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The wool of Angora (Ankara) rabbit is known as Angora wool or Angora. Angora wool is produced only by Angora rabbits and it is the lightest natural fiber ever known; exhibiting original qualities of fineness, lustre and feel, for the production of high value added luxury items. Angora is often considered one of the "noble" fibres. Angora (Ankara) rabbit is the only animal breed that produces the finest and the longest white silky wool amongst other wool producing animal breeds such as sheep, goat, lama, alpaca and camel each at outputs of 5,000 to 30,000 tonnes annually.
As defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) the symbol for Angora wool is WA, whilst other rabbit breeds’ hair symbol is HK. W (Wool) symbolizes premium quality fiber and H (Hair) is used for low quality hair. A (Angora) is used for Angora rabbit fiber, whilst K (Kaninchen) stands for ordinary rabbit breeds hair.
The Characteristics of Angora Wool Fiber
The coat of Angora rabbit is a combination of three different types of hair structure:
- guide-hairs: they cover and guide the coat; they are the longest (longer than 10 cm) and the roughest hairs
- guard-hairs: they lie on the coat and function to cover the hair below; they are shorter than guide hairs (around 8 cm)
- down-hairs: They are the shortest hair type (less than 6 cm) with rounded point. The hairs function to create thermal effect. They are almost invisible, lying under the guard hairs with very fine structure.
The hairs have hollow structure, which makes them lighter than wool and increases their insulating properties. They have all the properties of keratin: insulation, water absorption and good dyeing quality (chromophile). It is also important to note that during the dyeing process, due to its medulated structure, the dye fills in the fiber’s cavities causing it to lose its thermal feature.
The density, softness, flexibility, length, fineness of the down, guard-hair diameter, fur structure, cleanness and composition are the factors marking the quality of Angora wool. Felting or dirty fur is also considered a quality parameter.
Angora wool is classified in four categories:
Super Grade: This type of wool quality has two sub types; namely 1A and 1B qualities. 1A is a long (10cm and over), clean, pure, soft and straight fiber, whereas type 1B is wavier.
First Grade: Long (6cm and over), clean, pure, soft hair
Second Grade: Clean, but too short hair (less than 6 cm) or too woolly. It is the product of the first and sometimes the second collection of the young Angora rabbit
Third Grade: Dirty, felted and short with no commercial value.
During the shearing process, all four types of hair are obtained from each Angora (Ankara) rabbit. Following wool collection, the Angora wool is left for ventilation and classified according to its quality. Angora wool can be preserved in a moist and moth free environment for a long time.
It is important to note here that any length of dirty hair is commercially worthless. Clean hair is therefore absolutely essential in Angora wool production.
The Angora rabbit's coat is 98.5 percent pure as cutaneous secretions are very slight and the animal grooms itself frequently. Angora wool goes straight to the card without previous washing: it is imperative that the producer keep constant control over the cleanliness of the animals.
Angora hair is unusually long owing to the prolongation of the active phase of the hair follicle cycle: the hair grows for approximately 14 weeks, whereas that of the rabbit with ordinary (short) hair grows at the same rate but for only five weeks. This is due to the presence of a recessive gene in Angora rabbits.
The interval between hair collections is a decisive factor in hair length. Though the period of shearing varies due to the length of fiber that is targeted, the Angora (Ankara) rabbits are generally shorn every 3 months, 4 times in a year; which approximates to a total amount of 1 kg. Angora wool production per animal annually. As the Angora wool is shorn from the rabbits, there is no hardship to the rabbits and no rabbits die in the production of Angora wool. The length of Angora hair accounts for its textile value, because it permits cohesion in the thread.
When Angora rabbits are 7 weeks old, they are initated to combing and the does are carefully combed once a week. Combing increases the wool quality. It is preferred that comb is either made of bone or metallic threads. The desired wool quality is attained as the does reach six months old. By this time, the does get used to combing. However, due to the selection method French Angora rabbits do not need combing for the attainment of wool quality whilst English Angora rabbits need continuous grooming and combing.
Wool is obtained through different shearing or collection methods such as electric or manual shears, scissors, plucking or depilation:
1. Most commonly used hair collection method is shearing: it is preferred due to its advantages; it is less stressful for the rabbit, less time and labor consuming, provides protection against cold, and provides possibility of obtaining more wool through shorter shearing intervals. It takes 10 to 20 minutes to shear an Angora (Ankara) rabbit. In Central Europe, Turkey and South America breeders use this method.
