HOW DO THE ANGORA RABBITS DIFFER
FROM OTHER RABBIT BREEDS?
Deutsche Kleintierzuechter May 1999
Written by Walter Drecktrah
Translation by Monika Yost
In the following article, I am going on the expectations that the readers of the Deutsche Kleintierzuechter are familiar with the breeding, feeding, and care of normal-haired rabbits. This knowledge is often very minimal when taking the Angora rabbit into consideration. Therefore you may get questions during conversations, especially at shows: Does the Angora need to be sheared? Can they be bred to a normal-haired rabbit? Can you eat their meat? Does it eat normal rabbit food? Can you keep it on straw? Does it raise similar litters as a normal-haired rabbit? … And many more questions.
All these questions can be answered with a YES, because the Angora rabbit is another breed of domestic rabbit, like any of the others, and only the long wool makes its appearance different. This long wool was originally developed from a mutation of a normal-haired rabbit. Through long-time breeding efforts of the small rabbit breeders, eventually the Angora rabbit with higher wool production and wool quality was achieved.
Huge Productivity Through Breeding
Soon people recognized the warmth-therapeutic value of the fine Angora fibers, which have inside them many air-filled cells and therefore have a wonderful insulation value. This highly desired wool was purchased at high market prices, and the economical gain potential drove the breeders to higher and higher wool production goals of the individual animals — for their personal gain. The Angora Wool Stations developed by the state, allowed an ideal selection, because animals from various breeders were kept under the same conditions (feeding, caging, temperature, etc.), and the shearing results following after a specified time, were objective results.
In combination with a weighed and controlled quality of feed, which was only becoming a possibility after the invention of pelletized feed, the Angora breeders began to reach higher and higher production, which is impossible to be reached by any other domesticated animal. Literature began reporting 200 gram annual wool production in 1920. When I began breeding Angora rabbits in 1963, the 1000 gram goal had been surpassed as annual wool production. Today, the highest wool production has surpassed another milestone — 2000 gram. A similar gain has been noted in the wool quality, although this is not possible to support with numbers. While animals needed to be combed on a daily basis in 1920 in order to keep them mat-free, today, any Angora leaning toward matting is removed from the breeding program. Combing or brushing the animals between shearing is unheard of.
Unfortunately, the wool prices were always slave to a certain cycle, and with the changes of wool prices, the number of breeders also changed. Since about ten years ago, the prices have been so drastically low, that an Angora breeder cannot show an economical gain with his colony. It does not look like there are going to be any changes in the near future either. Although the number of Angora breeders has declined notably for the above reason (there were 504 white Angora rabbits in the Stuttgart Federal Show in 1987, while only 206 white Angora rabbits were entered in the Nuernberg Federal Show in 1997, which included the new eastern counties), the quality of the animals and their wool has not suffered. The idealists remained Angora breeders.
Important Differences in Judging
From my previous remarks it is obvious, that the wool has always determined the value of the Angora rabbit, and this is also obvious in the judging of the Angora rabbit within the Standard. All seven positions are related to the wool, and I would like to note here the differences in the Standard between the Angora and the normal-haired rabbit breeds.
Size and Weight
There is a maximum of 1 kg (2.4 lbs) difference allowed between normal weight and maximum weight in all normal-haired rabbits. The Angora rabbit is allowed a maximum weight variation of 1.75 kg (4.2 lbs), allowing them to weigh anywhere from 3.5 to 5.25 kg (8.4 – 12.6 lbs). The maximum weight was raised several times, because of the desire to raise the wool production of the individual animal, and it stands to reason that a larger animal will potentially outdo a smaller one with the same density factor. I cannot say that this weight gain has potentially improved the breed. It would be much more beneficial to compare the wool production to the body weight and with that information have a relative wool production. This would encourage the weight to go back to a more controlled development. Years ago, in the 60’s and 70’s there was indeed a wool value end number, which actually determined the productivity of the animal. This number was determined by the wool value number, and compared to the weight of the animal.
Body Shape and Frame
This position reveals the most common weakness of the Angora rabbit. Certainly, a main reason for this weakness is the fact that breeders concentrated for many years on wool quality and production. In order to achieve those goals, a breeder was often only too willing to ignore some of the other physical flaws. Added to this is the fact that judges often have a more difficult time detecting physical flaws under the dense wool and to make the breeders aware of these flaws. The most common flaws are extruding pins, poor ear carriage, crooked legs, and dewlaps. This last point needs to be carefully scrutinized, however, because commonly a good wool density in that area of the body can be mistaken for a dewlap, and you are surprised to find after shearing that it was indeed only wool. The breeder has an easier time to judge the physique of his animals, because he/she can view the animal right after the shearing, when nothing can hide the physical flaws. In the past few years, the body of the Angora has been drastically improved in my opinion. I suppose it is because the low wool prices are not lucrative enough to have the breeders focus on only wool production and instead is paying more attention to the body build.
Wool Density and Length
Practically speaking, the estimated wool production for the next shearing should be calculated by the judge for this position. However, not all judges have experience with Angora rabbits and this can be a difficult decision to make, since he never has the opportunity to double check his estimates. The breeder has the opportunity to weigh out the wool after shearing, in order to determine if an animal with 15 points actually did produce more wool than another animal given 14 or 14.5 points in position 3. It is understandable that the judge can make mistakes in this position, although it should be mandatory to follow up on this point with judges.
