Angora breeds & their fiber

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hotzcatz

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Aloha Fuzzy Bunny Folks!

I've only got experience with the English angora and some tiny smatterings of meeting up with fiber from some Satins and once with Germans. For those of you who have experience with the other breeds of angora rabbits, can you tell us some of the differences pro and con between the various angora breeds?

Tell us about your experiences! Which breeds of angora have you met? Which breeds of angora do you keep? Any particular reason why you chose those breeds? Which are the easiest ones to keep? Easiest ones to harvest? Best fiber? Differences in fiber? How wide of a variation between coats even within the same breed?

The English fiber from the bunnies here seems to spin up into a really soft yarn that doesn't have as much 'halo' as some of the commercial angora yarns. Seems softer, but not as fluffy looking once it's knitted.

Lately I've seen some mentions of eleven different breeds of angora rabbit, although I'm not sure if there actually are that many or not? Some things get loose online and just proliferate, not sure if that's one of them or not.
 

hotzcatz

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ARBA recognizes five breeds of angora, I think?

1. English (the one with fuzzy faces)
2. French (clean faces and fuzzy body)
3. Giant (the biggest and maybe only in white?)
4. Satin (looks like French but shiny wool)
5. ?
OOOPS! It looks like ARBA only recognizes FOUR breeds of angora rabbits.

There's also a German Angora which is usually white, and a Chinese Angora which is also usually white, I think? Those two breeds get mentioned separately in other websites and pages, but they aren't recognized by ARBA.

Wikipedia, which may not really be a good source of valid information - mentions a bunch of other angora breeds that I've never heard of such as Finnish, Japanese, Swiss, Korean, Russian, St. Lucian and further down on their page even a Dutch angora. They don't seem to have many references to these other breeds other than just the name, though.

There's also several other 'woolly' breeds of rabbits such as the Jersey Woolly and I think Wooly Lops? They are much smaller, though, and not generally the ones kept for fiber production.
 

bighairbuns

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I've kept English, Frenches, and Satins.

The English I had were from showlines and their coats were terrible. Tons of upkeep and the wool had an unpleasant cottony feel, but it spun well and was the easiest to felt. Wonderful temperaments on them though, they would be my first choice if I wanted a bun that was mostly a pet and just wanted some extra personal use fiber for fun. I've heard that English from wooler lines require a little less coat upkeep than the showline ones and have a better hand feel, but I am deeeeep into show country and can't find anyone around me focusing on English for wool.

The Frenches were nice. I had wool lines that plucked very cleanly. A little more difficult to spin than the English but totally doable. The upkeep was ridiculously easy for them. Blew them out once a week and just kept the high matting areas trimmed short. The product they produced was nice, but had a little bit of coarseness to it. Ultimately I decided that the french wool wasn't special enough to go through the process of raising the rabbits, which brings me to...

The Satins totally have my heart. Their wool is absolutely gorgeous, it shines, it shimmers, it has a wonderfully soft and silky feel, nothing quite like it. Their upkeep is easier than the English but not as easy as the French. Of course, they produce the least of the 3 and their wool is the most difficult to spin and hard to felt but the final product is worth it.

I've crossed my frenches into my satins in the attempt of getting those nice plucking genetics. The 2 does I kept back from my last breeding are very promising in that regard.

I guess I just like shiny things.
 

hotzcatz

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Shiny things are always good!

That's terrible about the show English. Isn't 'cottony' a fault in a show for English fiber? I'd always thought the SOP called for 'silky' and 'free flowing'? They say 'shiny' is a fault if it's on an English, but if any of them come in with shiny wool, I'm keeping them anyway. I'd rather have better fiber (and shiny is better) than have a bunny that matches a SOP description.

The English here are from molting lines. At the time we got their ancestors, 2009, that was one of the main characteristics of English, but I think maybe that's been mostly bred out of them since then? Most of the ones here will molt at least about 85% clean. Some will molt entirely clean, it depends on the bun. They pretty much all have silky wool since the ones with cottony wool don't get bred. Easy care silky coats get bred the most, but we still have to breed a few substandard ones in order to keep the levels of inbreeding low. It's that living on an island in the middle of nowhere thing.

French and Satin would cross better than either of those and English, I'd expect? French and Satin have similar body types and the English is supposed to be a half sphere instead of a bread loaf like the Satins & French.

How's the temperament on the Satins?
 

bighairbuns

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It is a fault from what I understand, yes. But you know how showing goes, SOP says the order of importance for wool is density, texture, and length. The more cottony coats do seem to have better density, seems some of the show breeders focused on density at the detriment of texture, and figure they'll make up the points with extra length by breeding non-molting lines.

