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Cashmere Goats

December 1992

The world is beginning to give goats-nature's best herbicide-more attention. Leafy spurge-poisonous to some animals-is causing even people who laughed about goats to take a more serious look. When some Nebraska goats were taken on a demonstration tour people could hardly believe the sight of goats walking through high brome grass to select out spurge heads!

But while most goats go for spurge, only cashmere goats also have the fiber of kings. And their owners now know better than to cross them with Angora-producing goats. (Angora hair is another important fiber.) Australia and New Zealand breeders experimented with a cross to try to develop heavier fleeces. It proved to be a mistake. The crossed goats produced-cashgora-with limited uses and characteristics of neither cashmere nor mohair.

Demand Exceeds Supply

Demand for cashmere, the fine underdown from cashmere goats that has long been preferred by royalty, has always exceeded supply. Garments made of cashmere are prized for their unique feel. Cashmere is very soft, warm and long wearing. It feels much softer to the skin than wool, and while not as strong, cashmere outwears wool!

Cashmere goats are a type, not a breed. Most goat breeds, except Angora, can produce this down In varied quantities and may be called cashmere goats. There is no such thing as a "purebred" cashmere goat.

The fleece consists of the very fine, crimpy down and the usually longer, outside, coarse, straight guard hairs. A goat that does not display both types of fiber should be avoided.

Cashmere fibers must be separated, either by combing out the down or by using a commercial dehairer on sheared fibers. The longest, finest down is used in knitted garments and the shorter down in woven fabrics. The separated guard hairs go into rugs or hair canvas used in tailored garments.

The majority of the world supply of cashmere has come from Afghanistan, Iran, Outer Mongolia, India, and China. In recent years, when these countries' political disarray disrupted cashmere supplies, manufacturers began looking for more stable sources.

New Zealand and Australia have been producing cashmere for more than a decade. Breeding selection began even some years earlier with captured feral (wild) goats.

Selecting Breeding Stock

Prospective herd members can be selected from either dairy goat or meat goat sources. Cashmere down growth begins on about the longest day of the year and stops on about the shortest day. (Shortly after down growth stops it will be shed naturally if not combed or sheared.) Best time for goat selection is in the latter part of growth-stopping period; down quality can be easily assessed. The guard hair is parted to determine whether there is down underneath.

If the goat carries the gene for down, it can, over time, be developed into saleable amounts. The crimp is called the character or style of the fiber; a very tightly crimped down is most desirable. The diameter (measured in microns) of the fiber must be under 19 microns to be labeled cashmere. Select goats may have fiber as fine as 14 microns. The usual range is 16 to 19 microns.

A yield of at least 30 percent down is desirable, but is not the average by any means. Buyers pay on the down weight or weight of dehaired fiber, not the weight of the entire fleece. Prices vary over time.

Goats come in many colors and combinations of colors, but solid colored goats are much preferred. Cashmere down is either white, brown, or gray in solid colored goats. The less desirable down from mixed colored goats is classed either as white with color or mixed color.

Some U.S, growers have imported goats from Australia or New Zealand as a herd or as breeding stock to improve selected native goats. This might produce greater returns more quickly than would native stock alone.

Some Natives Are Good

There are, however, many very good goats among native breeds. Their fiber's diameter is apt to be smaller, but the length and yield of fiber are much less. The aim through selective breeding is to keep the finer diameter and increase the length and yield. Dramatic results in fiber are shown in crosses of imported bucks and native does, these crosses are called Fl or bred-on crosses.

The Spanish meat goats from Texas and the Southwest provide cashmere breeding stock that also produces big meaty goats. Of the dairy breeds, Toggenburg, Saanen, and Nubian are being used with good results. Pygmy and Fainting goats are being used by some growers.

Large goats with wide, thick, meaty bodies bring in more income when sold for meat or culled. Large bodies can also produce more hair if they also have dense hair follicles.

The gestation period for goats is usually 150 days, but it can vary several days each way. The first kids can be expected 156 days after the buck goat is turned in the does. Kids are usually "dropped," as the term goes, from late February through April or early May.

As noted above, goats are browsing animals and can be pastured with sheep and cattle, since each species prefers different plants. Goats prefer brush, tree leaves, and rough plants. They are used for pasture improvement and in reforestation areas. Ranchers in the high plains find them most useful in controlling leafy spurge. Goats will also destroy multiflora roses and red cedars.

Breeding Does Need Extra Feed

When growing plants are not available, goats will need to have supplemental feedings of hay and, perhaps, grain. Does also need extra feed prior to breeding. Pregnant does need good feed in order for the fetus to develop hair follicles. To assure big growthy kids, nursing does need good feed.

In does, poor nutrition is the leading cause of abortion and poor mothering, with younger or lighter weight does most likely to abort. Stress from disease, moving long distances, or cold wet weather also can cause abortions.

Does should be in good condition and gaining weight at breeding time. Young does should weigh at least 55 pounds and mature does at least 75 pounds sheared weight at breeding.

