|By Leslie Samson
We invest money and labor in our angora rabbits. In return, they grow fine, beautiful wool. Of all of the many financial outputs necessary to keep rabbits, one of the most predictable is feed. Whether or not hay and supplements are part of your normal regime, a measured amount of pelleted feed will be given to your rabbits on a daily basis.
The normal ration is 1 cup, by volume, per day per adult angora. One cup by volume works out to 6 ounces in weight. Over a month, a rabbit will eat 11.25 pounds of pellets. During a 90 day shearing interval, a healthy angora can be expected to eat 33.75 pounds of that same feed.
Multiply that number by four and you can calculate the amount of feed you need to buy for one rabbit in one year – 135 pounds. If your feed is purchased in 50 pound bags, you will need 2.7 bags of feed for one rabbit in one year.
The next factor to consider is the shearing interval. Ninety days is an excellent period of time to grow and harvest wool for a number of reasons. It is ideal for the rabbit as wool often begins to shed and trail after 100 days. It is at this point that wool block can become a significant health issue for the rabbit.
There is a growth curve to wool production with the most efficient conversion of feed to fiber length occurring in the first 45 days post shearing. After 90 days, wool growth will slow as an effect of a potential decrease in appetite due to the accumulation of wool in the stomach and the insulating properties of the animal’s coat.
Coincidentally, the average length of fiber produced in 90 days is 3 to 4.5 inches. This is an ideal staple length for spinning a stable yarn. Lastly, 90 days is a very convenient quarter fraction of a 365 day year.
Years ago a man bragged to me about a 14 ounce coat he had just clipped from his small mixed breed angora buck. Fourteen ounces in one clipping was pretty good, eh? I knew this fellow well enough to predict that he was not interested in fastidious grooming. I smiled back and asked if this was a year’s coat growth. It was. Then I asked if it came off in one piece. Well, yeah, it did.
A year’s worth of feed, 135 pounds, was given over to a wasted coat. With respect to the wool, the return on investment was zero. Add in the daily labor, caging, treats, medications, utilities and the time required to cut the rabbit free from its angora cocoon and that one rabbit represented a significant drain on resources.
It is not enough to declare only how much wool an animal can produce. This is why IAGARB wool tests record both a Gross Wool total and an Adjusted Wool total. Gross Wool accounts for the overall production regardless of grade.
The Adjusted Wool total makes an allowance for the relative value of the coat produced. The Adjusted Wool total values the Prime Wool at 100% of its weight, the Second grade wool at 75% of its actual weight and the Third grade wool at only 25% of its actual weight.
The ultimate objective of the Gross / Adjusted system is to give the breeder better information when selecting for breeding. Ideal rabbits would be registered with Gross and Adjusted wool totals that show little difference. These would be the rabbits with the highest percentage of useable wool.
Feed to Wool Ratio Chart
The chart that follows indicates only the cost relation between pelleted feed and gross wool production. You can estimate the feed to wool ratio of each rabbit as it is shorn by simply comparing its production to the chart.
For data specific to your rabbitry, you can calculate a chart based on the actual costs of your own feed. Use the Adjusted Wool value for a more precise indicator of feed conversion to usable wool.
Cost per ounce of feed per $10.00 50 Pound Bag $15.00 50 pound Bag
Ozs. Wool 90 days*
*1 ounce = 28.35 grams
11.46 ounces = 325 grams – IAGARB registration minimum
18 ounces = 510.29 grams – or 2041 grams per annum – 11 grams less than our 2008 registration record of 2052 grams
What Does This Mean To The Wool Producer?
Every angora breeder should be aware of the value of the fiber his or her rabbits produce.
The Feed to Wool is the first indicator your cost of production. It is not the only one. There are plenty of others that have been only briefly mentioned in this article.
The following analysis assumes that all weights represent wool coats with no wastage. In the real world, only a percentage of any coat will be first quality. How many of the ounces produced are actually prime wool? This is why Adjusted Wool values are required to estimate a more accurate individual performance.
If you have a rabbit that produces 8 ounces a year or 2 ounces per 90 day interval, its wool, excluding all other expenses (meds, labor, utilities etc.) will cost 5.06 per ounce based on a 15.00 bag of feed. Obviously, one must ask more than 5.00 an ounce for that wool because it was very expensive to produce. All other costs would probably push the breakeven point closer to 7.00 an ounce. If a profit is expected, a retail price of at least 12.00 an ounce will be necessary.
