The German Angora by Leslie Samson
Domestic rabbits originated in Europe. Our domestic angoras are mutations of the European wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus. How are angoras regarded in Europe?

In Europe the only recognized wool producing rabbit is the breed Angora. Variations are referred to by country or club such as “Angoras from Denmark” or “Angoras from the population in France.” An angora rabbit may have originated in Germany and have been bred according to the standard recognized in Germany, but the “German angora” is not considered a separate breed from other European angoras.

In Great Britain, imported angoras are commonly referred to as “Continental angoras” in order to distinguish them from the local population. It is interesting to compare the style of the angora rabbits kept in England against the North American English angoras. The British born rabbit is longer in the body, not usually as heavily furnished and is allowed a higher percentage of guard hair than its North American cousin. The richness of wool color and the excellent texture of the British angora wool is similar to what, in North America, is associated with French angora wool.

Likewise the North American French angora bears limited resemblance to the angora commonly raised in France. The angora of France, being part of the Continental European population, looks more like the rabbit known in North America as the German angora.

European rabbit breeding associations take a different approach to classifying rabbits than what is practiced in North America. Rather than evaluating rabbit against rabbit, they set forth a standard against which each animal is judged. It is the French standard or the German standard or the Danish standard, etc. which influences the regional selection of individuals within the breed Angora.

During judging, each angora is compared to the standard and awarded points according to its merit in meeting that standard. At the conclusion of judging, the points are added and the rabbits with the highest points are considered to be most like the ideal rabbit described in the standard. If none of the rabbits earn a minimum number of points, then there are no winners.

Nearly seventy years ago, angora breeders of the Zentralverband Deutches Kanichenzuchters (Z.D.K.), in partnership with the Federal Agriculture Research Center, embarked on a program to improve the wool production of their angoras. The philosophy was straight-forward. Goals for wool production and body type were set.

They started with foundation stock similar to what we know as English angoras. Wool production increased steadily from a starting point of 250 grams (half pound) to a world record set in 1990 of 2,232 grams (over five pounds). Ten years later, a new record of over 2,800 grams was achieved.

Tracking the progress of the program required the elimination of as many management variables as possible. The first testing stations were established in 1934 to provide controlled conditions for the evaluation of the angora breeding stock, data collection and research to improve husbandry techniques.

In plotting their strategy for the improvement of the angora, breeders in Germany needed to clearly define body type, wool production and wool qualities in language as objective as possible. The standard for the angora in Germany is specific.

The ideal body is described as being as wide at the shoulders as it is deep. The length of the body should equal three times the width. The shape of the body is tubular, resembling a loaf of bread. This body type is preferred for rapid shearing of first grade wool. Body weights run from seven to eleven and a half pounds (2.5 to 5 kilos) with an average of nine to ten pounds of very solid dual-purpose rabbit.

The wool must densely cover the entire rabbit and be silky, not cottony. German wool is heavily crimped. The ideal texture and length of the wool should be as even as possible over the entire body of the rabbit.

Development of the angora in Germany was started over 70 years ago. It remains an intensive and deliberate program based on objective data and the challenge to surpass current achievements. One would expect that an angora produced out of the German system and bred according to the German standard would satisfy predictable expectations for wool production and body type.

Several importations of angoras from Germany occurred during the 1980′s. With their impressive wool production, “German Angoras” cause quite a sensation in North America. A version of the German angora, which came to be known as the Giant, was submitted for acceptance with the A.R.B.A.
In an article titled “Giant Angora – Not German Angora” published in the National Angora rabbit Club Newsletter in 1991, Louise Walsh, the presenter offered her description:
…The Giant angora is a larger rabbit than the German angora. During the developing years of the Giant angora, I mixed in colored short hair commercial bodied rabbits, French Lop and Flemish Giant.

At that time, there were many other breeders who were not comfortable with these changes. Instead, they were committed to the preservation of the high production angora as it was developed in Germany. They felt that wool yields could best be improved by breeding to stock of similar origin and by following a proven system. Founded in 1987, the International Association of German Angora Rabbit Breeders accepted the Angora Standard of the Z.D.K.

At the 1990 I.A.G.A.R.B. Convention, members unanimously agreed that a German Angora was descended exclusively from imported angora breeding stock. The genetic inclusion by any foreign breeds, no matter how distant, would always be considered a dilution. Crosses with North American English or French angoras, while they are related varieties, were also considered a dilution. A fourth generation German cross, regardless of color, could be registered as a “German-Hybrid.”

In 2005 at the IAGARB Annual Meeting, an important step forward was taken. It was agreed that the system of defining a German Angora only in terms of pedigree was not effective. It had become confusing and easy to abuse. Rabbits were valued simply because they were descended from imported stock, not because they maintained the excellent qualities of their ancestors.

Because our registration system was put in place in 2001, we had an alternative to the “definition by percentage” approach. As in Germany, we decided to let our registration testing work for us to identify the best angoras.

In Europe, the breed is Angora. In order to follow the German system as closely as possible, we have adopted the same approach to the breed Angora. We agreed to use our testing to sort out the most worthy breeding animals from all of the rest. Concerns were voiced that other types of angoras might be accepted into our registry than those out of exclusively imported lines.

In response, the Standards Committee ruled that any hybrid angora that passed our registry tests, regardless of its percentage of imported background, would have an “H” added to its tattoo number. In the event that an angora with no imported lines in its background passed our tests, it would have an “N” added to its tattoo number. The Standards Committee felt that these designations would assist potential buyers in having a greater understanding of the backgrounds of registered rabbits.

With these new polices in place, it was unanimously agreed that our registry could be opened to colored angoras. Unless offspring were descended directly from colored angoras imported from Germany, they and their albino littermates would continue to include an “H” at the end of their tattoo numbers.

The IAGARB system of registry by merit has worked very well. By mid 2007, all of the rabbits that have passed our tests have been 100% out of imported lines with only 2 exceptions. Both of these rabbits were 98% Hybrids and demonstrated exceptional qualities.

Make an informed decision purchasing any angora rabbit. The integrity of the breeder is the first consideration. What is the genetic history and foundation of the stock in question? What level of wool production can you expect from them in exchange for your initial and daily investments of labor and feed? Can you expect them to breed true? Compare price to value. Estimate the anticipated wool to feed ratio.

These questions can be answered favorably by reputable breeders provided full disclosure is made and the rabbits are suitable for your intended purpose.