Dedicated to Raising Purebred Dutch & Purebred English Angora rabbits To the ARBA American Standard of Perfection
English Angora Care, Grooming requirements, & Other general Information
I will be adding information to this as I get the time. What you need to know starting out in English Angoras, things I wish I would've known when I first started out. These are my own opinions and thoughts, as well as some general information about the breed.
Molting vs. Non-Molting Angoras
You've probably read about or heard people use the term "molting" or "non-molting" angora. What does it mean?
A molting Angora is an angora who sheds or molts their coat naturally every couple months. Also called "blowing coat", they will one day just start shedding all over their cage, pulling and chewing their coat excessively, or losing hair. This is normal for a molting angora. Molting is a result of the current hair/fur/wool dying, and new hair/fur/wool follicles starting to grow in. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, it all depends on what you are looking for. Some spinners and fiber artists prefer molters, because they are able to brush or pluck the wool (instead of shearing or clipping), as well as because: (A: you can do it more often, and (B: the wool often comes out much easier.
In some rabbits, it is desirable. Molting is something all breeds of rabbits do, often during a change in seasons or a significant change in diet. Short hair rabbits shed or molt less, sometimes barely noticeable, but usually in the spring and fall. Indoor rabbits are less prone to ever molting, because of a more temperate climate.
Traits for coat length found in molting angoras: Usually a coat life is around 3 months or less, needing to be either plucked or sheared so another coat can come in. The first coat on an angora (growing up from a baby) usually lasts the longest and has the softest texture. You might be able to push a Molting Angora's coat length without them molting 5-8 months, in an extremely temperate climate (ie: climate controlled/AC environment) maybe 10 months. Length of the wool (by measurement) will depend upon genetics.
A Non-Molting Angora is an Angora who sheds very differently from a Molting Angora. They don't continuously shed. The first year a Non-Molting Angora has a typical coat lifespan of about 10-14+ months. A lot longer than a non-molter. The length of wool in a Non-Molting Angora often is much longer than that of a molter, because their hair keeps growing for a longer period of time. I've seen Non-Molting English Angoras in coat up to 12+ inches. Yep, very impressive. Even a Non-Molter has a coat that eventually needs to go. You can tell a Non-Molter's coat needs to be removed when it lacks spring and vibrancy. The coat on a Non-Molter will stop growing and seem more lifeless. Like our hair, when it begins to look dried out or has broken or split ends, we know it is time for a trim. Same for these guys. The coat won't look as beautiful as it once did, and you know it is time to cut them down and let the next coat begin growing in.
You're probably wondering which one is more desirable over the other. That depends on what you want. Here is a comparison of the two:
Preferred by Spinners who like Plucked or Brushed Angora fiber over Sheared Fiber because it is easier to pluck a molter.
Big PRO: Often when an angora is plucked, the color pigment in the wool follicles is noted to be better vs. shearing. Spinners who want to see a lot of color in the wool like a plucked coat because the color will show itself better, as when the new coat grows in the pigment is stronger than a sheared coat.
Although every angora needs to be fed a high fiber diet, Molters often eat much more hay compared to a Non-Molter, because they need more fiber in their diet to keep their GI tract and Gut Flora healthy and moving so they will not end up with Wool Block.
Preferred by Breeders who Show because the coats hold a much longer lifespan before going lifeless. A Non-Molter will never completely shed it's coat.
Far Less prone to get Wool Block or Ingest wool. Because they aren't shedding, they don't feel like chewing or licking. Very very rarely does a Non-Molter ever get wool block.
They are often much easier to groom. They have a little more guard hair in their coat, giving them a beautiful texture to the wool, as well as preventing mats. "Guard hair" are fur-hairs that grow to equal length as the wool.
Although Shearing or clipping is faster, they can also be plucked. Not as easy to pluck a Non-Molter, but it can be done and does not hurt them.
They transition much easier than a Molter. Their transition from baby coat to adult coat is very smooth and often has a lot less upkeep and grooming than a Molter. They still need more grooming than usual during this time, but they are easier over a Molter and can hold coat a LOT better.
To Pluck or To Shear?
