Betty Chu has the longest continuous and most distinguished career as an Angora rabbit breeder. This article was written by Betty Chu in 2012 for the use of the newsletter of the American Fuzzy Lop Rabbit Club. It is reprinted here with permission.
To Molt or Not To Molt
“My buck looked gorgeous last week when I entered him, look at him now, what a mess!”
“I am scratching my doe, she blew her coat.”
“There is a big bald spot here; I don’t remember seeing it when I entered it.”
These are some of discussions that we often heard in shows.
A “mess” of coat, “blew her coat”, “bald spot” are all symptoms of molting. Most consider molting as a natural process of animals who shed their old coat to gain a new coat. I am using the word “coat” to represent either wool or normal fur on the rabbit. Molting may be a natural process, but we as rabbit breeders can gradually change the way rabbits molt in order:
(a) to have a more predictable time line for a prime coat,
(b) to have a more durable prime coat,
(c) to improve the health of the rabbits, and
(d) to improve the cleanliness of the rabbit barn.
As most of you know, I am an English Angora breeder, not a breeder of American Fuzzy Lops. I have been asked to be a guest writer to share my journey of improving the English Angora breed and to provide some ideas that you might be able to use in your breeding of American Fuzzy Lop.
When I started in early 1980s, the prime show coat of the English Angora was about 3-4 inches; after that, rabbits would lose wool and would mat. I would use a slicker brush and a comb to work on the coat and prayed that the coat would still be around when the next show came (the blower was not a tool until 1989). When the coat was no longer viable for showing, I would pull the wool from the rabbit and the skin released the wool easily. Pulling wool, or plucking, was the standard practice for harvesting wool for almost all Angora owners at the time. In 1985, a chocolate tort doe was born in a colored litter, I named her Chu‘s Christina. She grew into a beautiful doe and won 5 legs. When the wool harvest time came, I had a hard time plucking her. The concept in the 80s was that only plucked wool was good for spinning, I spent hours trying to get her wool off and it would take several days to make it work. Most of my fellow breeders thought I had a weird rabbit. Then I found out that she was pluckable after she kindled, obviously from the change of hormone to allow her to make a nest for her babies. I bred her often to get babies with the side benefit of plucking her wool off when it’s the right time to harvest. She produced very nice babies. The babies became nice show rabbits and some had the same hard-to-pluck characteristics as their mom. One day it dawned on me that I did not just have a weird rabbit, I had a great rabbit that molted very little and that some of her bunnies molted very little. After that light bulb moment, I paid attention to the duration of each rabbit and pushed for a little more duration of coat-holding in the subsequent generations.
With the aid of a blower and regular use of Ivemoc to prevent fur mites, my rabbits can hold their show coats for 12-18 months if I keep up with my maintenance.
OK, some of you at this time may say, “You are lucky to have encountered such a rabbit like Chu‘s Christina, others just don’t have your luck.” May be that’s the case, but its more likely that there are many of these non-molting or less-molting rabbits around but breeders are not realizing that this can be an important trait for the herd.
Why is non-molting or less-molting good for you and your rabbits?
(a) If a rabbit has a more durable prime coat, a breeder would not have to breed more to cover shows. In 30+ years, I have never seen a rabbit breeder gone out of business due to his inability to have bunnies; I have seen many rabbit breeders gone out of business because they had too many rabbits and got overwhelmed. The human suffered and the rabbits suffered.
(b) If a rabbit has a more durable prime coat, it’s easier to breed for certain important shows such as the breed national and the ARBA Convention. The window period for breeding could be several months instead of several weeks.
(c) If the rabbit molts less, there is less chance for the rabbit to ingest its own wool or fur, thus less chance of having woolblock/hairball/stasis. In the 80s, I had my share of dealing with woolblock; I had spent hundreds and thousands of dollars to have surgery done on blocked rabbits but still suffered losses. I wrote an article about how to prevent woolblock by various methods, and this article is still posted on my website. Today I don’t follow my own advice anymore. Why? My rabbits no longer block, the entire woolblock issue has been bred out by having non-molting rabbits! When people ask me how to deal with woolblock, my answer is I don’t deal with it because I don’t see any.
(d) When a rabbit molts, the wool or the hair flies everywhere. Some would wrap around the cage wires. You can not get it out by brushing or picking; the only way to go seems to be blow torching. If you have non-molting or less molting rabbits, you will have less wool on the cage, on the floor, in the air, … you will have a cleaner rabbitry.
Now the question is how to get to the less-molting stage. The simple answer is selective breeding. You start with rabbits that molt relatively less than the others; if your “normal” molting occurs every three months in your herd, you want to push for 3-1/2 months or 4 months molt in the next generation, etc. It’ll take time and patience, but you will get there.
At this point some of you may be thinking, “Well, having good wool is nice but wool is only 15 points on the American Fuzzy Lop, the head is 30 and the body is 30, wouldn’t a breeder be breeding for that 60 points instead of the 15 points?”
Before answering, I’d like to say that in the English Angora standard, the wool is 57 points and the body 15 points. Guess what? That 15 points of body is the base for the entire rabbit. Even if the rabbit had a tremendous amount of wool, without the right body, the English Angora rabbit may do well in the breed but would not have a chance on the Best In Show table.
Now back to American Fuzzy Lop, if the rabbit has a great head and great body but has bald spots and uneven wool, or the wool is all matted, it could win within the breed but I doubt there would be any chance for that American Fuzzy Lop to do well on the Best In Show table.
The goal is to achieve symmetry; the rabbit has to be balanced. I would not advise one to breed an American Fuzzy Lop with a long face and rangy body but great wool because it’s not balanced. All I am suggesting is to consciously put non-molting/less-molting as a part of the goals in your breeding program.
To molt or not to molt is a choice.