Previous Survivalblog articles have focused on raising meat rabbits as part of a well-prepped homestead. Raising multi-purpose angora rabbits takes this aspect of preparedness to the next level. I’ll start with a quick review of the benefits of raising meat rabbits and then transition into the advantages of raising angora rabbits.
Rabbits are indeed the most efficient of domestic livestock in converting feed to growth, meaning that it takes less feed per pound of mass produced to grow them out than it does for other animals. They are manageable in an urban situation, even an apartment, where other livestock are not an option. Rabbits produce just the right amount of meat for a family meal if refrigeration is not available. And because they are smaller, they are manageable for older people or children for whom wrangling a goat or cow is out of the question.
As also mentioned in previous articles, rabbit droppings are the prime manure for gardens. It is perfectly packaged in pellets for easily spreading among plants and releases its nutrients in a time-release manner. Because it is not “hot”, it can be placed in the garden as soon as the bunny deposits it. However, fresh manure still carries pathogens and should not be placed directly on salad greens or strawberries. (Put manure in beds that will be growing those two crops in the fall and work it in, and then let it decompose over the winter to be ready for planting in spring.) Finally, rabbit droppings also function as a highly desirable treat for dogs. While we may find the idea revolting, the dogs do not. Vets say that no self-respecting dog will pass up the opportunity to snack on rabbit droppings. They’re full of vitamins.
In a time of stress or turmoil, which most of us here anticipate to be in our future, a pet is therapeutic for everyone. Sitting outside petting rabbits is very calming for those who are stressed. Knowing this “pet” is a useful, productive member of the farm is even more de-stressing. In this household, our working pets will be wearing a few hats, and one of those is as a laboratory test animal. My husband is a type-1 diabetic. While we have stored a very good supply of insulin, it may not be enough. Insulin, unfortunately, does have a shorter shelf-life. Our plans include being able to produce insulin for him, and we will need test subjects before using our DIY insulin on him. (While not germane to this article, there is a precedent for people in desperate situations making insulin. Eva Saxl and her husband kept Eva and over 200 other diabetics alive during WWII in Shanghai using DIY insulin.)
We take our rabbits to rabbit shows. While this aspect of raising rabbits does not appear to fit well with a prepper lifestyle, shows are a wonderful place for learning more about raising rabbits successfully. We learn something new and useful at every show.
Raising angora rabbits for their fiber is the focus of this article. Angora fiber is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool, and four times warmer than alpaca. And like wool and alpaca, angora keeps you warm even when wet. Because it is very warm and very lightweight, a little goes a long ways. In addition, angora is highly water resistant. Knitted items can be felted to become almost waterproof. Angora fiber is extremely soft and very lightweight. For these reasons, for many years it was the fiber of choice for thermal underwear and baby clothing; it is that soft.
Unlike other animal fibers, angora does not need to be washed or carded prior to spinning, and you do not need a spinning wheel. Instead, the fiber can be spun on a drop spindle. Drop spindles have been used for thousands of years to turn fiber into yarn. They are very portable, basically a wooden dowel, a wooden wheel (the wood wheel turnings used to make little cars or trucks), and an eye hook. You may stain or paint them, if desired. Drop spindles can easily be made at home, a dozen for about $ 6 and one hour of time, though you don’t need that many.
Spinning the fiber, any fiber, is a very therapeutic, meditative endeavor. Historically, spinning was a woman’s activity, and for good reason. Most women benefit from having a creative outlet. Women need to be able to create something useful and beautiful. We need to be able to complete a project. Some of the stress in a woman’s life is that laundry, cleaning, and cooking are never done, and they are often quickly undone. We need to have something to show for our efforts, and this is especially true in times of stress.
Angora yarn can be used to quickly knit up the very softest and very warmest mittens. If the mittens are knit extra large and then felted (thoroughly wetted and then dried/shrunk in a clothes dryer to the desired size is one way of felting), they will also be nearly waterproof. Angora socks (I use a 50/50 blend of merino wool and angora) can be an absolute godsend for those afflicted with cold feet. I put a pair of angora socks on when we had a cold snap a few weeks back and I was too cold to sleep but too stubborn to put an extra blanket on in September. My toes were instantly warm and I was almost as instantly asleep. Angora sweaters and shawls will keep older women warmer without having to be bundled up like Eskimos. Put an angora blanket on a baby, and one need never worry about keeping him or her warm.
Now that you have become intrigued by the possibilities and desirability of adding some angoras to your homestead, it’s time to consider the various breeds. I will only cover the breeds available in the United States.
English angoras weigh 5-7 pounds. They have fiber everywhere, including their ears and faces, and they look rather ridiculous. Because they lack guard hair, they mat easily and require up to 30 minutes of grooming per day. As such, this breed is not practical and should be avoided at all costs.
