Of all things, why keep rabbits? People often give us a sideways glance when they discover that we raise them. Meanwhile, those who confess that they have a backyard flock of chickens don’t seem to get the same funny look. But rabbits? It’s odd.
That’s okay. I’m odd, so it works.
Kidding aside, it’s a legitimate question: why raise rabbits? They don’t give milk, they don’t lay eggs and you can’t get bacon from them. What advantage is there to raising rabbits on a mini-farm?
At the time we got into rabbits we lived in an area where the zoning laws prohibited chickens. However, we were free to raise as many rabbits as we wanted as long as they were ‘well kept up,’ according to the regulations. Knowing that rabbits would be acceptable in our area, I researched breeds through the Livestock Conservancy. If we’re going to raise animals we may as well raise non-commercial, rare breeds to help conserve genetic diversity – this is part of the reason why we decided on Cayuga Ducks, as they are a heritage breed. After sifting through the breed lists, none seemed right. Most heritage breed rabbits are exhibition only, while some could be used as meat. I was disappointed – I still had been hoping for a second purpose aside from meat. I wasn’t against eating rabbit meat, but I still would rather maximize our limited real estate with dual-purpose animals. While preserving the breeds of yesteryear is important to us, home economics are also important.
Then I just so happened to come across some YouTube videos that had been posted by someone who had been raising French Angora Rabbits. No, they were not rare, but they fit our needs perfectly: accepted by our zoning laws, a commercial body that could be used for meat AND they produce angora wool for handspinning! My wife was very understanding.
“I don’t even know how to spin, let alone want to!”
I don’t know how she happened to come around on this one, but not much more than a month later we had two French Angora Rabbits in our backyard. We’ve since bought four more and have had several litters. And my wife, the reluctant spinner, told me just a few weeks ago that I will be hungry and the kids will be dirty because she does not want to ever do anything again aside from spin wool into yarn. We haven’t put a rabbit on the dinner table, but I will say that their wool alone is reason enough to keep them – it really is like holding a cloud and makes an incredible yarn.
There are other breeds of angora rabbits that will give you the dual-purpose nature that you might be looking for. We are obviously partial to the French, but there are also English, German, Giant and Satin Angoras. Yes, there are Jersey Woolies, but as they are a dwarf breed that produce minimal amounts of wool we never considered them. They are more of a novelty than they are a working animal. That being said, if space is really at a premium Jersey Woolies may be an option for some.
The English Angora was immediately discounted from our selection. Many find them to be adorable because of the wool on their face, but I saw that as a detriment. Matted facial wool from food and water? Who wants that? Plus, they were smaller than the other breeds, which meant that they wouldn’t produce meat as well. On their positive side, from what I’ve heard their wool is the ‘easiest’ to spin. I still have no interest in the facial furnishings.
As for the Giant Angoras, we didn’t want anything quite that big. Satin Angoras resembled the French in a lot of ways, and we strongly considered them. They are an extremely similar breed to the French; the only difference between them is that Satin Angora wool is a little more difficult to spin while the French Angora has more of a ‘halo effect’ in the yarn. These factors have more to do with personal preference than actual pros and cons. As we were beginners the easier to spin wool with the ‘halo effect’ won out. As a side note, we have never owned a Satin Angora and cannot speak to the ease of spinning of their wool, we only know what we’ve been advised by others on this one. As I said, the Satin and the French are very similar breeds.
When it comes to the remaining German Angoras, they are not yet sanctioned by ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association.) Since we were somewhat interested in showing, that meant that they weren’t a possibility. Additionally, white is the only allowable color for the Germans, which is kinda – well, you know – BORING! We wanted variety.
With that, we wound up with French Angoras, the original breed I’d seen. Large enough to produce meat as well as wool, but not too large. No facial furnishings that are a nightmare to groom, and showable animals that can pique the fancier’s interest.
THAT’S why French Angoras.