2. Clipping method (with scissors) increases the amount of sheerwool (less than 10mm. length) because of the post-shearing corrections. It is very important that the skin should not be harmed during clipping. Especially, the nipples are very sensitive to injuries.
3. While plucking thick ended, immature hair is collected. This process takes 30 to 40 minutes. In China, wool is hand plucked to obtain the maximum amount of wool.
4. Depilation has long been the technique of choice in France, synchronizing the reactivation of hair follicles with a well-structured coat with good guide hairs. Since the 1980s French breeders have been using a depilatory fodder sold under the name LagodendronR. With careful use of this product, rabbits can be shaved more quickly and easily and less stressfully.
Most losses of adult Angoras occur during the days following hair collection as the animals then have problems maintaining thermal balance. The denuded rabbit must be protected from cold, particularly where depilation is the collection technique. Breeders use several methods: two-stage depilation at intervals of a few days, leaving a "back" which is subsequently removed; body-coat, warmers, post-depilation boxes, etc.
If precautions against cold are not taken at temperatures below 20˚C, during the first week following the hair collection, due to postharvest thermal stress, an immediate excess feed consumption is observed in Angora rabbits. This situation causes disorders of the metabolism and of blood circulation leading to death. It is therefore essential to lower the temperature before hair collection and raise it after hair is collected.
Angora (Ankara) rabbits also become particularly sensitive to respiratory germs (pasteurella, coryza, etc.) after hair collection. The breeder must therefore be constantly on the alert regarding general hygiene of the farm (frequent litter renewal, cleaning, disinfecting).
Attainment of high amount of wool
Genetic estimates of different strains
Although there are several strains of Angora rabbit, only the German, French and Chinese (Tanghang, Wan, etc.) strains are of economic interest at this time. The Chinese strains (including the German strain reared in China and South America) supply over 95 percent of the Angora hair sold in the world. The European, French and German strains also deserve mentioning since they have been selected for over 50 years, and have specific features.
Attainment of high wool quality:
A point to be considered very carefully is that Angora (Ankara) rabbit production is labour-intensive and also requires great expertise. The slightest mistake may result in the loss of productive adults: the animals have to be over a year old to return a profit.
Hair collection is always a delicate operation and careless sorting irredeemably downgrades the product. Above all, not all climates are suitable: excessive heat and intense light are very bad elements for especially albinos. In cold countries, or in countries with cold winters, the solution is to use buildings that shelter the animals against the rigours of the winter, and to regulate the temperature of the interiors. Recently denuded animals require special care, however. The feed requirements of Angora (Ankara) rabbits are also very important: a poor, deficient diet will always mean qualitatively and quantitatively poor hair production.
The quantity and quality of wool are primarily very much dependent on genes and inheritance of the breed; though factors including feeding, hygiene, age, sex, weight, season, climate, and pregnancy also affect the production and quality of wool. Therefore selection of pure breed Angora rabbits with high wool production capacity is essential for the sustainability of high quality wool standard.
Researches have proved that Angora wool keeps the body temperature almost 8 times more than sheep wool. Ten percent Angora wool in a mixture of wool, cotton and synthetic fibres makes an extremely soft fabric, very easy on the skin. It does not cause any allergic reactions and the hollow structure of its fiber makes it ideal for especially thermal clothing as the fiber naturally allows the skin to breathe, absorbes all the moisture, and provides comfortable warmth to the body. Thus, garments made from Angora wool are healthy to use for people of all age groups besides its benefits for both ill and elderly people with rheumatics, arthritis, cold painful joints, sciatica, muscle tension, kidney ailments, chilblains and circulatory disorders.
Besides thermal underwear, Angora wool is also used in the production of quality outwear garments and accessories. As the kemp points and the covering hairs, which are more rigid, rise from the fabric, they give the fabric a fluffy appearance which is much prized. Although the Angora (Ankara) rabbit exists in all colours, only the albino strain is produced, since its coat is entirely white; which is an advantage for dyeing.
This information has been taken from the academic studies of Prof. Dr. Tayfur BEKYUREK – Erciyes University, Faculty of Veterinary, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Kayseri, TURKEY. It is strictly forbidden to use this information without any prior written permission.