This one is entirely up to you. You can do both. First and Foremost: It Does Not Hurt Them!!! Their coats will need to be removed, just a like a Sheep. Shearing: Just like getting a simple hair cut for you, it is the same for them. I use a sharp pair of salon hair scissors to clip or shear my rabbits. I start by parting the wool down the back of the bunny along the spine. (like a hairline part running from behind the ears to the upper hindquarters.) Then I work with the scissors laying towards the skin, cutting “corn rows” along the spine. I work like this all the way down until I reach their belly, with them still sitting on the table or in my lap. Then I work around the hindquarters in a half moon shape. Lay the wool directionally in a sealed container. I usually leave the ear furnishings and face furnishings, sometimes giving them a very minor trim, but for the most part letting them remain. After you've finished the top, I gently hold the bunny on its back like a baby, and carefully trim the length. I leave sometimes close to an inch on the belly. (light trim). After the first clipping, you can (for a pet) just keep the wool at about a 1-2 inch length, which will not mat much, makes for easy grooming, and it is comfortable for the bunny.
Plucking: This is gently pulling on the tips of the hair until it comes loose. It might sound scary, but when you have an angora you'll see how easy and perfectly harmless it is. Molters are super easy, it comes without hardly the slightest tug. They MOLT! Think Shedding. Just like brushing out a dog, except using the tips of your fingers. I also try to lay the wool Directionally in a container, I find it easier to spin that way.
You can pluck a Non-Molter as well. You have a pull a slight bit harder, but not by much. Again, it doesn't hurt. The plucked wool is considered premium because one end of the wool isn't "cut". Both ends look the same, and grafting and drafting when spinning is easier because you don't have to bind the tips when you draft. (If you aren't a spinner, this might not make much sense, but when you are adding wool to the skein, it is called drafting. When you do this, the tips sometimes come loser and you have to work them in a bit more with your fingers. Plucked fiber naturally drafts together easier and I find you get less tips pulling out. Not a big deal either way. Sheared fiber that is spun doesn't untwist, (my opinion: you just are more prone to a Halo affect on your finished product sooner).
Brushing is the same as Plucking except using a Brush. You won't have to use your fingers. Brushing is like over grooming. You can brush and brush and brush and "over-groom" an Angora. Harvesting fiber using the brushing method is very easy. In fact, when grooming a show animal, I have to be careful of not brushing too much. Angora wool, whether on a molter or non-molter, brushes out easily. Grooming combs are prone to pulling out a lot of fiber, which is why when you want to show them you need to be careful with heavy handed comb use. However, for the Brushing/Combing method, a fine tooth comb (like for dog groomers) can work very well to harvesting the fiber. especially on a 2nd time+ grow out coat. Just be gentle.
You may notice when you Pluck or Brush, that the bunny will show a lot of pink skin. NORMAL!! You have removed the hair follicles. In just a couple days, they'll start growing back and you'll see your bunny slowly become fluffy again. They'll look Naked for a little while, some people put sweaters on them. Mine have the cutest antics after having their coat removed. It is like they feel "free" of the big coat. They hop about and have the happiest attitudes.
Pros and Cons to the different Methods: I prefer Shearing or Clipping with a pair of scissors. The reason why is because every time you shear, you aren't affecting the density. You are cutting off the wool, but not removing the hair follicles. When you Pluck, it takes a few days for the hair and wool Follicles to grow back in, and they won't be as thick as the first coat. Density is the amount of follicles per square inch on the rabbit. Lots of density means lots of wool follicle roots. Little density means there is still wool, but not as much, basically not as thick. You can pluck a molter more often than a Non-Molter, their wool can grow in pretty fast. I find that if I pluck, the second time I go to remove the coat there is less wool than the first coat. The density is less. When I shear, the density comes back as thick as before, because the same hair follicle is simply growing long again, instead of having to start over building a root. If you pluck you get= easy to spin fiber that is considered a premium by many fiber artists and spinners. (2nd coat will have less density) If you shear you get= more wool consistently in future wool harvests. (more ounces of wool per shearing)
Personally, I like the texture of non-molters over molters. I'm a spinner too, that is just my opinion. I also have a love for the show coats, and I treasure getting to spin that first coat. The first coat on a non molter is utterly breathtaking, both before harvest, and to spin. I find that the texture difference over plucking vs shearing isn't that big, you can of course pluck a non-molter! It is just a texture preference, totally up to you.