The English i've seen have heavy influence from Betty Chu's lines. So not a lot of clean molting English's around here.

I'm with you. I'd rather a faulted rabbit that doesn't meet the SOP but has the traits I want in wool over show quality any day of the week. For me personally, the order of importance for wool for me is Texture > Color/Shine > Length > Density. So what the SOP calls for as most important is bottom of the list for me. Oh well. I won't produce show-quality rabbits but the shawl I made last winter is GORGEOUS and feels AMAZING so take that show people! LOL

Yeah, the french and satins have the same commercial body type. The satins are supposed to be a bit smaller though, but there is plenty of overlap there that cross breeding can get you back within standard in a generation or two. Lots of satin breeders will cross a french into their line to improve wool quality.

The satin's temperament is fine. They are docile and easy to handle for the most part. I've never had a satin doe give me any attitude beyond a stamped foot here and there. My current buck can get a bit possessive over the does when breeding and he will growl and lunge when you go to take them away, but he is a sweetheart in every other aspect of handling him, so I give him a pass on that one. The boy just likes his ladies a little too much.

The only thing about the satins temperament-wise, that I dislike/am disappointed in is that they seem to have fewer "big personalities" in the bunch. You know how you'll have the bun that is just a total ham? Puppy-dog tame ones that just seek out human affection? The ones that are very clear communicators and have their ways of making sure you know what's on their minds? Those types of personalities seem less common in the satins. They are just a docile, boring, ordinary rabbit in personality. So great for fiber, but if I wanted a pet they wouldn't be my first breed choice.

They don't make a half-bad meat rabbit either, my dogs eat the culls. So in that way the lack of personality is a bit of a blessing.
 

judymac

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I've raised English Angoras for the last forty years, I also have Satin Angoras. I've dabbled in other angora breeds, but the English and Satin have my heart. You mentioned Chinese Angora, and your English fiber not having the loft of the commercial angora yarn. There's a reason for that, and the two are interrelated. Over 90% of all commercial angora is being produced in China, and they are breeding for that loft, so they can use the least amount of angora in a blended yarn, and still have it look fuzzy. How to accomplish that? The answer is really, really coarse guard hairs that will stand out of the yarn. Great halo, horrible for the softness. The down feels great in your hand, but the hairy halo will prickle your neck.

My satin angora fiber is as low as only 9 microns, tiny fiber, so, so soft. My English are in the 10-12 micron range mostly, I aim for guard hairs that are fairly close in diameter to the fiber, for the softness factor, more important to me than spike. But, according to research papers put out by China, they are looking for angora with guard hairs in the 40+ micron range. Yikes! That's like the coarsest sheep wool. So, if your yarn has less spike than commercial yarn, I'll say hallelujah! As far as I know, no one is importing these Chinese Angoras into the U.S. for breeding. The Chinese bred meat-type rabbits into their local angoras, for more bristle fiber, and then crossed in German Angora for production. I would think if production was your aim, just go for actual Germans, skip the bristle.

When I test-spun fiber from each of the Angora breeds, the German spun the easiest, as it was the most uniform in length, and being sheared was in aligned locks. That one surprised me, as I had long heard of the horrors of sheared angora (even though I raised sheep and sheared their fiber.) I now realize the problem was in shearing rabbits with multiple layered coats that also shed. My old-fashioned English usually have 2-3 distinct coats at any given time. The mature coat sheds out at 3-6" in length, with another coat at about half that length underneath, and often a third emerging at skin level. When you shear this type of rabbit, you get the lovely mature coat, but also a shorter (often only an inch and a half long) coat within that, and worse yet, the tips of the emerging coat. All those little short fibers then shed out of the spun yarn as it fuzzes, giving angora yarn the bad reputation for shedding. The base of the shedding fiber is also left on the rabbit, to either shed out or mat. None of this applies to non-shedding rabbits, of whatever breed. As long as you're careful when shearing, put only the prime fiber (generally a uniform 3" long) into the fiber bag/box, and don't try to 'tidy up' the rabbit until AFTER the good fleece has been carefully removed from the area, you should have great yarn without a shedding issue (unless you have weak tips on your awn fibers, that's another issue entirely).

