Angora fiber is the finest and softest of the fibers harvested from mammalian animals (silk, obviously, is even softer and finer), and is 8-10 times warmer than Sheep's wool, due to its structure. Angora can be worked with entirely by itself, or blended with other fibers to give them halo, warmth, and softness. Some of my personal favorites are Angora/Alpaca blends and Angora/Silk blends. I've heard good things about Angora/Bamboo, but haven't had the opportunity to see it yet. Angora fibers, even the naturally colored ones, can be dyed, though the process requires a bit more time, as the Angora needs to soak about half an hour just to get wet.
German Angora: This breed was developed in Germany in the early to mid 1900's to be used as a commercial Angora type. Emphasis was put on fiber strength and abundance, a body type that facilitated easy fiber removal, non-molting fiber-type to cut down on grooming requirements, efficient feed to production ratios, and sufficient meatiness to allow for a dual purpose animal.
German Angoras, in general, produce 2 to 3 times the amount of fiber than other Angora breeds, and are so easy to care for that they often only require grooming and a trim at 45 days, followed by shearing at 90 days. The German fiber has been designed to hold up well to commercial milling, so it does not break during processing and shed when worn as do the other Angora fibers when mechanically processes. German Angora fiber is considered prime at 2 ½ to 4 inch staple, which allows for good strength with maximum halo, and can be used for any purpose. German Angora (and German Hybrid) fiber is excellent for use in items that will receive wear, such as mittens, slippers, hats, socks
Until recently, pure Germans were only available in REW, but a couple of years ago, Black pure Germans were imported from Germany. These Blacks are slowly working their way into the mainstream market, though they have not made it into our rabbitry as of yet.
German Hybrid: A German Hybrid is an Angora that is 98% or more German, mixed with something else (generally another Angora breed). These animals often display the same wool texture and production of a full German, but are colored, rather than being Ruby Eyed White (REW) or Black.
In ARBA recognized breeds, a rabbit is considered 'full blood' when it shows at least 4 generations of full-blood on its pedigree. This means that if you crossed a French Angora with a Satin Angora, after 4 generations of being bred back to French, the animal would be considered a full-blooded French Angora. This is not so with German Angoras, which are not an ARBA breed. The International Association of German Angora Rabbit Breeders (IAGARB) decided at it's inception that all pure Germans must be 100% - anything less would be a Hybrid or a Cross. While many of the German Angora breeders in the United States have chosen not to be members of IAGARB, the distinction between a Hybrid and a German seems to have become accepted across the industry. Any Hybrid German that qualifies under the IAGARB breed standards for Germans may be registered with them as a Hybrid.
German Cross: This type of Angora is not really a breed, but rather a designation. A German Cross is any Angora that is at least 50% German, but less than 98%. It is a fairly common practice for breeders to cross the Germans with other breeds to obtain colored animals with wool that is softer than the German, but more prolific than the other breeds. These animals are generally sold as "Woolers," and are rarely recommended for breeding: the exception being when a breeding program is trying to produce a new Hybrid bloodline.
Crossing a German with each of the other breeds produces different fiber types, so if you are buying a Cross, you will need to ask what the German was crossed with, and what percentage German it is. Because of the genetic hodge-podge involved, it is often difficult to determine what the wool quality and production of the offspring will be, especially if the parents had not bred to each other previously. Ask lots of questions of the breeder, and be prepared for a bit of uncertainty if you are buying an animal under 5 months old. The breeder can give you a strong educated guess, but can't be certain.
English Angora: The English Angora, with its fuzz-ball appearance, is perhaps the best known of the Angora breeds. It is probably the most common Angora breed shown by 4H'ers, and you can usually spot at least one at the county fair. The fiber of this animal is super-fine, with very few guard hairs, and it is best used for items meant to be worn against sensitive skin, especially when making items for babies. I do not recommend using the fiber of this animal for items that will get heavy wear (i.e. slippers, mittens, socks) unless you are going to blend it with another type of fiber.
The English Angora rabbit has, until recently, been a molting rabbit, which means it can be plucked if you want. There are some non-molting lines, which are gradually working themselves into the main-stream, so if you intend to buy an English Angora, it is important to find out from the breeder if you will need to pluck or shear the animal. Due to the fineness, lack of guard hair, and molting properties of the English Angora, it will require considerably more grooming than all the other breeds except the Satins. You should plan to groom at least once a week, possibly more, depending on the wool type and activity level of your bunny.
French Angora: I have little experience with the French Angora, so take this information with a grain of salt. The French are a good all-purpose Angora. Their fiber is coarser than the English, containing more guard hairs, so it is best used for items that will not be worn against sensitive skin. These extra guard hairs provide a depth of color to the fiber rarely found in the other breeds, which makes it desirable for certain projects. In addition, the extra guard hairs can provide a distinct halo, sometimes resembling fur, and is often used in High Fashion items. Due to the high percentage of guard hairs, French Angora generally does not felt well on its own.
The French rabbit is relatively easy to care for, with fewer matts and less webbing than the English and Satin Angoras. Most French Angoras molt, so their fiber is generally plucked 3-4 times a year when it releases from the body. I have heard there are some non-molting French, but have no idea where to find them. French Angoras reputedly have excellent mothering skills over-all, but I have not had the opportunity to observe this.
Satin Angora: I have no experience what-so-ever with Satin Angoras, but hope to acquire some down the road. The Satin Angora is rare (at least in my neck of the woods), and is relatively new, having been accepted by ARBA in 1987. It was developed by breeding the Satin rabbit to French Angora. I'm not sure how much fiber it produces a year, as the breed is constantly being improved, but I do know it is less than the other breeds. This breed originally had a bad reputation, due to the smaller fiber yields, and the unusually high amount of grooming required, but, as I stated, it is being improved on constantly, and those issues are going away. What makes the Satin Agora desirable is the sheen of its fiber. I had the pleasure of seeing yarn spun from pure Satin angora, and it looked like spun glass. In my opinion, the fiber of this animal is worth its weight in gold!
Giant Angora: This breed was developed from the German Angora, in addition to other non-Angora breeds. I have not had the opportunity to research this breed much. My understanding is that it can weigh a significant amount, produces a good amount of fiber, and is easy to care for.
Written by Staci Sexaur of Wenut rabbitry