During pregnancy and lactation, does need almost 1/2 pound of crude protein daily. Supplement feeding must be started as soon as the goats begin to show a loss of top condition and/or weight. The rewards of improved nutrition are more and better kids and heavier fleeces. However, overfeeding of protein can cause fleeces to coarsen prematurely.

Goats should be given adequate nutrition both before and after shearing. Goats have neither the layer of body fat nor lanolin-laden wool that sheep have. So, goats sometimes need shelter from cold rains and chilling winds. If shelter has not been provided, goats may even die. Depending on weather variations, goats may need shelter for 4 to 6 weeks after shearing.

Not Many Triplets

Twins may account for 10 percent of births, most commonly in older does, with a much lower percentage being triplets. With proper management it is possible to get three kid crops within a 2-year period.

Does may be bred to kid when they are a year old if they have sufficient growth. Since male kids usually reach sexual maturity at 4 months of age, they should be removed from the herd to prevent accidental breeding.

Kidding problems are nothing any experienced livestock person would find unusual. Unless it is a breech delivery or a tough sack that does not break and allow the kid to breath or the doe is too small, there usually are no complications.

Due to lack of labor and facilities, large herds are usually kidded on the range, while many small herds use a more intensive confinement system to handle the goats. For open kidding, small pastures with some sort of shelter, centrally located watering and supplement feeding area, and a bedding area are required. This arrangement reduces the number of kids that get separated from the does.

On the range, does and kids should be left undisturbed for several weeks, since the does may abandon the kids. When goats are moved, pastures should be rechecked for kids that have been left behind.

A more intensive kidding system makes use of buildings, small individual stalls, heat lamps, and feeder space. With this type of system kidding can be done earlier in the year. However, such a system is much more labor intensive and therefore more expensive. A larger kid crop can be realized if the facility is well managed. Before kidding, the does should be outdoors - except in cold or wet weather or at night; this helps keep bedding clean and dry and encourages the does to exercise.

As does kid they should be moved into stalls and the kids' navels treated with 7 percent iodine. C and D antitoxin should be given. Cold kids will not try to suck and a heat lamp may be needed; they will usually suck by themselves when they are warm. Some kids may need help to begin to suck if does' teats are not adequately open. After identification with matching paint or ear tags, does and kids can be moved to group pens or holding areas after the kids are well established. Twins and triplets should not be grouped with singles since stronger kids often rob from the usually smaller multiple-birth kids. Likewise, the groups should contain kids of similar age.

Maintenance Pointers

As with sheep, internal and external parasites and pneumonia are a major health problem with all kinds of goats. Lice can be controlled by spraying after shearing. Coccidiosis is a threat to kids, both before and after weaning, and any kid not growing properly is probably infected.

Their hooves may need to be trimmed, depending on the walking conditions, but wear from rocky ground sometimes helps take care of this problem.

Working with a veterinarian, a grower should establish a good health care program that includes vaccination for most diseases.

Goats need special 4-foot-high fencing both to keep them in and predators - always a threat to kids - out. Goats like to go under or through obstacles. Five wire electric fences constructed with three hot wires and two grounded wires work well. Existing fences can be used with the addition of a 12-inch outrigger electric wire located about 12 inches above the ground.

Horns Handy, Sometimes!

Other types of small-mesh fencing may be used. Horns caught in the fence or the crotch of a tree become life-threatening, not only because of predators but also because of other goats. While most goats are not aggressive toward humans, they are not always kind to other goats who cannot defend themselves. They can quickly do serious or lethal damage with their horns.

A goat raiser soon discovers that horns are useful-as handles! A goat without horns is hard to control; some shearing stands even depend on horns when securing the goat for shearing. Unlike Angora goats, cashmere animals are sheared standing.

Care should be taken not to damage a young goat's horns by rough handling. A frightened or startled goat is apt to jump or flail around and handlers should always use caution to prevent injury from the horns-especially to eyes. For safety, both for other animals and the handler, sharp points of horns may be clipped off using a bolt cutter or similar device.

Sources of Information

The American Cashmere Growers Marketing Cooperative (ACGMC), P.O. Box 1105; Castle Rock, CO 80501 (Telephone: 303-621-2874). Its trade name is Cashmere America. Its manager, Terry Sim, is Australian-born and an Australian fiber classer.

Cashmere Producers of America (CaPrA); 1-800-FOR-GOAT; Concerning Cashmere (bimonthly publication from CaPrA).

Ranch Magazine; P.O. Box 2678; San Angelo, TX 76902. (915-655-4434)
Cashmirror Magazine; P.O. Box 639; Toledo, WA 98591. (206-864-4200)

By Harriet L. Jensen, R.R. 3, Box 144; Cozad, NE 69130, and George B. Holcomb of the Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Agriculture, for USDA's Office for Small-Scale Agriculture (OSSA); Howard W. "Bud" Kerr Jr., Program Director. OSSA's address: Cooperative State Research Service, USDA, Room 328-A, Aerospace Building, Washington, DC 20250-2200. Telephone: 202-401-1805; Fax: 202-401-1804

Mention of commercial enterprises or brand names does not constitute endorsement or imply preference by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

December 1992

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