Hillside Farm Hawaii

The care and keeping of angora bunnies

basic angora bunny grooming tools of a wire toothed comb and small embroidery snips

Most angora bunnies, but especially the English angora bunnies, are fuzzy to the point of absurd. There's this total pile of fluff, insanely soft fluff - that moves and eats ti leaves. At least, you suspect they're eating ti leaves, the ti leaf disappears when the ball of fluff is neaby and you heard chewing noises. When they are in full coat, it's hard to tell which end is which unless you put out a tasty treat and see which part is the leading edge of the ball of fluff. HOWEVER, they don't stay fluffy on their own, they need help or they will become a matted mess.

There's lots of different ways to keep an angora bunny healthy, happy and fluffy, these are just some of the ways we try to manage here at Hillside Farm in Hawaii. Depending on your location and purpose for keeping angora bunnies, your methods will probably be different, but perhaps by having an idea of one method of angora bunny care, it may give you a few good ideas for your own bunnies.

The primary goal we have in the care and keeping of the angora bunnies here at Hillside is fiber production. We want the best fiber in long lengths suitable for spinning into Hula Bunny yarn. Technically, these bunnies are livestock although they are some of the cutest livestock on the planet. At least, I think so. If you're keeping your angora bunnies as show bunnies and want to take them to bunny shows and win ribbons and points, then probably you'll use different techniques in their coat care.

automatic water system water nipples

Angora bunnies require the same general care as any bunny. Access to water, food and space to move around to begin with. Angora bunnies also have some fairly severe grooming requirements and this is mostly what keeps them from being a great pet bunny. If you're not going to use the fiber, then in general these incredibly cute and sweet bunnies are just too much maintenance for a mere pet. We will start out by checking the basics and then move onto angora specific bunny care things.

Bunny Water

To begin with, clean clear water is one of the main requirements for happy healthy bunnies, although with angoras you only want the water on the inside of the bunny, not the outside. Angora wool mats when it gets wet, so keeping the outside of the bunny dry while hydrating the inside is the best way to keep their wool fluffy. If you have just one bunny, then a water bottle may be your best choice. When angora wool repeatedly gets wet, it mats together. When angora bunnies drink from a water dish or crock, they get the wool under their chin wet and that makes a hard to reach mat under their chin. It generally can't be combed out and has to be snipped off, but to do that, it's generally an upside down and not especially thrilled bunny. So, to save the bother of snipping mats out from under their chin, just choose a water bottle over a water crock or dish and keep everyone happy.

They also seem to prefer the kind of water bottle with the ball at the end of the spout instead of the ones with the little wire lever. Probably easier on their tongue. We've done scientific bunny tests of giving them the choice of two different types of water bottles - one with the ball and one with the little pointy lever - and they consistently empty the water bottle with the ball first. It may not be exactly true scientific evidence, but I'm guessing the ball tipped bottles are much more bunny approved.

Should you have multiple bunnies, then water bottles can become quite the chore. Other than keeping them full, they also need cleaning since moss seems to grow in them, at least, it does around here but we may have more sun than many places. Should you be tired of filling water bottles, a piped in water system may be worth investigating. Clicking on the picture of the water nipples and pipe attachments above should take you over to the hutch building page, although as of September 27th, 2017, I've not gotten it switched over from the old website yet.

I prefer the automatic water system not only for the ease of use, but because it gives me less time on bunny maintenance and more bunny time to play with the bunnies. There is also the comfort in knowing that they will always have water even on hot days when they like to drink a lot. However, the water nipples should be occasionally checked to make sure they're functional. We've had the water system set up in several different configurations (we keep moving the bunny yard to a new location) and so far only one nipple has had issues and that just happened last week. I've not replaced it or diagnosed the issue with the nipple yet, the way the hutch is currently configured that bunny space has two water nipples so next time I'm doing hutch maintenance, it will be looked at.

So however it works best for you and your bunnies, clear clean water is important for your bunnies' health and well being. If for some reason they aren't eating all their food, check their water supply. A thirsty bunny won't want to eat their pellets so keeping track of their food intake is a good way to keep track of their water supply as well.

