Goat fibre

24.05.17

Goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) have a long history in Australia, dating back to the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 and are farmed for their milk, meat and fibre. Goats are closely related to sheep and belong to the animal family Bovidae (cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals); and there are 300 distinct breeds. Goat fibre comes from two breeds of goat in Australia – Cashmere and Angora.

Overview

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

Production status

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.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Mohair is a lustrous, long fibre renowned for its ability to be dyed into brilliant colours and when blended with other fibre adds sheen to the fabric. These characteristics are sought after by top designers of clothing and soft furnishings worldwide. It has a multitude of uses including all season fashion items from frothy knits to sweaters, rich tweeds and men’s worsted suits. It is also used as a decorating fabric as it is flame resistant and has a high sound absorbency which makes it ideal for theatres, hotel lobbies, offices as well as homes. As a curtain material it is highly effective as an insulator. Mohair is used to make upholstery velours. It can also be used in hats, scarves, slippers, throws and blankets, wigs and children’s toys.

Cashmere is also a high value fibre but compared with mohair, requires additional processing to remove the coarser guard hairs. Traditionally cashmere fleece has been sold raw into the world market with the end product ranging from de-haired cashmere, woollen or worsted yarns, cashmere blend yarns, woven or worsted fabrics or classic cashmere sweaters and high fashion garments.

Skins from both Angora and Cashmere goats can also be used in leather production and the goats can be sold for meat.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

In Australia, fibre goats have been traditionally farmed by hobby farmers on small properties in regions close to capital cities. Goats are more appropriately farmed in areas of less than 600mm annual rainfall as in higher rainfall regions they are susceptible to intestinal worms.

Regions where trefoil burr is prevalent should be avoided by goat fibre produces, as the seed of the plant can be a major contaminant of the fibre.

The prevalence of wild goats and wild dogs to the farm’s location should also be considered. The management of animals, as well as progeny and fleece quality, may be a problem if wild goats gain access to the herd; and wild dogs can have a significant impact on the wellbeing and survival of goat herds.

Climate

Goats can tolerate a range of climatic conditions and are particularly adapted to arid environments; in fact cashmere is mainly produced in the cold and arid regions of central Asia. Both Cashmere and Angora goats have less body insulation than sheep and therefore do not cope as well in cold, wet conditions unless provided with good shelter. In high rainfall areas goats can suffer from health issues such as parasitism and foot problems.

Housing

Goats, and particularly kids, can be sensitive to cold, wet conditions, particularly when freshly shorn. Sheds or heavy scrub may be necessary to protect them during these periods. Sheds can be fairly basic, the important thing being to provide shelter from rain and wind and maintain a dry floor.

Feed requirements

Angora and Cashmere goats are both grazing and browsing animals, and prefer to graze shrubs and tall pasture. They are not suited to wetter environments with short, green pasture, and in these conditions can be susceptible to parasites. Although goats are selective grazers (more selective than sheep but with a wider range) they will eat weeds and are more flexible grazers than sheep and cattle. Goats also have the ability to digest lower quality herbage than sheep.

In Australia, most goat production systems are forage based, where goats generally have access to shrubs and green pasture. This provides a good balance of energy, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, however the amount of feed available may be the limiting factor for production.

The amount of feed that goats need depends on the class of animal, age, level of activity and climatic conditions. Consistent, good quality feed is required for quality fibre production, and additional feed is required for growing, pregnant and lactating animals, as well as where animals travel long distances each day or to maintain body weight when the climate is cold. Supplementary feed may be required in the form of hay or grain.

Goats have the most developed social hierarchy of all farm animals and it is important to provide sufficient grazing space so that dominant members of a herd do not prevent others from feeding especially when fed supplements. Outside the breeding season bucks should be kept separately.

In areas not normally grazed it is important to note that goats are sensitive to toxic weeds. For more information refer to The palatability, and potential toxicity of Australian weeds to goats.

Detailed information on the requirements of goats for energy, protein, roughage and other dietary components is provided in the Meat and Livestock Australia guide Going into Goats Module 7 Nutrition and Australian Goat Notes.

Breeds and breeding

The two main breeds of fibre goats farmed in Australia are Angora and Cashmere. Angora goats produce significantly more fibre per head than Cashmere goats. Details on the Australian breed standards for Cashmere goats are available from the Australian Cashmere Growers Association Inc.