If softness is your goal, you can't beat Satin, with English a close second. If personality is your goal, you can't beat English. If you like the halo, richer color, and easy care, French may be your choice; in my spinning tests, French had the highest spike (halo, loft, fuzziness). If you want production, you can't beat German, they can produce multiple POUNDS of fiber per rabbit per year, with little care. If you like higher production, but want to show, Giants are probably your choice (Germans are judged on production, not show, and are not sanctioned by ARBA for showing.). If you hate shearing, Giants, Germans, and the Betty Chu show line of English are NOT for you. However, if you love showing, my old-fashioned molting English would not be a good choice, as there is only a tiny window of time between full show coat, and molting. If space is an issue, you might prefer the little Jersey Wooly or American Fuzzy Lop instead. I've spun both, they work fine (and the Fuzzy Lops have a lot of personality.) Teddywidder is another angora-type dwarf that is recently being developed. I haven't spun any of that fiber yet.

However, there is often more variation within a breed, as between the breeds. I know a woman who bred the most amazing French rabbits. Nice personality, lots of fiber, easy care, and yet soft, not hairy. Great show stock, too. I've had crabby English, Satins that had coats so cottony they never produced a usable coat (just matted), and German crosses that molted. I used to have to clip off the baby coats off of my English, as they just matted up with all the siblings playing all over each other. Now, I select breeding stock from the rabbits that produce usable fiber in their baby coat--with as little matting as possible. Soft, not hairy, is a priority, but so is stock that doesn't need all that grooming to produce good fiber.

I also feed whole grains and local hay, not pellets, so I'm working on Angoras that can do well under those conditions. It seems to be much more of a challenge for the Satin Angoras with their meat conformation than the English, but we're working on it. I like the one person who quoted someone else (sorry, I don't know the original author), "Breed to the feed." Select rabbits that do well under your circumstances, whatever that may be.

No matter what breed you choose, eventually, your stock is going to reflect your personal tastes, as you select breeding stock that meets your standards. It may be dual purpose, or temperament, fiber texture, total weight of fiber production, ease of shearing or plucking, length, show wins, color, size. . .what you select for is up to you, and your strain of Angora will be one unique to you.
 

hotzcatz

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Is there a picture of your angora shawl, BigHairBuns? Is it pure angora or did you mix in some other fibers? A pure angora shawl is on my 'to do' list, but nowhere near the top of the list yet. Maybe I can start spinning for it sometime in December, but things will likely stay crazy busy until about then.

Thank you for the description of your experience of the different angoras, Judymac!

Yeah, the different coat lengths can be a problem when shearing. Don't all angoras have different coats coming in all the time? Sometimes the buns here will be plucked when their incoming coat has gotten long enough that the cut off tips would cause trouble in the yarn.

It'd be nice to get some shiny English, but the only hybrid English x Satin/German that I met was an instant mat mess. I saw the Satin dam and she wasn't a very good specimen of the breed, IMHO, but I've not had a lot of contact with Satins. We haven't had a rabbit show on the island for years even before Covid. Now, it's even less likely, what with the other virus out there so I don't know if/when I'll get a chance to meet many of these other angora breeds in person.

Usually with baby rabbits, I'll let them go to about three or four months old before evaluating them for final "stay or go" decisions. If they mat their coat, they're usually put up for sale. They have to have some pretty good other reasons for being here if they have a high maintenance coat. I'd rather have less dense wool than a dense but high maintenance coat. For someone with a pet, they can afford the time to keep one rabbit tidy.

I've not been able to get the high protein pellets lately and some of the babies have taken to nibbling on their siblings' coats. Not good, on multiple levels. What grains do you feed? I can't get rolled barley anymore, nor rolled oats. Our local feed store has even been out of plain alfalfa pellets lately so we've had to resort to dry C.O.B. (which they didn't really like) and 'All Stock' (which they liked a little better).

It doesn't look like the feed situation is going to improve any time soon, so we've gone from thirty eight down to sixteen buns and two of those may fly off to Kauai pretty soon. With only fourteen, we can cut and carry forage for them which will also cut down on pellet requirements. But how do I get enough protein into them for their wool production?
 

kusanar314

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But how do I get enough protein into them for their wool production?

I don't know anything about Hawaii, but if you have Duckweed (Lemnoideae) there and it's not banned for being invasive, that may be a good option. In good conditions (light, nutrition in the water, warmth) it can grow so fast as to triple the population in a day. It can also be up to 30% protein so it wouldn't take a lot per bun to boost the feed you are able to source. It can be fed wet or dry depending on the animal's preferences.

