Thursday, September 29, 2011

Breeding for Color - Beware of Torts

Many English Angora breeders breed any color to any color, which can lead to poor results.  Even though only five points are allocated to color, judges truly appreciate intense well colored animals probably more than this point amount would lead you to believe, so being careful with breeding should be a top priority.  Having a color project can be very rewarding, and since breeders of other breeds follow color rules when breeding, there really isn’t any reason that you can’t.   To get some guidance on the issue, talk to breeders of normal furred breeds with multiple colors.  Because I raised Netherland Dwarfs for many years, I learned how the colors should be bred together for optimum results, and this is unfortunately knowledge that many of your fellow English angora breeders do not possess and could truly give you an advantage on the show table.  An intense study of genetics is not necessary, just find out the “rules” for breeding whatever color you are interested in, follow them, and consider correct color when selecting your breeding stock.

Particularly, an English Angora breeder should avoid breeding tort to everything.  If you have a reason for doing so, for instance, if your blacks need better density and the rabbit with the best density in your barn is a tort, than do so, but by breeding that way, understand that you may need to work harder at getting the color back.  While I have heard people in the breed say that torts are the densest, I know by previous experience that this is just coincidence. Because many of the most serious breeders raise torts, a person’s best rabbits may be torts, but it would be a mere coincidence and is anecdotal evidence at best.  Many years ago, when torts were rare in my barn, the ones that I had did not have as dense of wool as my main colors – I suspect that since I got few torts then, that it was mere coincidence, as well as the fact that they did not occur often and did not occur from my best lines.  Similarly, English Angora breeders now breed mostly tort, so the reverse could lead someone to the conclusion that torts are best because they are either from their best lines or are the most numerous– but it is a fact that the tort gene itself does not do anything to make a coat more or less dense.  Do not get me wrong, I do love torts, but not enough to have them dominate my herd.

The reason to not breed torts indiscriminately with other colors is two-fold – one, that on a tort, you usually do not worry about color intensity as you would on other colors such as blacks or chocolates, so when you bred your tort in you may be selecting a rabbit with weak color intensity.  Second, in many colors, such as the pointed white, the recessive tort gene can lead to lighter colors.  I see many pointed whites being advertised as “lilac” when I suspect that they are actually pointed whites that have a recessive tort gene.  A true lilac pointed white will not be light, it should have points that are dark, but Lilac in color, and should not have feet that fade to white in the summer.  Take a look at a Lilac in the Himalayan breed  of rabbit, and you will see that the Lilac pointed whites are not faintly colored as some of the alleged “lilac” pointed white English Angoras are. 

Bottom line is, if you need to breed a tort into a color such as a black or an agouti, be sure that you are using a dark tort so that you do not lose color intensity.  Additionally, some colors, such as pointed white, should  never be bred to a tort unless absolutely necessary, because the tort gene itself, no matter how intensely dark it is, will make the points faint and light.  In the future, I will talk about breeding specific colors and color groups, but for now, you can research color breeding information from other breeds who do a better job at breeding for color.   Putting a small amount of effort into breeding your colors true can lead to gorgeous blacks, striking agoutis and intensely dark pointed whites, which look amazing on the show table!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Show Grooming the English Angora

     Show grooming is different from your maintenance grooming routine.  At a show, you may take license to actually use your brushes on the coat more than you would at home.  You are risking a little more coat breakage by doing so, but that is why you try to avoid unnecessary grooming at home.  Also this method assumes that you are on top of your maintenance grooming, so that you will not be removing any matts or webbing, because that should be prevented or taken care of during maintenance grooming sessions.  Most of your focus will be on the underside of the rabbit.   Put the rabbit on your lap, underside up in whatever manner is most comfortable to you.  Use your soft slicker brush to brush the wool around the butt, the feet and the belly.  You want the bottom to look “pretty “ when you are done.  If there are any wet spots or messy areas around the tail, either clip off or use corn starch or baby powder with white vinegar if it is in wool that needs to stay on.  If you have a wet spot and have to use the corn starch or baby power, you will have to continually brush and blow that spot until dry – this may take awhile, so it is best to check those that are prone to doing this when you first get to the show.  Some rabbits are messy, and others aren’t, I often use this as a consideration when breeding, as messy mothers often produce messy daughters.  Typically, I go through and do the bottoms of all of my show rabbits before I do the tops because the bottom is the most time consuming. 

