There was a time when we insisted that every animal on our homestead had a job. While we could just get a bunny, it’s somehow easier to justify a cute bundle of fluff if they also pay their own rent. Angora rabbits combine all the cuddly softness of a traditional housepet along with the utility of a fiber animal.
Even if you’re not a hand spinner, Angora rabbit wool is always in high demand and costs as much as $10-$12 per ounce. There are few other housepets that can pay their own rent, and it’s hard to top the cuteness of a fluffy angora rabbit. That said, angora rabbits require a lot more care than a standard short haired rabbit breed. Be sure you’re up for the job before you bring home your first angora bunny.
Choosing an Angora Rabbit Breed
While you may have thought that “angora” was a breed of rabbit in its own right, there are finer distinctions that make a big difference both in care and fiber quality. Some breeds naturally shed, while others require shearing. Regardless of the breed, grooming is a daily requirement, but the wool of some angora breeds is naturally resistant to matting.
English Angora Rabbit
Though they’re the smallest of the angora rabbit breeds, they’re also extremely productive. Though they’re only 5 or 6 pounds, they still manage to produce an impressive amount of wool for their size. They yield roughly 12-16 ounces of wool per year or roughly 3/4 to 1 full pound of angora fiber.
English angoras produce silky fiber on just about every inch of their body, including their face, ears, and feet. That gives them an especially cute “ball of fluff” appearance, but it’s also extremely difficult to maintain.
Their wool naturally sheds every few months and is harvested by “plucking” or brushing. If you don’t stay on top of their grooming as it sheds, the shed hair will just tangle in with the new coat. That means harvesting angora wool is not optional, regardless of whether or not you have a use for it.
English angoras have a very low proportion of “guard hairs” mixed in their wool, which means it has a very fine texture and the finished yarn is softer. While the extra fine texture of their wool is sought after by spinners, but it’s also very prone to matting. Add in the fact that they have long wool on their feet and face, the two most mat prone areas, and they’ll need extra grooming attention.
If you’re only going to have a few rabbits, and you have a lot of time to devote to grooming, English angora produce the most fluff for their size. Keep in mind you’ll need to pay for that extra productivity in additional bunny grooming time.
French Angora Rabbit
The French Angora breed requires much less maintenance than the English Angora because they have very short hair on their face and feet. That means that even though French angoras are slightly bigger than English, they still produce about the same amount of wool per rabbit (12-16 ounces per year).
Like the English Angora, this breed also sheds their coat naturally and the wool is harvested by plucking or brushing rather than clipping. Their coat also contains more guard hairs, which help prevent their wool from matting. The guard hairs have the most intense pigment, meaning that French angora wool makes a more striking natural colored wool.
Beneath the long outer coat, French angoras have a separate short wooly undercoat. These short fibers mean that finished yarn from French angora rabbits will have a “halo effect” as the short fiber ends fluff out of the wool. This makes it great for extra soft and silky scarves.
French Angora wool has a very smooth silky texture, which helps prevent matting on the rabbit. Unfortunately, that also makes it much more difficult to spin than English angora wool. It’s a difficult trade-off because they’re a great beginner angora breed, but they don’t have the best fiber for beginning hand spinners.
Satin Angora Rabbit
The wool from Satin Angora Rabbits is the most desirable type. It has the most natural luster, and at the same time, it’s incredibly easy to spin. Even though they produce the highest quality angora fiber, satin angora rabbits are very rare.
Each rabbit produces only about 8 ounces of fiber per year or about half as much as the French or English breeds. Since they’re not particularly productive, they’re generally not economical to raise or breed on a large scale. They’re a great choice for a hand spinner who wants access to the very best quality angora rabbit wool.
German Angora Rabbit
Rabbit show associations do not recognize the German Angora rabbit breed, but breeders have created their own association to showcase this unique bloodline. These rabbits are quite large, weighing in at 10 to 11 pounds each, or roughly twice as large as an English Angora. They also produce twice as much wool per year as either the French or English breeds.
German Angoras do not naturally shed their wool, and you cannot harvest their wool by plucking or brushing. They must be clipped every 90 days year-round to keep them in good health.
Like English Angoras, the German breed has hair on its face and ears, though not quite as much as the extra fluffy English breed. Even though they’re extremely prolific producers of wool, their fur does not tend to mat nearly as much as other breeds. This makes them popular with commercial angora operations.
Keep in mind that this large rabbit requires extra space and that shaving a rabbit can be tricky business. Plucking or brushing out the fiber is much easier for a beginner. Only choose this breed if you’re trying to produce large amounts of wool.
Giant Angora Rabbit
A hybrid between the large German Angora breed and extra large domestic rabbit breeds such as the Flemish Giant, this rabbit is much larger than any of the other types, growing to more than 12 pounds. They’re even larger and more productive than the German breed.