Super easy to grow too. Take a water holding container, put some fertilizer in it (a few bunny poo pellets should do nicely) along with water, add the duckweed (it floats on top of the water so you want surface area rather than depth) and wait. It actually does not like circulating water so no pumps needed or desired.
 

judymac

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We use locally produced grain (wheat, oats), plus black oil sunflower seeds (16% protein, available in our grocery store as wild bird food when the feed mill can't get it), green split peas from the grocery store (25% protein, can be used as is without roasting, see Pea seeds | Feedipedia) and Calf Manna (25% protein) for trace minerals and more protein. Our total protein for the feed mix is low for angoras, only 14%, plus grass hay with a little clover, but it maximizes locally grown feeds, and we still get fiber. We won't be likely to match the production of the high-protein pellets, but I'm content, and we can switch around grains as needed by the season. Lentils (25% protein) from the grocery store work to replace peas, and again do not need roasting to destroy the anti-trypsin factor that is found in raw soybeans.

I'd suggest you check out the Feedipedia link above, and type in various locally available protein sources for their actual feed value. Type in the name of the feed in the search box on the top left corner of the page. When the search results come up, click on the most likely link to what you are looking for. That will take you to a description page of that feed. Under the name of the feed, you'll find four yellow tabs, the left one (which will be orange when it is the one selected) is for the description. The next one to the right is 'Nutritional Aspects'. Click on it, and scroll down past the ruminant and poultry information down to rabbits. This will give you any pertinent research on feeding this item to rabbits, and any concerns about its use (like soybeans that need roasted to kill the anti-nutrition factors, or whether the feed is especially high or low in some chemical/nutrient). The next tab to the right will give you the complete feed value tables. Some feeds will have pages for both the grain/seed, and the use of the green forage in the search results. This is where we verified the use of mulberry leaves as a protein source, who knew? (Fresh leaves were 20% protein, they talk more about how much to include in the diet.)

So far, our best fiber production has been from an English Angora doe; we generally have molts here every 3-4 months, she produced 6 ounces of non-matted fiber, 5" long, in that time. We usually figure about an ounce & an inch of fiber growth per month, some give more, some less; winter/spring molts give more yield than summer/fall molts. Our fiber testing has been in the 11-12 micron range, and I'm very happy with it. I am breeding for coats that do not mat, with fine, not coarse guard hair. I'm looking for softness in the yarn, not high spike.

There are breeds of angora especially raised for their single, non-molting coat, that need to be sheared. This would include German Angora, Giant Angora, and the more modern Betty Chu-line show English Angoras. She started off with an angora that only molted when pregnant, and bred that trait into her herd, using the longest-molt-period stock as breeders for the next generation. I prefer the old-fashioned English with the dual to triple coats, as we get cold here in the winter. I love having several inches of warm fiber still on the bunny when it molts the outer coat mid-winter.

Shiny English does sound wonderful, but the crosses are often awful for matting, the worst of both worlds. They are very different fibers, my Satin Angora fibers test as low as 9 microns, very fine, which is why I assumed it mats so badly. Oddly enough, I had a Satin Angora doe with very fine down, but very coarse guard hair. I separated out the guard hair from the down, and put it in a separate bag. The guard hair totally matted in storage, the down did not--I expected the opposite, if anything, although my angora rarely mats in storage anyway. I prefer guard hair that you don't notice, not the very coarse type.
 

kusanar314

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I do have a question about English Angora if you don't mind. I am looking at getting angoras (in a few years) and was thinking French Angora due to the non floofy face and legs and supposedly easier grooming, but there don't seem to be any in my state period. There are some English and I wouldn't mind having English but everything I am seeing says that they require extra grooming due to the face and legs being extra floofy.

Would it be possible / practical to occasionally clip the face and legs and let the body grow out in order to limit matting and make them a little less high maintenance? Or is this something that just needs to be bred out of a specific line? Or would it actually cause more issues to clip them somewhat short in some areas and then just brush the rest and let them moult?
 

judymac

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I know, I've heard all those dire warnings about grooming English all the time, somewhere between daily or at least weekly. After four decades of hearing those warnings, I now have a different view (now realize, I'm not showing Angoras, that's a whole different ballgame.) There is no reason you can't clip off the face and leg wool if you so desire. I have some English that have usable fiber on ears, face, legs and tail, with no additional grooming between molts. Others will mat in those places, and an occasional clip will remove the mat-prone fiber there.

The secret seems to be to select those rabbits that can go through an entire molt cycle without needing additional grooming, and using them for the next generation of breeders. I started by selecting those weanlings that still had any unmatted fiber by the time of their first molt (originally, I just clipped all the weanlings, and gave up on the first coat.) Now, I get weanlings with a usable coat, and some to no matting, despite them playing all over each other as kits. Yes, some still need clipped, but my first choice as keepers are those that don't.

