The cashmere goat is a member of the species Capra hircus, as are all goats. A cashmere goat is one that produces commercial quantities of cashmere, but a “cashmere” goat cannot now be characterized as “PUREBRED” or even “REGISTERED”, as those terms imply the presence of a Herd Book that records the progression of a “line”. Because environment plays such a major role in determining the quality of the cashmere produced, it is very difficult to identify truly superior genetics. And even when you find a superior goat, it may or may not produce superior offspring, which is what registering a purebred animal is all about. The quality of the offspring may vary widely; some may be excellent while the twin brother is a cull. For this reason, there is no way to “GUARANTEE” the quality of a cashmere goat. You must be willing to learn how to sort through your kid crop every year and cull accordingly. Luckily, this results in more animals sold to the meat market or the weed control market, a lucrative proposition. Expect to cull half of your doe kid crop and 80% of your buck kid crop. Expect to rely upon your own judgment to decide which is which. It is very important to associate yourself with more than one mentor as there are still many opinions out there which are in cases, diametrically opposed. You need to breed what works best for your business plan.
Cashmere Goats can be characterized as follows: “A cashmere goat is one which produces a fine undercoat of any commercially acceptable color and length. This down should be less than 19 microns (µ) in diameter, crimped as opposed to straight, non-medullated (not hollow) and low in luster. It should have a clear distinction between the coarse, outer guard hair and the fine underdown and should have good handle and style.” (CaPrA, Concerning Cashmere, 1989)
Fiber color ranges from deep brown to white, with most of the intermediate colors falling into the grey category. Color of the guard hair is a not a factor when assessing cashmere fiber color, but guard hair colors that vary wildly (such as pintos) can make sorting the fiber difficult. Any length over 1¼ (30mm) after shearing is acceptable. Shearing will reduce the length of the fiber by at least 1/4″ if done correctly, more if the hated “second cut” occurs. After processing, the longer fibers (over 70mm) go to spinners for manufacture into fine, soft yarns and the shorter fibers (50-55mm) to the weaving trade to be blended with cotton, silk or wool to produce a superior quality woven fabric. A single fleece may contain some long fibers, usually grown on the neck and midside, as well as some shorter fibers, present on the rump and belly. Also, quality of fiber usually improves with distance from the usually coarser neck; midside fiber is usually the best, with rump fiber being finer, crimpier and, unfortunately, shorter, although some goats have coarser rumps. All of these different types of fiber contained within a single raw fleece must be carefully sorted. The price of these differing types varies from $40/lb to $7.50 a pound of dehaired fiber, so sorting must be done carefully by experienced personnel. There is no way to estimate the dollar yield from a raw fleece by just taking a glance. Processing the fiber to separate the guard hairs also removes some of the down and you will not be paid for down lost in processing.
Fiber character, or style, refers to the natural crimp of each individual fiber and results from the microscopic structure of each fiber. The more frequent the crimps, the finer the spun yarn can be and therefore the softer the finished product. “Handle” refers to the feel or “hand” of the finished product. Finer fiber generally has better crimp, although this is not necessarily so. It is very easy for the human eye to be deceived by a well crimped, but coarser fiber. For this reason, estimating micron diameter is best left to the fiber testing experts. Very fine fiber which lacks the requisite crimp should not be categorized as quality cashmere. It is the crimp of quality cashmere fiber that allows the fiber to interlock during processing. This in turn allows it to be spun into a very fine, usually two-ply yarn, which remains lightweight yet retains the loft (tiny air spaces trapped between the individual fibers) that characterizes quality cashmere sweaters. This loft retains heat and is what makes cashmere different from wool, mohair and especially, man-made fibers.
Warmth without weight and incredible softness suited for a baby’s skin is what cashmere is all about.