The next step is to do the top.  If you have done a good job on your maintenance grooming, this should not take long.  If the rabbit is under four and a half months old, I do not blow it, just use a steel tooth comb behind the ears and through the furnishings.  For anyone over that age, the younger they are the shorter of time that I blow.  Put the rabbit on the grooming stand and use the steel tooth comb behind the ears, and cheeks and furnishings.  Then I feel the wool to make sure that no wool has clumped or webbed – if so, I will blow that spot, then pull apart with my fingers and repeat until finished – if you do your maintenance grooming you should not have a problem.  I then take a bottle of pure water and lightly mist the rabbit – this is a trick used by normal fur breeders to make the coat more fresh prior to showing.  You need to do this very lightly, just one light spray or so, enough that it will be dry after just a second or two of blowing.   

Next start blowing with your blower,  just blowing in each spot and if there is no webbing move on.   When you are done, a rabbit with a longer coat will often have little pills on the end  The best way to get this off is to use a flea comb to target the small little pill, however, you can use a soft slicker if you are in a hurry.  Also, groom any ends that look stringy in the same fashion, however, use a normal size steel comb for this, and try to avoid using the slicker as it will cause breakage.  Sometimes on the later coats, only the slicker will do. 

When doing this grooming of the ends, only do it on a spot that needs it, hold the base of the wool, and try to get it in as few strokes as possible.   A coat that is about a year old  will take a long time during this step to make the coat look good, younger, fresher long coats may only need a spot or two, and then you are done.  It is nice to  do the blowing step as close to when you show as possible and then to leave the rabbit out of the cage.  I often have a few grooming tables, so that I can have my longest coated rabbits sit out prior to going to the show table – you don’t want all of your efforts to be wasted prior to going to the table.  Now that you are done, your English Angora should look like a round ball of fluff when placed on the grooming table. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Maintenance Grooming of the Young Senior English Angora - Part II

The next step in the grooming process for English Angoras between the ages of six and eight months old will be to groom the top.  I will pull apart any webbing or matting that is spotted on the top when blowing.  Once again, I do not use any brushes unless absolutely necessary, and attempt to remove any problems with  just my fingers. 

Behind the ears is another matter, these tangles are fine, and I will spritz it with the diluted leave in conditioner  and then use a steel comb to comb the wool.  If the tangles are large, however, they will need to be tackled by pulling the pieces apart with your fingers, or you will risk damaging the wool. 

As with junior english angoras, use grooming tools sparingly, and blow only a minimal amount to keep that coat in good shape.  A rabbit at this age should have a fresh lively coat, the wool should be silky and fall free, and it is important to not ruin it with overgrooming.  In fact, I believe that rabbits in this stage are the "ideal" English Angora if you truly are going by the standard of perfection, because the wool is fresh, falls free, and does not have a dry texture, but unfortunately judges at the Best In Show table often want to see the large, full coated seniors.

If the grooming session is done weekly, it usually only takes me about ten to fifteen minutes on a rabbit at this stage.  Of course, sometimes  life is busy, and during these times, I can only do this grooming session every other week, at which time it will take me about 25 minutes.  While it is not ideal to do the grooming session every other week, with the frequent blowing, the coat can be maintained in good shape until this time. 

These tips should help you keep those young seniors in good shape, and looking good!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Maintenance Grooming of the Young Senior English Angora - Part I

What do I mean by a "young senior"?  An English Angora from about 6-8 months has a coat that is different from a junior English Angora and a full coated senior.    Therefore, they have their own blog posting, and are what I often refer to as a "young senior". 

