Farming with Angora goats

The upswing in the Mohair market has again got many farmers interested in Angora goats. But they should do their homework before venturing into this branch of smallstock farming, warns Roelof Bezuidenhout.

Open Karoo plains are good for Angoras but deadly for shorn goats when it gets cold.
Photo: Roelof Bezuidenhout

The Angora is particularly vulnerable to cold, wet snaps after shearing, and not only during winter. A sudden drop in temperature accompanied by rain can wipe out a flock of newly shorn goats overnight, even in midsummer.

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The Mohair industry recently released comprehensive guidelines for sustainable production. These include:

  • Supplying enough feed and nutrients for maintenance, production and reproduction;
  • Providing an environment in which the animals can freely enjoy their natural behaviour;
  • Protecting the animals from discomfort and stress;
  • Protecting them from life-threatening weather.

These are the cornerstones of successful Mohair farming. The sensitive goats need cover in the form of natural windbreaks such as tall shrubs and hills, as well as sturdy sheds for emergencies when the weather turns really bad.

Rather be safe than sorry
Newly shorn goats that are not in good condition due to drought or inferior feeding levels are extremely sensitive to cold, rainy weather combined with wind.

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They need special attention until at least a month after shearing. Once they have been exposed to a certain amount of cold stress – often only a few hours – there is little that can save them. So, to be safe:

  • Make sure your goats have enough feed at all times;
  • While shearing, don’t keep the goats in a kraal all day without feed. Feed them in the kraal or let each group of shorn goats out into the veld where they can browse and fill their rumens before nightfall;
  • Keep them in a camp with good natural cover;
  • Make sure that a well-built shed is within easy reach;
  • Ensure that the camp fencing is good enough to keep the goats in;
  • Check the forecast every few hours – the weather can change very quickly. If there is any threat of cold weather at all, rather shed the goats than be sorry – it is nearly impossible to herd them when they are already cold-stressed;
  • Be sure to have staff on standby at weekends.

Stagger the shearing to protect your investment
Goats are shorn every five to six months, which means that each goat on the farm is in potential danger for two months every year. By staggering your shearing, you could alleviate this danger and ease your management.

You could, for example, shear only the ewes, only the young goats, or only the kapaters, leaving a month or so between shearings. The smaller the shorn flock, the easier it is to manage.

The best time to shear pregnant ewes is six weeks or so before lambing. Herding and shedding them while they are lambing severely disrupts the lambing process, disturbs mother and lamb bonding and results in losses.

Over decades, farmers have made different plans to protect their goats against cold stress.

Some dip them straight after shearing in an oil emulsion, said to help them to cope a little better. There have also been experiments with jackets but these have practical problems.

At current hair prices, roofed sheds are the only guarantee for peace of mind – especially when it starts raining in the middle of the night and there is nothing the farmer can do but wait for morning.

Hardy or pampered Angoras?
Angora farmers suffered considerable losses in cold snaps following the Mohair boom of the 1980s when prices made it worthwhile to feed their flocks. Some believe this artificial feeding – mainly with treated maize – led to the breeding of animals less adapted to veld conditions, less hardy, and therefore more susceptible to cold.

Today, however, there seems to be a move back to the intensification of extensive farming. Flocks are given extra feed on the veld and kraaled at night to protect them from predators.

But many animal experts believe the focus should instead be on breeding easy-care animals able to fend for themselves during droughts and inclement weather.

Unfortunately, in the current economic situation, a farmer can hardly take a chance and leave goats out in the veld with a cold front on the way. Now is not the time to experiment with the hardiness of one’s flock.