From Angora Goat To Mohair Industry
The Angora goat came to prominence in the early 1970's as a new breed, and mohair production was seen as a new form of primary production for Australian farmers. The Angora goat suited the back to nature and hobby farm ethic and rapidly became a valued animal. Despite relatively poor mohair prices, mohair was seen as an exciting alternative to wool production in the mid 1970's and many breeders entered the industry in the belief that traditional large scale graziers would pick up Angoras and mohair production.
Fortunes have fluctuated since that time with expansion stimulated by boom prices for mohair, extraordinary demand for breeding stock from New Zealand, importations from both Texas and Africa, and the virtual collapse of the market during the textile recession and the recent recovery in prices due partly to improving economic conditions and partly to a record low in world production.
In retrospect it is perhaps of interest to examine some of the issues involved in moving a new breed or emerging industry to a viable primary industry. Obviously a market (or a potential market) is the key prerequisite. Management systems, husbandry requirements for large scale production and compatibility with existing livestock enterprises are important, as is the supply of stock, the source of breeding material and a means of trading animals excess to requirement. A test of viability might well be the ability to prepare economic models and gross margins using realistic or actual data. Availability of drugs and extension advise are important where production is spread thinly over the country. Finally there is a need for a political organisation to lead and represent the industry.
These notes attempt to place the industry in its current perspective in the transition from fancier breed to viable primary industry.
The World Market
Table 1 summarises the production and price trends over the last 27 years. It is of interest to note that prior to 1970, the peak in world mohair production occurred in 1965 at 30mkg. It can be seen then, that the trend for production, despite a peak in 1988, is downwards. This trend can be explained in terms of the price of raw fibre. Mohair production is carried out in areas where there are alternative farm enterprises and land use, so production is responsive to prices. The generally declining terms of trade have had a predictable effect.
The raw mohair prices summarised in Table 1 are initially given in South African Rand and then in Australian Dollars. Important periods are:- the early 1970's when the effects of the wool crisis beginning in 1966 where still being felt; the boom in 1978; the short world recession in 1982 followed by a boom; the big slide beginning in 1988 and ending with almost the collapse of trade in 1992; and the recovery beginning in 1994. Since 1994 average prices paid have increased. There has been a small improvement in stud animal prices and the commercial market but the level of production has been slow to respond to improving prices. Price fluctuations occur more quickly than shown on an annual average price basis and the table fails to describe the short boom in 1987, particularly in kid mohair prices (and which parallelled the peak of the wool boom), but heralded the crisis in textiles in Europe.
The fact that production and price figures are available fills one of the most important prerequisites for the existence of the mohair industry. There is a market for mohair and while the price fluctuates and demand varies, textile processing takes place in at least ten countries. All these countries are active in purchasing what little mohair Australia produces. A brokerage system has developed and a marketing infrastructure exists to service the production industry. This includes two grower owned brokerage companies and two buying firms which purchase fibre from growers by private treaty. Competition to service the producer is strong but the cost of the collecting and classing of small quantities of fibre into salable lots presents a considerable problem for the industry.
Table 1. World and Australian Mohair Production and Greasy Price since 1970
na=not available. " = estimated. * = many lines not sold or no bids.
New forms of farm production may be constrained by management requirements, especially for larger numbers of animals run for commercial production. Mohair production has relatively little need for special fencing, yards, shearing facilities, handling techniques or transport over that required for wool production. Mohair is also compatible with existing livestock enterprises with little problem of fibre contamination or livestock interactions. The Angora goat has a similar biology to sheep but a susceptibility to cold off shears (a twice yearly problem) and an added management requirement at kidding often presents difficulties for new producers. A major point of conflict occurs in relation to kidding management. The Angora goat has a high fecundity with 60-70% of mature does producing multiple births. Without intensive kidding practices very high kid mortality occurs and farmers are reluctant to accept the need for penning and shedding despite the obvious advantages in fertility.
