Producing cashmere

Cashmere is one of the finest fibres in the world and is considerably warmer than wool. Products made from this fibre are in great demand, especially in Western countries.

Producing cashmere
The Savanna goat is a good producer of cashmere. Photo: FW Archive
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Despite a large goat population, South Africa produces little to no cashmere. Yet there is little reason why South Africa could not join Australia and New Zealand, among other countries, in meeting the demand for this popular commodity.

Found on all goats
Cashmere is the fine undercoat hair (down) produced by goats during winter. The fibres are soft, light and warm and look dull; the colour varies from white to brown, but white is preferred.

There is no specific cashmere breed. Any goat from which marketable quantities of cashmere can be harvested is a cashmere goat. However, the fine down must be of a specific diameter and length to comply with market requirements.

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In South Africa, both Savanna and Boer goats produce super-white, highly graded cashmere. This has the correct diameter and length. Gorno-Altai goats yield much thicker and longer fibres.

Harvesting
Hair can be harvested when the goats are six months old. Fibre starts to grow during midsummer (from December to June) and the goats begin to shed soon after midwinter (July until September).

Cashmere can be combed out as soon as the primary coat is shed. The entire herd should be combed every two weeks to obtain maximum quantities of cashmere. Fluff hanging from thorn bushes or fences indicates that it is time to start combing.

Various kinds of combs can be used to comb out cashmere. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to comb out a goat, which is tied up by the head in a standing position during the procedure.
If a sufficient quantity of fibre is not obtained with the first stroke, the comber moves on to the next animal.

Combing out cashmere is time-consuming for the commercial farmer. A roving comber could therefore visit the farmer to comb out cashmere. A percentage of the money that this person earns is paid to the goat owner.

Extra income
Cashmere could be a secondary product after meat for the smallholder farmer. Extra income could be generated if the smallholder farmer processes the cashmere fibre into products by carding, combing, spinning and weaving or knitting.

Source: ‘Cashmere – new marketing opportunities’.

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