LIKE the White Rabbit of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Charly McCafferty has taken an interesting path to farming Angora rabbits and producing yarn and garments out of their fleece.
Her colourful creations are sure to captivate people at the Australian Sheep & Wool Show next week.
Ms McCafferty trained as a medical anthropologist and did development projects that encouraged indigenous women across the world to create other income streams, including by spinning and weaving.
At she and husband Paul's Ixchel farm at Gilderoy in the Yarra Valley, they breed English Angora rabbits - the smallest breed of Angora rabbits.
Because the rabbits are fluffy, they are groomed every one or two days, and every three months, they are "given a haircut" from which the farmers get about 100 to 150 grams of fleece per rabbit.
"Angora's fibre quality is enormously good," Ms McCafferty said.
If you add even a little amount, say five per cent, to alpaca or merino fleece, it markedly improves wearability and warmth, she said.
They have been farming rabbits for about nine years and have about 100 animals.
There have been set backs though; about 75 per cent of the herd died five years ago in a matter of days when it was struck by calicivirus.
"Not many people farm rabbit on a larger scale because it is hard and intense," Ms McCafferty said.
"There are two diseases that are not conducive to a successful farming: myxomatosis, the vaccine against which the government has not made available in Australia and calici(virus), which you can vaccinate against, but does not protect the animals from all strains."
The animals are kept in cages overnight to protect them from predators and during the day are in fly-wire covered runs to keep mosquitoes from transmitting diseases.
They are fed twice daily with a combination of pellets, bird seed, grass, hay, sometimes Lucerne, home-grown vegetables and dried tropical fruits.
"Keeping and breeding Angora rabbits can be done in a happy and friendly way, by buying Australian, you know where and how it is produced," she said.
The farm's biosecurity protocols prohibit visitors from touching the bunnies.
Ms McCafferty spins, weaves, dyes and creates garments with the Angora rabbit fleece and also works with organic merino and other rare breed fibres, such as black and coloured fleece and that from camels, yaks and heritage mohair.
Through blogging and selling produce online, teaching classes and having stalls at guild, wool, and speciality shows, where Ms Cafferty has walls of colourful produce and runs demonstrations, she works to raise Angora rabbits' profile.
"For those who have spun and weaved, it is not that different. Angora fleece is fairly easy to handle.
"Working with Angora and combining it with other fibres and even stainless steel is an adventurous and nice way of spinning."
At the Australian Sheep & Wool Show, Ms McCafferty and her special, hand-made produce and spinning tools will be set up in the Woolcraft area.