When I have a rabbit molt with usuable fiber on the furnishings (face, ears, feet), I mark that info on the bag of fiber. When I get a chance, I'll record that info into the grooming chart. Any other details like how well they sat, the strength of the fiber tips, fiber length, color depth, weight of grade one fiber, etc., also goes on my notes for each bag, and eventually into that rabbit's record. When deciding which stock to breed, which to replace, and which to keep even if 'retired'; I can look at their records and see which rabbits are doing what I really want--growing well on the available local feed, healthy, nice fiber texture, good personality, easy to groom, easy molts, little to no matting, no coarse guard hairs or hair with weak tips, good color depth, usable fiber even on the furnishings. . .few rabbits get all A's on their score, but the ones that come closest are the ones that become breeders.

There's a lot to love about English--they're smaller, so they eat less feed, and yet produce as much fiber generally as the French, and usually more than Satin Angoras. I have to feed the Satins 1-1/2 times as much to keep up their body condition, due to the much heavier weights and bulkier muscling on Satin Angoras. The English fiber tends to stay soft throughout their lifetime, I've had ten year old rabbits still producing lovely, soft coats; some of the other breeds may become coarser and produce less with age. They often have winning personalities, and tend to be a lot more likely to sit still for grooming. The fiber tends to be soft, not quite as soft and silky as Satin Angora, but still very soft and much more consistent. I prefer the old-fashioned molting variety of English, I don't enjoy shearing, and I think the fiber texture is better.

There are English that tend towards less furnishings, you can always breed for that if you so choose. When breeding a less-furnished to a more-furnished rabbit, the results usually vary between less-furnished, and halfway between. I rarely get a really nice teddy-bear faced full-furnished rabbit out of a poorly furnished one.
 

kusanar314

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I know, I've heard all those dire warnings about grooming English all the time, somewhere between daily or at least weekly. After four decades of hearing those warnings, I now have a different view (now realize, I'm not showing Angoras, that's a whole different ballgame.) There is no reason you can't clip off the face and leg wool if you so desire. I have some English that have usable fiber on ears, face, legs and tail, with no additional grooming between molts. Others will mat in those places, and an occasional clip will remove the mat-prone fiber there.

The secret seems to be to select those rabbits that can go through an entire molt cycle without needing additional grooming, and using them for the next generation of breeders. I started by selecting those weanlings that still had any unmatted fiber by the time of their first molt (originally, I just clipped all the weanlings, and gave up on the first coat.) Now, I get weanlings with a usable coat, and some to no matting, despite them playing all over each other as kits. Yes, some still need clipped, but my first choice as keepers are those that don't.

When I have a rabbit molt with usuable fiber on the furnishings (face, ears, feet), I mark that info on the bag of fiber. When I get a chance, I'll record that info into the grooming chart. Any other details like how well they sat, the strength of the fiber tips, fiber length, color depth, weight of grade one fiber, etc., also goes on my notes for each bag, and eventually into that rabbit's record. When deciding which stock to breed, which to replace, and which to keep even if 'retired'; I can look at their records and see which rabbits are doing what I really want--growing well on the available local feed, healthy, nice fiber texture, good personality, easy to groom, easy molts, little to no matting, no coarse guard hairs or hair with weak tips, good color depth, usable fiber even on the furnishings. . .few rabbits get all A's on their score, but the ones that come closest are the ones that become breeders.

There's a lot to love about English--they're smaller, so they eat less feed, and yet produce as much fiber generally as the French, and usually more than Satin Angoras. I have to feed the Satins 1-1/2 times as much to keep up their body condition, due to the much heavier weights and bulkier muscling on Satin Angoras. The English fiber tends to stay soft throughout their lifetime, I've had ten year old rabbits still producing lovely, soft coats; some of the other breeds may become coarser and produce less with age. They often have winning personalities, and tend to be a lot more likely to sit still for grooming. The fiber tends to be soft, not quite as soft and silky as Satin Angora, but still very soft and much more consistent. I prefer the old-fashioned molting variety of English, I don't enjoy shearing, and I think the fiber texture is better.

