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STATUS
New Zealand: Rare
Overseas: Rare
Importation: Early 20th C

German Angora Rabbits

A Rare Breed of German Origin

About the Breed

Angora rabbits
Angora Rabbits (Photo by Kerstin Watson)

The Angora rabbit is one of the oldest domesticated breeds of rabbit and is highly treasured for its fibre. The origin of the Angora rabbit is unknown; one theory is that Angora rabbits originated from the turkish provence of Ankara, hence the name Angora.

The German Angora breed was developed in Germany around 1777 and was a registered breed in the first German rabbit show held in Chemnitz, Germany, in 1885. It was first bred for fibre length, but at the time of the First World War the demand for warm Angora wool increased and the rabbit was then bred for fibre density rather than just length.

The German Angora rabbit was then bred aggressively for density and size, and they reached what seems to be their natural limit of fibre production with records of two kilograms plus of fibre per animal per annum. One big problem of these super-dense coated and supersized animals was a reduction in fertilty, some rabbits becoming sterile, as they were pushed beyond their limits for greater annual yields of fibre.

Recent breeding standards now show a preference for medium sized animals (around 3.5 kilograms body weight) with good fibre yields in relation to food intake and increased animal cleanliness (leading to high percentage of wool useability).

The German Angora is listed as an endangered species worldwide.

History of the German Angora in New Zealand

News itemAlthough there were some importations of Angoras into New Zealand at the beginning of the twentieth century (of which origin is unknown), the first official import was made in 1928 by Arthur Sainsbury, the President of the Auckland Fur Club. Mr Sainsbury imported German Angora rabbits along with some Chinchillas and Rexes and was the founder of the first commercial Angora rabbitry, the "Tassle Rabbitry". [The news item on the right appeared in the Evening Post, 30 March 1928.] The German Angora became very popular in New Zealand and there were quite a few commercial rabbitries that could supply the significant demand for the precious Angora fibre. Also worthy of mention is Mr Black of Dunedin who imported Angoras in big numbers in April 1929. Predictions were initially high and it all looked very promising for a period – at one stage it was estimated that Angora wool producers could expect an annual income of a million pounds.

Unfortunately the hype didn't last long and soon after an initial success rabbit farming was made illegal for many years to come. It was not until 1980 that the government decided to lift the prohibition on keeping rabbits and to give permission for breeders to import new rabbit stock from overseas. Shipments of top quality German Angoras came in from Germany and Denmark in 1986, and were sold at auctions for between $1000 and $5000 per animal. People were willing to spend a lot of money on them and commercial Angora rabbitries were established in various parts of the country.

Angora rabbit
Angora Rabbit nesting (Photo by Kerstin Watson)

The fibre was very valuable and the rabbit farmers could make a good income. It was a good time for the German Angoras in New Zealand. Then China flooded the market with cheap mass-produced Angora fibre, and almost over night the value of locally produced Angora fibre dropped to below commercially sustainable values. Farmers became desperate and many had to make the heartbreaking decision of culling all their stock because they could not afford the feed. Angora numbers declined rapidly; some survived as pets and some were crossed with English Angoras. In short time there were virtually no pure German Angoras to be found and even the German/English crosses eventually died out.

Only one commercial German Angora rabbitry remained, "The Shearing Shed" in Waitomo run by Heather Kearins, who had kept the original lines imported from Germany pure and protected. This rabbitry has now been taken over by Leonie Lamont who operates at nearby Roselands.

Another private rabbitry, the Vivelly Stud, has imported some German Angora animals from Australia, and it is now a great joy to everyone who wants to help preserve the pure German Angora in New Zealand to have the opportunity to purchase pure stock.

Currently, there are probably fewer than 200 German Angoras in New Zealand. They are also considered rare overseas.

Angora Fibre

Angora rabbit fibre
Angora Rabbit fibre (Photo by Kerstin Watson)

German Angora fibre comes only in white. There are no coloured pure German Angoras. The white colour makes it attractive for the market for dying. It is one of the the lightest and warmest natural materials available, with a micron of 2-14 (compared to superfine Merino in the 16-20 range). A very special quality of Angora fibre is that it seems to have pain relieving properties. It soothes pain caused by arthitis and rheumatism, and it is ideal for thermal underwear.

Angora fibre can be spun without washing or carding. It is odour-free and grease-free. The fibre has anti-static properties and repels dirt naturally. The German Angora is most efficient converting food to fibre and that makes it an ideal fibre animal. Angora fibre is truely luxurious.

Breed Standard

The German Angora rabbit only comes in REW (Red Eyed White, Albino) and varies in weight between 2.5 and 5 kilograms. The commercial Angora has a cylindrical body shape (for easy shearing) and should be evenly covered with dense fibre. It should be well furnished and have tassles at the end of the ears. It should produce a steady amount of usable fibre with a minimum of labour involved, have a high fertility and a good feed-intake/growth ratio.

Thanks to Kerstin Watson of the Vivelly Stud who supplied the original information and photographs.

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