When an English Angora is no longer a junior, and is instead a young senior, their coat is developing into a longer coat, and you will need to stay on top of the coat more than you did before.  So, It is at this age that I begin to blow the rabbit more frequently, and will try to blow them 5-7 days a week.  This will allow the groomer to stay on top of the coat and prevent webbing.  As with  juniors, these blowing sessions should be short, and only a few minutes of total time. 

Once a week, the young senior has a grooming session in which I will focus on the problem areas. I will take the time to work on any webbing or matting that has developed during the week.  Often, I will spot a problem during the daily blowing sessions, but due to time constraints, I will usually leave the area until the once weekly grooming session (to be an "A" student, you would tackle the problem the moment it is spotted.) 

In the first part of the grooming session of the young senior, I will lay the rabbit on its back on my lap.  I will clip the wool around the rabbits private area to keep it clean.  Then, I lightly spritz the feet and legs with a leave in conditoner made for animals that is diluted with water by 50% (Dont use this the week before the show, it should be used for maintenance grooming only.)  I will use my steel comb that has very long and wide spaced teeth to groom through the feet and legs. 
 If the legs and feet are webbing I will often clip them as long as it is at least 3-4 weeks before a show.  They should grow back by then and it will look better than legs and feet with mats.  I will then use the blower on the belly, to find any belly trouble spots.  If there are any, I will lightly spritz with the diluted leave in conditoner, pull apart, and then blow until it is clean. 

Stay tuned for the second part of "Maintenance Grooming of the Young Senior English Angora" which will be posting on Friday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Maintenance Grooming of the Junior English Angora

A good English Angora between 3-6 months old should be easy to groom.  If it is not, you have either a fur mite problem, or a poor quality coat.  In fact, this is my favorite age because they are low maintenance when I take them to a show.  I usually just check them over quickly, brush the bottoms, and then spend the time preparing my big coated seniors. 

When my English Angoras are three to three and a half months old, I start by grooming once a week.  These maintenance sessions should only take up a few minutes of time.  I will start with the babies bottom.  For bunnies this age, I like to use a very very wide steel tooth comb with long teeth.   I will spritz just a little bit of leave in conditioner, diluted 50%, on to their legs and feet and quickly run the comb through the foot wool and the sides of the leg.  If the comb hits any snags, I will pull the wool apart, and then use the comb once again.  I also use the comb through the belly and between the legs one time.  Once again, when you hit a snag, you don’t pull it out with the comb, you stop and break it apart with your fingers.  Your mission with the comb is to find problems, the comb is not used to fix the problems.

After the belly is completed, I will put the rabbit on the grooming table right side up.  I will start by checking behind the ears and under the cheeks.  If there are any tangles, I will lightly spritz the diluted leave in conditioner behind the ears and use my extra wide tooth comb.  If the tangles are big, use your fingers.  Then, I will use my fingers to feel the body wool to see if there is any webbing.  If I feel nothing, I put the youngster away as I do not groom on this age of rabbit unless it is necessary.  If I find some webbing, I will pull it apart with my fingers, and try to avoid using any combs if possible on the top.  At this age, it is important to remember that when it comes to grooming less is more.  Only use brushes when necessary, as every time you brush the fiber you risk damaging it.   A rabbit of this age will be one that you want to hold the coat for some time, so it is important to be strict with limiting brushing on the coat.

I avoid blowing rabbits this age for as long as possible because blowing, while helpful, is also very drying to the coat, and one of the benefits of a young coat is that it is fresh and alive.  When I start  finding webbing in the coat, I will start to blow them, on as low a setting as possible.  Once I start blowing them, I will do it 2-3 times per week.  Blowing sessions should be quick, maybe a minute or two.  You are just checking to find webbing, and if it doesn’t quickly come apart with the blower, you use your fingers to pull the webbing apart.    Most of mine start needing a blower at 4 ½ to 5 months of age, but I do delay this as long as possible.
I also start to spray to kill fur mites, as discussed in an earlier post, at this age every other week.  Doing so religiously should keep webbing on the coats at a minimum. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Grooming Baby English Angoras