Satin angoras are a little bit larger than English and look more like a normal rabbit. However, they also lack guard hair and mat easily. These should also be avoided.
Giant angoras weigh ten to fifteen pounds. They come in white only. Again, they also lack guard hair and mat easily.
German angoras are rare in this country, because they are not recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association and thus cannot be shown. As showing is one reason people raise rabbits, if you can’t show a rabbit, you lose out on a lot of sales. However, if I were only raising for fiber and meat and I could find a breeder, German angoras might be the way to go. They weigh up to twelve pounds and can produce up to an amazing 4-5 pounds of fiber per year.
English, Satin, Giant, and German angora varieties are all sheared.
We chose to raise French angoras because of the low maintenance requirement—2-5 minutes of grooming (combing) per week. Senior rabbits require only 2-3 minutes, and juniors up to 5 minutes because their baby coat is softer and finer and their guard hairs grow more slowly. That’s it. Honest. If you are raising French angoras, the fiber is harvested about every three months by simply combing or plucking out the loose fiber. The rabbit is not hurt in this process at all and usually rather enjoys it. French angoras produce an average of 16 ounces of fiber per year. That may not sound like a lot, but remember, a little goes a long ways. When I spin fiber for a sweater that is one ply of angora and one ply of alpaca, I use only 2-3 ounces of angora for a woman’s cardigan. One ounce of angora in a pair of socks, and half an ounce for mittens. It is that warm and that lightweight.
Assuming you’re considering acquiring a few of these multi-purpose rabbits for your homestead, I’ll briefly cover some of the basics for their care. Should you decide to raise angoras, you need to do more in-depth research, but this will give you a start.
The girls feed the rabbits a combination of commercial pellets, hay, seeds, sprouted grains, and garden waste. Never feed rabbits tomatoes or other nightshade family plants. Carrots are like junk food and should be rationed carefully. Lettuce is fed only when a rabbit is constipated or has a bit of wool block. We provide only raw food, nothing cooked, except for whole grain bread. Bread can be useful in trying to get a rabbit to gain weight. When TEOTWAWKI hits, the rabbits will be transitioned off the commercial pellets to sprouted grains, hay we have grown here, seeds, and fresh grasses, in addition to the garden waste.
Cages are ideally all metal with wire mesh bottoms and pull out trays for droppings. Metal cages are lighter weight than wood hutches, easily moved when necessary, much more easily cleaned, and can be sanitized with a torch or fire. In addition, wire mesh bottoms are far more sanitary, keep the wool clean, and let the droppings fall through to the pan for easy transport to the garden.
Angora rabbits do just fine in extremely cold temperatures; however, they require protection from wind, rain/snow, and direct sun. They also cannot tolerate temperatures above 85 degrees without some means of cooling—fans, ice bottles (2-liter bottles filled with water and frozen), or air conditioning. We live in the foothills of the Sierras where temperatures only infrequently surpass 90 degrees. Before we built the bunny barn, we just brought the rabbits into the garage for a few hours when needed.
Finding a French angora breeder or two can be tricky. Checking Craigslist is the easiest and fastest way to go, but there are other options. One is the American Rabbit Breeders Association website. There are also various breeder directories online and Facebook, but I can’t recommend one over another. You can also check your local 4-H or FFA groups and ARBA shows.
How much should you expect to pay for a French angora rabbit? There are several factors that are considered here. Pedigreed and registered (not necessary from survival standpoint) rabbits will cost more. Proven (meaning that they have kindled or sired a litter) animals and those with better wool length and density command higher prices. Does also generally sell for a few dollars more than bucks. At this point in time, angoras are less expensive in Oregon and Washington; prices are higher in areas where there are very few breeders.
How many rabbits do you need? If I were only raising for spinning, I would have two does and one buck. However, if I were raising for fiber and meat or selling, I would have a minimum of four does and two bucks. Here, my girls keep five does and three bucks. Their does average six to eight kits per litter. Bear in mind that you should not plan on litters in late summer. Bucks can become temporarily sterile when temperatures rise above 80 degrees. The duration of sterility depends on the age of the buck.
Raising French angora rabbits has been extremely beneficial for our family, but particularly for my daughters. They have gained a great deal of knowledge in raising rabbits and producing garments from the fiber. We have greatly appreciated the useful contribution the younger girls have been able to make to our homestead. It’s been much easier on their hearts because rabbits aren’t butchered (yet), and in truth, they don’t desire that much meat. However, the ability to produce meat is instantly available when TEOTWAWKI hits. And at the same time, they have been able to build a very lucrative business (for 10-14 year olds).