Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wool Stuff

-Another post from the old blog:

Wool is without doubt the most difficult thing to learn about an angora rabbit. Bodies take some practice feeling and learning what makes good type and what doesn't, but wool is much more complicated because it varies so much with each individual rabbit. The standard gives an excellent written description of what constitutes a good coat, but you will never know for sure what that means until you get your hands into lots of wool, eyeball it very carefully, and determine for yourself what a balanced coat truly is.

FAs typically have one first baby coat, a second baby coat (or 1st senior coat), and then an increase in guard hair with each successive coat until density and yield begin a total decline around age 3. Many FAs can successfully be shown in their later years, but typically we need to consider the 2nd and 3rd senior coats to be the Prime coats on an FA---the best you'll ever get---the peak of wool condition and quality. When we assess a coat on our rabbits we really need to ignore judge comments on early coats, (strange as that may seem), because a "good" baby coat will almost always be faulted for being too soft. In the very beginning a very young baby will have a preponderance of guard hair but that is only because the underwool has not started to grow in yet. By age 6-8 weeks the balanced coat begins to grow in earnest, and by the time a bunny is 4-5 months old the wool should be quite soft and require grooming approx. every 4 days to keep it healthy and tangle-free. Now, when I say soft I don't mean "cottony", even in the baby coat. Cottony means that when you scrunch the wool together in the palm of your hand it kind of bunches up and sticks to itself. It does NOT fall free, and it has a distinctly "sticky" quality without actually being sticky. Does that make sense, LOLOL?? A cottony coat also has no form, very little shape, and pretty much just sticks out all over the place (when it is in PEAK condition, not when it is on the decline or about to molt).

A good baby coat is soft but still has good texture. It falls free but still has lots of underwool. If you see a baby coat that is primarily guard hair by about 3-5 months, I would consider very carefully whether I wanted to keep that rabbit. Guard hair always increases in an adult coat, and a baby with no underwool will certainly not have any as an adult (which may be rewarded on the show table by judges looking for a "brillo pad" quality, but it is not something you want to perpetuate in your breeding program:( ).

Now, once the baby coat slips, molts, and is harvested, it is time for the 1st senior coat to come in. At this point the wool on a 6-9 month old rabbit should contain guard hair, but it will not be as predominant as the wool in senior coat #2, and you will continue to see a higher ratio of underwool. At this stage you will begin to hear more favorable comments from judges on texture, but they will still say that a coat is often too "soft". I have heard other breeders say that French coats are much softer nowadays, but this is actually not true. What they are most likely seeing are rabbits without fully developed coats who are soft longer because the holding time of the FA has increased, and also density that has improved drastically so that we see FAs with greater underwool as part of a more "balanced" overall coat.

The second senior coat represents the apex of what your rabbit is capable of producing in quality wool in it's lifetime. At this point, you can listen wholeheartedly to judge's comments on texture (provided he/she is a good judge of wool), and use this rabbit for breeding knowing precisely what you will be passing on to the offspring (of course, there is no rule that says you can't breed an FA at 9 months before all this happens:)).

Anyway, a good, correct Senior coat should have neither too much Underwool nor too much Guard Hair. Guard hair should protrude approx. 1/4 inch above the underwool, and when you rub the coat the wrong way (from tail to head) in Prime condition it should drift back into place softly and drape gracefully over the rabbit. There should be a definite shape to the coat. It should be oval and massive, feel strong and lively, and not be coarse or cottony (this is terribly confusing to understand but you will get the hang of it once you feel it often enough:)). If you grab a handful of it a well-textured Prime coat will spring back into place, whereas a dead (slipping or molting) coat will just fall out of your hand and hang limp. Also, you want to try to breed for an even distribution of Guard Hair (not patches of Guards and Underwool all in different places), and remember that the most points on an angora coat are always for density, followed by Texture, followed by Length. Crimp should be evident in the underwool (little zigzags in the strands), and "there should be sufficient underwool to balance the guard hair".

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and see you next time!:-)

Saturday, November 15, 2008


--Another post from the old blog:

In addition to my favorite FA color, REW, I am also in love with all the Self colors:). Since I am not a spinner and don't get to see the effect of each color in yarn (which might make me prefer different ones, LOL), I breed for the colors that I think will make the biggest impact on the showtable OR are easiest to breed for uniformity and intensity of color. REW is an obvious choice for showing simply because there are very few DQs that a white rabbit can have (aside from crooked tails, teeth and actual physical deformities). Also, a White rabbit of almost any breed will always have greater wool/fur quality, yield, and density (for reasons that I'm not quite sure of that I will have to investigate in the future).

Self colors (IMO) are wonderful simply because they are stunning when bred for good intensity and there is nothing that distracts your eye away from the whole rabbit when it is on the showtable. A rabbit with a Broken pattern can sometimes appear to be "broken up" when posed, and your eye is likely to be drawn away from the wool and type of the rabbit to focus more strongly on the color pattern instead. (Btw, I do not mean to criticize the broken variety in any way, this is just an observation that I have made while at shows:) ).