On the other hand, if you have an angora rabbit capable of giving you 12 ounces of wool in 90 days, the cost of feed drops rather dramatically to .84 per ounce of fiber. At .84 an ounce for feed, you could double the cost to include all sorts of extras and still make a handsome profit at 5.00 an ounce.
When you apply the Adjusted Wool values to this mathematical exercise, the wisdom of the breeders in Germany really starts to shine. Yes, German Angoras are large and lovely and require very little if any grooming. Their wool has a gorgeous texture that withstands milling and wear. To the long list of attributes of this magnificent angora, make sure to include – economical!
The “Going Rate”
All too often, producers look to other producers to figure out the “going rate”. To make sure that products sell, they sometimes undercut the competition by discounting prices. The problem, of course, is that the next new producer sees the reduced price and figures that must be the “going rate.” The new guy undercuts again and the cycle continues to deteriorate until it damages everyone.
It is worth noting that a retail price of around 6.00 an ounce has been the “going rate” for an ounce of prime angora for more than 10 years. In that time the price of feed has steadily increased. If a tide raises all boats, then why has the price of angora wool remained anchored to the same “going rate”?
IAGARB Co-op German Angora 85/15 yarn has been selling well at $15.00 an ounce / $30.00 for a two ounce skein. This price covers as many production and processing costs as we could identify including shipping to and from the mill. At this price, we have a decent profit margin for direct sales to retail customers.
Many of us either have or have kept angoras other than Germans. Let’s pretend that we can divide our rabbitries in half. One half of the rabbitry is filled with rabbits producing an average of 16 ounces per rabbit per year or 4 ounces per 90-day harvest. The other half houses registered Germans producing 12 ounces every 90 days.
Send the wool from each side of your barn to the same mill to make the same yarn but in two separate lots. Would we be able to charge the same price for each yarn? What would happen if we used the IAGARB “going rate” for both yarns?
An exceptional angora will produce 18 ounces per 90 day shearing. The feed to wool ratio on a pound of that wool is a mere $8.96, based on a 15.00 bag of feed. Prime angora with a feed / wool ratio of .84 an ounce works out to $13.44 a pound. Angora with a wool / feed ratio of 2.53 works out to $40.48 a pound.
Remember, those figures – $8.96, $13.44 and $40.48 come from an identical investment of feed yet the return is very different. It is very nearly three times more expensive to produce wool with one pound yield rabbits than in a facility housing rabbits that can grow the IAGARB minimum and more than four times the cost of wool from an excellent angora.
The obvious answer to the above questions is this: If the same retail yarn price was charged for both yarns, one side of the rabbitry would profit and the other would lose. In fact, with the associated costs of making sales (booth fees, consignment fees, labor, labeling, packaging etc.), an analysis would likely show that beyond cost recovery, it would actually take even more money out of pocket to complete sales from the losing side.
An easy study in angora apples and oranges is to compare wool from a high production German Angora with glistening Satin Angora wool. You only have to see the fiber to know that each celebrates very different characteristics from the other.
Anyone with experience with Satins is aware that this special breed is appreciated for the uniquely silken qualities of its wool, not heavy production. It is simple to compare feed to wool ratios to understand that yarn made from Satin angoras has a significantly more expensive cost of production than does the German. Their wool cannot be priced the same. Satin angora fiber is rare and precious and must be priced accordingly.
A Final Note
IAGARB has a successful yarn co-op. In order to price our products intelligently, we must analyze the factors affecting production. When we do, we are acknowledging financial realities.
Why should anyone be shy or lazy about figuring out his or her costs in order to create a reasonable return? Your feed dealer isn’t embarrassed about charging you for his product. Whether you use a spinning wheel or a spinning mill, none of those folks will apologize for their equipment or processing fees. Need an extra inch of cage wire? The dealer can price that out for you.
There is nothing noble about losing money. Monetary suffering is not a real barometer of how emotionally committed someone is to their rabbits. In truth, the profitable rabbitry can easily afford the improvements that make the lives of these wonderful rabbits more comfortable.
As an angora wool producer, you can bring to the market one of the most luxurious and thermally efficient fibers in the world. It is not a by-product of stock sales or showing. It is a real commodity with real value. Whether you horde it, give it away, sell it at a discount or a profit – the costs of production are still the same.
©2009 Samson Angora