There are English that tend towards less furnishings, you can always breed for that if you so choose. When breeding a less-furnished to a more-furnished rabbit, the results usually vary between less-furnished, and halfway between. I rarely get a really nice teddy-bear faced full-furnished rabbit out of a poorly furnished one.
Thank you! I'm still in the baby planning stages at this point. I have the farm, I have the shed that they will be living in (it's a lean-to off of my barn) but I need to build a house and get out there more before I move in anything that will require more than being checked on a few times a week. But I am starting to dream and plan some and that includes getting a tentative list of possible sources to get rabbits from once I'm ready for them.
 

hotzcatz

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I don't know anything about Hawaii, but if you have Duckweed (Lemnoideae) there and it's not banned for being invasive, that may be a good option. In good conditions (light, nutrition in the water, warmth) it can grow so fast as to triple the population in a day. It can also be up to 30% protein so it wouldn't take a lot per bun to boost the feed you are able to source. It can be fed wet or dry depending on the animal's preferences.

Super easy to grow too. Take a water holding container, put some fertilizer in it (a few bunny poo pellets should do nicely) along with water, add the duckweed (it floats on top of the water so you want surface area rather than depth) and wait. It actually does not like circulating water so no pumps needed or desired.
Thanks, Kusanar! When we get the new house built, I'll put in a water feature of some sort and grow duckweed for the buns. A water feature with fish in it gets rid of mosquitoes since they lay their eggs in the water and the fish eat them. Feeds the fish while getting rid of mosquitoes and if it can grow bunny food at the same time, that's brilliant.
 

hotzcatz

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I know, I've heard all those dire warnings about grooming English all the time, somewhere between daily or at least weekly. After four decades of hearing those warnings, I now have a different view (now realize, I'm not showing Angoras, that's a whole different ballgame.) There is no reason you can't clip off the face and leg wool if you so desire. I have some English that have usable fiber on ears, face, legs and tail, with no additional grooming between molts. Others will mat in those places, and an occasional clip will remove the mat-prone fiber there.

The secret seems to be to select those rabbits that can go through an entire molt cycle without needing additional grooming, and using them for the next generation of breeders. I started by selecting those weanlings that still had any unmatted fiber by the time of their first molt (originally, I just clipped all the weanlings, and gave up on the first coat.) Now, I get weanlings with a usable coat, and some to no matting, despite them playing all over each other as kits. Yes, some still need clipped, but my first choice as keepers are those that don't.

When I have a rabbit molt with usuable fiber on the furnishings (face, ears, feet), I mark that info on the bag of fiber. When I get a chance, I'll record that info into the grooming chart. Any other details like how well they sat, the strength of the fiber tips, fiber length, color depth, weight of grade one fiber, etc., also goes on my notes for each bag, and eventually into that rabbit's record. When deciding which stock to breed, which to replace, and which to keep even if 'retired'; I can look at their records and see which rabbits are doing what I really want--growing well on the available local feed, healthy, nice fiber texture, good personality, easy to groom, easy molts, little to no matting, no coarse guard hairs or hair with weak tips, good color depth, usable fiber even on the furnishings. . .few rabbits get all A's on their score, but the ones that come closest are the ones that become breeders.

There's a lot to love about English--they're smaller, so they eat less feed, and yet produce as much fiber generally as the French, and usually more than Satin Angoras. I have to feed the Satins 1-1/2 times as much to keep up their body condition, due to the much heavier weights and bulkier muscling on Satin Angoras. The English fiber tends to stay soft throughout their lifetime, I've had ten year old rabbits still producing lovely, soft coats; some of the other breeds may become coarser and produce less with age. They often have winning personalities, and tend to be a lot more likely to sit still for grooming. The fiber tends to be soft, not quite as soft and silky as Satin Angora, but still very soft and much more consistent. I prefer the old-fashioned molting variety of English, I don't enjoy shearing, and I think the fiber texture is better.

There are English that tend towards less furnishings, you can always breed for that if you so choose. When breeding a less-furnished to a more-furnished rabbit, the results usually vary between less-furnished, and halfway between. I rarely get a really nice teddy-bear faced full-furnished rabbit out of a poorly furnished one.
Hmm, you keep the fiber from individual buns separate? I've only been sorting the fiber into 'white', 'black' and pretty much 'other'. Some notes are kept on each harvest, but that's usually separate on a notepad. Maybe a bag for each rabbit and a notepad to note any changes from the harvest before? Hmm, there's so many ways to keep records on these rabbits that it's hard to figure out the best ways.