Of interest is the development of a kid meat market. This capretto meat, defined as a small whole baking carcase of about 5kg produced as a 6 to 12 week old kid (sired by Boer or milk breeds) has been seen as a lucrative form of production, especially in West Australia where a marketing structure is in place. While such crosses remove potential mohair cutters from the population and have yet to prove to be more profitable than straight fibre production, capretto offers an alternative for the mohair enterprise.
Stock Supply And Breeding
Price of stock relative to the value of the product is an important consideration. High prices for breeding stock is a symptom of an emerging fad. This phase was extended in the case of Angora goats because of the extreme demand for stock from New Zealand in the mid 1980's and the release of both Texan and South African strains from 1992. On the other hand, the availability of feral stock for upgrading did allow for rapid expansion in numbers during the 1980's, albeit at the cost of mohair quality. The transition from stud to commercial price structure must be gradual but panic selling is not uncommon.
It is difficult to separate breeding from commercial mohair production. With the upgrading process, first to the pure Australian strain and now to either Texan or South African strains (or some synthetic strain), producing such rapid gains in fleece quality, commercial production is readily effected by breeding. Stock is readily available, though usually not in large numbers. Prices for commercial stock are comparable to that for sheep.
At the breeding level, variation in fleece quality is marked which means that the gains which can be achieved from selection are substantial. The new challenge is to produce a synthetic strain from the imported stock. A full BLUP based performance recording system, MOPLAN (Lollback & Stapleton, 1995) is in place to accommodate objective breeding plans but visual selection is still the rule.
Perhaps the biggest concern of breeders and potential producers is the market of excess and cast for age stock. While it is relatively easy to sell some young stock, small lines of old does and wethers present a problem. There are number of abattoirs processing feral and domestic goat but transport to these abattoirs may cost more than the offered price. For reasons not clearly understood, Angora goats are often discounted by meat buyers. To some extent cull prices are a function of scale of the individual enterprise. A larger industry would make processing more attractive and reduce the isolation which restricts stock sales.
Isolation also adds cost to fibre marketing. The cost of transporting and amalgamating small clips and the lack of skilled classers over large areas makes fibre handling and marketing difficult.
Returns and Economic Analysis
The Mohair industry has reached a point where it is possible to demonstrate viable commercial returns using gross margin analysis and real data. Lloyd Davies of the NSW Dept of Agriculture has calculated a series of gross margins for all goat breeds. The mohair gross margins can be accessed interactively on the Mohair Australia website (see below). The level of complementarity of grazing and the positive effects of woody weed control and pasture management were not added in this case since these advantages relate to the environment of the particular grazing property.
Disease, Farm Chemicals AND Extension
Angora goats have very similar disease/parasite/drug requirements to sheep. Worm resistance, Footrot and Johne's Disease are three issues which cause concern. The developing eradication policies for the latter two require a consideration of the cross infection problem and the role of extension in farm advise. Extension by itself presents a problem to all emerging livestock industries since expertise is rarely held by Departmental staff. Even such similar skills as skirting fleeces seem difficult to transfer between wool and mohair so the need for extension staff and advisers familiar with basic technology is underestimated.
Unfortunately many newer drugs make no allowance for goats under the drug registration provisions.
The development of the Angora goat in Australia has been dramatic and has now reached a stage where the availability of stock, infrastructure, management systems and markets are at lease comparable to the major livestock industries. While terms of trade continue to be a major concern for all agriculture, mohair production is a reality and can claim a place in Australian farming. The formation of Mohair Australia Ltd 1995 with the expansion of the Angora Mohair Breeders of Australia Ltd to include commercial growers and traders from the broking, buying and manufacturing sectors is also a sign of industry maturity. Mohair Australia Ltd is servicing all sectors of the mohair industry through its continually expanding database and library of technical and research information which can be accessed from the website www.mohair.org.au.
Davies, L. (1995) Proc. 8th National Conf. Angora Mohair Breeders of Australia Ltd. Agric. Victoria.
Lollback, M.W. and Stapleton, D.L. (1995) Proc. Aust. Assoc. Anim. Breed. and Genet. 11: 678.
This goatnote was based on a paper of the same name by D.L. Stapleton printed in the proceedings of the 12th Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Animal Breeding and Genetics. Dubbo 1997.
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