Cashmere—a word that has denoted luxury and comfort since the most ancient times. Perhaps the oldest reference to this fine fiber is in Exodus 25:4, where God requests offerings of goats’ hair (also known as cashmere) to build the tabernacle. The cashmere was subsequently used to make curtains (Exodus 36:14).
While any goat except the fleecy Angora can technically produce cashmere, some goats have been bred specifically for the purpose and excel in both the quantity and the quality of their fiber. Goats raised for cashmere originally came from Tibet, not from their namesake region of Kashmir in northern India. Kashmir was where cashmere was woven into fabric until the late 1800s, when Scottish manufacturer Joseph Dawson perfected a machine to separate the soft undercoat from the undesirably coarse guard hairs. This shifted the center of cashmere manufacture to Scotland and began a rage for all things cashmere.
In America, Cashmere and Angora goats were frequently confused at first. In fact, a Tibetan Cashmere doe may have been part of Dr. James B. Davis’s purebred Angora flock, imported in 1849. The modern-day Cashmere population of America is of more recent origins, however.
In the 1970s, scientists in Australia established a breeding program to develop the perfect cashmere-producing goat based on feral goats roaming the continent. Their results were outstanding, and it was not long before Americans were inspired to enter the cashmere industry. Cashmere goats were subsequently imported from Australia and New Zealand in the late 1980s. This foundation was expanded with the influence of the Spanish meat goats common in the Desert Southwest and carefully selected for quality fiber.
Because of this mixed background, the American Cashmere population is not typically considered a true breed. However, it is a distinct type from the other goats found in North America, being uniquely suited to the production of soft, fine fiber. Both the Cashmere goat and the cashmere industry are new to the United States with a future yet to be determined, but they show great promise for niche marketers.
The primary use of the Cashmere goat is the production of the prized cashmere fiber. This comes from the goat’s soft undercoat and can be obtained either by shearing or by combing as the goat sheds. White fiber is preferred commercially, but there is a growing niche market for colored fiber for hand spinning.
Thanks to their relation to Spanish meat goats, Cashmere goats in America can also be raised for meat. This option is primarily pursued as a way of adding value to animals culled for low-quality fiber.
And, of course, the weed-eating abilities of these goats should not be overlooked, either.
The Cashmere goat, being a close relative of feral goats, tends to be keen and wary and may resist human handling. However, it is otherwise quite calm and manageable, not displaying the fence-jumping tendencies seen in many other breeds. Practically speaking, this means that any fence sufficient for sheep will contain a Cashmere goat.
Also in keeping with its feral background, the Cashmere doe bonds with her kids quite readily and makes a good mother.
The Cashmere goat is very healthy and requires only basic common-sense care to stay in good condition. As a matter of fact, the more naturally this type of goat is raised, the better the quality of its fleece. So let it browse to its heart’s content—it doesn’t need special feed, it just needs to be allowed to be a goat.
Likewise, the Cashmere goat does not need to live in a tight barn. A simple field shelter is quite sufficient. Note, however, that some shelter is definitely required. Cashmere goats need to be able to get out of the rain to stay healthy, avoiding hoof problems and internal parasites. A shelter will also protect very young kids from cold winds.
Cashmere goats are traditionally not dehorned. Not only do their horns provide a good grip for ease of handling, they may play a role in heat dissipation in the summer.
- Respect of good fences.
- Ability to survive with minimal shelter.
- Ability to thrive entirely on natural forage.
- Adaptability to most climates.
- Exceptional kidding ease.
- Good mothering ability.
- High-value fiber.
- Warmth, comfort, and durability of fiber.
- Rapid weight gain.
- Dislike of being handled.
- Tendency to shed valuable undercoat.