I intended to show you all some nice pictures of how to comb a goat, on which parts of the goat you can find the best cashmere and other practical things, as it is a lucrative business. However, the training I attended (and took part in by making the link to marketing options of the cashmere) was not as practical as hoped for, due to the short timeframe that was available. However, the process is still interesting and I hope you enjoy reading it!
Cashmere goats are reared in Mongolia for many years and they adapted very well to the changing climate: cold winter, delivering a kid in spring, fattening nicely in summer and enjoying the autumn. For this adaption, they grow a thick woolen ‘fur’ in between their hairs. That is called cashmere. Selection during all these years, especially during the Socialist time when knowledge about quality of this cashmere increased and breeding programs improved the quality even further. However, after Socialist times, other things were more important (keeping the animals alive, eating them to keep yourself alive, and so on), so the quality of the cashmere is decreasing year by year.
Breeding influences the thickness, the form and the colour of the cashmere. The best thickness is 12 to 15 microns (to compare this to human hairs, those are on average 100 microns, with the thinnest hairs 50 microns), the best form is as ‘waved’ as possible and the best colour at this moment is ‘red’. At this moment, the Mongolian government is implementing a program ‘Mongol Mal’ to improve breeding again, which will lead to a better quality of cashmere again (hopefully).
However, breeding is not the only thing to improve cashmere quality. So the training of today, organized by the Mercy Corps, taught herders how to select the right cashmere from the goats to be able to sell it for a price as high as possible. First of all, the length of the cashmere is important; this should be as long as possible. Breeding can influence length, as well as using the right tools (good combs). Furthermore, the ball of cashmere wool that comes of the goat should not contain more than 20% of goat hairs in the ball. To achieve this number or lower, it is best to cut 1 cm of hair of the whole goat first, before combing. Another issue that is important in the field is that the hair of younger goats is often better and the hair of the forehand (breast/belly) is finer and therefore higher in quality. This should be separated from the other cashmere. One goat will give around 120-150 gram of cashmere per year, depending on age, weather, health and other factors.
Mongolian goats, especially those in Bat Ulzii, where the training was held, still have a very good quality of cashmere. Normally this cashmere is not selected at all by the herders and sold ‘raw’ to middlemen for the highest price they will give. The cashmere is still dirty, badly stored (e.g. in flower meal bags), mixed quality and often not well combed from the goat. Several projects are working with herders to improve the quality of the cashmere by selecting by colour (white, light and dark colours), cleaning it from bugs and dirt and selling it to the Mongolian cashmere factories for a good price directly. However, efforts up to now have not been successful (yet) due to multiple reasons. Hopefully this year we can make some changes by working all together! We will start with a fair to link up factories and herder groups on Friday the 22nd of April, again mainly organized by the Mercy Corps, but with input from VSO, their World Bank project and our project.