Cashmere Economics

Goats are wonderfully resourceful animals. They are very efficient feeders, converting rough browse and noxious weeds into marketable products: cashmere, chevon, kid leather, biological weed controllers, 4H projects, useful pack animals and loving companions. Itall boils down to dollars and goat sense.

Interest in cashmere production in the United States has been steadily increasing. In 1996, we produced over three tons of cashmere. There are over 25,000 American cashmere goats (especially in Texas) that could be shorn or combed to produce 10 tons of cashmere, enough to supply a designer. There are three ways to make money from cashmere goats:

One, shear (or comb) and market the fiber with or without value-adding…..
Two, lease hungry goat herds out to weed infested neighbors….
And three, sell cull goats to the meat market.

These three have the potential to return enough money to pay the bills and put a return on the bottom line. Many people think that as soon as they buy a few goats, they will be a “breeder” and will make a lot of money selling “top quality breeding stock”. It’s just not that simple. Breeding cashmere goats is not like breeding German Shepherds. Years of experience are required to appreciate the genetic correlations between the genes that control cashmere characteristics. Deal only with established breeders and don’t think to sell goats for hundreds of dollars each until you thoroughly understand the negative correlations involved in goat genetics.

The most direct way to profit is to sell kids to the meat markets. Although markets vary widely from coast to coast, prices last year ranged from $2.60 per pound FOB the ranch in Wyoming to $3.00 + per pound in California. Texas prices hang somewhere in the middle.

Goats also provide biological weed control. Small business are springing up, especially in Colorado, to lease out goats in the summer to eat leafy spurge, thistles and other noxious weeds. The going rate is $4 per head per month.

The last and final income source is the fiber. When this industry first started, Forte Cashmere Company in Woonsocket Rhode Island, provided a single fleece assessment and purchase plan that excited many early producers. A single goat could return almost $20 on every fleece. Unfortunately, this bubble burst long ago, although some diehards haven’t given up the dream. It is possible to get some return on your fiber but you must be prepared to harvest it carefully and do some value-adding. MiniMills Inc in Canada and some other, newer, smaller processors, will professionally dehair your fiber and return it to you for about $25 per incoming pound. Combed fiber works very well; shorn fiber not as well.

The final way to sell fiber is to hand comb the shedding down, clean it by hand, card it and spin it on your mother’s spinning wheel. This process is very calming and relaxing and is suitable for those low technology types that want to get back to basics. There is a very fine video available made by Marilyn Merbach of Pennsylvania and sold by the Capricorn Press instructing even novice spinners on how to make fine, strong yarn from tufts of cashmere.

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