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Is raising angora rabbits worth it?

 
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So the missus suddenly got interested in angora bunnies.  She doesn't want to eat rabbits but having a small herd of friendly bunnies that generate fertility and can be brushed to make money, seems to be interesting to her.

I have many questions though:

How can you raise them in a way that feels permaculturey and natural and supports the rabbitness of the rabbit?  I've heard of little cages with mesh bottoms and a colony system.  With angoras I'm not sure if their fur is ruined if they are digging around in the dirt?  Cages seem unfriendly.  Rabbit tractor?  I have deep snow on the ground for 4 months of the year...

Can you really make money from brushing them?  Or is shaving needed?  Does either generate any real money?

Would you eat an angora rabbit?  Our goal would be fiber and poop so we'd likely just get a few females and not plan on breeding them.

Is there a way to let them forage in a paddock?  Maybe I'd have the fur matting issue?

I have a greenhouse that I could keep them in over winter.  It would be warm enough but could be too warm at times (max I've seen is 105F and I'm hoping to keep that under 95F going forward).  

Just kinda feeling out this new kind of critter.  Thanks!

 
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Mike Haasl wrote: I have many questions though:

How can you raise them in a way that feels permaculturey and natural and supports the rabbitness of the rabbit?  I've heard of little cages with mesh bottoms and a colony system.  


Cages with completely mesh bottoms are very hard on their feet, and can cause bumble foot, which is a horrible, painful foot disease. If you choose to go the way of mesh bottoms, please also give them an area of stable, flat flooring, big enough to get some exercise on, too.

Mike Haasl wrote:
With angoras I'm not sure if their fur is ruined if they are digging around in the dirt?  Cages seem unfriendly.  Rabbit tractor?  I have deep snow on the ground for 4 months of the year...


No, the dirt won't ruin their fur, but it does add a bit of extra work for the person cleaning the harvested fur. A low-roofed (12" from the ground) dwelling of some sort, directly on the ground, should be fine. Just remember, they are borrowing critters, so you'll need to find a way to keep them from escaping. I've seen soused-over, mandate hills, for them, with deep cement doors, surrounding it, in a chicken wire enclosure. Just remember, they will be vulnerable to hawks and owls, from above.

Mike Haasl wrote:
Can you really make money from brushing them?  Or is shaving needed?  Does either generate any real money?



Yes, you can, if you're willing to put in the labor and time, shaving/shearing is not recommended, as bunnies are rarely ok with it, and their skin is extremely fragile, putting them at high risk of torn or cut skin, thus infections, not to mention pain. Because angora is a labor intensive product, if the quality is good, so is the money - but, make no mistake - it does take a good deal of both time and patience.

Mike Haasl wrote:
Would you eat an angora rabbit?  


There was a time when I'd not have hesitated, but I must recuse myself from this one, as we just observed three first anniversary of three passing of our beloved pet bunny, yesterday, and I've not been able to bring myself to eat rabbit at all, in nearly a decade. But, my understanding is that it's as good as any other domestic rabbit.

Mike Haasl wrote:
Our goal would be fiber and poop so we'd likely just get a few females and not plan on breeding them. [/ quote]
Before committing to them, you should know that a well cared for bun can live upwards of 10-12yrs.

Mike Haasl wrote:
Is there a way to let them forage in a paddock?  Maybe I'd have the fur matting issue?


This is where that chicken tractor idea would be great, and the wire bottom would possibly be ok, if it's moved often enough to keep them from burrowing, much.

Mike Haasl wrote:
I have a greenhouse that I could keep them in over winter.  It would be warm enough but could be too warm at times (max I've seen is 105F and I'm hoping to keep that under 95F going forward).  


Buns, especially long haired buns, do better in the cold, than the heat. In the heart of summer, they burrow for relief from the heat, and are not likely going to do well, above about 80°F. In summer, the cooler you can keep them, the happier and healthier they'll be.

Mike Haasl wrote:
Just kinda feeling out this new kind of critter.  Thanks!



