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Raising Angora Rabbits
In an Angora rabbit farm which only aims wool production, there are 3 groups of Angora rabbits classified in accordance with their wool productivity: Adult non-copulated females, adult copulated females and adult males.
Adult females produce more hair than males - an average of 1 kg verses 700 to 800 g for the male and top-quality Angora wool is only produced from the third collection at nine months from adult females. Therefore the hair-producing stock is made up of adult non-copulated females that are maintained as long as possible to attain maximum amount of quality Angora wool.
Propagating adult females are the second group with reproduction kept at a minimum level since gestation and especially lactation reduce hair production by one-third. A female Angora rabbit litters 7-8 does at a time, however it is important to note that the number of does at the end of the lactation period is between 3-4 does.
The number of breeding bucks is kept to a minimum. The proportion is only 2 or 3 percent in hair-production units. In France the males not destined for breeding are culled at birth, which hastens the development of the female young.
The hair is collected every 90 to 100 days, when the follicles reach the resting stage and before hair starts falling, which would cause felting and reducing the value of wool. Angora hair must be sorted into the different grades at collection, which is the best time. A skilled operator sorts the collected hair within 20 to 45 minutes.
Angora rabbits must be reared in single cages, at least after the age of two months when the hair is first collected. The cage must be about 0.5 m2 and about 0.5 m high. Wire-mesh floors are rarely recommended. Angora rabbits, particularly French ones, have very fragile paws for their weight of roughly 4 kg. As they are to be kept for several years, it is better not to take chances.
French breeders have opted for cement hutches and straw litter, for clean hair and paw protection. The straw absorbs the urine. A little fresh straw is added each week and the entire litter changed every four or five weeks. Duckboard has been a frequent choice in other countries, with the slats made of bamboo (as in China) or plastic. Some breeders, for example in Turkey, have successfully raised them on wire-mesh floors since the faeces and urine are separately collected on conveyors and the faeces is stored because of its economic value for gardening and hot-house cultivations. Wire-mesh floors also help protection of wool from dying of the urine and from dirt, since it is very important to keep the wool clean as it is not washed before it is processed.
Temperature and ventilation
Angoras do not like high temperatures (over 30°C). Low temperatures are a problem as well (below 10°C), but only during the days following hair collection. It is therefore not necessary to heat all production buildings; on the other hand, the denuded rabbit must be protected, particularly where depilation is the collection technique.
Since the urine production is excess in Angora rabbits, the ventilation system is crucial in farms. The high percentage of ammonium in the urine makes it inevitable to keep the closed areas of the farm well ventilated.
Feeding and hygiene
Healthy and balanced nutrition of Angora rabbits is crucial to attain high quality 1 kg of keratin (hair).
This explains the need for a high-protein diet - 17 percent. The keratin in the hair is rich in sulphur amino acids, exporting 35 g of sulphur a year, so the proper intake of these amino acids (0.8 percent in the ration) must be ensured. The high productivity of modern Angora strains (up to 1 400 g per year), make full productivity difficult under traditional feeds such as hay, alfalfa, oat, barley, etc. The amounts would be excessive and deficits in sulphur amino acids inevitable. For cost considerations (excluding labour costs) some breeders still combine these feeds with balanced concentrates containing methionine, vitamin and mineral supplements. Almost all breeders use only pelleted feeds for Angoras which are easy to administer. In this case an average 170 to 180 g should be fed to each Angora rabbit daily.
The Angora rabbit's feed requirements follow the cycle of collection (every three months) and hair regrowth. Requirements increase after depilation as the animal is then hairless and energy losses by radiation are very great. By the second month the animal is again well covered, but this is when the hair grows fastest so the ration must of course remain adequate. In the third month, requirements decrease because the hair grows more slowly and, as collection time approaches, starts to fall. Daily rations need to be adjusted carefully to these variable requirements.
It is now the practice to give 190 to 210 g per day of dry matter during the first month, 170 to 180 g during the second month and 140 to 150 g during the third month. It is also recommended that the rabbits not be fed one day a week so the stomach can empty, preventing or at least diminishing the risk of the hair balls that can form from self-grooming (very hard balls called trichobezoars that obstruct the pylorus and usually result in death).
Most losses of adult Angoras occur during the days following hair collection as the animals have problems maintaining thermal balance at that time. They become particularly sensitive to respiratory germs (pasteurella, coryza, etc.). The breeder must therefore be constantly on the alert regarding their general hygiene (frequent litter renewal, cleaning, disinfecting). Having to replace working females with young does lowers average production levels because first-year Angora output is significantly lower: 650 g compared with 1 kg. The usual yearly rate of renewal is 25 to 35 percent.