I am going to start a series about grooming English Angoras at various ages and stages of coat development and give you some tips that I have.  We will start with babies!  Baby English Angoras, about three and months and younger, are very easy to groom, I generally do not do much at this stage of their life.  For any babies with their mother, you should be handling them and cleaning them up if they get dirty, but you generally will not have to do much until they are weaned.  At weaning, I treat with Ivomec to prevent fur mites.  After weaning, I try to handle the babies at least twice a week so that I can check on their health.  I will at that time make sure that they do not have any tangles behind the ears.  The only other area that my babies may need attention would be between the back legs of the rabbit, which may get dirty on occasion.  If they are matting or webbing at this age, you have either a fur mite problem or a poor coat quality problem.

To remove the tangles behind the ears, I will spray the area very lightly with a leave in spray conditioner for dogs that is available at pet stores, either at full strength or diluted with water to half strength.  Then, I will use a wide steel tooth comb to comb the tangles out, but using my fingers if necessary to pull apart larger “clumps”.   I will check the babies bottoms as well, but typically, the biggest concern at this age will be the wool behind the ears.  Resist the urge to use your brushes on the coat unless absolutely necessary, as the more you brush the more damage you will cause.  In English Angoras, overgrooming is typically the cause of most new people’s frustration, because the coat breakage that it causes leads to excess webbing and matting.  Just take that cute baby out, make sure it is healthy, and use the steel comb behind the ears if necessary, and that is all the grooming you should do. 

Some would be against using any sort of coat spray on English Angoras.  However, if you are using it as outlined above, you are not spraying it indiscriminately in order to alter the appearance of the coat, and you are not doing it at a show, which would both be violations of show rules.  However, there is no reason to not use this spray lightly in a discriminate manner as needed at home so that you cause minimal damage to areas that need more intense grooming.  If these tangles are combed out without the spray, you will definitely cause more breakage of the coat, which will lead to more problems later on.    

Some words of caution - be careful to not put the leave in spray conditioner on the rest of the coat, as it may cause the baby to lick and chew if they do not appreciate the smell.  Therefore, sprays  with strong odors should be avoided, as well as any grooming spray that causes the coat to feel any different after spraying.  You may need to experiment until you find the right ones that have little smell, work good, and do not cause any build up that would alter the coat.  One thing that you can do is speak to a local dog groomer who may have some ideas for you. Also, even though your juniors are too young to show, make sure to not use this at shows. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Preventing "Fur Mites" in Your English Angora – Part II

As we discussed in the previous post, a fur mite infestation can quickly take an English Angora’s beautiful show coat and destroy it if proper measures are not taken.  In addition to treating with ivomec, I find that I have better luck combating the fur mites if I also treat with a spray or powder.  I always assume that a show English Angora has been exposed when they come home from a show and treat before they are returned to their cages. Before I had that attitude, I lost many coats.  

Some people use powders, but I like to use a spray made for cats that kills lice, although most of these sprays kill fleas and ticks as well.   I spray show rabbits every other week, and try to time this bi-weekly application so that it occurs after they return from a show.  Also, if I notice during my grooming routine that they are starting to get tangles in the wool, I will lightly spray that spot, as it might be an indication that I missed a mite or two.  I never spray or powder a baby under three months, and I never do my breeding stock unless they are actually exhibiting symptoms.  I prefer not to use chemicals such as this unless necessary, so if it is not needed, I prefer not to apply it.

To administer, spray lightly as a little goes along way.  I spray the belly, the feet and legs, between the front legs.  Then, on their tops, I lift the wool on the side and do the shoulders, and side and then let some wool down and do a second layer.  Also, do it above the tail, let some wool down and do another layer. Smooth the wool down and spray behind the ears, making sure to get the actual ears, and down the back.  Shoulders are the worst, make sure to get that area of the body good. 