I hope this hasn't been too discouraging! To be entirely honest, much depends on just how many you want to keep. If you only want a few, they might do best in the house, as pets for profit!  Buns are litter-box trainable, though your reliability mileage may vary, from bun to bun. They will be easier to groom, if house kept, as pets, because they'll be more willing to let you closer and possibly even pick them up. If you wasn't more than a few, they can quickly become a full time job, because they don't only need grooming at harvest time. In order to keep their fur in good condition, they need grooming on a regular basis - like at least weekly. Are they worth it? That depends on how much you love working with them, and how much time and patience you have for it. For me, no. I looked into it, while Lola was alive, because we adored her. But, we were never able to figure out a housing arrangement that we could be happy with, and while I love bunnies dearly, I concluded that they needed more than I could give, in time and dedication, to keep them both happy and healthy, in numbers that would pay for their time. On an 'any' bunny basis, even just 2 or 3 will give you plenty of manure - for your gardens, and quite possibly to sell! If that's enough to make the difference for you, I'd say go for it!

 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Carla!  More questions...

If we had three bunnies in the house, how much fiber/money would they likely generate in a year?

If they're litter trained, do you just use pine needles or something that can also go on the garden as the litter for them to desecrate?  

I really like the idea of them foraging for food but that doesn't really go along with being in the house...  

Sounds like the greenhouse would be too warm.  How do they do with -25F?
 
Carla Burke
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Mike Haasl wrote:Thanks Carla!  More questions...

If we had three bunnies in the house, how much fiber/money would they likely generate in a year?


Damn fine question, Mike!! Lol, it all depends on quantity & quality each bun produces, when and where you find buyers. How's that for clear as mud?


Mike Haasl wrote:
If they're litter trained, do you just use pine needles or something that can also go on the garden as the litter for them to desecrate?


I seem to remember just using newspaper &/or straw. Cedar is toxic for them, but pine is fine, though it will need to be brushed out of their fur.

Mike Haasl wrote:
I really like the idea of them foraging for food but that doesn't really go along with being in the house...  


They will need Timothy hay *always* available - their digestion & lives depend on it, even if they forage. But, they're not as good at foraging as chickens, goats, sheep, and cattle. They're pickier, and the wild is simply gone from them, and they can't forage enough to keep their fur production up.

Mike Haasl wrote:
Sounds like the greenhouse would be too warm.  How do they do with -25F?


The greenhouse would, indeed, be too warm for them. They will need shelter, and at anything below freezing, they will need a reliable heat source. Angoras are needier than most other rabbits. Their fur comes at a price.
 
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i feel angoras in a 'permaculture' (non cage) setting their fur would become worthless pretty quick, getting dirty and tangled. i also know that rabbits meat are kept separate because a dominant female will bite the genitalia of the other rabbits so they wont reproduce (how true this is i dont know, its what i remember hearing multiple times, but my memory and their telling may differ from other experience)
 
Carla Burke
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C. West wrote:i feel angoras in a 'permaculture' (non cage) setting their fur would become worthless pretty quick, getting dirty and tangled. i also know that rabbits meat are kept separate because a dominant female will bite the genitalia of the other rabbits so they wont reproduce (how true this is i dont know, its what i remember hearing multiple times, but my memory and their telling may differ from other experience)



We had somewhere around 100 - 150 rabbits, when I was a teenager. I don't remember anything like this ever happening, though I shook know of times when mothers ate their kits. That doesn't mean it can't, but I've never heard that. I wonder if it was something that occurred in an overcrowding situation?
 
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I kept French Angoras for several years for their fiber, so I may have some useful information for you. I kept them in wire cage systems (single and colony style on wire), so I can't speak to free ranging or floor systems. I had my rabbits for my own use, as I like the blend of Shetland wool and angora (generally 80 wool/20 angora or 80 wool/10 angora/10 silk) for handspinning.

1: I found them to be quite cold hardy, living in their cages in a shed outside in my zone 5 Ohio winters without supplemental heat. However, they needed more food in the winter to sustain themselves.

2; Summer heat was an issue, but generally solved with good ventilation in their shaded shed, plenty of clean water, and frozen water bottles for them to lie against on the hottest of days. Bucks would be temporarily sterile for a couple of weeks after a high heat wave.

3: I fed a pelleted commercial rabbit feed and free choice hay (yes, they MUST have hay to help prevent wool blockages caused by ingesting their fur when they groom). They also got treats including weeds (plantain, purslane, dandelions, etc) and extras from the garden (broccoli stems, etc) in small amounts.

4: Does kept together didn't seem to be a problem, including when they had litters. Bucks were another story and could be really mean to each other (biting and scratching resulting in some nasty wounds, and bucks WILL go for each other's scrotums), so they had private cages.

5: Long furred rabbits (angoras, jersey woollies, etc) MUST be brushed/groomed regularly (as in daily)--their long fur tangles and mats in the blink of an eye. Not to mention you don't want them ingesting it when they groom.

