Q. What should I feed my French and Satin Angoras?
A. We feed our French and Satin Angoras Purina Pro Rabbit Chow, supplemented with calf manna. We like our Angora rabbits on a higher (18%) protein pellet, as their body needs extra protein for wool growth. If your local feed store does not carry Purina Pro, you can ask them or any Purina dealer to special order it for you. There are also a variety of other quality foods recommended for Angoras that I have known other breeders to feed their rabbits, including Manna Pro and others. Angora rabbits need a special balance of nutrients and proteins in order to grow and maintain their beautiful coats. I think of it as their body is always working. Some also give papaya supplements weekly to prevent wool block, a very serious condition in which the rabbit's digestive tract becomes blocked by wool. Rabbits lick themselves to groom their coats, like cats, ingest some hair in the process, which is normally passed. The difference between cats and rabbits is that rabbits cannot throw up the hairball when too much hair or wool accumulates in the stomach. Pineapple and pineapple juice is another prevention method, as it also contains an enzyme that helps break down the wool in the stomach. Water can be replaced weekly with pineapple juice (we have begun doing this about every 1-3 weeks, especially during a moult), and pineapple and papaya can also be fed as a supplement, along with plenty of hay (at all times) and 1/2 slice banana with the peel still on it. Some breeders use "hay and birdseed days", in which case, they remove the pelleted feed and replace it with birdseed and hay for a day, once weekly, as a wool block prevention method. Roughage is important in all rabbits' (especially Angora) diets, as it not only wears down the teeth (as you may know, rabbit teeth are ever-growing), but provides the fiber needed to keep the digestive tract moving and ingested hair moving out. It is important to the rabbits' health that Timothy, oat, or grass hay be available at all times, even when feeding a quality pelleted feed.
Q. What is "wool block", what are the signs, and how do I treat it?
A. First off, I am not a veterinarian. If possible, the best thing to do would be to take your rabbit to a veterinarian, if suspected of wool block or not acting like it is feeling well. With that said, here are some ways to recognize a possible case of wool block and some home treatments. If wondering what wool block is, see answer to previous question. In addition to the dietary methods listed above, keeping a rabbit well-groomed, and removing the wool when moulting helps prevent wool block.
If a rabbit stops eating (whether the culprit is suspected wool block or not), it is cause for concern. Rabbits have sensitive digestive systems that can easily become overgrown with bad bacteria if a rabbit stops eating; therefore, it is important to keep the digestive tract moving and the rabbit eating.
Signs of wool block include lack of appetite, stopping eating entirely, a general unwell look or unusual behavior for the rabbit, lethargy, smaller droppings than usual, droppings strung together by ingested wool, or the absence of droppings entirely. Wool block is serious and can be fatal.
Some home treatments of wool block include removing the pelleted feed (replacing it with an unlimited supply of hay, pineapple, and papaya [hay for the fiber, pineapple and papaya for the enzymes they contain that help break down the blockage], and 1/2 banana with the peel on it), giving papaya supplements, replacing the water with pure pineapple juice, giving one teaspoon twice daily of olive oil, and giving meat tenderizer. All of the wool should be sheared off of the rabbit, if wool block is suspected, to prevent further ingestion of wool. Again, I am not a veterinarian; I can only tell you what I have had experience with (I have used pineapple juice, pineapple, feeding hay and banana with the peel on it, and olive oil) and what I have heard from others.
As stated previously, wool block is serious, and it is best to go to a veterinarian, if possible.
Q. What do I need in order to do to groom my French and Satin Angoras?
A. French Angoras, because of their higher percentage of guard hair than other Angora breeds (which prevents matting), are considered pretty easy to groom. I use a professional Angora blower to "blow out" my French Angora's coats each week, as well as inspect them for any mats that may have formed and gently detangle them, using either my fingers or a wide-tooth metal comb, while holding the base of the hair so that 1.) The detangling doesn't pull their skin, and 2.) as much wool as possible is kept on the rabbit. During periods of moulting, or in young rabbits, you may want to "blow out" the coats more often. If you do not want to spend the money on a professional blower, but have your heart set on an Angora (or even several), I recommend using a shop vac. Many people have used this technique with success, including me. In fact, we have one that we bought for $25 and use as a back-up blower. Some people use a hairdryer on cold, but we have found this to not be powerful enough for our grooming needs, and I do not personally recommend it. A slicker brush is another useful grooming tool, to be used for any pilling on the ends after using the blower, while holding the ends of the wool firmly with your other hand to keep as much wool on the rabbit as possible, especially if showing the rabbit or planning to. For the Satin Angoras, who have a much finer wool type than the French Angora, grooming methods are the same, but should be performed more frequently. We have found that twice weekly works for us, but this is just our experience with our rabbits. You will find what works for you and your rabbit. When we can, we like to "blow out" the Satin Angora coats three times weekly and the French Angora two times weekly, but have not found this to be necessary, except in baby coats and during periods of moulting, in which the wool has more of a tendency to matt.
