Growing rabbit wool is a lucrative hobby that appeals peculiarly to women
N. DE BERTRAND LUGRINSeptember11927
Raising Rabbits for Profit
Women and their Work
Growing rabbit wool is a lucrative hobby that appeals peculiarly to women
N. DE BERTRAND LUGRIN
IT is as soft as swansdown, as white as snowflakes, almost as light as air, but as warm as the closest wool. It is woven into the most beautiful trimmings and the daintiest baby things. It is the fleece of the Angora rabbit, and the price of it ranges from eight to twenty dollars a pound.
There is much money to be made from the humble rabbit, but the beauty of dealing with Angoras is that those who are averse to killing the little animals, need have no qualms about raising this species, as it is not necessary to sacrifice the rabbit nor to hurt it in any way. And more than the other breeds, the Angora makes a special appeal to women. It is pretty, docile, gentle and clean; dependable and satisfactory from every standpoint.
Up to the present, the bulk of Angora fur and wool has come from France, but women in British Columbia, and many of the other provinces of Canada, have demonstrated that these rabbits can be raised just as successfully in this country as anywhere else. In fact Angoras, though delicate-looking, are quite hardy and will thrive anywhere if they are given proper housing and care. Their product is essentially a luxurious article, always commanding a high price, and it ought to pay Canadian women to interest themselves in it, not only as a hobby, but as a genuinely productive business. A great many English women are taking up the work and finding it most remunerative. The Belper Mill sat Matlock in Derbyshire will take any quantity of Angora fleece from two to three inches, either clipped or pulled and will pay from eight dollars a pound for it. But they will not accept anything smaller than pound lots.
The white Angoras are the best, but there are also blue, black and fawn. It would be hard to find anything softer or prettier than one of these little animals.
At about six months the fleece is well grown, and is then four to six inches in length, even the ears of the little animals being tufted. The frame of the Angora is no larger than the ordinary rabbit, but it looks to be twice the size. The rabbits are plucked every three months; that is, the loose fur is removed as it is pushed up by the
new growth. The loose fur is, properly speaking, the wool. The new coat is fine, close fur, which in its turn, becomes wool.
Angoras are worth from five to ten dollars upward. A doe at breeding age would cost from ten to twenty dollars, according to the quality of the wool. Heavy woollers fetch the highest price. Some of the imported stock being shipped from the Old Country, to improve the herds, cost from fifty to one hundred dollars apiece.
A good beginning can be made with two bred does and an unrelated buck, saving all the does from the litters with which to carry on. The first duty of a novice is to familiarize herself with the principles of breeding. Of course the main idea is to make money, but a desire for quick profits very often defeats its own ends. If immature specimens or related specimens are bred, the progeny will be small and lacking in vitality. Nor should there be more than four litters yearly. Selective breeding must be closely adhered to, and whatever species is chosen, care should be taken that the color is uniform, clear and deep all over the body, and as fine and silky as possible, with very soft body wool.
British Columbia women rabbit breeders are most enthusiastic over this comparatively new means of augmenting the family income. Nearly all of the stalls in the public market, for instance, feature rabbit products, from the live animals, crated and ready for ship-
ment, to the various articles made from their fur and wool. Collars, cuffs, coat trimmings, pram covers, motor rugs, and soft wee baby booties, charming little bonnets and caps, broad and narrow trimming bands knit of the snow-white Angora.
There is no really back-breaking work involved in rabbit-breeding, these women say. It is much easier and simpler than poultry-raising, for instance, and infinitely cleaner. There is the artistic quality in it too, which is lacking in many domestic pursuits, and it can be taken up readily as a sideline.
The most important thing to remember, next to the care in breeding, is to have good, roomy, comfortable hutches, free from cold and damp. They should be cleaned out once a week, not oftener, if the rabbits are trained to be neat, as they can be trained, just as one trains a kitten or a puppy. Their food is hay, grain, root vegetables and milk. Milk is especially good for the babies after weaning and for the nursing mothers. At two months old, the little rabbits are taken from their mothers, the does separated from the bucks, given hutches to themselves and long runs where they can play to their hearts’ content.
The Angoras begin to breed at six months. Usually there are six or eight to the litter. They make ideal mothers. All of the gruesome tales told about rabbits eating their young, are not true of the Angora, nor of
any well-kept, domesticated rabbit. From the time, when a few weeks before the birth of their babies the little mothers begin to line their nests with the soft wool from their own coats, until they are separated from their young, they make the best sort of nurses.
The rabbits must be brushed and combed at least once a week to prevent the long wool from knotting. When plucking time comes the wool is pulled gently, the rabbit being quite amenable to such handling. The wool must be kept absolutely clean and dry, preferably in glass jars or tin boxes, until there is sufficient to use.
Spinning is done in the same manner as with other wool but no washing is necessary. The wool being free from grease or any impurities, there is no preliminary process
except carding, and very little of that, as the wool comes off straight and does not knot. The spinning is done in two textures, fine for knitting and coarse for embroidering.
There is a ready market for Angora wool in any of the large centres. It usually is sold in half ounce balls and is as different as possible from that of the Angora sheep or goat, being very much softer and more fluffy. It can be washed endlessly. One very important fact to bear in mind is that the wool should never be clipped. It coarsens it and spoils the animal for show purposes. Plucking may continue every three months for an indefinite period—the lifetime of the rabbit for that matter.
Selling Angora Pelts
T F one has no prejudice against it, a -I handsome income may be made from the pelts of the Angora. This fur is technically known as ‘baby fox,’ and is
softer than any genuine fox could be, and just as silky and close and warm. It lasts for years and will clean beautifully.
