by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff
LEVANT — At first glance, there is no way to tell that Michaele Bailey of Levant is a farmer. There are no sheep roaming around, no cows mooing in a barn, no chickens pecking at the foliage in the front yard.
In winter, some of Bailey’s livestock lives in the corner of her garage, and others live in a small addition to the garage. In summer, the livestock lives outside in specially built pens where they eat greens such as kale grown in the family garden and dandelions. Bailey raises, buys and sells German Angora rabbits that produce approximately 3 pounds of fiber per rabbit each year.
Currently, Bailey has 16 rabbits, two have litters of four babies each, and two more rabbits are expecting litters soon.
“I was an animal science major,” said Bailey, who works as an event coordinator for the State of Maine 4H animal science program. After college graduation she and her husband went as missionaries for many year to Burkina Faso in Africa.
“We moved around a lot, and it was difficult to keep large animals. So as we traveled around, I kept rabbits,” she said.
But Bailey’s dream was to raise Angora rabbits, something she could not do until she and her family came back to Maine in 1998. Raising rabbits, she said, is a way to farm without large animals. Her business is called Basketful of Bunnies.
Bailey’s Angora rabbits typically weigh from 8 to 11 pounds, but look much heavier because their bodies, including ears, cheeks, and feet, are enveloped in a cloud of dense fur as much as 3 inches in length. Each animal has a name including the “presidential” line of rabbits that bear names such as Woodrow, Truman, Quincy, Washington, Martha and Bess [Truman]. They are white rabbits with eyes that are pink to pinkish-blue in appearance.
Each rabbit has a number tattooed in its ear. For example, Alberta bears the number 322, which means she was born in March 2012. Alberta is now worth approximately $250, but once she passes the wool standards as set by the International Association of German Angora Rabbit Breeders, her worth will increase to $300.
The rabbits, she said, are not pets. Raising the ultra-furry animals can be compared to raising sheep for wool — they don’t make good pets, their fur needs to be sheared, it can be spun into yarn, and the manure they make can be composted to encourage the growth of earthworms beneficial to gardens and lawns.
Part of the pleasure of raising rabbits, Bailey said, is being involved in all the cycles of a rabbit’s life, from birth to shearing to breeding. Unlike other breeds of fiber-producing rabbits that are plucked of their fur, German Angoras are sheared because of their exceptionally dense coats with prime fibers of uniform length.
The wool that Bailey’s rabbits produce is spun commercially and blended with merino wool to create an 85 percent-15 percent wool yarn in several weights, including sock weight. The yarn is slightly downy to the touch and softer than wool. Bailey has knit the yarn into mittens, hats, scarves, mitts and socks and other sample garments made of the yarn. Items knit of the yarn are soft and have a slight “halo” created by the fluffy aspect of the Angora fiber.
Bailey markets her wool primarily at the annual Fiber Frolic to be held this year Saturday and Sunday, June 1-2, at Windsor Fairgrounds in Windsor. She also markets her wool at The Yarn Barn on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor.
Bailey’s advice to those who might want to venture into the Angora rabbit-raising business is to go to the IAGARB website for information, read all up Angora rabbits, go to the Fiber Frolic and talk to breeders, learn about the care, feeding and shearing of rabbits, and contact an Angora rabbit breeder to arrange a visit.
“I’m living my dream,” she said. “I’m living my dream and I didn’t even know I’d arrived.”
To learn more about Basketful of Bunnies, call Michaele Bailey at 991-8065 or go to BasketfulOfBunnies.com.