THE CASHMERE PRODUCING GOAT
History of Cashmere Goats
Hardy multi purpose goats have been bred and used by the native people of Central Asia for hundred of years, the extremely fine, soft under-down these goats grow (cashmere) is highly prized for the making of incredibly soft, light and warm garments. Europeans "discovered" the fiber, notably in the so called Ring Shawl. These soft, warm shawls were so fine they could be pulled through a wedding ring, hence the name. Some reports have the Western world's demand for this fiber beginning when Napoleon brought back a ring shawl for his wife Josephine. Regardless of when the craze began, cashmere remains the ultimate in luxury fiber.
In the 1970s, scientists in Australia started breeding feral goats for cashmere production. The project was quite successful, and other countries took note. Scotland and the United States also started breeding cashmere producing goats in the 1980s, using genetics from Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, as well as other regions. In the US the feral Spanish meat goats were used in the breeding program, after careful selection for fiber traits. There are variations in the appearance of the Cashmere herds in different countries, as they each have their own unique genetic make-up. However, they all share the ability to grow significant volumes of the very fine, crimpy, soft under-down. Farmers in Canada started their herds in the late '80s and early '90s using genetics from Australia and the US.
The Cashmere Goat
Cashmere goats in Canada and the US are goats which have been specifically bred for the cashmere fiber. The amount and quality of the fiber is vastly superior to goats not specifically bred for cashmere fiber production.
Angora goats produce mohair, but will not produce cashmere. Attempts were made to breed Angoras to cashmere producing goats to increase yield. What resulted was a long, wavy, lustrous, coarser fiber that can’t be called cashmere, hence the term cashgora from the combination of the goat names. Cashgora is, broadly speaking, fleece with three fiber components: coarse guard hair, a fine (crinkled) down or "cash" portion and the longer shiny and straighter "intermediate" fiber or "gora" component - the so called third fiber. There must be a down component. The term cashgora sometimes is also used to describe fiber that is over 19 microns. Goats that produce cashgora do not easily shed, and require shearing as a harvest method. Most cashmere breeders find a tendency to produce cashgora undesirable in their goats.
What is noticeable in Cashmere goats is the diversity of appearance. There are similarities too: they tend to have wide horns, blocky builds, and refined features. However, they come in all different colors, which make a herd of Cashmere goats appear like quite an assortment. White tends to be dominant, but black, brown, red, cream, gray, and badger faced are very common. They also may have either long or short guard hair. What matters is not the color or length of the guard hair, but the quality and quantity of the down underneath, and the size and correct build of the animal.
Cashmere goats are judged 50% on fiber and 50% on body. Cashmere goats are generally raised as a dual purpose animal; for fiber and chevron (goat meat). Producing two commercial crops instead of one adds to their attraction as a productive and sustainable agricultural animal. Some breeders also breed for milk production.
Cashmere goats tend to be alert and wary, rather than docile and placid. These traits are largely due to their feral ancestry, relatively only a few generations back. They also tend to be very easy kidders and good moms.
The Cashmere Fiber
Cashmere is a name for a very specific fiber, rather than the name of the animal it comes from. This is unique in the animal fiber community and is, in part, what makes cashmere the fiber that other fibers are so frequently compared to; as in: "As soft as cashmere".
The fleece of the Cashmere goat is made up of two very distinct types of fiber. One is the fine under down which is the source of luxurious fiber for sweaters and suiting “cashmere”. The other is the coarse guard hair. Guard hair can be long or short; there must be good differentiation between the guard hair and the cashmere (down). Be weary of goats that do not show these two types of fiber.
To be classed as cashmere the under down has to meet certain criteria set by the textile industry. These standards vary somewhat from country to country but in general the fiber must be:
1) Under 18.5 (+- .5) microns for adult animals, kids should be finer; a micron is one-millionth of a meter (a meter is about a yard), so each fiber is very, very fine. For comparison, a human hair can range from 17 to 181 microns in diameter. It is desirable to have a fleece with an even diameter from neck to breech.
2) Staple length longer than 1 ¼ inches; this is necessary for processing the down through machinery. Staple length is an important factor, contributing to the total down weight, (TDW); it must be a strong consideration for superior selection.
3) Have crimp its entire length: this is different than crimp looked for in sheep’s wool which is very uniform along the staple, cashmere crimp is a crazy individual fiber crimp. The crimpiness of the fiber gives it “loft” and enables garments made of cashmere to provide warmth without weight.
4) Low to no luster.
So although many goats might have a fine under down, it might not meet the requirement to be classed as cashmere.
Other desirable traits to look for in the under down “cashmere” are;
1) Density, combined with good staple length, is a highly desirable characteristic. A dense fleece will exhibit compactness and feel thicker, ("wool like"). Density also contributes to TDW.
2) Handle; Cashmere is warm and extremely soft to touch. Combined with warmth and lightness, handle is the "selling point” for Cashmere garments.
The total down weight (TDW) produced depends on the diameter; (the larger the diameter the heaver the weight), the length of the fiber; (quality cashmere is normally within the range of 1 ½ - 2 ½ inches, and the overall down density and coverage on the goat. Selective breeding for these traits is what makes for greater TDW. Goats with no selective breeding may produce only 1-2 ounces (30-55 grams) of raw down, but a goat selectively bred can produce as much as 4-6 ounces (145-170 grams) of raw cashmere annually.
To assess a cashmere fleece, breeders should have a laboratory do a "histogram" This is a measurement of the mean fiber diameter of thousands of fibers from the animal. This, along with a fleece grading from someone experienced in cashmere classification, are tools used in breeding programs to develop and maintain a herd of Cashmere goats.
Commercially there are three grades of cashmere; Premium below 16 microns, 16 to 16.6 micron and 16.7 to 18.5 micron.
Cashmere comes in a variety of colors from pure white to cream to soft grays and browns. A black goat (black guard hair) would produce a soft gray or brown cashmere.
Cashmere is an extremely valuable fiber. It is very light in weight, and each goat only produces a few ounces a year. Because of its value, there is a real concern with products being sold as cashmere, when they are not. The demand for cashmere continues to grow globally, which adds to its value and the problem with mislabeled products. Wool and other fibers are frequently blended with the cashmere, and sold as 100% cashmere.
The marketing term "Pashmina" is often confused with cashmere. Pashmina is not a legal fiber term for labeling purposes, but instead is an Indian word used to describe cashmere in India and Nepal. Often items sold as "Pashmina" are a blend of silk and cashmere; however there is no guarantee or requirement that they have any cashmere in them. "Buyer Beware" is good advice for those investing in a cashmere garment or yarns. For more information on what to be aware of regarding fraud and the mislabeling of cashmere, check out the web page of the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute (CCMI).
Goat meat is regularly enjoyed in most regions of the world: the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. The demand for goat meat continually increases in Canada and the United States. The Cashmere goats, with their Spanish meat goat ancestry, perform well as a meat goat. The strengths they bring are their fertility, easy kidding, good mothering and fast rate of gain. They are often used in commercial meat goat operations for just these reasons.
The dual purpose nature of these animals allows the producer to raise Cashmere goats commercially, and profitably. The demand for meat also allows producers to keep the quality of their cashmere high: it provides a solid market for animals with inferior fleeces. References: The Canadian Cashmere Producers, The Australian Cashmere Growers Association Ltd., The Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute, The Cashmere Goat Registry, The Goat Notes, The Eastern Cashmere Association, The Northwest Cashmere Association.*