The Giant Angora is an officially recognized breed, which boggles my mind because it’s a cross between non-angoras and the unrecognized German breed. Add that to the long list of thing’s I’ll never understand about show animals…
This breed has many of the same characteristics as the German Angora rabbit. Like the German breed, the Giant Angora breed does not shed their coat naturally and will need regular clipping or shearing.
Be sure you have a large enough setup for this extra large rabbit.
Angora Rabbit Price
How much does an angora rabbit cost? The price of an angora rabbit will depend on your area and the overall availability. In my area in the Northeastern United States, the average price for an angora rabbit is $50. That said, they’re often given away free on craigslist because people underestimate how much care they require.
Keep an eye on listings. We were able to pick up 5 rabbits from one individual who wanted to start an angora breeding program but couldn’t keep up with their grooming requirements.
Angora Rabbit Care
If you ignore the grooming and fiber harvesting, caring for angora rabbits is just like caring for any rabbit. They require love and attention, shelter from the elements, a clean habitat, and plenty of food and water. Here are a few key differences to keep in mind:
- Angora rabbits are more sensitive to both heat and cold. While domestic rabbits can thrive in a hutch in an unheated shed over the winter in cold climates, angora rabbits can die in those conditions even with a thick coat. If you have a cold winter, they need an indoor climate controlled housing.
- Shearing every 3 months means bare skin that can sunburn. Be careful to keep them out of the sun. Even if they have a shady place to go, they’ll often choose to bask in the sun with bare skin. This sunbathing can have disastrous consequences for angora bunnies. If their skin is bare, do not allow them access to direct sun.
- Angoras need plenty of hay in their diet to keep their bowels moving. Self-grooming can cause an angora to become fiber bound if they don’t have enough coarse roughage to keep things moving. Pellets alone are not enough.
- While some rabbit breeds are well suited to pasture or colony raising, angoras do best individually on wire cages. Their fur tends to mat in direct contact with their bedding, and if males are constantly with the females, they’ll mat their fir trying to bite on to their backs for mating. That said, they do love supervised outdoor time in a fenced yard…
Breeding Angora Rabbits
Like any breed of rabbit, a female should be bred before their first birthday. If not, their hip bones can fuse in a position that’s too narrow to allow the baby rabbits to pass through. Aim for somewhere around 9 months old for a first breeding.
Choose a male with high-quality fiber and a gentle disposition. These are both characteristics that can be passed to the young rabbit kits. Some females are more receptive than others, and some males don’t quite know which end of the rabbit to mount. It can take a bit of practice, and in my experience angoras are much harder to successfully breed than most rabbit breeds. Be patient. Regardless, here are a few important things to keep in mind:
- Always put the female into the male’s space. A female will be territorial if the male is placed into “her” habitat, and she may attack him.
- Check the rabbit’s vulva to see if she’s in estrus. It will be swollen and red. Some rabbits are receptive almost continuously, but many of ours were only receptive a few days a month. It’ll depend on your rabbit, so keep an eye on her.
- If the male can’t figure out how to get the job done, you can guide him to the right side of the rabbit, but once he’s there it’s up to him. If the female is willing but she repeatedly doesn’t become pregnant, look into borrowing another male. Of the 4 males we’ve had, only one had any idea what he was supposed to do. We never had that problem with other rabbit breeds, but that could be just bad luck…
Caring for Angora Rabbit Kits
Ideally, the mother rabbit will handle all the baby rabbit care. Angora rabbits need a nesting box, just like any other domestic rabbit, and they only climb in to nurse their babies once per day. Don’t worry about the extra fur interfering with nursing. Maternal hormones loosen the hair and allow the mother rabbit to pluck it out over her nipples. She’ll use it to make a nest, and give her babies access to her milk in the process.
In some cases, a mother rabbit will have a poor maternal instinct or may die in childbirth. In those cases, you need to be prepared to setup up and care for the baby rabbits. We had an angora doe die while giving birth, and while we were sad to lose her, we were determined not to lose her kits.
It is extremely difficult to raise baby rabbits of any breed, especially starting from 1 day old. They have the best chance if you can foster them with another mother rabbit that’s also just given birth. For that reason, it’s best to try to breed a few rabbits to kindle (give birth) at the same time, just in case.
Lacking a foster mother, you can attempt to raise baby rabbits on kitten formula using a 3cc syringe. Hold them sitting upright, and gently feed small amounts at a time, keeping the syringe pointed downward so that the formula doesn’t enter their sinus. The first 2-3 weeks are the hardest, and once their eyes open at 10-14 days, they can very slowly begin eating rabbit pellets on their own.