Bunny Food

As with all bunnies, angoras eat fairly low on the food chain. They need more fiber than calories in their diet and they need lots of fiber to keep their systems moving. Since angoras have long hair and groom themselves by licking, they end up ingesting lots of hair. If they have a lot of food fiber in their diet, then the fur fiber they ingest will pass through their system and not cause trouble. If they don't get enough food fiber and ingest too much of their wool fiber, then they can get 'wool block' and will starve to death since they can't eat any food since their tummies are already full of inedible wool. Bunnies can not cough up hairballs like cats can, so if they get too much wool fiber in them, they're in trouble. Since the bunnies here at Hillside Farm Hawaii are for producing fiber, we have a tendency to give them a haircut when their coat gets long enough to be useful so we haven't had much trouble with wool block. We also feed them a lot of fresh forage which keeps them running smoothly. Well, on the inside, anyway. The outside of an angora bunny isn't exactly the best runner in the bunny world but if we keep the insides working at least something is running well.

Angora bunnies need low calorie, high fiber AND high protein foods to help them grow their coats. To start with, if you live somewhere that hay is available, constant access to high quality hay helps keep their system clear. However, hay also sticks into their wool, so keeping it in a hay net may help with that. Since the bunnies here live in Hawaii and Hawaii is about 2,500 miles (or more) away from the major hay growing areas, a bale of hay in Hawaii costs well over $30 so we don't feed much hay to the bunnies here. We do have loads of fresh forage 24/7/365 so the bunnies here get lots of ti leaves, citrus leaves, assorted grasses, herbs and other green growies from the yard. They're quite happy with leaves and twigs, they don't need fancy food or very much fruits and or grain. They actually do better with a fairly plain diet, if you want to give your bunny a treat, try carrot tops, parsley, a handful of fresh grass or some other fresh green thing.

However, know the source of the greens. Only get the greens from areas where you know there hasn't been sprays used since weed poison is not good for bunnies at all. Also, make sure that what you give them is healthy for them to eat. Not all green things are healthy for bunnies, some of it is even fatal. Avocado leaves and fruits are NOT good for bunnies, the same with tomato leaves and vines as well as potato and eggplant leaves and vines.

What we did here was go through the yard and source healthy green things for the bunnies so we have a list of what can be picked and given to them. In our yard - your yard may be different - we have ti leaves, banana leaves, citrus leaves, apple leaves, dandelions, plantain (the small green type found in lawns, not the banana type), strawberry leaves, parsley, rosemary (good for their coat although not all of them like it), moringa, hapuu fern and I'm sure there's others out there that I've forgotten. But, if you have a list of bunny edibles in your yard, that makes it a lot easier to pick and feed your bunnies.

Other than feeding lots of forage, we also feed pellets and add in some additional feed because the pellets we use here are made with only alfalfa and not a 'complete' bunny pellet. If you're feeding one bunny, a complete bunny pellet is probably the easiest way to feed your bunny. Get the kind of pellet that is all green, not the type with strange colored bits added in. Bunnies don't need dried fruit bits in their pellets, just plain hay and grasses made into pellets is a good thing. Try buying feed from a farm or feed store instead of a pet shop, it will be less expensive and probably healthier for your bunny since the pet shops frequently only source the 'fancy' feed with all the strange colored bits added in.

As far as how much to feed them, if they were our bunnies, we'd start out with all the hay they can eat and a cup of pellets per bunny per day. After a month, check the bunny to see how much flesh is on the bunny and evaluate the amount. If they are fat, lower the amount. If you can easily feel their spine or they seem thin, then increase the amount. Watching and feeling your bunnies will tell you a lot about what they need.

For the bunnies here at Hillside Farm Hawaii, we were having trouble with a lack of baby bunnies showing up. Bunnies had been constantly bred, usually three to five at all times, yet no baby bunnies were showing up at the appointed times. In 2012, whoever approves this sort of thing approved the use of a herbicide to 'ripen' the alfalfa fields all at the same time. Sounda like mass die off to me, but they didn't ask me. I found out about this on a gardening forum which mentioned if you use manure from animals fed alfalfa harvested with this menthod there is enough herbicide left in the manure to kill off your garden. This is not only alarming, but can't be good for bunnies and I suspect it is at least part of what is keeping baby bunnies from showing up.

