Fibre harvesting: Grooming
By Dr Clive Dalton
- Removing the fleece from a rabbit can cause a great deal of stress. Angora fibre can be harvested by shearing or plucking.
- Shearing needs special skill and patience with the animal as the rabbit's legs have to be strapped on a special flip-over board.
- Rabbits are normally shorn first at 8 weeks, then at 20 weeks and 32 weeks.
- Small animal clippers with the correct head are essential if you have many animals. It will take about 20 minutes to shear a rabbit. Experts can do it in 10 minutes.
- Scissors can be used for few animals but they must be sharp and well maintained.
- It is vital to avoid "second cuts" in the fibre. Keeping the shearing head flat on the skin all the time does this.
- The fibre is so light that it doesn't fall away like wool on a sheep. It's a good idea to have a helper to do this and blow gently on the fibre to remove any second cuts.
- Also wear a mask as spare fibres float in the air and can be easily breathed in.
- The skin must be held tight with your spare hand to avoid cuts and teats must be protected by your fingers when shearing the belly.
- Shorn yields will always be greater than plucked yields.
- The first crop is shorn from rabbits at 2 months old when the "baby" fibre is removed. After that the animal must be shorn every 90 days. Some people even shear every 10-12 weeks.
- Animals will need protection from cold until the coat has grown again. A nest box and bedding will provide this. Appetite will increase after shearing so give them some extra feed.
- Plucked fibre brings the highest price in Europe.
- For plucking, the rabbit has to be handled 2-3 times to remove the entire coat unless it happens to be in a complete moult.
- Plucking is often done over a period of days as all the fibre may not be "ripe" all at the same time.
- To gain plucking experience, try the long fibres on different parts of an old doe. If they come out easily, pluck them with index finger and thumb. Use the other hand to hold the rabbit.
- Remove the long fibres only and don't attempt to pluck them unless they are loose, as this will stress the rabbit.
- Grooming can be very stressful for the rabbit if not done with care.
- It is done with a wire comb and keeps the rabbit's fleece free from mats and knots.
- It is best done as a weekly routine when little work is involved.
- Neglect and poor husbandry will produce matted dirty fleeces, resulting in low returns and mountains of work trying to rescue fibre.
- Rabbits shorn every 10-12 weeks need very little grooming.