Raising Goats for Cashmere
Nearly all goats have two coats. The top layer is called guard hair, and the undercoat is a down. Some goats have such exquisite down that it’s turned into highly-coveted cashmere.
Beth Bohnert raises goats for cashmere on her small farm in Tennessee. She says cashmere isn’t a specific breed of goat, it’s a type of goat. There are two labs in the United States that test the down to see if it meets cashmere specifications.
"It is based on the diameter of each fiber. Each little cashmere hair is measured for diameter and it has to be under eighteen-and-a-half microns in order to be considered cashmere," says Bohnert. "A micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter so you can imagine how fine that cashmere is, which is why it is so soft, and also why it’s so coveted because it is so soft and luxurious."
Bohnert says once a year the goats naturally shed their undercoat and the luxurious down is collected not by shearing, but by brushing. When sheep are sheared, one animal can fill a garbage bag with fleece. When one cashmere goat is brushed, the fibers will fill a one-gallon ziplock bag. In general, it takes four goats one year to produce enough cashmere for an adult sweater. That’s why you’ll pay top dollar for that sweater.
Raising a goat for its cashmere isn’t much different than other goats – except for its diet.
"You don’t want to feed a lot of protein because when you do it coarsens their cashmere," says Bohnert. "So, the goats’ diet in their natural setting is primarily browse, which is weeds and leaves, they’ll eat berries. They’ll eat almost the exact same diet as a deer. But if you don’t have that available for them, then the next best thing is to feed them hay."
The amount of cashmere that a goat produces depends on age, health, size, and genetic background.