The Need to Understand Cashmere Processing and Harvesting Procedures
Mickey Nielsen, Liberty Farm Cashmere 2009
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Before you harvest your cashmere it is important to understand the mechanical processing of cashmere. Because the Cashmere goat has a dual coat (guard hair and down) it must be placed through a separator/dehairer. This separator/dehairer works by centrifugal force. As it spins around the heavier weight guard hair is thrown down to the under bins and the lighter cashmere fiber continues to travel to the end of the processer. When the guard hair is too long and fine it holds tight to the spinning drums and is not thrown down. Then the processing must stop to clean all the long guard hair from the drums as no other fiber can be processed until it is removed. This causes time loss and added cost to you the client. At times the guard hair cannot be completely removed; if it is too long or too fine then processing has to stop.
The scoured cashmere is placed through the separator a minimum of five times and it takes a minimum of six hours for each pound of cashmere.
What causes your fleece to travel through that separator more than the minimum is what you need to know about. Because the more times your fleece has to go through the separator the more potential damage happens to your delicate cashmere. You as the breeder/producer can control the quality of your cashmere product with some understanding and a few extra steps at harvest time.
The list of quality inhibitors looks like this;
too much guard hair, too long of guard hair, too fine of guard hair, matted down, short down, inconsistent length of down, weathered tips, vegetation contamination, and mixed grades.
Too much guard hair; this can be something that you need to correct in your breeding. As in some goats have high density of down and some have low density of down in relation to the guard hair. If you want to improve your yield improve your density first. The other reason you may have too much guard hair is the failure to skirt your shorn fleece before sending it into the processor. Many cashmere goats have excessive guard hair on the breech area. Taking a close look at this area before including it in your line can improving your product.
Too long of guard hair; this too can be changed with your breeding program. Any guard hair more than an inch longer than the down is too much. This can also be changed in the shearing shed by doing a double shear. Double shear means cutting off all the excessively long guard hair before you shear off the complete fleece. Skirting your fleece after you shear to eliminate the long guard hair is another option, but this is very time consuming and for most producers it just doesn’t happen. This is done by spreading the fleece out and pulling all the long guard hairs out of the shorn fleece.
Too fine of guard hair; can only be corrected through breeding. This is a really nasty problem to deal with because the dehairer cannot remove guard hair that is of the same micron as your down. You want the guard hair to be two to three times the micron of down. The dehairer also can not remove kemp (hollow cored hair).
Matted down; it is important to shear your cashmere goats before they start to shed, once they start to shed the down becomes trapped in the guard hair and if not removed quickly it becomes matted. If you cannot easily pull the mats apart with your fingers the separator cannot dehair it. Do not include these kinds of mats in your line.
Short down; is generally a breeding problem and needs to be corrected there. If you have goats with short down (less than 1.25 inch) it may be best to comb the down out as this does not cause any loss of length as shearing does. Short down will be kicked out of the separator with the guard hair.
Inconsistent length of down; is a breeding issue and a skirting issue. If you have a goat with major inconsistent lengths of down, separate out the areas of different lengths into different lines. Consistency is very important to look at when considering a goat for breeding.
Weathered Tips; is caused when guard hair does not cover the down. This must be taken into account when measuring the length of the fiber, and placing it into a processing line as these tips will become noils and may cause processing problems.
Vegetation contamination; “Being frugal and keeping 'every little bit' is not a benefit. It is like adding moldy strawberries into your fruit salad.” Diana Blair, Going to The Sun Fiber Mill.
Some parts of the fleece you just have to throw away because of the vegetation. If you don’t take it out at harvest time it will contaminate the whole clip.
Mixed grades; can ruin your end product. Educate yourself to detect fine from coarse fiber. Know what cashmere is and what cashgora is.
The first year clip is actually the hardest to dehair. The micron count between the guard hair and down is almost the same, plus the down tips are what the goat was born with and has very poor tencel strength, thus causing breakage and noiling. Some producers shear off the baby fleece in June for this reason.
Keep the baby fiber out of your other fiber
Plan to harvest on days that are dry and your goats are dry. A fleece that is wet or damp from snow or rain is very difficult to harvest and does not store well. Depending on where you live you may have to shut them up for a day or two to keep them dry before harvesting.
It is recommended that you shear your goats from youngest to oldest and white to dark. This helps to ensure two things. Shearing your younger goats first helps avoid accidently spreading any illness or disease that your older goats may have. White to dark fiber keeps your white line of fiber pure from dark hairs. Do not plan to trim hoofs at the same time as shearing, this can cause those trimmed hoof parts to get caught up in the shorn fleece. Processers hate this as it is hard on their equipment.
Tools and Equipment
Shearing: Cashmere goats are typically shown in the standing position.
You will need a stanchion or a head-bail to secure your goats in while shearing, quality power shears, new teeth and cutting blade for every 10 goats, shear oil, blade lubricant and blade cleaner. Individual marked bags for each fleece or grade lines, a garbage bin, broom, power outlet, and good lighting.
Combing: All the above apply except the power shears. Although a smaller grooming clipper set is nice to have on hand to tidy up the rear end. Double coated dog combs or rakes work well for combing cashmere goats. Find one with a nice comfortable grip that fits your hand well. You don’t want the rake to wide as they can be hard to work with.
Draft; your goats into handling pens noticing which goats look like their coats are lifting. These goats are the goats you want to harvest first. Draft them into pens according to age, sex, and color. Work from youngest to oldest, lightest to darkest. This is a great time to also get a good look at the condition of your goats and to give any needed boosters or parasite control.
Consider how long your goats will be penned up and if they require shade, food and water. Also notice the conditions you will be working in and what your requirements will be.
Sample the Fleece; once the goat is in the stanchion in three to five spots to compare uniformity and fineness grade. Also take note of vegetation in fleece and long guardhair. Decide what needs to be removed from the clip and if the clip needs to be sorted into different grades.
Recording the correct fleece weight harvested for each goat is important for clip improvement in the future. Record the method of harvest, uniformity, fineness, weight, color and any other trait that you desire. It is important to keep records on your harvest so you can keep improving your clip. Have each goat’s records and record all information gathered.
Skirting; the fleece can happen while you shear or after you shear. Skirting must be done while you comb as trying to remove lesser quality fiber after you comb is more difficult.
To skirt while you shear, decide which areas of the fleece you will not be keeping in the clip and toss these areas aside as you shear. You will not keep areas that have heavy vegetation (top line or neck), shorter than 1 ¼ inches, heavy stains, excessive guard hair to down ratio, matted or dung filled fiber.
If the fleece has more than one color, fineness grade or one inch difference in length from neck to breech; separate these areas into different lines.
The more understanding you can gain about the processing of animal fibers, the different pitfalls to avoid in your clip, and a better idea of what your animals produce the greater chance you have of producing quality cashmere products with less waste of your time and effort.
The need to place your fiber into as few of grade lines as possible and the need for a quality end produce have to be balanced. This is why consistency in your herd is important. You are charged for processing a minimum of one pound for each grade line.
There is much to learn about your cashmere goats and the process of producing quality cashmere products. Don’t give up, just keep learning. Ask your processer what you can do to improve your clip for next year. All of this will help to ensure a quality return product in the end.