The Angora rabbit
The American Rabbit Breeders’ Association (ARBA) recognises four individual types of Angora rabbits. Although there are other domestic Angora types such as German, Chinese and Swiss, the ‘official’ types are the English, French, Giant and Satin. Like the cat and goat breeds with the same name, the Angora rabbit has long, soft hair which is harvested by shearing, plucking or combing.
The Angora rabbit has been around for a very long time and originated in Ankara (formerly Angora) in Turkey. By the end of the 18th century they had spread through most of Europe and first appeared in the United States of America early in the 20th century. France has been given the credit for recognising the commercial possibilities of the wool, to be closely followed by England.
In 1939, the Angora was split into ‘English type’ or ‘French type’ by the ARBA. In 1944, the two types become separate breeds.
Angora rabbits resemble a woolly ball. Apart from the nose and the front feet, the entire body and face is covered with wool or ‘fur’.
Their fleece grows quickly and they need shearing every three to four months. They should be groomed at least twice a week and preferably every day to prevent the woollen fibres from matting. Such felting quickly becomes a problem. As well as the problems associated with matting, self-grooming leads to the ingestion of varying amounts of wool. This can cause a condition known as ‘wool block’ whereby the digestive system becomes blocked with wool leading to the eventual death of the animal.
• The English Angora weighs from two to three and a-half kg and is the smallest of the Angora types. There are several varieties accepted by the ARBA. Show animals should have toenails of one colour and ears which may be folded over at the tips. The English Angora is the only type which may have the eyes covered by wool.
• The French Angora weighs from three and a-half to four and a-half kg. There is a large amount of surface guard hair and a woolly undercoat. Small ear tufts are allowable in show specimens but not encouraged and toenails should be of one colour. If the texture of the coat is correct, this variety is easier to maintain than other types. The face and front feet are clean with light tufting on the hind legs. The head, feet and tail should be the one colour.
• The Giant Angora weighs four and a-half kg or more and is the largest of the varieties. The ruby-eyed white giant angora is the only variety recognised by the ARBA. This type was created as an efficient wool-producer which could be kept with too many special requirements. The coat consists of soft underwool, awn fluff and awn hair. The face and ears should be furnished. These rabbits only have a partial moult and are normally clipped every 90 days. Giants are slower to mature than other breeds with does taking over a year and bucks up to one and a-half years to reach maturity.
• The Satin Angora weighs from three to four and a-half kg and has been developed by crossing Satins with French Angoras. The ‘satin’ comes from the extremely soft and silky texture of the wool. The feet, face and ears are clean. The colour is determined by the colouring of the head, feet and tail.
• The German Angora has its own breed society – the International Association of German Angora Rabbit Breeders (IAGARB). The criteria for success in the German angora showing field is based on wool-bearing properties and body type traits as regards commercial purposes. While most are ruby-eyed albinos, coloured German angoras are also accepted for registration providing they pass the wool production tests and conform to the breed standards.
The wool is more dense and less inclined to matt. German angoras weigh between two and five and one-half kg.
Self-grooming of the rabbit can lead to fibres being ingested causing blockage of the digestive tract. Such blockage is known as wool block. Careful management will go a long way to preventing wool block. Stringent attention to regular grooming and an adequate supply of roughage are necessary.
Hutches should be dry, well lit, with good ventilation but draft free. While rabbits can stand some variation in temperature, they do not cope well with extreme heat. A bottle of water frozen placed in the cage will provide a cool place against which the animal can lie to cool off. Provide ample shade. In winter, protect the cages from cold winds and snow. Make sure drinking water remains unfrozen.
Feeding plenty of roughage will help prevent wool block. While cats and dogs can vomit up hairballs, rabbits can not, so prevention is by far the best option. Water bottles are best for angora rabbits. Using a basin inevitably results in the wool around the chin becoming wet and this then leads to matting.
Symptoms of woolblock include lack of appetite and smaller than normal droppings. Stop feeding pellets to the animal and offer alfalfa, hay and bird seed. Dandelions, Petromalt or Colace syrup are also quite effective. Some breeders swear by an occasional feed of fresh pineapple and/or fresh papaya. Proteolytic enzymes present in these fruits are believed to help break down any ingested wool. The juice can be offered diluted with water if necessary. Clip the animal to limit further ingestion of wool.
Angora does have their babies about 30 to 32 days after being bred. A week before she is due to give birth, clip the wool on her belly to about one-half to one inch long. The wool round her vent and tail, and around the eyes, should also be short. Does normally pluck the area around the teats bare so that the kits can nurse easily.
Care of the coat
Angoras shed their coats periodically. They should be brushed regularly. If larger than normal amounts of wool come away as you brush, the animal may be shedding. The hair should then be clipped or plucked. Clipping is faster. Pet Angoras are best kept clipped to lessen the amount of fur shed through the house and to minimise grooming time.
Although Angoras have a calm, docile nature, they are also playful and active. They have lots of personality and like attention. They are generally quite compatible with gentle cats. They quite enjoy having a toy or two, and provided there is sufficient time for grooming, they make an attractive pet.