Fibreshed farmer: IxCHeL

“You need to talk to Ixchel bunny. She has the most amazing angora fibres!”. I’d just told a friend that I was researching my Fibreshed project. Hers was the second recommendation I’d had. That meant I was already curious by the time I first met IxCHeL’s owner Charly.

Charly is an eagerly anticipated fixture at many of Victoria’s fibre markets. I met her at the Handknitter’s guild fair in Coburg. She’s so friendly I had to wait in line to talk to her. Luckily for me, that meant I got talking to Wil, who’s been a great advisor to me ever since. Charly’s good at drawing good people to her.

Charly cuddling a 10 week old English angora kit.

Charly cuddling a 10 week old English angora kit. This gets it used to handling, combing and clipping.

I’d have loved to have visited Charly’s farm to check out her angora bunnies, but it would be too dangerous. Biosecurity on this type of fibre farm has to be extremely high to make sure the animals stay safe. Humans can be carriers of calici virus. This deadly disease, together with myxomatosis, is used in Australia to control wild rabbit populations. Unfortunately for domestic rabbits, the diseases don’t discriminate. Charly vaccinates against the strains of calici virus she can, but that doesn’t provide 100% cover. The myxomatosis vaccination is not permitted in Australia.

Instead, I quizzed Charly about her work in order to write this post. She also provided all the photos below.

IxCHeL farm

Charly has lived in at least four different continents. Love brought her to Australia. She has a beautiful little property in the Yarra Valley with her partner Paul. It’s tucked away between the mountains with a lush green paddock, plenty of water and wildlife.

The property’s small size means Charly can’t keep large livestock herds. Angora bunnies work here because they don’t need much space. It wasn’t just practical reasons that lead Charly to farm angora. She’s always felt an affinity with rabbits. Charly’s mother and grandmother were rug weavers, so she’s been immersed in fibre from a young age.

How to keep bunnies

A rammed earth enclosure under the veranda of the farmhouse has become the perfect bunny dwelling. During the day the angoras run in their enclosure. At night they’re kept safe in their bunny night cages. Underneath the night cages Charly has installed worm farms. They catch and process the rabbit’s droppings. The results enrich the farm’s veggie patches. This loop feeds the humans and bunnies on the property. Charly keeps her herd under 100 animals and doesn’t breed to sell for pets. This gives her a sustainable number to cover the needs of her fibre business. Each of her rabbits has a name.

Caring for angoras is very labour intensive. They need daily grooming and need their fur clipped at least every few months. Good grooming and maintenance helps reduce wool block. Charly’s herd has suffered several setbacks. Despite vaccinating against calici, a few years ago 75% of her herd was lost to a new strain of the virus. They’ve suffered from a different strain since then. They are currently on full alert because a new strain has been released. An additional new Korean calici virus strain is set to be released by the government this autumn. There are no new vaccines available. There have been reports of rabbit deaths in their local area.

Producing angora

Charly hand dyes, blends and spins tops and yarns on farm. She blends her angora bunny fibre with Navajo churro, Australian merino, wallaby and other rare breeds. Angorino is her angora and Australian merino blend. Her products are unique and only available in short runs, so you have to get in quick. Check the Ixchel blog for product updates every Friday night at 8 pm AEST. She also offers subscription clubs.

She works with Cashmere connections to do her bigger blends. IxCHeL is a great source of  rare breed fibres from around the world, such as vicuña, guanaco, qiviut, bison and rare sheep breeds like the North Ronaldsay and Norwegian Gra Troender.

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6 Responses to Fibreshed farmer: IxCHeL

  1. norma says:

    Fantastic place – this is a really interesting source of fibre for you. I’ve really enjoyed reading the post and looking at all the photos.
    Oneyearoneoutfit is a very good project for getting us all learning and thinking.

    • cheliamoose says:

      Definitely, I’ve learnt so much already! Thank you so much for your comments also, it means a lot to me that these posts are interesting and useful to others 🙂

  2. Lex says:

    Those bunnies are adorable! Fascinating to hear about how the bunnies are farmed too. I wonder how they collect the angora fleece. Do you shear rabbits?

    • cheliamoose says:

      Aren’t they just?! The rabbits are clipped regularly, so the fleece would get collected then. I’ll ask Charly if she’s interested in posting a comment here with more detail about the process.

    • I also have English Angoras (pets only) and mine get brushed on a regular basis. As they shed their fur it should be at least 3 times a week, but on average at least once a week, otherwise you end up with lots of knots. They are high maintenance animals. They lose their entire coat 4 times a year on average.

      You can clip English Angoras but some people prefer to spin brushed fibre as there are no cut ends. There is also the risk of cutting the rabbit’s very thin skin. I just use a fine toothed grooming comb for long haired animals.

      The fibre is very fine and I have to wear a mask when I brush mine as it gets into my airways and causes irritation as well as getting all over my clothes. I usually have a shower straight after grooming sessions. My husband complains that it gets on his clothes when everything goes through the wash. So beware.

      The bigger German Angoras need to be sheared as they don’t shed their coat. But their fibre is slightly coarser.

      Hope this gives you some idea of the process.

  3. Charly says:

    I heardsome have asked how thebunny fibre is collected: i groom the bunnies on agroom stand daily. This givesme about a handful of fibre. Then every 2 montgs i clip the bunnies using regular hairdressers scissors while the bunnies stand on their grooming stand this pricess takesabout 30 minutes including a regular check up on their health and clipping their toenails. You can consider it a beauty salon session if you like. I do not use electric clippers,i do not stretch the bunnies out helplessly on a stretcher like you might have seen german giant angora bunnies being clipped in China or NewZealand. English angoras are much smaller and since we are not a huge farm we can keep the clipping process easy and very animal friendly. They also get a blow drying session each week to keep their hair open and fresh which is good for their skin and helps prevent tangles and matts. Some people pluck angora bunnies so the fibre hasno cut ends but i found that some bunnies are not easily plucked. It probably has something to do with genetics as well. I prefer to comb,clip and use a pet dryer to open their fibres up and harvest their gorgeous hair. I can assure you no bunny is harmed 😊 After numerous PETA ads about inhumane angora treatment lots of people seem to think we either kill our bunnies to get the fibre or treat them badly. We don’t. The bunnies are part of my family. You can be animal friendly and still collect the bunny fact:it would be terrible to not groom or clip them, they would die of woolblock or end up as one matted mass. Our ideology is stay small, animal friendly and sustainable.

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