6: The market for angora fiber produced in a small setting (a few bunnies) is niche and specialized, comprising handspinners. So be prepared to sell either at fiber shows, at local markets or craft/yarn stores, or through internet/website sales. I haven't looked at prices in years since I'm still working through the angora I'd stored from my own bunnies, but people are willing to pay premium prices for quality. Natural colored angora (they come in a whole range of colors and patterns) can be quite desirable.

7: I did not put any of my angoras in the freezer (they're far more useful as fiber producers), but rabbit meat in general (I've raised Californians for meat) is delicious.
 
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In my opinion, raising Angoras is worth it. I will be starting my program this fall post-pandemic mess...

That said, I am a fiber artist with 10 years of working with fiber animals under my belt. I'm already well versed in fiber raising and prep for top dollar wool. Angoras, depending on the breed, produce anywhere from 2-4 lbs of wool a year. Averaging 8 dollars an ounce, that's around 500 dollars. 8 dollars is a lower end price for Angora fiber, for wool that may not be as clean, sound, or strong. At the top end, for show line wool, I have seen it as high as 14 an ounce. Mind you, no one really wants to pay that when you can get comparable stuff in the 10-12 dollar per ounce range, UNLESS you find a good market of spinners who know their stuff.

Angoras are not a suitable meat breed. They're compact and rather small under their wool, and producing wool constitutes an entirely different type of diet for them than you want for meat rabbits. (They need more roughage to help pass and prevent wool blocks)
Permaculture wise, Angoras really do not fit into a self sustaining system. They are a designer breed that reaaaally needs special care. The folks I know with Angoras brush every day or every other day. This is in a wire cage system. In a colony I am not sure how Angoras would fare. Personally, I feel it would negate the purpose of raising them for pristine wool, but I could be wrong.
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Allison!  Wow at $500 a year per bunny, I could see house training a couple...  

When you say "depending on the breed", what does that mean?  And/or, which breeds are the good ones?
 
Catherine Carney
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Mike, there are several different breeds of angora rabbits. I raised French Angoras, which are larger and don't have as much long fur on the face or ears. English Angoras tend to be a bit smaller and have long wool everywhere, including the face--to me they always look like fuzzy bunny slippers. If I remember correctly there are also Satin and Giant Angoras. The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) currently recognizes these four breeds for show.

There are probably other breeds of angoras, and there's also a small breed known as a Jersey Woolly that's relatively long furred (not as long as an angora, but still a spinnable fiber in a pet sized bunny package). Here's a quick article that should get you going on the basics: https://www.thecapecoop.com/what-breed-angora-rabbit-is-right-for-you/

 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Catherine!  That was a great blog, it really helped me figure out some logistics.  That lady has a hutch outside with a yard for them to play in and yet they were clean enough to harvest fiber from.  I could see having plenty of food/forage in their yard for them to nibble on.
 
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Worth noting that if you want to make income off of selling the mohair, versus just 'breaking even' on a hobby, you need QUALITY genes.  You'll be paying high dollar for top of the line bunnies if you want top of the line mohair to sell at full price.  Crappy quality mohair is not going to sell well or for very much.  You gotta nvest into it if you expect a return!  So my point being, don't jump on that "$50" angora special on craigslist.  A good bunny may run three-digits.

Honestly I've found that there is no money in animals unless you're selling offspring.  Meat only breaks even, eggs barely break even, and fiber only makes money if you don't count the hours of investment into the work for small-scale operations.  My farm only turns a profit when I sell babies.  It might actually be worth thinking about investing in premium bunny lines and actually breeding them.  Just a thought!

I don't know much about angora rabbits otherwise.  I kept angora goats.  If you want to keep a critter for fiber, you'll get way more out of a premium angora goat- they'll produce 20 rabbits worth of mohair twice a year, cost way less than those 20 rabbits, don't require nearly as much care, and the kids sill for top dollar in some areas.  I also milked my angora does, despite everyone saying "they're not a dairy breed, it won't be worth it".  Best goat milk I ever had, and they milked like cows!  1 gallon a day!  That's just gonna depend on your individual doe of course, but pound for pound, hour for hour, dollar for dollar, angora rabbits are a niche hobby of dedication and passion more than they are lucrative.  At least it seems that way to me, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that.

