Mohair First Management
Mohair First means thinking about your mohair (the product) when setting up your management system and when making decisions about your animals. It means providing the market with what it wants, not just expecting it to buy whatever you produce.
Mohair First means not producing inferior types such as cotted (matted), short or kempy fibre. It means minimising the amount of vegetable faults and stains. It means maximising the amount of fine, high value fibre in your clip. It means producing the minimum number of uniform, high quality lines of mohair.
The two major management factors controlling fleece quality are shearing time and kidding time. In that kidding is best done in short fleece, shearing is usually set 2 weeks before kidding (and then 6 months later), setting kidding time may well be the most important decision controlling fleece quality and returns from mohair production.
Fleece length and the problems of cotting and "hungry", short winter fleeces need to be considered carefully. Young animals produce longer fleeces so there is some room for correcting shearing interval problems created by extended kidding periods. The trick is to eliminate short fleeces.
You have to carry out shearing on time. The options seem to be organising small groups of animals to be shorn at different times; or getting management operations set up to allow shearing of the whole flock twice each year. The former approach needs careful recording and controls to ensure animals are shorn when they have 6 months growth. The latter approach requires relatively short mating and kidding periods and the facility to handle the whole flock through a shearing shed in a short period. This includes sufficient sheds and shelter to keep animals dry before shearing, or protected from cold, wet conditions following shearing.
Cotting is a common problem. It seems that failure to shear at 6 monthly intervals increases the amount of cotting. However, there is an underlying seasonal problem. Fibre shedding occurs mainly in early spring when the skin follicles which have become dormant, begin fibre production and force out the old fibres which then migrate through the fleece. This problem is accentuated by better feed which stimulates more fibre growth, and lice which cause irritation, but ultimately shedding is under genetic control and is triggered by increasing day length. Culling animals which cot in spring is important but organising shearing in late August or early September is an immediate method of reducing cotting.
A problem recently observed in imported animals (bucks in particular) is also related to the flush of fibre growth in spring. Some animals, presumably those with a higher proportion of dormant follicles in winter, are very difficult to shear in spring. The "rise" of new fibres apparently makes the fleece difficult to "comb", though it might not be obvious that fibres are tangled or that new fibres are growing through the old fleece. Selection against poor combing might well be justified.
Short, poor structured winter fleeces are a problem in some colder, highland areas. While mineral deficiencies have been suspected, supplementation has not been particularly effective and the problem may be one of low pasture intake and high worm burdens. Goats offered short, overgrazed pasture may well reject what is on offer and, effectively, starve. Energy supplementation and the provision of longer, less contaminated pasture may assist in producing longer fleeces. Shearing interval in winter could assist but must be achieved by earlier shearing in autumn, not later shearing in spring (which could increase cotting).
Vegetable matter contamination is the other big problem for mohair growers. VM contamination is a seasonal problem which can be reduced by shearing just before the normal problem period. It is difficult to generalise because different areas have different weed problems.
Trefoil is undoubtedly the worst problem and may well preclude mohair production in many areas in western NSW. In marginal areas, shearing in late spring or early summer may assist because animals will be in short fleece when trefoil burr is exposed on the ground. The use of stubble paddocks may also help at this time.
Horehound and Bathurst burrs must be controlled for viable mohair production. Dock, Bogan Flea and many other burry weeds can also be a problem but can be minimised by careful heavy grazing, spraying, hoeing or mowing.
Barley grass, and many native grasses which produce long awnes can create difficulty and considerable discomfort for animals. Shearing before the seeding period and "pasture topping" can reduce the problem.
In many cases using positive pasture management with larger numbers of animals, pasture improvement and specific treatments are the key to effective reduction in vegetable matter in mohair.
Special care is needed to reduce VM in kid fleeces. The first fleece is valuable (susceptible to VM contamination) and it may be advisable to shear somewhat earlier than the full 6 months to reduce the risk of ruining this fleece. A good "B" length fleece (11-13cm) is preferable to an "A" length vegetable fault.
While staining cannot be eliminated, crutching and ringing wethers at 4 months growth can greatly reduce the amount of stained fibre. It also makes skirting easier at shearing. Other stains need to be eliminated. Paspalum and grass stain should be avoided by slashing long grass or grazing with stock in short fleece. Scouring animals should be separated in the yards and animals should be "emptied out" before penning for shearing. Wet sheds and grass stain can increase the amount of low value stained mohair which has to be handled in the shearing shed. Even raddle markers and other markers need to be used carefully and coloured fibre must be skirted from the fleece. Paint, oil and any other pigmented material can ruin mohair.
Other contaminants can be a serious problem. Bale twine and wire are easy to miss so great care is needed to pick up all twine and wire in the paddock. Tools and other material should not be present in the shearing shed because of the risk of contamination. Mohair should be covered or pressed immediately to prevent contamination with dust, vermin and other contaminants. Pigmented animals should never be run in the same area as Angora Goats and no pigmented animal should be shorn in the shearing shed.
Putting it all togetherLook at the threats to your mohair and decide how best to time kidding and shearing. If short, cross-fibred fleeces and cotting is a problem, look at shearing in February and late August with kidding in September. If feed is soft and in good supply in winter, consider shearing and kidding a month earlier to reduce wet and stained fleeces at shearing. If barley grass or trefoil is a problem try shearing later, just before the weeds become a problem. In this case consider kidding earlier in half fleece.
It is a good idea to draw up a management plan for the whole year and revise it each year to achieve the best results.
BUT, think about the fleece first. If a management operation adversely affects the fleece - DON'T DO IT.
© 2000 Mohair Aust Ltd