Goats are seasonal breeders and are generally naturally bred through superior bucks being introduced to a herd. Both Angora and Cashmere breeds have well established standards and a stud structure offering superior breeding stock. Artificial insemination and embryo transfer have been successfully used with both Angora and Cashmere goats but are not standard practice. Detailed information on goat breeding is available from Going into Goats Module 5 Goat Selection and Module 6 Husbandry, and Australian Goat Notes.

The goat production cycle consists of six distinct phases: joining, pregnancy, birth, lactation, weaning and growing kids. Husbandry for each stage of the cycle can be managed in an extensive or intensive way.

Sourcing stock

Goats can be purchased directly from producers (see Australian Cashmere Growers Association and Mohair Australia web sites). Stock agents rarely have a close working knowledge of stock availability. Some online selling or advertising systems that include goats for sale are:

Angora goat stock is fairly readily available in mobs of between 20 and 100 with prices comparable to merino sheep for good quality commercial stock. It is recommended that first contact would be Australian Mohair Marketing Organization or Mohair Australia for contact details of significant mohair producers.

Cashmere goat herd information is available from the Australian Cashmere Growers Association Merrrit database which contains the parentage and performance records of individual animals.

When purchasing goats it is important to comply with the relevant provisions of the National Livestock Identification Scheme and any other regulations concerning livestock movements.

Once breeding stock has been sourced, stock numbers can be built up or maintained through on-farm breeding.

Health care & pests and diseases

Goats are susceptible to internal parasites, including worms and coccidiosis. Intensive grazing rather than browsing can further increase this susceptibility. Goats can also suffer from lice, pregnancy toxaemia and ketosis, Johne’s disease, footrot, respiratory diseases and clostridial diseases such as tetanus.

Goats should be given the appropriate preventative treatment for diseases common to the area of production. This typically includes vaccination against enterotoxaemia (pulpy kidney) and tetanus. Worm control in goats can be challenging as they are less resistant than sheep or cattle and there are few registered available drenches for goats. Veterinary assistance should be sought to design an appropriate disease management plan.

Good biosecurity measures should be practised which include controls over the movement of people, animals, vehicles and equipment on the farm. More information is available from the FarmBiosecurity website

For general information on goat parasites see Going into Goats Module 9 Parasite Control available from the Meat and Livestock Australia website. However, Meat and Livestock Australia advice is considered to be constrained by drug registration laws when it comes to referring for goats.

Infrastructure Requirements

The following infrastructure items are required for fibre goat production:

  • shelter in cold wet environments and shade in hot climates
  • yards and handling equipment — standard sheep yards are suitable for fibre goats
  • shearing equipment and facilities
  • good water source
  • robust wire or electric fencing — good standard merino fencing, if tight with no holes or spaces under bottom wires is adequate for goats. If running goats in grazing cells, five electric fence wires is adequate but not entirely secure.

Detailed information on infrastructure requirements for goat enterprises is available from Going into Goats Module 4 Infrastructure, Australian Goat Notes and Mohair Australia.

Processing & Selling

The income from a goat fibre clip is based on a combination of fleece quality and quantity, which is largely determined by breeding and management of the goat. The Angora goat is shorn twice a year whilst the Cashmere is shorn only once and yields significantly less fibre. Much of the shearing process is similar to a wool production system. The clip is then classed either by a qualified grower or broker and appropriate paper work completed. Details of shearing or fibre harvesting are explained in the Fibre Growth and Production section of Australian Goat Notes.

Mohair in Australia is sold in greasy or unprocessed form at auction or by private treaty. Often an individual producer will have insufficient mohair to form a sale lot. In such cases, brokers sort and pool fleeces from a range of properties to form uniform, saleable lots. Mohair auctions are held two to three times per year while private treaty sales can be made at any time. The majority of Australia’s mohair clip is processed overseas, mainly in South Africa. For more information on mohair processing and selling refer to Going into Goats Module 10 Mohair.

Traditionally, Australian cashmere has been sold as raw cashmere into the world market, through the Australian Cashmere Growers Association and the Australian Cashmere Marketing Corporation. Details on the standards for Australian cashmere fleece are available from the Australian Cashmere Growers Association Inc.

Some innovative mohair and cashmere producers have developed niche markets, selling fibre direct to spinners and craft users. Skins also have a value and can be sold for the manufacture of leather goods.

Markets & Marketing

Mohair in Australia is sold as greasy or unprocessed fleece at auction or by private treaty. Often an individual producer will have insufficient mohair to form a sale lot. In such cases, brokers sort and pool fleeces from a range of properties to form uniform, saleable lots. Mohair auctions are held two to three times per year while private treaty sales can be made at any time throughout the year. The majority of Australia’s mohair clip is processed overseas. See the Australian Mohair Marketing Organisation website for more information.