Labour in Angora rabbit production may be subdivided into five categories:
cleaning and disinfection of the buildings;
curative or preventive health care (vaccinations);
Feeding is not labour-intensive provided the breeder distributes only balanced pelleted feeds in easily accessible feeders. In this case 40 minutes per day and 210 hours per year would be needed for a production unit of 400 Angora rabbits. The time is doubled for coarse feed such as hay and cereals. A daily distribution of straw or roughage, including fasting days, transport and sifting of feed must be reckoned in, raising the time spent on feeding to 400 hours per year.
Hair collection is the most time-consuming operation. The calculation needs to include not only the actual hair removal by shearing, cutting or depilation but also moving the rabbit from its hutch to the collecting table, the grooming phase to remove filth or plant matter from the coat, weighing different grades of hair, keeping records, returning the rabbit to the hutch, plus post harvest thermal stress reduction measures. All in all, some 1,000 hours per year are required for a 400-rabbit production unit.
Complete litter removal (cleaning) for hutches or cleaning out wire-mesh cages, disinfection procedures and sweeping takes at least 250 hours per year.
Veterinary care is basically preventive: vaccinations and general disease prevention can take up to 175 hours per year.
Reproduction-related work (handling breeding animals, checking gestation and kindling, sexing newborn rabbits, weaning) also requires 175 hours per year.
In all, a production unit of 400 Angora rabbits requires 2,000 working hours per year under rational production conditions.
History of Angora Rabbit
Angora (Ankara) rabbit, known for its beautiful long soft hair is originated from Ankara, Central Anatolia/Turkey. Its known history at its motherland, goes back to the 18th century.
Angoras were presented to the French Queen Marie Antoinette (b.1755-d.1793) as courteous gifts during the reign of Ottoman Sultan
Abdulhamid I (reign 1774-1789), and they were highly regarded as beautiful pets by the French nobility.
In many historical records, large numbers of Angora rabbits are also said to have been taken from Central Anatolia to Europe by English salesmen in the 18th century - the industralisation era in Europe.
It is also known that in 1812, when Napoleon made the fateful decision to invade Russia and advanced deep into that vast country, he made his high ranked officers wear Angora mixed apparels, to protect them from the severe Russian winter.
Starting from the second half of the 18th century, mechanisation and factories altered the nature of economics and society in Europe which led to an enormous need for raw material.
Increasingly, the economic relationship between the Ottomans and the Europeans also shifted gears. As a result of the accelerated growth of trade, Europeans started importing raw materials from Ottoman territories and shipped back finished products manufactured in Europe. Since these finished products were produced with new industrial methods, they were far cheaper than the products produced in Ottoman territorities.
Soon, Europeans started buying only raw materials and this practice effectively destroyed the availability of raw material and Ottoman craft industries in the late 18th and the early 19th centuries.
The presence of Angora rabbit breed in Central Anatolia was also affected from this one way trade. Once sent to European courts as courteous gifts, Angoras also became an important good of trade because of their precious Angora wool and sadly their presence gradually decreased in its motherland.
However, in 1990’s intense academic research and studies started in Central Anatolia, Turkey on Angora rabbits, resulting in great achievements. Academic studies on breeding led way to the opening of new farms and to a rapid increase in the number of Angoras.
By the use of different selection methods, quality wool production started and the quality of wool has been categorised in England wool stock market as “excellent”.
The journey of Angora rabbits starting from Central Anatolia in 18th century, still continues today in the world and in its motherland, Turkey.
Currently, there are many Angora rabbit breeds namely; French, English, German, Satin, Russian, Giant and Tanghang. The English Angora Rabbit has the smallest and the thinnest fiber texture amongst all the Angora breeds whilst Giant and Tanghang Angora rabbits are the biggest of the breed.
The Angora rabbit has 12 different colors, i.e. black, dark blue, gray, brown but the white albino is the most preferred breed with its silky, fine and long hair. Annual Angora rabbit wool production is approximately 10,000 tonnes globally and China, Chile, France, Germany, Argentina, Brasil, India, Korea and Hungary are industrial producers of Angora wool.
This information has been taken from the academic studies of Prof. Dr. Tayfur BEKYUREK – Erciyes University, Faculty of Veterinary, Head of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Kayseri, TURKEY. It is strictly forbidden to use this information without any prior written permission.