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Special Characteristics of the fine-fleeced cashmere goat

AUTHOR: Bess Vickers, Carcoar, N.S.W.

Fine-fleeced cashmere goats are those which, as a self-replacing breeding herd consisting of kids, does up to six or seven years of age, breeding bucks and mixed age wethers, will consistently produce total clips under 16.5 micron. Since the average herd down weights must be high enough to be commercially viable, the fine MFD must be retained when the stock are given good nutrition, so the micron must be controlled by breeding rather than by restricted feeding. The buyers of Australia's cashmere have repeatedly expressed in public a preference for fibre of this quality, adding the requirements that it be soft handling, free of intermediate fibres and of good yield. Therefore it is very important to be able to identify those animals that produce such fleeces and will breed true.

While finer goats may tend to be slightly smaller than coarser animals in the same herd, they should not be weedy, light-boned or delicate. The guardhair may be short, medium or longer than the cashmere but always with distinct differentiation. As in all good cashmere goats the down is crinkly rather than wavy and contains none of the almost straight "shiners" that identify cashgoras. It appears that the amount of crinkle may be a guide to stability of micron. In the herd studied and some of its related herds, bucks with very crimped, soft cashmere have been observed to increase from around 14 micron at ten months to under 16 micron at three years, while bucks in the same drop and of similar or finer micron at ten months but showing much less crimp "blew out" to 17.5 micron at three years. Of course the sample studied is too restricted to be conclusive but indications are that other breeders have made similar observations.

Fine-fleeced (under 17.5um throughout lifetime) buck, showing good size and conformation, combined with coverage, length and density of fleece, even in February, when photo was taken.

Under the microscope, at 1000 x magnification, all true cashmere shows short scales (length: diameter = 2:3) and the tip of the scale has a noticeable lift (see diagram). This characteristic is probably responsible for the matt appearance and flexibility so desirable and indeed essential for handling qualities in cashmere fibres compared to the sheen and resilience of the longer-scaled, smooth mohair fibre. No doubt it is also a factor in the difference in dye absorption between the two fibres which gives uneven colour in mixed tops, a source of processor's complaint when mohair fibres are present. The degree of scale shortness and tip lift appears to this writer to have strong relationship to stability of micron and handle and can therefore be used as selection criteria, if available.

Sample of Australian Cashmere photographed by electron micronscope. The fibre shown measured 17um and was magnified 2000x.

Since the general acceptance of objective measurement of cashmere fleeces it has become evident that fine goats usually have a narrower histogram than coarses ones i.e. they have a lower S.D. They also increase much less in micron with age and show very little if any sex influence on micron.

The most important characteristic of fine cashmere is that it is very soft handling. There are simple ways to test this. Manually dehair a small sample and feel it lightly between the fingers. It should crush easily and feel slightly sticky, like cobweb, rather than slippery and springy. Brush it lightly against your cheek to gauge the softness. Roll it in a ball in your palm. It should stay in a little ball, not tend to spring apart. Apart from, and in conjunection with, objective measurement and practiced "eye-balling", this is the best way of assessing fibre, but do remember to allow for the age of the animal. Also remember that "handle" is the quality that sets cashmere apart in the market place as the world's most desirable luxury fibre.

Many fine-fleeced cashmeres have the down fibre packed very densely on the skin. This trait is particularly obvious during shearing when the machine labours noticeably. Provided these animals are well-covered, as they usually are, and have adequate down length, they produce very good weights of down at high percentage yield. In the early years of the Australian industry it was considered that fine cashmere was always short but with selective breeding, good nutrition and sound management, annual down growths in excess of 100mm (single shearing) have become relatively common, even on some goats measuring 15 micron or less. This length, combined with density, overcomes the difficulty of getting desirable percentage yields when the cashmere is fine and the guardhair coarse. These characteristics are therefore an essential goal for breeders of fine cashmere.

On a short-guardhaired goat, exposed cashmere will usually form into tight curls as opposed to the loose ringlets of the Angora and its crosses. The tightness of these curls is sometimes a guide to fineness but it is not always reliable, as in some seasons weathering may straighten the tips and some crinkled coarse cashmere can also form small curls. Fine, stable-fleeced goats should not be shiny on the neck and ideally should carry fleece of even quality and length over the whole body.

Fine-fleeced goats should appear matt and dense, even in summer, when maiden does like these will be showing quite a good coverage of cashmere. Superfine animals may be later in growing their down.

(C) 1990 A.C.G.A.