Speaking of rabbit skins, the manager of the Hudson’s Bay fur department states :
“I do not advise raising the ordinary rabbit for fur. It would come into competition with imported skins which can be bought cheaply. I would advise concentration of effort on what I call the fancy varieties which are always marketable and can be used in their natural state without dyeing or clipping. The market for this class of skins in the Dominion has not been touched, nor is there any likelihood of it being glutted.”
The Drolet Company of Montreal, which markets all the rabbit pelts of the Canadian Small Breed Association, stated recently, that they wanted shipments of from 500 to 1,000 pelts at a time, indefinitely. An American buyer, recently in Victoria, left orders for all of the pelts which could be gathered together. “If you can send me,” he said to the secretary of the Rabbit Breeder’s Association here, “one hundred thousand dozen before Christmas, I shall be eternally grateful.”
Mrs. B. Simmonds is the secretary, and she says that there is practically no wild animal pelt, nowadays, that is not copied cleverly in rabbit skins by the fur-fakirs, and that they are most beautifully done. Mrs. Simmonds’ own experience in rabbit-breeding is interesting. She came out from England, prior to the war, an
invalid in search of health. When hostilities began, she wanted to do something to help, and decided to raise rabbits as a means of assisting food conservation. She became intensely interested and began to see the possibilities in the work. She started experimenting and crossbreeding. Incidentally, she regained her health, and, though past middle age, says she feels as young as a girl. She has a large rabbitry, well-kept in every way, and she is a staunch advocate of the business for women. She follows it in all of its branches, and, with the assistance of her husband, who does the skinning and dressing, makes a good income.
During the last seven weeks, she says, she has had one hundred and sixty letters from various parts of Canada inquiring about the possibilities of rabbitbreeding, letters from as far north as the Yukon, and coming out by dog-sled from the head waters of the Peace River. In practically every province in the Dominion there are members of the
Rabbit Breeders’ Association and the membership list is increasing rapidly. For all of those enrolled says Mrs. Simmonds, there are probably three times as many unregistered breeders. The chief difficulty, at present, is the excessive express rate on shipping the live stock to breeders. It costs more to ship in Canada than it does to the United States, plus duty.
In tanning the Angora skins, says Mrs. Simmonds, the fur should be half grown only. Otherwise, it will knot. She treats her skins by the dry process, as a taxidermist does. The long guard hairs are plucked out, and the pelt is the lightest, whitest, prettiest fur imaginable. It makes ideal trimming for evening wraps, combining beautifully with soft crepe de Chine, or lustrous satins. In fact it can be used where any of the finest furs are used, and to much better advantage, than most of them, on account of the size of the pelts.
The Fashionable ‘Snowline’
FASHIONS change with rabbits as they do with anything else, and if you are going in for the marketing of skins, you cannot make a mistake in having an unlimited number of good, smooth-haired whites, close in texture and a fair average size. First in choice comes the beautiful little Himalayan—mock ermine is the trade name—with black ears, feet, nose and tip of tail. Next comes the White Polish, larger than the Himalayan and pure white, with a soft, delicate, thick pelt.
Mrs. Simmonds has evolved a breed, a combination of these two, which she calls the ‘snowline,’ a truly magnificent animal, unusually large, with a splendid coat of pure white.
The New Zealand White, the White Beverin and the White Flemish are all good recognized breeds. The furrier will take any amount that can be produced and cry for more. One good feature about white pelts is that they cannot be faked. And here it may be mentioned that rabbit pelts are best marketed co-operatively, if the highest prices are to be attained.
Following the Whites, next in order of popularity comes the Light group. The Chinchilla is a fur which cannot be imitated, nor can the Flemish Silvers. These furs are in the luxury class, the first a pastel grey over white, the latter a white with a sprinkling of tiny black hairs. These are the furs which are so largely taking the place of the better grade of squirrel.
In the darker groups come the Natural Gray Flemish, the Dark Steel Flemish, and the Silver Tips.
The Black Siberian Hare is a breed especially well adapted for the prairies, as it will stand any amount of cold and will live in the open. Its fur is a handsome black with a sprinkling of white. Other hardy, strong pelts are the American Blue and the Blue Beverin. The Belgian Hare was the premier breed for years in England and Canada, but it is not so fashionable to-day. The New Zealand or California Red is a prime favorite, at present, in the United States. There its fine, close pelt is dyed to imitate beaver.
One of the things which the novice finds most difficult is the skinning of rabbits. This is a most important part of the work. If it is not successfully done the pelt is ruined.
WHEN the animal is killed, it is case-skinned, and the skin put on a frame of wood or galvanized wire, not to stretch but to dry. It is then placed in a draughty spot away from heat. The same rules as ‘trappers’ rules’ hold good in regard to rabbit pelts. They must be kept away from cats, rats, mice and moths, if they are not to deteriorate. One’s own observations must govern in regard to the time for pelting. In British Columbia it may be done at any season. But in other parts of Canada ‘trappers’ laws’ prevail.
Experiments may well take two generations in order to be sure of type and no throwbacks, but there is such a large range of colors now, that there seems to be no reason for further experimental breeding. Nor is there any excuse for dyeing.
We have not touched upon the production of rabbits for the table, although there is a large and increasing demand for rabbit meat. The people of Old Country birth, living in Canada, have helped to popularize this food. In European countries, millions of rabbits are raised annually by the small farmer for table use alone. To those who have no prejudice against it, rabbit meat is as delicate as chicken and quite as nutritious. But women, at present, are interested chiefly in rabbits for their fur production, and with the increasing scarcity of furbearing animals, there should be a large field for them in this branch of the work.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.