“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.
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.
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.
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.