We feed the alfalfa pellets because they're organic so presumably, the alfalfa isn't harvested with the herbicide. An email was sent to the feed manufacturer of the high protein 'complete' bunny feed we had been feeding, but they weren't able to tell us how the alfalfa they used in the feed was harvested. They said they relied on the farmers to follow all USDA guidelines. Hmpf! That allows for the herbicide, so we quit using their feed. Since the current orgainic feed is alfalfa pellets only, we add in some other things to round out their diet. Their current 'standard' ration is mostly the organic alfalfa pellets with a side dressing of whole rolled grain - either oats or barley, depends on what the feed store has at the time. The bunnies seem to prefer rolled to whole grains, since with the whole grains they'll nibble the grain seed out of the center and leave the husks which I would expect has more of the fiber. I also haven't heard about these grains being artificially 'ripened' in the field, at least, not yet anyway. Added to the rolled grain is a smaller amount of BOSS or Black Oil Sunflower Seeds for those who haven't seen that term before. And an even smaller amount of calf manna is added to the side feed. Since if all these are put in the same dish, the bunnies will toss the alfalfa pellets out to get to the good stuff, so we feed the rolled grain/BOSS/calf manna in a separate dish.

The bunnies here are fed as much fresh forage as we can give them. They pretty much have access to their alfalfa pellets at all times and they get a small amount of the grain/BOSS/calf manna every other day or so. We could probably increase their 'treats' since we have more problems with keeping the weight on the bunnies than having overweight bunnies. Part of that may be from exercise, part of it may be from them eating more fiber than fattening things.

Bunny Space

The title of 'Bunny Space' almost sounds like little bunnies on moon rockets or some such thing, doesn't it? Well, it's more about room to move than bunnies in moon rockets.

Frequently, the easy answer to housing a bunny is to buy a 'bunny cage' from some sort of pet supply or farm store and stash the bunny in there. Unfortunately, I think many of those cages are actually designed for hamsters or gerbils or some such much smaller animal. For an English angora the MINIMUM (note: that's "minimum" not "optimum") amount of space in one single bunny area should be at least 3' x 2.5'. Or 36" x 30" if you're doing inches. Or for our internationally inclined website folks, that's roughly 91 by 76 centimeters, which should be about .9 x .76 meters. If you can add in a ledge or a box to climb on top of, that will increase the bunny's floor space without increasing the amount of space the cage takes up. There is also the head space, they like having more space above them than most of those prebuilt cages provide. Minimum two feet or two thirds of a meter but higher is better. Higher also allows for a variety of levels within their bunny space.

When making the additional levels within the bunny space, keep in mind that bunny feet are pretty small so don't use anything with wide spaces for creating additional floor area. We used refrigerator racks for interior raised levels with our first bunny hutch and one of our bunnies got it's foot caught in the wires. Unhappy bunny! So, be mindful of possible bunny dangers in hutch construction.

For the hutches here at Hillside Farm, about the only 'standard' hutch construction item throughout all the hutches that have been built here has been to use wire floors. 30" wide wire that comes in ten foot rolls. It's got holes of 1" x 1/2" with the 1/2" wires facing up. This is about the only constant thing that has been used for all the hutches. This wire floor allows bunny 'berries' to drop through and yet has enough support that they don't get sore feet from the wire. English angoras have lots of wool on their feet, so they're good on wire. The wire floor keeps their wool from dragging through messes and since we are raising them for their fiber production, keeping the fiber clean is important. I'm sure the bunnies are happier without messy undercarriages, too.

So get creative with your bunny spaces. Use the wire to keep their wool clean, give them enough space that they can move around and find interesting areas in their hutch. Provide them with clean water and healthy food and you'll have healthy happy bunnies.

If you like, you can send us an email and ask about bunnies, yarn, Hawaii things, what we should have on our webpage or just about anything else.

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