Happy bunny, ready to be free of the long coat. Her fiber here measured about 5-6 inches. I sheared her using my "sheep technique", removing the fiber after I finished shearing to keep a fleece like draft for easy spinning.
Photo taken during shearing. The bunny sits quiet and contentedly. I sometimes give them breaks as well during shearing if it is going longer time wise.
Wool Texture & Transition with Angoras
I have mentioned Transition several times, many people often wonder what does that mean?
Transition: Change from the Baby Coat to a Senior Adult Coat. This is all about texture. Baby coats often are cottony, with a cotton-ball like texture. When I ask a judge to evaluate a 14 week or under baby, often the comment I'll receive is: "shows promising density, but the coat is just a baby coat and is too cottony for me today". What this means is that this is the baby texture of the coat. Just like people, you'll feel how soft the locks are as a baby, but around 3-5 years of age, that texture changes. Same for angoras. The time period of the wool texture change is called transition. Most angoras go through several transition stages, 4-8 weeks, 8-12 weeks, then your coat might hold for another month or two, comes into a prime at 5 1/2 months (Prime time to show juniors), and then the next stage of transition to that full adult Senior coat texture. The coat is growing in length, crimp is defining itself, and overall the wool becomes exceedingly dense. Transition is usually referred to the most in the first year of an Angora's life, because the wool texture changes the most during that period of time. Once a rabbit is an adult, its coat will grow back a few more guard hairs after shearing and usually you shear every 3-5 months, which doesn't give transition much of a chance. Like I mentioned before, the coat usually is at its softest premium the first 12 months. Babies transition harder and more often because they are babies, & since they are starting to grow wool. An adult grows wool continually, since it has had a previously developed wool coat.
Many breeders will tell you, Transition can be scary. One day they are cute as can be with easy grooming, the next week they have an odd texture, their shoulders are webbing (webbing is the pre-mat form of mats), they are in a junior/teenager stage. Some folks call it the ugly stage, many times they are changing so much it is hard to believe it was the same rabbit. And then one day.... the storm is over. There is this beautiful conditioned, textured animal that is getting denser than ever and all that chaotic mess of grooming nightmare is passed by for the moment. Usually the hardest transition stage is 8-16 weeks. They change so much during that time. Transition varies between rabbits, I have a couple rare gems that make me wonder if and when they ever transitioned. I call this an "easy care" coat. Very little grooming, although a slight bit more during the major transition time, and they look fine throughout it. Others make you wonder, is this really a keeper? from day to day. Transition is determined by genetics, ultimately DNA which is from the parents of course. Breeding towards an easy care coat is another key to developing a good strong genetic wool herd. I may have a rabbit from amazing lines, but if that specific bunny isn't transitioning as well as a sibling, or even what I feel I want to see transition look like in that animal, I take that into account.
For me, transition can represent a small glimpse of how the coat will continue to develop. For one, I get a feel for wool length expectations around 14+ weeks. Density and Texture, same thing. Now usually I'm not terribly harsh in my evaluations at this stage, this is an age where much grace is needed, I'm not one to rush evaluations. However, I take note of things, watching for the babies in the litter that pull through transition with the least care, easiest grooming, and keeping a careful eye on crimp. I'm hard on Bucks. I'm REALLY picky about herdsires... You want to get the very best herdsire possible. He can and will set the tone for certain characteristics that you will continue to see throughout generations of his offspring. Genes are fascinating, a trait that a buck had 4 generations ago I can see pop out in certain baby in a litter. When selecting a herdsire, it is important to me to ask how that animal did throughout transition, (or paying close attention to how he develops in my care if I got him as a baby) and how much grooming care the breeder would project to see in his coat.
One of my favorite breeders/friend made it a key characteristic in building her herd for easy care coats. Easy care, directly in relation to transition stages. She works and has a family, & so she didn't have a lot of extra time to commit to grooming excessively during certain time stages. Carefully pairing top of the line animals, she made it a characteristic about her lines for easy care, minor transition coats. I and many fellow breeders recognize that she has achieved success in this area. I'm am honored to now have animals from her in my herd.
Now you are probably wondering about a slight oxymoron here: Wouldn't a denser thicker coat require more brushing? Wouldn't they transition harder because they have more wool? The answer: They do but they don't. Let me explain....
