There are two breeds of goat that are used for fibre production in Australia – Cashmere and Angora. Escapees from the first herd evolved into the unique Australian rangeland goat and it is from this goat that the Cashmere goats have been selected to establish the basis of the Australian Cashmere goat fibre industry. Angora goats were imported as a specific breed and recent imports from Texas and South Africa have replaced earlier bred animals.
Angora goats are the main fibre goats in Australia. Angoras were named after the region in Turkey from which they originated (Ankara). They are generally smaller than other domestic goats and sheep, have long drooping ears and both sexes are horned. Angora goats produce a simple fleece of mohair – a very long (120–150mm), lustrous and resilient luxury fibre, which can be blended with other natural or synthetic fibres to give texture and lustre to a finished fabric.
Mohair is composed mostly of keratin, a protein found in the hair, wool, horns and skin of all mammals. The fibre has scales like wool but the scales are not fully developed so mohair does not felt as wool does. Mohair fibre is approximately 20–40 microns in diameter. It increases in diameter with the age of the goat, growing with the animal. Fine hair from younger animals is used for fine applications such as clothing, and the thicker hair from older animals is more often used for rugs, curtaining, upholstery and heavy fabrics intended for outerwear.
After 25 years of selective breeding, the Australian Cashmere goat has evolved into a distinctive breed of goat, far removed from its bush goat origins. While retaining the fertility and hardiness of the bush goat, the Australian Cashmere is quite different in appearance and temperament. After years of domestication, farming Australian Cashmeres is not that dissimilar to farming and handling crossbred sheep.
Cashmere goats produce a double fleece that consists of a fine, soft undercoat or down of hair mingled with a straighter and much coarser outer coating of hair called guard hair. To be processed, the fleece must be de-haired – a mechanical process that separates the coarse hairs from the fine hair. After de-hairing, the resulting “cashmere” is ready to be dyed and converted into textile yarn, fabrics and garments.
The fibre is one of the world’s premium fibres as it is luxuriously soft, warm and light. It varies in colour from brown to light grey to white, and its diameter ranges between 11 and 20 micron. Cashmere goats produce significantly less fibre than Angora goats (6kg from two shears a year for Angora goats compared with around 200g per head for Cashmere goats).
Although the Angora mohair industry in Australia is an established industry with well-developed production and marketing systems, it lacks the volume of production to be a sizable industry. Australian Cashmere growers compete with cheaper goat fibre products produced through ‘peasant-style’ production systems in China and other countries.
The cashmere industry is small and very price sensitive though with global demand exceeding supply. This may present opportunities for this part of the industry to develop. The goat fibre industry is represented by the peak industry bodies Mohair Australia and Australian Cashmere Growers Association (ACGA) Inc.
Two comprehensive resources are available when considering starting a fibre goat production enterprise: Going into Goats, on the Meat and Livestock Australia website, and Australian Goat Notes on the Australian Cashmere Growers Association website.
Facts and figures
- In Australia, goat fibre is farmed from Angora and Cashmere goats
- Goats farmed for fibre in Australia are derived from recently imported purebred stock (Angoras) and stock introduced by the First Fleet and derived from feral animals (Cashmeres).
- Australian goat fibre is now of very high quality and is used to manufacture fine quality clothing and furniture fabrics
- Angora goats produce much more fibre per head than Cashmere goats
- Australia is a minor player in the global goat fibre market
- Australia competes with ‘peasant-style’ production of cashmere fibre from countries such as China
South Africa is the largest global producer of mohair (around 80%) followed by the United States of America, with Australia contributing only around 5%. World production is around three million tonnes.
Most of the world’s cashmere is produced in China, with smaller amounts being produced in Mongolia, Afghanistan and Iran. Australia and New Zealand are very small producers by comparison.