I am amused that an afternoon with my Angora Rabbits leaves me reaching for allergy meds and tissues. To be fair my rabbits are only the tip of the ice-burg, I am allergic to everything with fur. Cats, Dogs, Sheep, Goats, Rabbits and I recently found out; Alpaca to name a few. Even with the itchy skin, watery eyes and sneezing I wouldn’t trade fiber arts for the world, or pets for that matter. I have to many pets to worry about silly things like allergies!
Today’s bout of sneezing was brought on by finally bringing my rabbits inside to get them groomed. I got a lovely surprise and both my buck and doe were in partial molt. Charles is my buck and he provided a decent 0.3 ounces of fiber! He was really matted when I bought him and so any fiber from him this year is a blessing. Raja, my doe gave an impressive 0.4ounces as well! I know, I know less than half an ounce each is not that impressive right? Well for a rabbit it is, let’s see how long it takes you to grow half an ounce of hair. Raja can do it in 4-6 months, Charles in 3.
I am still baffled, indignant and slightly amused at the people who still believe we kill our rabbit for their fiber. Really? Where would be the profit in that? A one time harvest of half an ounce after months of feeding an extremely gluttonous breed? (Perhaps this is just my experience but rabbits will eat you out of house and home if you let them!) I have sat on forums and just gaped in total disbelief at people raving at hand-spinners for animal cruelty. Believe you me, there is nothing to be said in our defense either according to these people! Well I am here to set the record straight today, ignorance isn’t bliss.
We do not kill our rabbits, as stated above that would be a waste of time and profit. (among other reasons) Fiber is harvested either by cutting individual hairs, like your barber would do, or by plucking. I pluck because it mimics the natural shedding of the rabbit and also provides a more delicate spinning fiber. My rabbits don’t seem bothered by the process and are even more rambunctious after it’s over. (like a puppy after a bath)
I typically do this in the house. I bring each in one at a time and begin by trimming toenails. Raja hates this worse than anything as she has to be on her back. Charles is the epitome of relaxed and couldn’t care less what you do to him so long as he gets petted once he is upright. Raja I bribe with pineapple, that girl will do anything for pineapple. Once that is over and the rabbit is once again right side up I begin looking for any excessively matted areas and trim those off with kiddy scissors. Charles has excessive facial and ear hair which I also trim, where Raja is clean-faced. once they have been de-matted i start at their behinds and work my way up to their necks, one side at a time. I lay a hand flat against their skin and use the other to gently pull sections of hair. Now, take a moment and breathe. This doesn’t hurt. It’s not like your hair, you don’t molt, if I pulled on your hair you would not like me very much. Neither Raja nor Charles even react when I do this. Unless Raja has run out of pineapple, then she tends to bite you if you do not quickly attend to her desire for more. This happens whether you are plucking or not, she is just wired that way. Rabbits lose a section of hair when new hair is grown, the old stuff is loose on the rabbit but not loose enough to simply fall off. They molt they do not shed. Again deep breath, the rabbit isn’t bald, remember the new growth I talked about? Once you pluck the old you can start to see the new. Charles was about 1/2 inch long today and still plenty warm, it is only march after all. Raja had about and inch or so but she has just grown out from her previous owner cutting her fiber last summer. I prefer to pluck, as I said, because it mimics the natural molting process. I don’t like the idea of cutting fiber because you could nick the rabbit or yourself. Also if you cut your rabbit’s fur to early and too short they could become overly chilled and go into shock. Of course many Angora people who choose this method will put a coat on the rabbit until it is warm enough to not need it. I am not trying to say cutting is a poor method, it just isn’t what I prefer.
There are things to look for when I check my rabbits, twice a day. Things like cottony tips to their coats, excessive fur in their cage and (hopefully not) chewed fur. When I see any of these I know it’s time to harvest the old stuff. There are several benefits to this process. First the rabbit can’t completely shed it’s coat and may become overheated with more than one layer of fiber. Second if the rabbit does get too hot it may start chewing or pulling its own fur and in the process ingest some. This causes a condition called wool block and sometimes they can’t recover from it. It causes them not to be able to eliminate and they also believe themselves to be full and may not eat. It is a slow painful death. Rabbits bathe like cats do, by licking themselves, so a small amount of fiber ingestion is normal. Angora owners typically provide for this circumstance with papaya (tablets or the real stuff), hay and pineapple. So you see it’s a rather big help to the rabbit to be rid of its extra fur and handspinners are more than happy to use up the silky soft stuff!
I am not by any means an expert on Angoras, but I do know my rabbits. I know that both sit quietly and nibble treats while I pluck their fur and they both seem to enjoy coming inside for a visit. (I think that has more to do with treats and petting than actual want of company!) Charles runs around like a crazy rabbit after being plucked and seems to have boundless energy… So if you are looking to snuggle best to do it while he still has that extra coat. He seems, liberated after and is ready to play. Raja shows little reaction, but then the aristocrats never do. With her French breeding and Satin qualities she is my diva (read; attitude problem). I love them both to death, but Charles is my Mr. Personality. If I ever decide to spin in public right from the rabbit, He is my wingman. He loves everyone and if you have time to pet him you’ll have a friend for life. Raja… well all I can say is don’t forget the pineapple 🙂
I hope I have put some fears to rest today and I hope you have enjoyed hearing about another process in the world of fiber arts! Have a wonderful day!
Charles the Giant Angora the silver one, Raja the French/Stain Chocolate, a strand of fiber from each on the scale, About 1/4 once from Charles washed and ready to card.