Uniformity of the Wool
Even a novice could determine any flaws in this position with relative ease. Special attention needs to be paid to the thigh area, because this is the area most commonly showing wool flaws of this nature. Often this is also the area of most common matting. Therefore breeders may comb out mats on the thighs, which results in less density and should be accordingly judged with less points for this position.
In the Standard, the three hair types: wool, awn fluff, ad awn hair, are described in detail, therefore I will refrain from repeating it in this article. In comparison to other rabbit breeds, the Angora rabbit has a wool fleece, which consists of the three hair types mentioned above. The most valuable texture has as much wool as possible and as much awn as necessary. Under no circumstance is the wool to be too soft, since it would have a tendency to matting. With just enough awn, the wool gets the support necessary to keep from matting. It is very easy for a breeder to determine the texture of his animals’ wool when shearing. In general, the animals with the best wool texture are the ones that also shear the easiest.
Breed Characteristics (Tasseling)
Tasseling on Angora rabbits is located on the following body parts: forehead, cheeks, ears, and legs. These characteristics are undesirable in all other rabbit breeds. Without doubt, the tassels on cheeks and feet should be strongly developed. For decades it was also mandatory to have strongly developed forelocks and ear tassels. In the meantime, it has been determined that the forelocks and ear tassels contribute to other health problems. It has been decided that the ear tassels are just to fringe the ears and the forelock is not to reach into or cover the eyes. Unfortunately, the preferences vary within breeders and judges quite a bit. Therefore it can happen that one judge will deduct points because he feels that the tassels are too strongly developed, while another will give full points or may even deduct a point with the comment that there is not enough tasseling. I think though that the near future will bring a more uniform opinion.
Even in this position there are some differences in comparison to other breeds. The Angora rabbit is permitted to have yellow wool in the area of the sexual organs. Surely this is a justified variance.
My Experiences and Suggestions
When I began in 1963 to breed rabbits, I determined rather quickly that the Angora rabbit would be the ideal rabbit for me, because it is the only breed that has a type of production that can be measured while they are still alive — their wool which can be harvested over and over.
I was fortunate enough to locate a very experienced and knowledgeable Angora breeder, Johann Schmidt of Syke. I purchased my first breeding stock from him, and — of much more importance — many important and great tips for the breeding of the stock. Furthermore, I also was fortunate to have found people without interruption in support of the Angora rabbit in my local club in Sulingen F-327. We have been in this club already for decades as three registered rabbit breeders. This support is highly important, since in unison, we can pool our resources for the bigger picture. It helps to have this support for other things as well. I can only recommend, to keep a good atmosphere between like-minded Angora breeders in your area and to cooperate with them.
Furthermore, I made an observation over time, that it is very important to be strict in the selection of animals for future breeding stock. It is of utmost importance for the breeder to recognize even the slightest of flaws in his animals. These animals are to be excluded from breeding. Since Angora rabbits are not in high demand, only excellent and flawless animals should be used for breeding. In this area, the current development of the lesser interest in the Angora rabbit is of benefit, since it gives the breeders a chance to work on improving the breed. We often tend to sell breeding stock or use breeding stock with less desirable characteristics just because there is a demand for the animals, which then turns into a detriment for the breed.
I prefer to keep my cages indoors, in a well-ventilated room with the ability to use heat in the winter when temperatures dip down to freezing levels. Aside from keeping the water tubes from freezing, this also benefits the animals directly after shearing. I also prefer to add plenty of bedding for the first eight weeks after shearing for extra warmth and protection. After that, a wire floor is preferred which allows urine and manure to fall through. Sometimes we hear breeders complain that the does don’t get pregnant or only produce one or two in a litter, which often are stillborn. The most common reason for this development is the fact that does are too fat. I prevent this by only feeding 90 percent of their daily requirement divided into two feedings, given into a free-feeding hopper. With this method, I quickly find changes in appetite, if the food has not been totally eaten by the time the next feeding rolls around. In addition to the feed, I free-feed hay until they are full. I prefer clover hay, which has been dried on racks rather than on the ground.
Many breeders disagree on the timing of the shearing prior to a show. My experience has proven, that an animal, sheared 11 to 12 weeks prior to the show does better than an animal that has been sheared 13 weeks prior to the show. You might risk loosing a half a point in position 3. However, you have the benefit of getting a higher point value in position 5, since there is no matting. You also benefit from a higher point value in position 4, since there is no shedding. Possibly, you could even benefit in position 2, since a ripe fleece translates into a reduced appetite, which in turn has an effect on the body condition of the animal. By the way, it is not true that Angora breeders use their bony animals for breeding, as some other rabbit breeders tend to believe. The animals loose some of their body fat and their condition after not eating due to their full fleece.
Another point puts the Angora breeder into a definite disadvantage in comparison to rabbit breeders of normal-haired rabbit breeds. While a breeder with animals of the normal-haired breeds can take his animals to several shows in a row during their prime time, the Angora breeder can only go a limited amount of time between shearing during which the animal is in prime. This means that an Angora breeder needs a larger number of top class animals in order to get the same results at a variety of shows. ALso, he is forced into committing eleven weeks prior to the show to the animals he will take to the show, because that is the time he needs for the fleece to develop after shearing. Still, I do believe in the further development and a further improvement of the Angora rabbit. At all times there were and are serious breeders, who are focusing actively on the production and quality of the rabbit, and who are willing to invest the necessary time and effort into breeding the perfect Angora rabbit. I wish that this will remain the same.
Reprinted from IAGARB News, Winter 2000