I seem to be getting some wildly different face furnishings even in one litter. Some have the full furnishings and then their sibling with just get a scant bit of fluff on their ears. Any idea why such variation? Furnishings haven't really been one of the breeding selection criteria since they'd pretty much always been there, but now it's not a guarantee and I'm not sure what has changed. So less furnishings is dominant over full furnishings?
 

hotzcatz

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We use locally produced grain (wheat, oats), plus black oil sunflower seeds (16% protein, available in our grocery store as wild bird food when the feed mill can't get it), green split peas from the grocery store (25% protein, can be used as is without roasting, see Pea seeds | Feedipedia) and Calf Manna (25% protein) for trace minerals and more protein. Our total protein for the feed mix is low for angoras, only 14%, plus grass hay with a little clover, but it maximizes locally grown feeds, and we still get fiber. We won't be likely to match the production of the high-protein pellets, but I'm content, and we can switch around grains as needed by the season. Lentils (25% protein) from the grocery store work to replace peas, and again do not need roasting to destroy the anti-trypsin factor that is found in raw soybeans.

I'd suggest you check out the Feedipedia link above, and type in various locally available protein sources for their actual feed value. Type in the name of the feed in the search box on the top left corner of the page. When the search results come up, click on the most likely link to what you are looking for. That will take you to a description page of that feed. Under the name of the feed, you'll find four yellow tabs, the left one (which will be orange when it is the one selected) is for the description. The next one to the right is 'Nutritional Aspects'. Click on it, and scroll down past the ruminant and poultry information down to rabbits. This will give you any pertinent research on feeding this item to rabbits, and any concerns about its use (like soybeans that need roasted to kill the anti-nutrition factors, or whether the feed is especially high or low in some chemical/nutrient). The next tab to the right will give you the complete feed value tables. Some feeds will have pages for both the grain/seed, and the use of the green forage in the search results. This is where we verified the use of mulberry leaves as a protein source, who knew? (Fresh leaves were 20% protein, they talk more about how much to include in the diet.)

So far, our best fiber production has been from an English Angora doe; we generally have molts here every 3-4 months, she produced 6 ounces of non-matted fiber, 5" long, in that time. We usually figure about an ounce & an inch of fiber growth per month, some give more, some less; winter/spring molts give more yield than summer/fall molts. Our fiber testing has been in the 11-12 micron range, and I'm very happy with it. I am breeding for coats that do not mat, with fine, not coarse guard hair. I'm looking for softness in the yarn, not high spike.

There are breeds of angora especially raised for their single, non-molting coat, that need to be sheared. This would include German Angora, Giant Angora, and the more modern Betty Chu-line show English Angoras. She started off with an angora that only molted when pregnant, and bred that trait into her herd, using the longest-molt-period stock as breeders for the next generation. I prefer the old-fashioned English with the dual to triple coats, as we get cold here in the winter. I love having several inches of warm fiber still on the bunny when it molts the outer coat mid-winter.

Shiny English does sound wonderful, but the crosses are often awful for matting, the worst of both worlds. They are very different fibers, my Satin Angora fibers test as low as 9 microns, very fine, which is why I assumed it mats so badly. Oddly enough, I had a Satin Angora doe with very fine down, but very coarse guard hair. I separated out the guard hair from the down, and put it in a separate bag. The guard hair totally matted in storage, the down did not--I expected the opposite, if anything, although my angora rarely mats in storage anyway. I prefer guard hair that you don't notice, not the very coarse type.

Ah, I'd not thought to look up mulberry on Feedipedia. I forget whether it was in the book 'Rabbit Production Manual' or if it was in an email with one of the book's authors, but that I think that was the source of where I heard the "up to 40% of a rabbit's diet can be in mulberry leaves with no reduction in weight gain or litter size". I'll feed them more mulberry and start a hedge of the stuff. I make it into tea occasionally as well as eat the berries in smoothies and such. It's a really useful tree.

The buns here are old style molting English angora and a lot of the buns on the island are their descendants so we can hopefully keep the molting ones going. Four generations back in the pedigree on one of the six foundation buns that started the herd here did have 'Chu's Lanelle" I think it was. Not sure if that's much of an influence for molting/non-molting, though.

Vienna did get here with the six original imports but at least no broken. I don't think broken had even been bred into any English angora back then. When did Broken show up? I consider that detrimental for a fiber herd. We also don't seem to have Himilayan, either, but that's not necessary for a fiber herd.

I keep trying to get other folks to set up herds of these bunnies so several generations down the line I can buy stock back from them that wouldn't be overly inbred to mine. I do kinda wonder though, all these rabbits came from three pairs and mixes and matches between them. That's a pretty limited genepool but it's going on twelve years later and the coefficient of inbreeding is still below 25%. Two does were swapped for their offspring with a buck someone had imported. That helped lower the coefficient of inbreeding, but most of this stock is from only six bunnies.
 

judymac

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As long as your rabbits are doing what you want, and you can select the best of that year's litters for replacement stock, it sounds like the limited gene pool is working for you.