Q. How do I harvest wool from my French or Satin Angora rabbit?
A. French Angoras moult naturally approximately 3-4 times a year, during which time it will be quite easy to pluck hair from your rabbit, and you may notice more of a tendency for your rabbit to matt than usual.
When harvesting wool, focus on the "prime wool areas" (back area). French Angora wool, in my area of California, is generally worth $6-8 dollars an ounce. If you plan to sell the wool, we recommend you purchase an inexpensive scale that has the capability of measuring ounces (we use a small postal scale). Plucked wool from prime areas go for the most amount of money (we sell for $8/oz.), especially if plucked from rabbits with good to exceptional wool quality and length, with the minimum 3" being preferred by most. The ability to pluck wool is one advantage to having a moulting breed of rabbit, such as the French Angora and Satin Angora (Germans and Giants do not naturally shed their wool, and must be sheared). I have known many spinners who will ONLY spin plucked wool, and will not even consider sheared; however, I have also known many spinners who have been happy to spin sheared wool of good length and quality, which leads to my next topic: shearing.
Although, in my experience, plucked wool goes for more money and spinners prefer it, I usually prefer to shear my rabbits, using a pair of Fiscars SoftTouch scissors. I find the wool to grow back more evenly for shearing, which I prefer since I breed for show. Also, it takes less time.
Before shearing, part your rabbit's hair down center of the back, starting at the shoulder blades and ending around the center of the back. Hold the rabbit's hair, while sliding the scissors in under the part you've made. Aim to cut as close to the rabbit's skin as you can, of course without cutting your rabbit. Nicks can happen, but in most cases are not serious and heal quickly, although you will feel bad. I've found that if I gently hold the wool I am snipping between two fingers, is a good method for me and protects the rabbit's skin. Wool that is 3"+ long can be harvested. Remember that plucked wool will be slightly shorter than sheared wool from the same rabbit.
If your rabbit needs a break, let him or her have one. I also offer treats to rabbits during shearing and plucking time. Your rabbit will appreciate a break, especially if plucking (which takes more time), and/or some special treats (1/2 carrot, parsley, cilantro, lavendar...). In general, I have found that my rabbits do not mind being sheared or plucked; in fact, I have a couple rabbits in particular who seem to love being plucked when they are in release mode! When I do pluck my rabbits, I gently pluck all the wool that comes loose easily, and shear the rest.
Q. Why did you choose to breed French and Satin Angora rabbits?
A. When I was child, my best friend lived on a small farm. As an animal lover, her house was a paradise to me. From the horses to the goats to the chickens, I loved them all. I spent many weekends at her house, loving being around all her animals, loving life... but most of all, I loved her rabbits. You see, she bred Angora rabbits as a 4-H project, harvesting their wool, and selling it to spinners for money. While over visiting, I helped her care for her rabbits, from feeding and watering them, to combing the matts from their fur or simply visiting with them through their hutch doors.
I didn't have many animals growing up, but I promised myself that when I grew up, I would have rabbits like hers. Some people rebel by dying their hair blue, or listening to death metal. I joke that I rebelled by starting a rabbitry.
I chose to breed French Angoras because of their beauty, elegance, and most especially, their ease of grooming (compared to other Angora breeds). I chose to raise Satin Angoras because of their uniqueness and beauty, as well as the fulfillment of improving upon a rare breed. I do not regret my decision. My love for both breeds has only grown, and I am thankful that, even as a child, I was able to experience these wonderful rabbits through my friend's 4-H project.
I am now living my childhood dream of raising Angora rabbits.
Should you decide to purchase rabbits from Mad River Rabbitry, we are more than happy to answer any questions you may have, as well as provide you with a complimentary grooming demonstration and a transitional bag of feed (Purina Pro).
Additionally, a word to our customers that our original French Angora breeder we had purchased from (a wonderful woman and breeder) told us: our relationship does not end here. If you have any questions at all after purchase of rabbits from Mad River Rabbitry, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are here for you and support you in your future endeavors with our rabbits!