If you own fiber rabbits you know that keeping their coats clean and mat free can be a very time consuming job. For the most part, there are three ways of harvesting the fibers – plucking, shearing & combing. They can all be done humanely and above all, none should cause the rabbit any harm or even any distress and can be relaxing for you and the bunny. So which one is best?
Yes, this one sounds horrible, but done correctly it is actually the gentlest (but most time consuming) of the three options. “Plucking” the fiber does not actually mean you are pulling the rabbit’s hair out of the skin.
Every four months, Angora rabbits will naturally shed their coats. When a rabbit is molting, the fur is literally falling off their body and is no longer attached to their skin. When you “pluck” the rabbit, you are simply running your fingers through their coat and collecting the loose hairs. You might use a little “plucking” motion to separate the molted fur from the newly growing fur but you should never be pulling fur out of the skin. It should not hurt the rabbit at all.
Of all the methods, you will get the best fiber harvest from plucking, because all the fibers will be long, full grown hairs with no short new hair or guard hairs mixed in.
This method unfortunately leaves a bad impression because some unscrupulous commercial fiber farmers have been caught restraining animals and literally ripping the fur off their bodies when they aren’t molting, leaving them a bloody mess. This is NOT at all how plucking is done or should EVER be done. Because of these “farmers” many people think it is not possible to have humanely harvested Angora and that is just 100% untrue – you just have to know your source.
Shearing is giving the bunny a haircut. It can be done with scissors or with electric shears and should cause the rabbit no more pain than a haircut causes you. The main advantage of shearing is the speed, this is by far the fastest method for removing fur from your rabbit.
The disadvantage is the quality of fiber will be impacted. When you shear off the fur, you are removing long full grown fur, short new fur and the course guard hairs. When you try to spin the fiber, the short fibers will shed out of the yarn. Some breeds of Angora (like Germans and some Giants) never shed their fur, so shearing is the only option with these rabbits.
Combing is really just a faster version of plucking. Instead of your fingers, you use a shedding comb to brush the molted hairs off the bunny. More time consuming than shearing, but faster than plucking and still a good quality fiber harvest, combing is a great middle ground. Sitting down and grooming your rabbit can be a relaxing part of your day for both you and your bunny friend.
So which method is best?
For most rabbit owners, the answer is a combination of all three depending on the fur quality and how you will use it. Obviously, if you have no interest in using the Angora fiber and your rabbits are strictly pets, shearing is the way to go to save the most time. Most people raising Angoras not only enjoy their company, but also enjoy using their fibers for spinning or craft projects. The method of removal usually corresponds with the fur you are removing:
First quality fur – this is the longest, cleanest and most valuable fur. This fiber is taken from the back and upper sides and should ideally be plucked
Second quality fur – this is from the neck, belly & lower sides. This fur tends to be a little shorter and slightly courser, but is still good for spinning. It might be a littler dirtier and have vegetable matter (hay, debris) in it. Plucking or combing are both fine for these areas
Third quality fur – this is the shortest fur, from the bum & leg areas. This fur is not great for spinning because of it’s short length, but it may still work for some craft projects like felting or needle felting. Plucking, combing, or shearing are fine here
Fourth quality fur – this is the fur from any part of the body that is unusable, usually because it is matted, felted or stained. The only real option for removing this fur is shearing. Regular brushing can really minimize the amount of fourth quality fur on your rabbit, but mats happen to everyone, even with regular grooming. Some ideas for this fur is stuffing for pillows/stuffed animals or you can leave it out for the wild animals to build nests with.