvanised welded wire mesh, raised 50-75cm off the floor of the hutch. This allows sawdust to be spread on the floor of the hutch to soak up urine and to allow droppings to fall through out of reach of the precious feet furnishings and show coat.
Rabbit pellets may be fed and if, like me, you do not like to use a medicated feed – BOCM Silcock 350 Coney Brand Rabbit Pellets do not contain a coccidiostat. A 50/50 mixture of pellets and crushed oats is another acceptable diet as are many of the ready mixed diets, although beware of mixes that contain too much flaked maize – rabbits love it but it is very fattening! If feeding greenstuff, and I would only recommend feeding at most 50% greenstuff, only do so if you can feed it constantly, as it can upset digestion. There are a lot of very good muesli feeds now on the market, however avoid ones with molasses as it will affect the coat of an angora. Barley straw can be fed instead of hay as it is less dusty, cheaper and less likely to cause scouring. Fresh water must be available at all times.
The Angora rabbit matures at about 7 – 8 months. The doe may be held for mating – grasp the ears firmly, hand underneath the body to raise the tail. The first mating stimulates oestrous, the second mating should ensure fertilization. I say ‘should’ as the Angora is a fickle creature that rarely does as it should! If the animal has been exhibited it may take several months to breed successfully. The does kindle 28-36 days after mating but the first litter may not survive, especially if the doe has been exhibited. The doe usually pulls out large amounts of wool to build a nest, sometimes too much so that the young babies strangle themselves or get their limbs entangled to the extent that the limbs wither and die.
It is therefore important to keep an eye on the babies and to remove any excess wool if necessary. I strongly advise litter reduction as trying to raise too large a litter results in undernourished, undersized offspring that will never reach their full potential. Depending on the doe up to four babies might successfully be reared from one litter but more often only two or three can be successfully reared. Excess babies can be fostered to another doe, if possible mate two rabbits at a similar time, not necessarily an angora.
At 2-3 days old you can tell by the size of the babies themselves and by the size of their stomachs (they should be tight like little drums!) how much milk the doe has. Even if the doe appears to have a plentiful supply of milk it is better to rear 3 lovely babies than 6 mediocre ones. Type is important and this shows at 2 days old. An Angora should be ‘cobby’ and sit like a small ball in the palm of your hand – they should not be long and rangy. These will not be good exhibition rabbits, and should go as a wool or pet rabbit.
Do not be tempted favour the biggest ones every time as these often turn out to be bucks. It is possible to sex the babies at birth – an art that I have not mastered, unfortunately! I do not wean until at least 8 weeks of age as I feel it is important the young remain with mum as long as possible particularly if you are intending to show. The ring size for an Angora is E and it is best to ring young stock before 8 weeks, because if you have a rabbit with well furnished feet it can be difficult to get the ring on!
There are 15 recognised colours of Angoras and to maintain the pedigrees only certain colours can safely be crossed. These include Cream x Cream, Cream x Blue Cream, Blue Cream x Blue Cream, Golden x Golden, Golden x Sooty-Fawn, Sooty-Fawn x Sooty-Fawn, Blue x Blue, Blue x Smoke, Smoke x Smoke, White x White, White x Chinchilla, Chinchilla x Chinchilla, Chocolate x Chocolate, Chocolate x Lilac, Lilac x Lilac,Sable x Sable, Marten Sable x Marten Sable.
This is a much simplified summary of the colour mixing, dealing only with the most popular colours and it is meant only as a guide for when first buying stock. The late Mrs. Pratley, (the former President of the NAC) published a set of four leaflets that contain a more detailed account of the intricacies of colour mixing as well as information on all aspects of Angoras. (Note: These are included later on in this website)
An Angora will need clipping at least 4 times a year throughout its life. If you are not going to show a rabbit then remove its first coat when it reaches 10 weeks of age. To clip, use a sharp pointed pair of scissors (hairdressing scissors are ideal). Sit the rabbit on a small raised surface at a height that is comfortable to you, groom if necessary, then part the coat down back to front down one side then the other, then round the skirt of the tail.
To clip underneath when necessary, (a breeding doe uses this wool to nest with) grasp the ears with one hand, support the bottom with the other, then tip the rabbit onto its back and lay it on your lap, with your knees slightly raised so the rabbit’s head does not point downwards, then grasp the ears firmly between your knees. The rabbit may flip up, just repeat the procedure gently and eventually it will stay there quite happily. Now clip carefully! If the rabbit is a doe it is a good idea to clip around the tail area.
The second coat grows to a length suitable for spinning in 10-12 weeks, a minimum of 2.5 inches long when clipped is necessary, excluding guard hairs. For hand spinning the longer the staple the better, but for commercial purposes 2.5-3 inch staple, excluding the guard hairs, is adequate. Guard hairs are the long coarse fibres that stand proud of the main body of the coat and it is these that provide the fluffy characteristic of Angora yarn. Prior to clipping for wool, (and after grooming if necessary), I like to give the coat a final LIGHT brushing to straighten the fibres and remove any remaining tangles.
Excess brushing will break off the guard hairs. Clip in the same manner as described above, removing each line of wool as it is clipped and place it flat between sheets of tissue or newspaper, or into bags. Tie the bags full of air to prevent the wool from being compressed. If the coat is left on the animal too long it will eventually matt into a solid welt against the skin, sometimes causing the skin to become sore, especially if the welt is allowed to get wet, with urine, for example.
Clipping in this condition is very difficult and the risk of cutting the skin is greater. If you do cut the skin – leave well alone! The rabbit has its own antiseptic in its saliva and if left, the wound will dry quickly. Application of any form of antiseptic from you will prevent the wound from drying and cause it to fester. To get a good wool harvest every time, grooming may be necessary 2-3 times a week, but under these conditions a rabbit can produce 12-16 ounces of wool annually.
By Lesley Taylor, Rivendell Angoras, the President of the National Angora Club, UK.