Traditionally, Australian Cashmere has been sold as raw cashmere into the world market, through the Australian Cashmere Marketing Corporation. Cashmere fibre production differs from mohair as it requires an extra level of processing to remove the coarse guard hair fibres to produce down fibres virtually free of hair.

Some innovative mohair and cashmere producers have developed niche markets, selling fibre direct to spinners and craft users. Skins also have a value and can be sold for the manufacture of leather goods.

Australian-produced cashmere fibre competes with cheaper produced fibre from the ‘peasant style’ production systems of such countries as China and Afghanistan.

Fibre goats may also be sold into the goat meat markets. More information on these markets is available from the Meat & Livestock Australia publication Going into Goats Module 8 Marketing.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

As with establishing any new animal business, there are potential risks and challenges throughout the value chain, and growers are advised to thoroughly research the entire chain before venturing into goat fibre production. There are a range of risks including the weather, diseases, pests, input prices and the price received from the goat products.

Predation by wild dogs, foxes, wild pigs, eagles and dingoes is a risk in some farming areas, and can result in serious losses of both young kids and adult goats. A robust fencing system may help manage land-based predators, as well as constraining the goats. Intensive kidding management of Angoras can greatly improve survival and weaning percentages.

Australian production of cashmere competes with the cheaper produced ‘peasant style’ production systems from countries such as China and Afghanistan so monitoring these markets may help business planning.

Regulatory considerations

The standard regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport, apply to fibre goat producing operations.

There is a range of requirements in relation to state animal welfare acts and regulations, on-farm animal welfare standards and guidelines, requirements in feedlots and for animal transportation. These regulations apply both domestically and for live export of animals. For specific information on the welfare regulations for the management of fibre goats, refer to relevant local and state authorities.

The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) is Australia’s system for identification and traceability of livestock. It was introduced in 1999 to meet European Union requirements for cattle exports. Since then it has expanded to enable cattle, goats and sheep to be traced from property of birth to slaughter for biosecurity, meat safety, product integrity and market access.

A nationwide requirement is that all goat properties must have a property identification code (PIC), issued by a Department of Primary Industries or equivalent authority. A national vendor declaration (NVD) must accompany any goats moving off-property and any farmed goats must have an ear tag prior to leaving the property.

Consignments that have goats from multiple properties must have all the PICs recorded on the NVD to allow tracking of the origin of all goats in the consignment. Farmers are required to enter stock arrival data on the National data base via the internet. State or territory authorities should be consulted for specific requirements.

The National Goat Health Statement is a nationally agreed but non compulsory declaration form that enables producers to provide information on the history of their herd should they intend to sell or agist goats. It requires details of a number of significant diseases and parasites, including ovine Johne’s disease, caprine arthritis, encephalitis, footrot and lice, as well as drenching and vaccination history. More information on the National Goat Health Statement can be found on the Animal Health Australia website. Buyers may request this declaration statement from vendors.

Publications

Publications/ information products

Emerging plant and animal industries: their value to Australian RIRDC publication (2014)

Properties, Processing and Performance of Rare and Natural Fibres: A review and interpretation of existing research results RIRDC publication (2012)

Benchmarking Mohair Production in Australia RIRDC publication (2010)

Going into Goats MLA publication (2006)

The Palatability & Potential Toxicity of Australian Weeds to Goats RIRDC publication (2000)

Australian Goat Notes Australian Cashmere Growers Association publication

Stapleton, D. & Cunningham, D. (2007) The Australian Handbook of Angora Goats and Mohair. Grefell, NSW.  2007

The Merck Veterinary Manual-Overview of health management- Goats

Other resources

Australian Farm Institute

Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

New South Wales Department of Primary Industries

Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment

Department of Primary Industries and Regions, South Australia

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia

Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources

WA Farmers Federation

NSW Farmers Federation

Victorian Farmers Federation

Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association

AgForce QLD

National Farmers’ Federation

Pastoralists & Graziers Association of WA

FarmBiosecurity

Image Gallery

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Angora goats

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Cashmere - Yearling bucks growing cashmere

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Mohair - Angora goats

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Shearing Angora Goats

Related Publications

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Emerging Animal and Plant Industries - Their Value to Australia (2nd Edition)

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Properties, Processing and Performance of Rare and Natural Fibres: A review and interpretation of existing research results

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Benchmarking Mohair Production in Australia

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The Palatability & Potential Toxicity of Australian Weeds to Goats