The most dramatic Self color of all tends to be Black, for obvious reasons:). I have bred huge numbers of this color over the last several years but have kept very few because while they are stunning to behold in full coat, they can also be a nightmare to breed in terms of scattered white hairs/silvering, and other problems that occur. It is not that these problems emerge with less frequency in every other Self color (or any other variety for that matter), it is just that the Black variety is the opposite of White in that EVERY, TINY, little imperfection, spot, hair, and inconsistency shows up dramatically, and you see judges scrutinize this variety to no end simply because everything there is so obvious .

According to Glenna Huffmon's book, "Rabbit Coat Color Genetics" intensity of Color primarily has to do with Plus and Minus modifiers. On pg. 99 she says,

"The plus modifiers will produce larger areas of color, while the minus modifiers will enlarge and extend the areas of white. It all depends on the balance between the two factors. On a self-colored animal, no white is usually the ideal coloration-that is no small white spots and no scattered white hairs in the coat. However, with the presence of too many of the minus modifiers, the solid colored animal may show some white hairs or small white spots in the normally colored coat."

"The self-colored animal with 80% plus modifiers and 20% minus modifiers should still have a solid colored coat. Even 50% of each will usually result in a colored coat with no white. However, when the percentage of minus modifiers outnumbers the plus modifiers, such as 20% plus modifiers and 80% minus modifiers, those annoying white spots and hairs can show up. These white spots usually appear on the head, belly, chest, toes, and feet."

To correct white spots and hairs, she says,

"Breeders of rabbits with lilac and/or blue varieties are no doubt already aware of the modifiers that can result in more intense and darker coloration as opposed to those that lighten the basic color to a lighter shade. It takes a great deal of careful selective breeding on the rabbit breeder's part to get and keep the desired shade. These color intensifiers are not the result of just one gene. There needs to be a large number of them accumulated for them to have the desired affect on the final coat color. They cannot change the blue to black, but they can control the darkness or lightness of the blue color. It all depends on the ratio of dark to light modifiers present."

So in other words, each color is subjected to the effect of modifiers (most notably the Self varieties), but certain Selfs will more clearly express differences in intensity because they are a lighter color in general (Lilacs and Blues for ex.). Blacks and Chocolates will not necessarily get darker in overall body color, but you will see less of the stray white hairs and spots that plague these varieties and stand out so clearly.

I spoke with a number of breeders and read info. from several sources, and it appears that the best way to improve your Self colors and eliminate white hairs and spots is simply to cull out the rabbits who express them, breed only the best colored offspring, and breed like color to like color for as long as it takes to increase plus modifiers to the point where any trace of white in a rabbit's coat is eliminated. What I have done lately is to keep the best Blacks in my breedings that express few if any white hairs, and this year I will begin breeding them to each other in order to produce better bunnies of this variety and repeat the same color combination for several generations in a row.

* Quick note* A judge who didn't have much experience with Angoras recently told me that he thought most Angoras looked as though they had snips of white on their front feet. What I believe he was referring to was the fact that the footpads on a dark Angora variety like Black are light gray underneath and often 'push up between' the toes when the bunny is sitting, making it seem as though the feet have silver or white hairs on them. ALWAYS make certain that the color you are seeing is not really coming up from underneath a bunny's foot--- check your little toes carefully:).

*Also--the same principle applies to 'silvering' that can appear right beneath the bunny's nose (silver color, not white). White on TOP or anywhere around the nose can be a DQ but a 'silvery' (kind of faded black color) is normal on the upper lip of some darker color varieties (I see it regularly in my Blacks and Sables but they are never penalized for it at shows).

Also, I would like to mention in closing that there are other factors that can cause white spots/hairs in rabbits, and one of these is the Steel gene. Since I had quite a bit of Steel floating around in my lines it was entirely possible that the snips/hairs on the rabbits I had in the past was due in part to the presence of Steel, but at this point I choose to treat it as a modifier as I tackle the Steel gene at the same time using Torts, Pearls, and Fawns.

Anyhow, so this is a little bit about the color Black, one of my favorite colors aside from White, LOL. I may have missed info. here but will continue to do research as I go until I achieve the color quality I am looking for:).

Monday, November 10, 2008


If I had to design my rabbitry all over again (which could someday be a reality if I were to suddenly get rich or knock over a bank, LOLOL!), then I would do some things differently.

My current setup utilizes the standard cage stacks with plastic duratrays. While this is an excellent system for saving space, it does require alot of manual labor because the trays obviously have to be pulled out, carried outdoors for cleaning, and then carried back in. Metal trays are next to impossible to use in a system like this (although some men can handle them well) because they are just horrendously heavy, especially for cages full of does with good-sized litters.

The other thing I don't like about stacks is the difficulty of reaching rabbits in the top and bottom-most cages. Although this doesn't pose an insurmountable problem at present, I can see where it would get much more difficult as I get older and way more arthritic, LOL.

