It’s become evident that the vast majority of our visitors from Google prefer the pages dedicated to our French Angora Rabbits over any other topic that we bring up here. I don’t post about them as much as I would like to, which is a shame because they really are a perfect homesteading animal for small-scale farming.
Really, I don’t know why they aren’t more popular. Perhaps it’s all those books and websites out there that purport that if you don’t follow their practices exactly YOUR RABBITS WILL DIE! And it’s not just rabbits, it seems that whenever looking up information on any animal, death is imminent. Wrong food? They’re going to bloat and DIE! Too cold? They’ll get hypothermia and DIE! You’re inexperienced? They’re going to DIE!
Or maybe not. Rabbits are far more resilient than we give them credit for. Additionally, they’re quiet, they don’t take up much space, they’re inexpensive to buy and maintain and they’re allowable in virtually any domestic setting. They can produce wool, and if you’re into home meat production they really do taste just like chicken. And their care is far easier than most people make them out to be. Even our French Angora rabbits only require 15-45 minutes of extra grooming a week, and more often than not it’s much closer to the 15 minutes for all six of them. (Side note: other Angoras, specifically English, can be higher maintenance.) Whole books have been written about it, but almost everything can be contained into a single web page. So, I am going to do just that:
How to Care for French Angora Rabbits (or any homesteading rabbit)
1. How to Get Them
First, select a breed. You can use arba.net or the Livestock Conservancy to help decide. If you’re homesteading you want to choose a breed that produces a good amount of meat, wool or both, so keep that in mind when choosing. (Check out why we prefer French Angora Rabbits.) If meat is your focus, bear in mind that bigger rabbits don’t always equate to more meat. Yes, there are giant breeds that can tip the scales over 20 pounds, but often that’s mostly bones. Once you’ve figured out a breed, the rabbits you’re looking for often aren’t hard to find. Breeders list their contact info on the ARBA website and/or other breed specific club sites (a Google search will get you there). Another great resource is Facebook – there are many sale groups that are set aside for each breed.
2. How to House Them
The majority of people keep their rabbits in wire hutches with the trays that slide out for easy cleaning. Using stackable hutches will cut down on the amount of space needed. I’ve purchased hutches from a few different manufacturers, and I prefer Bass Equipment. Each rabbit needs their own hutch. Yes, I’ve kept sisters from the same litter together a couple of times without issue, but unless they’re bonded from a young age, they will fight. If raising a wool breed, the static generated when they rub against each other can cause for the wool to matt together. Ergo, 1 rabbit per hutch! If raising litters, remember to always have 1-2 extra hutches for the kits to grow out in. I use 30×36 inch hutches for does with litters and 24×30 inch hutches for bucks. You can spend a fortune on them or you can get them very reasonably off Craigslist or Facebook sale groups.
You can also pasture rabbits on the ground in pens. However, unless the pen is very large, they must be kept in individual pens to prevent fighting. Also, having wool breeds on the ground in contact with grass and dirt can render their coats useless. But, there are plenty of people who do it this way, so by all means if it works for you, it’s fine.
A note about environmental factors: cold generally isn’t an issue for them, but they do need to be sheltered from wind, rain and any kind of drafts and direct sunlight. It can be as simple as a 3 sided shelter that faces away from oncoming winds (we had one with a canvas attached to the roof of the 4th side that we dropped down during snow and extreme cold.) If you have a barn, then all the better. Cold is only a problem when their water bottles freeze. We have twice as many water bottles as we have rabbits for the winter time; we bring out water bottles in the morning to replace the frozen ones from overnight. Those are brought inside, and once they have defrosted by mid afternoon we swap them again. It’s just easy that way.
Angora rabbits produce wool, and therefore need higher protein ratios than most pet store feeds. I am assuming the same could be said for most meat breeds. I feed our rabbits an all-natural feed that’s 18% protein (most pet store feeds are only 16%). Supplement some hay for roughage such as Timothy. Alfalfa can have the opposite problem: too MUCH protein! (Helpful hint: feed stores often have hay bales for only a few dollars, while pet stores sell hay for something like 20 bucks for only a couple pounds! Stay out of the pet stores and go to a feed store. Between buying hay and getting feed in bulk, you’ll save a ton of money!)
I feed our French Angoras (8-11 pound rabbits) 3/4 a cup of feed to each rabbit daily and 1 cup in cold weather. Calories = heat. I’ve found any more than that and they leave leftovers for the next day. Nursing mothers and growing kits get free choice. Nursing mothers also get a few old fashioned oats, which I stop once the kits are 10 days old. At that point they are sampling their mother’s food and oats are bad for youngsters.
I add in a small bit of black oil sunflower seeds to improved coat condition, but they can be expensive (again, buy in bulk!), and they’re not strictly necessary.
Be careful about feeding too many fresh greens as treats to a rabbit that isn’t used to it – it can cause deadly GI problems. Introduce fresh greens very gradually.
Again, not as hard as you might think. They need their nails trimmed periodically. Use pet nail clippers to get the job done easily. You’ll notice a thin, pinkish vein inside the translucent nail. Only clip the end of the nail where the vein (called ‘the quick’) is not, otherwise the nail will bleed. For most rabbits, that’s all that’s needed.
For Angora Rabbits, they need brushing. If they’ve recently been shorn or blown their coat (naturally released their wool), they might not need to be brushed again for a couple of weeks. Once the coat gets longer, you need to blow it out. You can spend a lot of money on a pet blower, or just use a shop vac on reverse. You literally just turn the shop vac on the animal and blow out the coat to loosen up the fibers and matts.
The rabbit will be alarmed by the sound the first time or two, but after that they get used to it. Any matt too stubborn to come out this way can either be loosened up with your fingers or cut out with scissors.
And that’s about it. I’ll do separate posts about breeding and raising kits, and then another about actually harvesting the wool. That said, these 4 points are really the only things that anyone needs to know to get started, and once you get your rabbits and set them up, the last 2 mentioned will be the only ones of relevance to you. I can’t emphasize it enough, they are simple creatures with few needs and are much tougher than you might think.
Best of luck!
*****Disclaimer: what works for us won’t necessarily work for everybody. We’re homesteaders, not zoologists, and this is the internet. Please take any testimony here with a grain of salt. If you have questions regarding the welfare of your own animals, consult a veterinarian.