Discover the World’s Finest Wool Origin and History of Cashmere   ► The Cashmere Goat

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One of the noblest types of wool you can purchase is cashmere, which comes from goats.

However, cashmere goats are not a specific breed. The Cashmere Goat breeds all originated out of Kashmir, India, from where the name cashmere comes. The exclusivity of the final fabric depends on the quality of the undercoat fluff of the various kinds of cashmere goats. 

You want to know more impressive facts about the Cashmere Goat? Lets Begin!

Cashmere Goat close up

Overall Characteristics of Cashmere Goats

Description of the cashmere goat:

The cashmere goat is a small, medium-sized, horned goat with hanging ears. Bucks carry long, outwardly turning horns, goats carry small sickle-shaped horns.

The coat is long-haired, hanging down with a fine, dense undercoat. There are white, grey, black and brown color tones.

Dimensions and weights of the cashmere goat:

Goats: height at withers 50- 60 cm, weight 30-40 kg
Bucks: height at withers 60-70 cm, weight 50 -60 kg

Cashmere goats, of which there are about 20 subtypes, are characterized by a long, fine undercoat. Cashmere wool is much finer than the thinnest sheep’s wool and is one of the finest animal hairs.  Only animal species such as the vicuña or the musk ox have a similarly unusually fine and soft wool quality to offer.

The outer coat will be extremely coarse to protect the undercoat and is known as guard hairs. While the weight, size, and colors vary on the breed, you will generally find these breeds have horns. They are also a breed that requires open grazing with minimal nutrients given artificially, as it will affect the quality of the wool.

History of the Cashmere Goat

“It is said the cashmere goat was first found in the 14th century by the Persian Ali el Hamdani in the Kashmir region. The word “Cashmere” is an old spelling of “Kashmir.”

The history of the cashmere goat, and thus of cashmere wool, began when Ali Hamdani fetched some fine undercoat fibers from the cashmere goat and made socks, scarves and caps from it. He gave socks to the King of Kashmir and recommended that the King start making scarves from this wool.”1 But there is proof – people used the fine fibers of this goat for thousands of years in Mongolia, Nepal, and Kashmir. 2

Origin and Distribution

The origin of this race belonging to the wool goats lies in the arid high mountain steppes of Central Asia. They have always been kept mainly for wool production.

The first animals were imported to Europe in 1819. Most animals today live in the Republic of China and Mongolia. After 1970 large cashmere goat farms were established in Australia and New Zealand – in 1989, the USA moved in. In Europe, cashmere goats are mainly found in Scotland.

In the area of origin, Cashmere goats do not belong to a single breed but form a breed group with the common characteristic of fine undercoat.

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Breeding and Ownership

A benefit of owning and raising cashmere goats is the fact they are excellent breeders. This breed will commonly produce twins or triplets, and some can be bred regardless of the time of year.

Much of this is because they are incredibly hardy animals. They are adaptable to any environment and can even survive when their quality of pasture is low. With this said, it is essential to know that if you want to own one of the cashmere breeds, you will need to groom it regularly to keep its fleece soft.

Different Breeds

Pashmina Goat

The original breed of cashmere producing goat is the Pashmina goat. This breed is located in the Kashmir region, in the countries of Tibet, Nepal, Ladakh, China, and Myanmar.

The pashmina breed is usually all white. However, you can find them in black, brown, and gray. They are most commonly known for their horns that are very large and twist. While it is the original breed used for their exquisite wool, they are now less than 0.1 percent of the producers.

The Australian Cashmere Goat

The Australian breed is now the standard breed for cashmere wool. It is a favored breed because it is very hardy and is easy to breed.

The breed was diminished dramatically during the 1800s when the gold rush hit Australia but was resurrected when the wool was discovered to be extremely dense and high producing in 1972. In the late 1970s, the breed became one of the prime producers of cashmere because each goat produces roughly 250 grams of fleece a year.

Inner Mongolia Cashmere Goat

Unlike the previously mentioned cashmere producing goats, Inner Mongolia has five different strains. It is a breed that is more adapted to dry and arid temperatures, rather than open grazing.

The Alasan, Arbus, and Erlangshan strains are the most commonly used for cashmere, while the Hanshan and Wuzhumgin strains are used for minor qualities. This breed produces roughly a third of the wool for the entire world, but it is also the most disputed because the breed reproduces rapidly and is very destructive on the environment. When people ask owners of this breed, why cashmere is so expensive? The answer is: because the owners must purchase a lot of food after the land has been destroyed.

Chinese Cashmere Goat

China also is a mass producer of cashmere breeds, and they have two different strains. The Liaoning is the mountain breed, while the Zhongwei thrives in an arid environment.

The breeding of these two strains began in the 1960s and has grown since then. The Liaoning strain offers the most benefit to owners because they are sturdy, able to climb the mountains for better grazing and have the size to provide meat and wool.