Also from the one angora rabbit breeder I've met with and talked to (I was exploring the breed), they're extra heat sensitive.  Moreso than rabbits already are.  This gal had a beautful setup, her buns were in a tarped/covered frame outdoors, each in a nice big cage.  She had special fans and AC units installed specifically to make sure they never overheated when it got 90-100º or more.  Humidity will make them even more sensitive to heat.  Really rabbits are happiest under 60º, and not over 80º.  I've had kits born above ground in -20º weather and they were toasty and happy in their fur-lined nest.  I'm not sure "too cold" exists for rabbits.
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Jen, these would probably be closer to pets than livestock.  But it would be nice if we could raise them with some permaculture associated with their system.  And I'd consider their poop part of the value proposition.  

Goats aren't in our plans for a bunch of reasons, same for other critters.

Luckily the hottest we get here is in the mid 80s.  But it can get humid.  Hopefully having them inside or in a shady burrow filled yard would do the trick.  We do get down to -30 in winter but I bet they'd do fine with that with some protection.
 
Carla Burke
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I still think inside will make for the best wool, and happiest buns.
 
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For some reason until recently I never thought about the most obvious way to keep Angoras cool in summer- give them a haircut! keeping their wool short will undoubtedly help them keep cool and less prone to heat stress. rabbit poop is wonderful stuff, I particularly like that it comes in pelleted form already so I can easily dress the plants. offer shade and maybe a cold bottle adn they should be fine. in winter we made a kind of greenhouse by using fence posts and some plastic sheeting to drape over our existing rabbit cages- it stays about 50 degrees in there!
 
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I would say most likely the answer to "Is raising angora rabbits worth it?" is "it depends".  For us, yes, it is definitely worth it.  However, we don't sell fiber, we sell finished yarn.  We also sell rabbits, but the rabbit sales pretty much just pays the costs of feed and maintenance.  The profit comes from yarn sales.  We also have a place to sell yarn at retail rates and not wholesale rates.  So, if it's profitable to keep angora rabbits, a lot of that answer is 'it depends'.

Angora rabbits are technically a rabbit, but they're not really that much into 'rabbitness'.  They don't dig much or chew much, they do a lot of laying around and growing fluff.  They have never been a wild rabbit, they've always been domesticated.  The length of their wool keeps them from even being able to successfully breed very well unless they get a haircut.

We usually have a couple dozen English angoras at any particular time.  They produce about a pound of good fiber per bunny per year.  Depending on the condition of their coat at the time of harvest, it will either be plucked or shorn.  We have the type of English angora which can be plucked, not all of them can.  It's a lot like picking the hair off your dog when he's molting, they aren't hurt and don't mind being picked on.  Usually about halfway through the grooming, the bunny will start helping, especially once we've reached an area they've been wanting to itch for awhile but haven't been able to reach because of the dense coat.  Actually, in the rabbit world, the rabbit being groomed is top rabbit, so they like being groomed.  Well, except for toenail clipping and in the ticklish spots.  But, they are easily bribe-able to behave well while grooming.  The bunnies here are handled from the moment they are born, so they're very used to being fussed about with and that helps make grooming and coat harvesting easier as well.  

Temperament is also one of the major selection factors when deciding who to breed.  Fiber quality first and foremost.  Then health, conformation, temperament and fertility.

We frequently end up shearing the bunnies, just like micro-sheep.  If they are shorn, they won't need any coat maintenance for several months.  Then a little bit of combing with a long toothed steel comb (brushes don't do much in a dense coat) will keep the mats at bay.  FWIW, coat maintenance is one of the selection factors when deciding which bunnies to breed.  That's part of the fiber quality, since if it's matted, it's not going to make good yarn.  It's also because of the amount of bunnies we have, if they were the type with high maintenance coats it would take tons more time.

The bunnies are kept in wire bottomed hutches with 1" x 1/2" wire floors.  The bucks have a ledge to lounge on and the does have an assortment of nest boxes and ledges.  There's also big ceramic tiles when it's hot, although, again, this is Hawaii so we never really get that hot around here.  The bucks are kept in their own separate spaces, they don't do well living together, especially if there's females around.  They may look like a soft fluffy but they're got teeth and claws and when they fight they can draw blood and even kill each other.  We haven't had any bucks actually kill each other, but some of my friend's bunnies managed it.  The females can usually all live in a big herd, although sometimes there will be a diva who gets too bossy and gets her own space.  They enjoy being with each other and the buck spaces are side by side so they can visit with their neighbor, but there's a wire wall between them so they can't fight.

