FIBERuary Day 12 Angora Rabbits Part Two
Angora fiber can be harvested by clipping, shearing or plucking. It needs to be done about every 3 months. You’ll know it is time when you see lots of loose fiber in the cage, or your rabbit develops a long dirty kind of “tail” of fiber dragging along from behind. The common wisdom is that Giant and German angoras cannot be plucked. I am sure that is true but shhhh I have plucked mine. I prefer to spin from plucked fiber rather than clipped, so that is what I do. If you choose the correct time, the hair should pull out pretty easily. I use a dog comb and my thumb. You can do it with just your fingers also. It takes practice and patience on the part of both you and the rabbit. You may understand this and the rabbit may not, so sometimes you need to get a helper to hold the rabbit, or you may need to work in stages, doing a bit at a time over several days. Don’t worry, you will get faster!
As I said earlier, Angora rabbits, having been highly bred for their fiber, are susceptible to a variety of problems. Wool block and pasteurella are the most dangerous, wool mites are common but easy to treat and more of an annoyance.
Because of their long coat and their need to groom, angoras will ingest a lot of hair. Unfortunately, they cannot cough up hair balls like cats do, so the hair may remain in their system and can cause blockages. This wool block must be taken seriously as it can kill a rabbit quickly. The first step is prevention. The correct feed and PLENTY of regular roughage – grass hay is best – is crucial. And about once a week, along with feeding just oats, I give each rabbit 6 papaya enzyme pills. These help break down hair in the gut. I know of breeders who also regularly add a couple of tablespoons of pineapple juice to their rabbits’ water for the same reason. And keep up with harvesting so your rabbit does not have a lot of loose hair to ingest. My final and probably most important prevention method is to regularly treat the rabbits with Vaseline. I get about 10 cc into an old syringe, and squeeze it into their mouths. They don’t love it. Some rabbits will tolerate and even love the malt (not fish!) flavored petromalt from the pet store. And some people use oil instead. I dose my rabbits with this every time I do any brushing or harvest their coat, or at least once a month. Even with preventative measures, wool block can appear and you must monitor your rabbits closely for the first sign. Keep an eye on poops. Normal rabbit poops (the ones you will see, they have another kind that I will not go into here) are nice light brown, dry, up to about ½ inch in diameter. They should fall through the cage wire. At times you will see nice round poops that are held together by thin strands of fiber. That is ok. What you need to watch for are long strings of little dark poops. They look for all the world like a string of pearls – well black pearls. And the other thing to watch for is a rabbit going off feed. This is NOT a good sign. Your rabbit should always be eager and ready for food. If not, there could be a problem. Stop all pellets immediately and feed only hay with plenty of fresh water. Give the rabbit papaya and add pineapple juice to the water, and immediately dose with the vasoline. I sometimes need to do this twice a day for several days before the wool block clears up.
Pasteurella is a bacterial disease that is endemic in most wild rabbit populations and many pet rabbits. Because I keep my rabbits outside, and often allow them to run about in the grass where wild rabbits also frolic, I assume my rabbits have been exposed and probably carry the bacteria. The only way to prevent this is to start with absolutely clean rabbits kept in a very clean indoor setting with no exposure to other rabbits. A rabbit can carry the bacteria all its life and never show signs of disease, or it can suddenly develop the classic symptoms of a runny nose and sneezing known as “snuffles.” Generally this occurs after some kind of stress. For example, big changes in temperature such as bringing a rabbit inside then back out, or changing the living situation, or diet may bring on sniffles. This may not kill your rabbit, but it is debilitating and highly contagious. I understand that the symptoms can be controlled with antibiotics, but because my goal is to develop rabbits with a strong immune system, I resort to culling.
If you notice lots of dandruff in your rabbit’s coat, and the rabbit seems to be doing a lot of scratching, wool mites may be to blame. I use ivermectin, administered by mouth, to control this pest. It can be found at feed and grain stores. You can look online for information about dosage etc. The one hint is that it normally takes more than one treatment – generally you need to treat twice, a few days apart, to get the mites that hatch after the first treatment. You can also look online for vastly more information about all the possible diseases that can afflict a rabbit. It can be quite terrifying, so I don’t recommend it, and truth is that most rabbits will not show signs of these troubles.
Now you get to the fun part! Well, OK, caring for rabbits is fun, too, but the reason to have an ANGORA rabbit is so you can spin the incredibly lovely fiber. On the plus side, angora is amazingly light, amazingly soft and amazingly warm. As it is knit or worn, it will fluff up (or “bloom”) to create that familiar and dramatic halo effect. On the negative side, angora does not have the same crimp structure and scales as sheep’s wool, so it can be a little tricky to spin. The two secrets to spinning angora are to put in plenty of twist and to reduce the take up tension (if you are using a wheel) or use a light-weight spindle. Oh and BE PATIENT! If you are new to spinning angora, another thing you can try is using a wool/angora blend. You can buy this in roving form, or make your own blend with hand cards or a drum carder. But I highly recommend trying angora alone. Once you get the hang of it, it is so easy! No prep required. You remove it from your rabbit and can immediately start spinning. And yes, some people do spin right from the rabbit. I’ve done it, but to be honest I think it is kind of gimmicky (good if you are doing a demo!) and slower than spinning from lovely plucked fiber. I guess I’m kind of snobby about that. So give angora a try. One thing you will find about spun angora, is that it does not have the kind of stretchiness, or “memory” of wool yarn. Things knit of pure angora can have a tendency to hang or droop. Blends of angora and wool (and you don’t need much angora to get the angora benefits) don’t have this trouble, and even better is a wool/angora ply. You spin one bobbin of wool, one of angora, then ply them together: voila! best of both!
There you have it, everything I can think of about angoras for now. Feel free to visit my blog http://twistedmysteries.blogspot.com/ though true confession time, I have not posted for a long time. You will find some nice photos and informative pages. I have an inactive ETSY shop https://www.etsy.com/shop/twistedmysteries and maybe this will goad me into getting it going again. Mostly I sell items at local fairs – the Fiber Festival of NE, the Big Brother Big Sister craft fair, or just from my home. I will see if I can once again offer yarn at the lovely local Sheep and Shawl shop in South Deerfield MA http://sheepandshawl.com/.