Yes, less furnishings is the dominant trait. It's funny how often I see opposites in offspring, especially noticed in twins in sheep when I raised them--one black, one white. One fine-fibered, one coarser. So odd. I see this in rabbits as well. You'll get one kit with coarser hair, and another with no guard hair at all. Furnishings are often in this category. I find that breeding a more-furnished rabbit to a less-furnished one leads to a wide variety, but usually with less furnishings than the more-furnished parent. To increase furnishings, breed the most-furnished rabbits together.

As to record-keeping, many breeders keep no records at all, just put the fiber into community boxes/Tupperware, sometimes all in one box for multicolor yarns, or divided into boxes for white (white, Himalayan pointed white, ermine, Charlie brokens--but remember to remove any non-white parts), gray (black, blue, wild gray chestnut, opal), tan/brown (chocolate, lilac, more-lilac lynx, some chestnut agouti), and beige/fawn (all tortoiseshells, cream, fawn, red, many lynx that look fawn). Brokens & Harlequins can go into the 'mixed' box.

I've tried a lot of different methods, and found it was easier for me to just put each rabbit's fiber into a separate bag, along with any notes. I re-use old bread bags turned inside-out (I quit baking bread when my husband & I quit eating it, and my son prefers the store-bought slices for sandwiches.) I check the rabbit over, then pull my first pinch of fiber and measure it (the measuring tape hangs from my grooming equipment bucket, I just need to pick up the loose end and measure, takes just a second or two extra). While I'm still holding the tips of the fiber, I grab the free end of the fiber with the other index finger and thumb, and pull. Ideally, the tips (which are usually the slightly longer guard hairs) should be strong, and the guard hairs pull free of the other fiber. What I'm checking for is weak fiber tips, that just break off. This is the cause of much shedding of angora yarn, and I breed against this trait.

I use two bags (I used to use three or more, but found two more manageable.) One bag gets prime pluck, the other bag gets grade 2 & 3 fiber. When I'm done with the rabbit, before I get up to put the bunny away, I take a few seconds to use a permanent marker, and mark down the date, rabbit's name, and any notes on fiber length, texture, tip strength, mite evidence, color depth, how well the bunny sat. The scribbled notes take only a few seconds. I then tie the bag shut, and put it into the fiber sack/barrel (whichever I'm using at the time). Takes little time, keeps the fiber clean. Should wool moths decide to invade (usually not an issue with this method), each fleece is separate, saving a lot of fiber. If the moths get into the main box. . .not so nice. (Should this happen, and you catch it before they shred the fiber, you can dye the fiber--after an hour of boiling, there isn't a moth problem anymore. Once it's carded, it works great for felt. Once they've shredded the fiber--burn it or otherwise dispose of it, don't compost it and let all those moths free to infest more wool.)

When I'm ready to spin, I can just grab a bag and spin. Or, I can sort all the fiber into colors that go together, mix well, and spin. I find that all fiber is not alike, if you spin some fiber from a very soft-coated rabbit, and knit it in a garment with yarn from a rabbit with more guard hair and a higher spike, you get a very noticeable line where they meet. It can ruin a garment, depending on where and how it happens.

For selling fiber, I find people seem to like buying fiber from a 'special' bunny. It does make it easier to keep fiber the same for a given project, by choosing fiber all from one rabbit. So, some fiber gets sold by rabbit. Amounts less than an ounce left over get mixed with other fiber, and sold as mixed color.

When I get a chance, I'll pull up the grooming records on the computer, and fill in the info found on the bread bags. It's not a perfect system. Some days the marker won't work, or I accidentally rub the info off (paper sticky labels solve this, unless they get wet.) The world doesn't end if I miss some of the data. Whatever information I do manage to record is valuable when choosing new stock. For example, I have a lovely pale-blue-eyed black (self chin) Satin Angora buck. I now need to decide which stock has to leave, to make room for young replacements--always a tough decision, but you can't keep everyone. I wanted to use the fiber from the black buck for a project, so kept him. At least, until I looked up his record. He was matted to the skin as a kit (a trait I select against). He doesn't sit well for grooming, He makes very little fiber, and mats easily. There's no reason to keep this buck, he isn't going to make enough for the project at the rate he is going. (Other Satin Angoras are giving me lovely non-matted fiber, so it's not just the breed.)
 
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