The bunnies here are part of the garden, we don't use any fertilizers other than 'bunny berries'.  The bunnies get all kinds of leaves, trimmings and such from the garden as well as the yard and their 'bunny berries' go back to fertilize and produce more greenery.  It works amazingly well.  Under the hutches is a great place for worms, too, so they get scooped up with the bunny berries and added to the garden as well.  Bunny manure is a 'cold' manure so it can be put directly on plants without being composted although it's usually set around under the hutches long enough to be composted somewhat anyway.

We don't feed them hay since hay is too expensive around here (approx. $35 per bale of timothy or orchard grass hay) and it mildews before even a fraction of it can be used.  However, this is Hawaii, we have fresh forage all year.  They get a lot of various grasses, ti leaves and mulberry leaves along with high protein pelleted feed mixed with rolled grain of some sort and black oil sunflower seeds.  Depending on what you have in your area, you may be able to grow a lot of their food.  

They do need a lot of roughage to keep any ingested long hairs moving through their system.  They can't cough up hairballs like cats can so if they ingest too many hairs, they can become unable to process their food and that's not good.  However, since the bunnies here are fiber producers and we harvest their fiber three times a year we've not had trouble with gut stasis from ingesting too much wool.  With show bunnies who keep their dense fluffy coat on them for much longer, they are more likely to have these sorts of issues.

As for eating them, the English angoras we have are pretty small at around five to six pounds when fully grown.  They can be eaten, but they can also be sold for the price of two lobsters (which I think is tastier than rabbit), so the extra ones are usually sold instead of eaten.

Bunnies are pretty adaptable and flexible in their care and keeping arrangements.  You'll probably have a completely different setup that will be perfect for your space and your needs.
 
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I keep French Angora on a pasture system. I move them daily(often 2 or 3 times a day just because I am out there with them. They also free range when I am in the garden - litterally free, but they know where home is and where they are safe. . . they generally follow me around or flop under ferns. (I also dont have a huge predetor pressure concern but keep an eye out for cats, dogs and hawks that might be interested in bunny snacks). I was concerned about digging and had wood slates on the edg3es of the cage. . . but they dont dig . . . at all. They occasionally go after a root when they are free ranging but are generally napping in their cages not looking to tunnel to china.  For various reasons some of them have ventured outside of their nightime enclosure(when they were a few months old), but even hours later I always find them chilling close to home - and I credit this to their general comfort with the area, the dangers, and being pretty happier little campers.

I do supplement their forage, but in general they are very happy with the greens and hay they finding hopping around my property. I do intentionally grow "rabbit food" patches tho(and chinken wire fence off "people food" patches).  They are pretty intelegent on picking what they want to eat when. I was concerned about their food choices back when I first had them, and watched what they chose to eat closely . . . but they really seem to have figured it out and I worry less about what they might find and nbble on and more in making sure there is high quailty plantain, clover, grass, dock, etc around for their staple. P.S. they also really like some of my herb patches at certian times. . . and since I have plenty I let them have their fill when they want it - I do think they know what their bodies need, because they do switch it up quite a bit.

In the winter(6b/7 - SOUTH central Pa) I keep them with the quail in the non-heated(compost heated) green house, but I also have som e pretty inventive arcuteture and play are tricks to keep them clean and warm - thats another book tho. In the summer I try to keep them in a short a coat as possible while still rolling through their shed cycles and harvesting wool.

I only wanted to keep pets/livestock in their most natural systems, so I have never kept angoras any other way. I do not know if the coat care I have to give is more or less than others with FA, but Im pretty busy and I have time to keep them mat and plant debris free . . . so I think its reasonable. I have spun(and felted) some nice fiber products off of them. Im not sure Im winning any fiber show prizes here, but it is certianly nice enough that others want the product.

However, uterine cancer is high in rabbits - so they need bred or fixed, its unfair to them otherwise. I opt out of vet bills and elective surguries and "borrow" a buck from a neighbor to have a few kits each spring/summer. More poop machines!

These guys are as much my pets as they are a part of my fertility and fiber needs/dreams . . . and I think the system is working out for all of us.
 
Niele da Kine
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Location: Zone 11B Moku Nui Hawaii
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That sounds like a great setup, Thomm!  It would be nice to try something like that around here, perhaps.  The bunnies do like grazing, although they only have a small corral made of zip stripped together refrigerator racks from our local dump.  They don't seem to try to get out even though they could probably easily jump over the short fence if they tried.

We end up doing a lot of 'cut & carry' to get forage to them, it would be a lot easier if they were able to go out and gather it on their own.  If they're in a grassy area, they'd probably keep their wool clean.
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