PASHMINA OF LADAKH AND KASHMIR - by Changthangi Lena /Jag Moh

The Pangong Tsho is a salt lake located 4238 m above sea level in the highlands of Tibet on the border between India and China.

Two thirds of the 134 km long and a maximum of 8 km wide lake is on Chinese territory. It freezes over completely in winter. The lake covers about 690 km².

Shepherds frequently visit this area with their flocks as they find water and fresh, juicy grass.

Cashmere Goat

Mixing the Herd

Part of the answer: Why is cashmere so expensive – comes from the fact that the breed does not produce much fine undercoat every year. The only part of the fur that can be used for cashmere spinning is from the fine, downy strands under the coarse guard hair. 

While there are a lot of various breeds that are great for producing a plentiful harvest, mixing the herd can be beneficial for owners. It also enables breeders to focus not only on wool production but also to achieve high meat and/or milk production.

Breeding

The reproductive health of all cashmere goats is very high, and the gestation period is roughly 150 days long. Herd owners will need to remember that these goats do not often produce triplets, but will produce twins commonly.

They also will need to have access to more food. If you live in an area that has a high brush, bushy plants, or plenty of trees, you will not need to worry about supplementing their diet.

However, many farmers find that it is best to control the diet to ensure proper nutrition for the doe and kids. Also, you need to make sure they have sufficient food before being bred, and due to high abortion rates, watch the weather and any sicknesses that are traveling through the herd.

The actual care of the kids is a lot more complicated than most other animals. Male kids must be separated fairly early to prevent inbreeding with the moms. Within the first six months, there is also a tendency to let the children down, especially if they feel disturbed.

In order to prevent this, shelters can be built that give the does less chance of losing their kid. If you provide a shelter for the doe, make sure there is plenty of bedding, supplemental feeding, and centralized water located nearby. Besides, you will need to monitor the temperature of the shelter, as mother goats have a tendency not to nurse when they are cold.

Maintaining the Herd

The reproductive health of all cashmere goats is very high, and the gestation period is roughly 150 days long. Herd owners will need to remember that these goats do not often produce triplets, but will produce twins commonly.

They also will need to have access to more food. If you live in an area that has a high brush, bushy plants, or plenty of trees, you will not need to worry about supplementing their diet.

However, many farmers find that it is best to control the diet to ensure proper nutrition for the doe and kids. Also, you need to make sure they have sufficient food before being bred, and due to high abortion rates, watch the weather and any sicknesses that are traveling through the herd.

The actual care of the kids is a lot more complicated than most other animals. Male kids must be separated fairly early to prevent inbreeding with the moms. Within the first six months, there is also a tendency to let the children down, especially if they feel disturbed.

In order to prevent this, shelters can be built that give the does less chance of losing their kid. If you provide a shelter for the doe, make sure there is plenty of bedding, supplemental feeding, and centralized water located nearby. Besides, you will need to monitor the temperature of the shelter, as mother goats have a tendency not to nurse when they are cold.

A flock of sheep and goats led by shepherds, descend the treacherous path down to BaradSar Lake. A glacial himalayan lake at an altitude of 14,500 ft on the border of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in India. - by Tons Trails
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View of mountains on Leh Himalayas - Jammu and Kashmir.
View of mountains on Leh Himalayas - Jammu and Kashmir.
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Animal Welfare

The harvesting and production of the exclusive cashmere wool are very time-consuming and costly. Many producers try to save as much as possible to maximize their profits. This Savings and boosting the production hit the cashmere goats themselves hardest.

So you should look carefully at how the production of the beautiful new cashmere sweater took place – especially the country of origin is crucial here. In China or Inner Mongolia, producers are keeping large herds of goats, which makes it impossible to give enough attention and care to all of them.

The gentle combing out the undercoat is replaced by faster mechanical shearing, for which the animals are sometimes even fixed on a kind of stretching bench. Less experienced workers injure the animals, especially when shearing is done under high time pressure.

Sometimes the cashmere goats are sheared too early – before the first molt – what can lead to skin diseases.

The Kashmir goats are still most appreciated and respected in the high mountain regions of Jammu and Kashmir or Tibet. The survival of humans is dependent on a close relationship with these unique animals in these cold and barren heights.

The people get warming wool, milk, and butter from the goats, and their excrement serves as fuel or fertilizer for the fields. The nature of the landscape would not allow intensive animal husbandry as in the vast steppes of Mongolia.

Due to the increased demand, the number of cashmere goats has risen sharply in China and Mongolia since the 1980s. Unlike sheep – goats pull the grass out of the ground with its roots,
what leads to the increasing desertification of the vast grassland.

Soil erosion is already a considerable problem in the wide grazing areas. China has to deal with sandstorms in the affected regions and the herds already had to be decimated on the directions of the government.  

Cashmere Goat High in Tibet mountains

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References

  1. World Heritage Encyclopedia, Cashmere Goat, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (last visited 07/26/20)
  2. Pashmina, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pashmina&oldid=924354676 (last visited July 26, 2020).