Does anyone else have good tips in regards to fighting the infamous fur mite?  If so, please post in the comment section or email me so that I can include it in a future posting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Preventing "Fur Mites" In Your English Angora - Part I

You will often hear English Angora breeders make comments about “fur mites”.  Although I do not know what type of creature our fur mites actually are, I do know there is some sort of parasitic creature that cannot be seen with the naked eye that loves to wreak havoc on the English Angora’s coat.  A good English Angora will rarely matt or web badly while the coat is in its prime or building to its prime if consistently blown, but fur mites can take your beautiful best in show rabbit and turn it into one that is webbed and matted, especially behind the ears and on the shoulders. 

In fact, if your rabbit is matting or webbing in those areas even though you are doing a good job at upkeep otherwise, your problem most likely is that these creatures are inhabiting your bunny.  While I believe all rabbit breeds are susceptible, and their presence can lead to poor coat condition on a normal furred bunny, they are far more noticeable on our breed.  So, one of the most important “grooming” routines you can have in your barn is the routine where you prevent fur mites.

Show rabbits are exposed to fur mites frequently, and I therefore am far more aggressive on treating show rabbits then I am in treating my stock that sits at home in the barn.  The first thing that should be done with show rabbits is to treat internally, using ivermectin.  You can use the ivomec wormer that is for pigs or cows, like I do, or the paste that is made for horses.  You should review the label or speak to your vet to find the correct dosage for the brand that you use, but typically, the dosage would be .018 cc per pound of body weight of the liquid wormer.  I do use more than that for the adult show rabbits – personally I administer .25 cc and have had success with that dose.  Some people that use the paste state that the dosage is the size of a pea.   

To administer, remove the liquid ivomec with a syringe, remove the needle and then give orally.  If the English Angora actually has symptoms of fur mites, then do a second dose 10-14 days later to kill eggs, however, for maintenance on a show rabbit, I give once per month during show season.   I administer it to my babies upon weaning, and to my breeding stock and anyone else that does not go to shows every three months.  Stay tuned for Part II, which will address using sprays and powders in addition to the ivermectin. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Welcome - How to Keep Your REW English Angoras White

Welcome to English Angoras are Awesome, my new blog about my English Angoras.  I hope to have information on shows around Wisconsin, and the surrounding states, important tips on raising this wonderful breed of rabbit, and information on what I am up to concerning my rabbits.  If you have any questions on this breed you would like to see answered on this blog, please email me at, and I will do my best to post an answer.  Just so you know, my style often differs from that of others, probably because I began raising them in the nineteen eighties, so I have alot of "old school" knowledge. So, if what I say is different from what others say, it is important for you to just see what works for you.

Today, I would like to talk about keeping whites white.  A ruby eyed white english angora is a beautiful animal on the show table.  But, some people shy away from them, because they are worried about keeping them clean.  Here is what I do.  First of all, my whites that are in show coat are in cages without urine guards.  While I love them, urine guards can make a beatiful long coated English Angora very messy.  Then, when I take the rabbit out for its blowing session, I will spray the bottom of the cage really good with white vinegar that I put in a spray bottle.  This will clean up any stains on the wire to make sure that the cage floor stays clean.  When I turn the rabbit over, I will trim the area around its private area.  As long as what you clip cannot be seen on the top when the rabbit is standing, I think it is fair game (make sure to leave the wool on the skirt intact as well as the tail, but around the private area and behind the feet, and a small ways between the legs can certainly be removed.)  My theory is that if it is messy it is in the way and has to go.  If the area that is yellow is on a part that is needed to make sure it has a good appearance on the top, then I spray with the white vinegar (do not get this on the private area) and put baby powder or corn starch on to try and lighten.  I leave the corn starch in (except for if I am at a show, of course) because it will work on lightening and because it may soak up any more urine that gets on the coat in that area.  If the next time you take the rabbit out for its blowing session  it is still wet or stained, I repeat these steps.  The white vinegar will remove a fresh yellow spot right away, but for one that has already stained, this process will need to be repeated.

Does anyone else have tips or ideas on keeping whites clean and white that they would like to share?  If so please post in comments or send me an email at