Harvesting Angora Wool
How to harvest angora rabbit wool depends to some extent on the breed you’ve chosen. You should know whether or not your breed needs to to be “plucked” or sheared. If it’s a naturally shedding breed, care is much easier in my opinion. Rabbits are nervous creatures by nature, even when they’re well loved. While they can be trained to clippers, the first few attempts are going to be traumatic for both you and the rabbit.
Even if you don’t intend to use the fiber, it’s still essential that you harvest every 3 months. Angoras can become matted if left unharvested, and their skin will develop rashy and infected patches. Beyond that, if you don’t do it, the angora will try to do it themselves because they’re so itchy and uncomfortable. As they groom themselves, they’ll ingest the hair and they can become fiber bound. That means the angora wool blocks their digestive system, which can be fatal.
If you keep an angora rabbit, you are committing to harvesting the wool one way or another.
Plucking Angora Fiber
I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about “plucking” angora fiber. Isn’t that basically pulling out their hair? Nope. They’re bred for this. It naturally loosens and sheds, and if you really have to pull it’s not time to harvest. When you’re plucking fiber, the vast majority of it has already been shed, it’s only held in place by the fur around it. Once you get started, the fiber comes easily and the rabbit is calm and relaxed.
As you pluck angora fiber, the rabbit will actually snuggle in and show visible signs of enjoyment, assuming you’re doing it right. When you start to pluck, the rabbit releases hormones that cause the skin to release the fiber and the work becomes easier as you go.
While it may seem better to harvest a small section per day, that’s actually harder on the rabbit. Once you start to harvest, settle in for the long haul. If you harvest over several days, the remaining unharvested fiber will mat more easily and make your job harder the following day.
Our breeder told us that if the rabbit is sick or out of sorts, it’s best to “pluck them clean” because the plucking process releases healthful endorphins and stimulates their immune system. We found that to be true, and saw them perk right up after a fiber harvest.
Still think it sounds mean? Try watching a few videos of the process. The rabbit is calm, and the fiber comes right out into the caring hands of the rabbit tender. There’s even one woman who spins angora fiber directly off the rabbit, with her calm bunny sitting in her lap.
Shearing Angora Rabbits
If you have a breed that does not shed naturally, then you’ll have to use shears or clippers to remove their fiber. The blunt sheared ends are less valuable to hand spinners, and the process isn’t easy. Unlike plucking, where the rabbit is calmed by natural hormones, shearing takes patience and training.
Once you’re experienced at shearing a rabbit, it is by far the fastest way to harvest angora fiber. It takes me on average 1.5 to 2 hours to completely pluck out a rabbit, but only about 20 minutes to shear one.
For shearing, you’ll need a blunt tipped pair of scissors for the safety of the rabbit. A set of low noise clippers is also very helpful. Regardless of what you use, be very careful not to cut the rabbits skin. Around the hindquarters, make sure you know where the rabbits tail is at all times when working with scissors. Also, take extra care around the genitals.
How to Use Angora Wool
When you raise angoras, there will be fiber whether you want it or not. Even if you just want a cute little fluffball, harvesting the fiber is essential for the rabbit’s health. Given that, you might as well put the fiber to good use. The simplest way is to use it in household crafts, or as a lining for homemade doll beds. I’ve seen some people put it out for birds to use for their spring nests as well.
All of these seem like a waste to me. Raising angoras is a lot of work, and while making use of their fiber takes yet more effort, it gives you a finished felted or spun angora garment to wear. The feeling of putting on something handmade from your own pet rabbit is priceless.
Still, if you’d just rather sell the fiber, it’s a great way to cover the costs of raising the rabbits. A single ounce of fiber sells for $10 to $12 if you know how to market your home harvested angora wool.
Felting Angora Rabbit Fiber
By far, the easiest way to use angora rabbit wool is felting. Spinning is tricky and takes a lot of practice. Angora fiber naturally wants to tangle, and felting just helps it along while making something beautiful in the process. To get started felting, you’ll need a basic wool felting kit. This helps you shape the wool into useful patterns, and will allow you to make your first pair of mittens.
Spinning Angora Wool into Yarn
I’ve tried spinning angora wool, and it’s not easy. I’m coordinated, I work with my hands for a living, and still, I couldn’t make anything but lumpy crooked yarn. If you’re just getting started with hand spinning, start with another type of wool to learn the basics. Once you have the technique down with a few weeks of practice, then move on to spinning angora wool.
Before you spin your own angora, much of it will need to be carded. This aligns the fibers, removes any mats and prepares them for spinning. It honestly makes the process a lot easier. Since angora fiber is so fine, it requires special wool carders rather than the coarser type that is used for sheep wool. A set that’s designed for carding cotton is most appropriate for carding angora wool. This is the set I use.
What do you think? Are you ready to try your hand at raising angora rabbits? If you need more convincing, check out this article for a few more reasons to raise angora rabbits.
If you have any questions or know of something I missed let me know! Leave questions, comments or feedback in the comments below.
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