If I had to do it again, I would construct one long building with a single row of cages extending from end to end on both sides. I would have no cage smaller than 30 X 36 inches (and maybe 30 X 48 for breeding does), and there would be no cage trays at all if I could find some way to build pits or remove manure often enough so that nothing smelled and there wasn't a big fly problem. Even if I decided to continue using trays in this situation, it would be easier to slide them in and out at waist level than to raise and lower them constantly from the top to the bottom.

I would continue to use no urine guards, but my bucks would be separated from the does as they are now. I would continue to use no hay racks, but shove the hay through the bars near the doors as I do now. I would line my barn walls with some sort of easy-clean plastic or vinyl material and leave a gap between the rows of cages and the wall for easy cleaning (unless I could find some way to hang cages from the wall but remove them easily one by one) .

I would have wider aisles then I have now to enable myself to spin around completely holding a cage tray, if necessary. I would have shelving on either end to hold feed buckets and other equipment. I would put one or possibly two doors on either end of the building to make it easier to drag cages in and out (and the doors would be wide enough to fit cages through easily).

I would have numerous vents everywhere along the sides and ends of my building with hinged flaps covering them to open and close as I choose. I would also need to keep the whole rabbitry as predator proof as possible but if I could manage it, I would love to be able to open the sides of the building completely in the summertime for maximum air flow.

I would continue to use the crock-loc feed dishes that I use now which are more of a pain to dump than the 'J' feeders, but much easier to toss into the dishwasher and sterilize, and much kinder to an angora's furnishings.

An automated watering system has always been a big temptation and I may yet install one someday, but for now it seems important to be able to accurately gauge how much each rabbit drinks each day. Since Angoras are prone to woolblock and one of the first symptoms of a blockage is decreased feed/water intake, I feel like it is dangerous to take the manual labor out of this part of my operation, at least for now.

There are many other things I would do if I had to do it all over again, but this is a list of the most immediate concerns. I have left the issue of climate control out (heat in winter and A/C in summer), but that is only because the temps in this part of the country are not usually as extreme as they are everyplace else. If that should change or I feel that climate control is needed someday, then I would reconsider that too.

I got quite a bit of grooming done this week and there are lots of older juniors in long coats who need attention now, LOL. Below I have posted a few pictures of Spang's Devaki, a Sr. doe who was going to be bred this fall but who refused to cooperate, so she will head off to the showtable instead:-). Devaki is a beautiful girl who is not necessarily the densest rabbit in my barn but who is extremely well balanced. Once her coat comes all the way in (the guard hairs on her sides reach all the way down to the table and she is bigger in general) , then she will be ready for some action at the shows and maybe pick up some legs if she's lucky, LOL.

More again next time. Have a great week!:^)

Monday, November 3, 2008


Now is the time when nights (and days too) get particularly blustery in the Northeast, and Fall begins to hit with full force. Last week a few days before Halloween we actually had a blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow in the higher elevations, so we are all now thinking that it is going to be a wicked mean season, LOL.

Rabbitwise cold means nothing, but constant drafts can cause a definite health problem, so it is important to close up a rabbitry at this time of year. There are vents along the eaves of my barn so it is never really airtight (which is important even in winter), but vents on the sides, bottom, and front always get closed so that no one is in danger of getting a straight blast of air and possibly getting ill.

My barn is not as sophisticated as it might be, and I have a really great idea in my head of what it will be some day when there is an opportunity to build a state of the art bunny operation, LOL. For now, here are 2 shots of vents sealed up on the sides and bottom of the building. Ideally these flaps will have hinges on them in the future so that I can close them whenever I need to, but at this point the dh just drills them on and then takes them off in the spring:).

Another EXTREMELY important job in the fall is to remove, disassemble, and thoroughly clean every fan in your rabbitry before putting them away into storage. I have 2 heavy duty industrial fans at either end of my building, and they usually need to be cleaned several times over the course of the summer, especially if they were running all day, every day. Here is a pic of them drying in the sun after cleaning.

Another management requirement to consider at this time of year is putting mousetraps in every corner of the barn. On this property we have a regular incursion of voles every fall and winter because they come up the hill from the garden in search of shelter and an easy meal. We set traps in the fall and continue to catch the annoying pests into the spring, baiting and resetting traps daily or weekly as necessary.
A deep cleaning, OR, at least pulling cages away from the walls and cleaning thoroughly in every corner is another good idea in the Fall. After numerous litters and rabbit rotations in every part of a bldg during the year, chances are good that there is hay and gunk built up behind everything that needs to be removed. Air exchange is not as good over the winter as it is during the rest of the year, so it is good to start out as clean as possible.
More again later as the winter temperatures kick in and bunny coats begin to R-E-A-L-L-Y grow:) Fall in the NE is Angora weather alright, the very best time of a rabbit year:^).