I was very honored and flattered to be a part of the judgesí conference in the 1996 ARBA National Convention in Peoria. This is a handout prepared for the participants. Iíd like to share with the readers who did not get a chance to attend this wonderful program there.
The judges, registrars, and our readers are all familiar with the English Angora Standards published by the American Rabbit Breeder Association. Instead of reiterating the Standards, I am here to discuss some special topics that may not be as obvious to someone who has never raised the breed.
Most judges are very good in determining the body type, can feel density, and measure the length of wool. The hardest part, even for a breeder, is to determine the texture.
What is the correct texture of the English Angora rabbit? I have seen some very prime rabbits being penalized for "too many guard hairs". There is a misconception that guard hair only belong to French Angoras. If one reads the English Angora Standard carefully, it says, "Guard hairs are to be be evident in separating and protecting the underwool. Underwool should be crimped. ... NOTE: A junior may exhibit a softer coat than a senior, but should have guard hairs evident." When a rabbit has the right texture and in prime, you should actually see the wool with little wave which is the crimp, and the guard hairs are straight, lustrous, and glossy (do not confuse it with the sheen of Satin Angoras.) The prime coat gives a silky, smooth and flowy appearance.
If a junior rabbit does not have enough guard hair, the chance of this animal growing into a prime finished senior is very slim. There are some juniors whose wool look like cotton candy. This is caused by soft and scaley wool shaft hooking on each other, without the help of guard hairs to separate them, forming a cottony texture. It is analogous to people having hair with split ends tangling up with each other forming a frizzle texture. These kind of rabbits may do well in the junior class because the judges accept the Standardís note of "A junior may exhibit a softer coat...". These rabbits with cottony texture tend to be difficult to maintain and almost impossible to prime. The ragged scales of the wool shaft cause the wool to tangle up into early felting. That is why some rabbits can keep the coat for 12 months and others can only stay in the shows for a short time.
With the correct texture and proper grooming, English Angora wool usually goes through three stages: building, prime and slipping. During the time the wool is building, a good English Angoraís guard hair tends to be longer than underwool and more evident. During the prime, underwool and guard hairs are about the same length with guard hair visible. When the wool is all underwool and guard hair disappears, the coat starts to slip.
During the prime, the coat has even density and is airy, fluffy and lustrous. Each individual hair and wool is by itself all the way down to the skin. The rabbitís skin should be visible when the judge blows into the wool. According to the English Angora Standard, the coat should "fall free". I analogize "fall free" to the "fly back" and "roll back" of the normal fur rabbits. When an English Angora is in prime, if a judge pushes the wool up, the wool should fall back freely in a slow wavy motion. Some argue that the wool should stand up - I disagree. If the wool stands up the wool may be too short, too cottony or too clumpy.
There are two patterns of slipping wool. One is molting. The wool starts to loosen up from the rabbitís skin. When being blown by a blower, the wool will fly off the rabbit. There is nothing a groomer can do to stop it from happening. What a judge sees is a rabbit having uneven density and length, usually quite dense around the butt and tail but thin and short around the shoulder, and there may be bold spots. That is a molting rabbit. If you see a pear-shaped rabbit, you should check nape, shoulder and underarm. These are the places where the molting starts. Another pattern of slipping coat is webbing and felting. Some rabbits do not molt. Instead, the wool just gets webbed and felted. In order to seek out a truly dense rabbit from a webbed, felted or matted rabbit, a judge should use his fingers to separate wool at different parts of the body. If you find some friction or resistence when you try to separate the wool, that is a sign of slipping coat. If what you feel is slight friction, but you still can see the rabbitís skin, that is an early stage of webbing. If the rabbit still looks and feels good, in my opinion, it is acceptable. If you find a lot of friction or resistence to your effort of separating the wool, and you cannot see the rabbitís skin, the rabbit is in an advance stage of felting coat. The density you feel may not be the true density, very possibly you are feeling the matts. If the rabbit is very lumpy, and you cannot see the skin, it definitely is the matt. Another sign of a slipping coat is the "pills" or little "lumps" at the tips of the wool. They resemble the frizz balls on your raggedity old sweater.
This has been the controversy in the Angora World in the last year. The way I read the Standard, there is a minimun length of 2 inches, but no maximun length. There is "no advantage" which means no extra points given to wool longer than 5 inches. The standard did not say there is a "disadvantage" which means points taken away from the wool longer than 5 inches. My conclusion, therefore, is that the wool cannot be "too long".
Some may ask how I would reconcile the word "ideal" length in our Standard. I will analogize it to the "ideal" weight. It is an approximate guideline. In shows, I only see judges weigh to ascertain that the rabbit is not over or under the weight limit. Iíve never seen, in my 14 years of very active showing, that a judge would place a winner because its weight happened to fall on the "ideal" weight. I do not see any reason, therefore, a rabbit with 5-inch long wool should win purely because of the length of the wool.
As long as the wool is at least 2 inches, the judge is free to select a rabbit of his or her choice in accordance to the point system in the English Angora Standard. It could be a rabbit with 5-inch long wool or a rabbit with 12-inch long wool, as long as that rabbit is the best overall rabbit. Whether the wool is 5 or 12 inches should play no role in the selection of the winner. There is neither points given nor points taken away for the difference of the length of the wool. If everything else being equal, which is unlikely, then the condition of the wool should be taken into consideration, such as the 12-inch wool may have been rubbing on the cage floor and become not as finished looking, or there are urine stains on the rear end of the rabbit with 5-inch wool. Penalizing a long wooled rabbit purely for the length is incorrect and irrational. Angoras are long-hair animals. If we want to have short hair, weíd be raising normal fur rabbits.
NO WAY! A matted rabbit may, though. Density is the measure of the hair follicle per area. A judge can find good density, which is the substance of wool, by pressing down the wool close to the skin on different parts of the rabbitís body. Whether the wool is 12 inches or 5 inches does not matter. If a rabbit has long wool without density, the judge will not feel the substance of wool when pressed against its body. If an Angora rabbit does not have density, long wool will not give the feeling and appearance of false density. In the contrary, it makes the rabbit look stringy and exposes all its shortcomings.
Because English Angoras have long and dense wool, it covers a lot of faults and disqualification which are obvious in other breeds. Iíve seen bucks with one testicle or even no testicle winning shows over and over. Iíve seen rabbits with mismatched toenails getting by judges again and again. And Iíve seen rabbits with big bare spots behind the ears or under the shoulder taking BOB or BOS. All these problems may be covered by a big coat. Some of you may say, why are the exhibitors show these unworthy rabbits? Sometimes exhibitors do not know there are disqualifications, or just put them in for the leg requirement. When an exhibitor pays his entry fee, it is up to the judge to find it. It is disheartening to see that "filler" winning the class because the judge did not see the problems. What I am trying to say is that: Donít be fooled by an English Angoraís big coat, check carefully. The big coat can hide a lot of problems, and it is up to the judge to seek it out.
Betty Chu, What is a "Round Ball of Fluff?", Domestic Rabbits, January-February, 1996, p.24.
Betty Chu, Judging English Angoras - An Exhibitorís View, Domestic Rabbits, July-Augusut 1990, pp.66-67, p. 70, September-October 1990, p. 11.