The Welfare of the English Angora Rabbit
The welfare of this beautiful and useful rabbit is very important,
whether the rabbit is kept as a pet, for wool or for exhibition.
Welfare starts with knowledge. Please do find out all about the correct
care of a rabbit before buying one, and remember that an Angora needs
extra care and time compared with a short haired rabbit.
Responsible breeding is extremely important. Healthy rabbits are selected
for breeding and care is taken not to breed too many rabbits, as surplus
youngsters must never be sold to pet shops for welfare reasons. Sometimes
prospective new owners are disappointed that they have to wait two or three
months for a young rabbit to become available, but this has the advantage of making
sure that a rabbit is not taken on as a result of impulse after seeing an Angora at a craft festival or show, and that each rabbit born is wanted, and a good home is waiting. Members of the National Angora Club are always willing to support the new owner, and buying from a member of the Club should ensure that clear instructions on care, clipping, housing and feeding are provided, and support after sale is given. The Club website gives extra information. For those for whom an Angora is their first rabbit, it is very important to learn about general rabbit care as well as the specific care required by a long coated rabbit. The Fur and Feather bookshop www.furandfeather.co.uk has an excellent range of titles covering all aspects of rabbit care.
Whilst many people wish to keep rabbits in pairs, some do not realise that rabbits that are not neutered do not live happily together, and rabbits destined for breeding need to live singly or fighting may occur. Serious injuries can occur when two bucks fight, and even neutered rabbits need introducing to each other carefully and under supervision. Sadly not all will settle happily down together. A neutered buck and neutered doe, ideally littermates, are easiest to bond.
Angoras are hardy if kept clean and dry, and will live contentedly outdoors providing they are housed in solid, waterproof, fox and dog proof tongue and groove hutches of suitable size. Welded mesh wire fronts and secure catches on the doors are essential. Pet shop hutches may be made of plywood and are not always adequate for outdoor use. Like all other rabbits, Angoras enjoy a run and a dig on the lawn in a secure run, and like to socialise with the rabbit in the adjacent run. Even if shelter is provided in the run against a sudden shower of rain, the rabbit will be unlikely to use it, and will be perfectly happy to get wet. Angoras therefore should not be left in their run unsupervised. Warm wet Angora coats will felt! Free access from hutch to run is not recommended for Angoras, as the rabbit may get wet and matted by going out in all weathers.
Exhibition rabbits are kept in hutches with wire floors during the 6 months or so of their lives when in they are in exhibition coat, but after this are housed like wool Angoras on shavings and barley straw. The thick woolly furnishings on the feet of the English Angora protect the feet from damage by a wire floor, and rest areas are provided. It is important to use wire of the correct thickness as wire that is too thin could cause injury. French Angoras do not have woolly feet and should not be housed on wire floors.
Angora rabbits can live up to 10 years, although 5-8 years is more common. A wool rabbit will need grooming 1-2 times weekly, depending on the length of coat, and clipping 3 monthly in addition to the feeding, cleaning, vaccination and occasional vet’s attention that all rabbits require. Regular handling results in a friendly rabbit that does not get distressed by grooming, wool clipping or toenail clipping. An elderly Angora, like any other ageing rabbit, may have difficulty grooming its nether regions, and extra care needs to be taken to prevent droppings collecting on its rear end, to avoid the risk of fly strike. An old or frail rabbit may need to be kept clipped short. It is sensible to keep the fur of wool rabbits clipped short between their hind legs.
Welfare whilst clipping and plucking
Most Angora owners shear their rabbit with hairdressing scissors, with the rabbit sat quietly on their knee. Injuries are extremely rare. In Britain rabbits are never restrained- we do not need to! The clipping doesn’t hurt, and the rabbit is used to being groomed and handled from a very early age. Occasionally plucking is performed instead. This can ONLY be done when the rabbit is moulting. When a rabbit is moulting, long loose hair can be seen in the hutch or trailing behind the rabbit. Loose hairs are pulled out gently, in the same way that dogs of some breeds can have hair plucked out whilst moulting. Along with most English Angora rabbit owners, I do not pluck. This is not because it is cruel, as it is not cruel if done correctly, but because plucking correctly has to be done a little bit at a time over 3 weeks or so as a rabbit moults, and is very time consuming. The rabbit is not bald, as the new coat has already come through underneath, and is NOT injured if plucking is done appropriately. Usually only the back and sides of the rabbit are plucked and the legs, front and tummy are sheared.
Keeping Angoras for Wool
Whilst surplus Angora fleece can be sold to hand spinners to contribute to the costs of keeping the rabbits, it is impossible to compete in price or scale with Chinese Angora production, a state sponsored industry with millions of rabbits. The Chinese rabbit is much bigger, and produces more wool than its English counterpart. The Chinese Angora’s coat is coarser and has been deliberately developed to be so to reduce the need for grooming. Labour costs are much less in China. The proper, ethical care of Angora rabbits is time consuming, and labour and feed costs in Britain makes British Angora wool too expensive to compete in price with China. As Angora rabbits age, their wool production declines. The economics of large scale commercial Angora wool production require rabbits to be replaced at 4-5 years old, but English Angora rabbits are cared for, and each of my rabbits has a home for life. A well cared for English Angora rabbit may live for many years. A nine year old Angora buck produces only a little good quality wool, but will need extra care with grooming and may need the expense of the vet’s attention, whilst feeding and cleaning will cost just as much in time and money as for a more productive 1 year old Angora. Large scale commercial Angora farmers do not run old rabbits’ homes!
A small number of cottage industries are found in Britain, usually stocking the larger French or German Angora rabbits, and produce luxury Angora and wool blends. Commercial spinning is performed by alpaca mills, which can handle smaller quantities (2 kg) than the wool mills, which work in terms of 70 kg at a time. The price of spinning is high, and the price of Angora knitting wool produced in Britain from British rabbits has to reflect both this and the cost of keeping rabbits in British conditions.
The Five Freedoms
These Freedoms were originally designed for farm animals but have
been adopted by the British Rabbit Council for all rabbits, including the
Angora, and are given below.
1. Freedom from hunger and thirst-by ready access to
fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
2. Freedom from discomfort- by providing an appropriate
environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease- by prevention or rapid
diagnosis and treatment.
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour-by providing sufficient
space and proper facilities.
5. Freedom from fear and distress- by ensuring conditions and
treatment which avoid mental suffering.
Whilst the Five Freedoms sound simple, following them correctly
needs a good level of knowledge about rabbit diet, housing, health
and behaviour as well as a commitment to regular care and attention.
Read some of the excellent books on rabbit care available before buying
your rabbit, ask your breeder for information, use the resources on the
internet, and your rabbit will be well cared for.