I'm going to put Molting coats by the wayside here, and address Non-Molting coats which is what most reputable and show competitive breeders are working with. (Molting vs Non-Molters transition differently) A coat that transitions hard can sometimes be mistaken for being a molter. Sometimes they are! In most cases, a non-molter may pull through okay. As I described above, Non-molters have a little more fine guard hair (although barely discernible) than molters. The Thicker & Denser the coat, the slight bit of more fine guard hair you'll want to see. Guard hair prevents matting, because wool is what begins to web. Guard hairs prevent webbing, to a certain degree. An Ideal Non-Molter will have an extremely dense, thick, luscious coat, but will be able to have the correct balance of fine guard hairs so as to not affect the wool texture of the coat, but still prevent a high level of webbing. I only have to brush if I see webbing, which can become mats. Use a blower LOTS during transition. That should be your key tool throughout this time. Blow them out more often, then you won't have to use the brush. More wool is what you're breeding for, you don't want to brush it out. At the same time, you want an animal that is able to hold a coat without matting excessively. English have the least amount of balanced guard hairs of the 4 main recognized angora breeds. They have the softest texture, which often means: the most upkeep.
To breed for an Ideal Angora, you are putting Density First, Texture second. BALANCE is key however. I firmly believe the best show quality animals, whether they are shown are not, make the best fiber animals. Remember, we are working with a Wool producer here. It is simply in rabbit form. In breeding towards the standard of perfection in body and other traits, we are also attaining to the highest quality of wool we can achieve. A Dense angora is no good to me, if I'm having to brush out all that density because the animal is transitioning so hard and is webbing horribly. After transition, I'm left with over groomed, no longer dense animal. That doesn't work. Easy care coat, means they have the genetic stamina to transition easily and gracefully throughout their development.
A couple other things to note about Transition:
Nutrition can play a big part in in. Feed is a big deal when it comes to angoras. I feed a high protein high fiber feed to make sure the rabbits are getting all the nutrients they need. If you go to change feeds, do it verrryyyyy gradually if you have juniors. For one, you don't want them getting the GI (gastrointestinal) tract and gut flora imbalance, but for another, it can cause a harder transition, or push them into transitioning. Keeping a stable diet also key to sustaining a vibrant coat.
Hormones. Like all other animals, Rabbits are hormonal. Does chew their coats when they want a boyfriend, bucks sometime spray if they're next to a young intact female, truth be told, hormones can also affect their coat development. Harder for me to control, but keeping as stable an ambiance as possible in their habitat is a great idea. I don't just up an rearrange the cages whenever I want and put a buck right next to a doe in full coat. That would be a nightmare! Sometimes you can't control everything, but do your best to keep a calm and normal environment, overly stressed rabbits will, in my opinion, definitely show a harder transition, good or bad genetics.
Wool Length on English Angoras
Most people think, wool length, no big deal. Yes, in a way it isn't a big deal. According to the Standard of Perfection, no additional points are to be given for an angora exceeding 5 inches in wool length. To be shown, wool is to be at least 2 inches long, ranging up to 5+ inches. I've seen coats up to 12 inches on an English Angora. I have 2 comments to make when it comes to evaluating length on an English Angora.
1. The Standard of Perfection says that they should represent a round ball of fluff. If the wool length is uneven, you lose points for that, sometimes even up to disqualification. Most angoras that have a 3 inch coat, don't overly emulate "a round ball of fluff". Yes, they have the required length, but length and finish go hand in hand. Finish and length change and vary a lot during transition, although careful evaluations can show a tendency to how you'll see the adult coat develop and turn out. I would much rather prioritize breeding towards a longer coat, with correct finish, achieving the "round ball of fluff" than just sliding by with a mediocre meeting the requirement. These are things judges look for when showing!
2. However, be careful of breeding for excessive length. Think about length for a moment. If the nutrients for producing wool are going into many strands of wool, you'll end up with density. If the nutrients for producing wool are going into the actual strands of wool, but with not as much density, you'll get these beautiful spilling coats that are super long. But look at the SOP.... Length isn't the priority, and you don't get extra points for it. All I'm trying to say is, I want good length and finish on a coat. But balance is key. Don't sacrifice your density for length. If you're going to breed, breed for them to go hand in hand.