Survey of Cashmere
Production from Goats in KwaZulu-Natal
by J F de Villiers, B A
Letty & S B Madiba
Farming Systems Research
Directorate: Technology Development & Training
KZN Agri-Report N/A/2001/1
KwaZulu-Natal, with 13,2 % of the national goat
population, ranks third after the Eastern Cape (48,9 %) and Northern
Province (13,8 %), in terms of goat numbers (Directorate: Agricultural
Statistics, 1999). In August 1995, KwaZulu-Natal had 113 198 goats in
commercial areas, mainly Boer goats, and 710 493, approximately 85 %, in the
less developed areas, the majority of these being of the indigenous type
Goats in less developed areas fulfill multiple roles that
can hardly be equaled by other ruminant species and this valuable resource
should be explored. Despite their apparent importance to agriculture, in
less developed areas in particular, there is a lack of basic information
regarding the potential performance of goats. There is an awakening of
interest in the role of goats in rural development in KwaZulu-Natal.
Goats are generally kept for their meat, milk, skins, for
controlling bush encroachment and in developing areas, mainly for ceremonial
purposes. There is, however, a potential for obtaining additional income
("adding value") by making use of the fine, soft undercoat
(cashmere) produced by some breeds.
Worldwide there are many goat breeds which possess the
ability to produce a fleece consisting of two distinct fibre populations
(fine and coarse - Photo 1) of which the South African Boer goat and
Savannah goat and other indigenous goats are good examples. What is
cashmere? Cashmere is the fine (4 to 30 micron), soft unmedullated undercoat
(down/cashmere - Photo 2). This component is retained after removing (dehairing)
the coarse outer coat or guard hair component (31 to 200 micron) from a
combed sample. Combing is carried out with the goat standing up (Photo
The combing is done in a downward direction following the pattern of the
hair (Photo 4). Colour ranges from white to brown
(Photo 5). Good quality
cashmere is white in colour and has a maximum fibre diameter of 18,5 micron
(Braun, 1996) and a minimum length of 4 cm (Braun, 1999 - personal
Goats that produce cashmere possess the inherent ability
to respond to changing day length and climatic conditions causing an active
fibre growth and fibre shedding period. Cashmere-producing goats grow fibre
between the longest and the shortest day after which it is shed (Sumner
& Bigham, 1993). Down grows actively from December to June for
protection against the cold winters and the fibre is shed during spring
(July to September).
Overcoming the challenges to goat production includes
addressing the lack of baseline information, such as the potential for
cashmere production in KwaZulu-Natal and the possible income to be
generated. The objectives of the study were firstly to determine the quality
and quantity of cashmere produced by goats in KwaZulu-Natal and secondly to
determine the possible income to be generated from this fibre by communal
and commercial goat farmers.
Materials and Methods
The Farming Systems Research Section, Extension staff, and
other researchers of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and
Environmental Affairs, in cooperation with Mr Albie Braun from the CSIR,
Division of Textile Technology in Port Elizabeth, embarked upon a project to
determine the quality and quantity of cashmere produced by goats in KwaZulu-Natal.
During 1997 and 1998 goats with visual evidence of
possessing cashmere were combed at the following sites (number of goats
combed in brackets); Pongola (16), Wasbank (21), Bartlow Combine (6),
Kranskop (18), Estcourt (42), Colenso (15), Cedara (6), Mpophomeni (4),
Impendle (35), Bergville (8) and the Kokstad area (17). 87 % of the goats
combed during the two seasons were "Zulu" goats. Goats combed were
from communal small-scale farmers (Photo 6), commercial farmers
(Photo 7), a
stud and research stations. Goats possessing cashmere were combed at
2-weekly intervals from mid-July onwards until no more sample was obtained.
The combing of goats was terminated towards the end of September. At each
combing session goats were combed until all the loose down fibres were
combed out. If an insufficient quantity of fibres was obtained from the
first couple of strokes it was assumed that the goat was not yet shedding,
and it was left until the next visit. After each combing the material
obtained was weighed to measure raw yield per combing. Material from
individual animals was kept separate and marked according to the age and sex
of the goat. At the end of the combing period total production per goat was
measured. The combed material was sent to the Textile Division (TEXTEC) of
the CSIR in Port Elizabeth for micron and clean yield analysis. The advanced
image analysis Optical Fibre Diameter Analyser (OFDA) instrument was used
for the simultaneously determination of down fibre fineness and yield (ratio
of down fibre to guard hair). This was an accurate and rapid method and did
not require prior separation of the fractions.
Regression analysis (Genstat 5, 1998, Lawes Agricultural
Trust) was used to describe the effect of (1) mean sunshine hours for June
and December, (2) annual rainfall, (3) minimum temperature and (4) maximum
temperatures for June and December in the areas where goats were combed on
cashmere yield (y) and fibre diameter (y). The climate information was
supplied by the Natural Resource Section of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of
Agriculture and Environmental Affairs (Table
Results and Discussion
The number of goats combed, mean sample weight
combed/goat, fibre diameter and clean yield of goats combed at the different
sites are summarized in Table 2. Goats combed in the Bergville area (Obonjaneni
community) and in the Impendle area (Photo 8) tended to produce more
cashmere than the goats combed in the other areas. The mean fibre diameter
of the samples was finer than the 18,5 micron required for the fibre to
qualify as cashmere (Braun, 1996). The down (cashmere) fibre diameter tested
between 12.79 and 18.79 micron, with an average diameter of 15.76 micron.
The variation in annual cashmere yields obtained from
goats combed during 1997 and 1998 (n = 188) is summarized in Table 3.
Results indicate that goats in KwaZulu-Natal show a huge variation in annual
cashmere production. Cashmere yields varied from 0.04 to 70.65 g/goat. The
current survey show that 68 % of goats combed produced less than 10 g per
season. Results obtained by Braun (1998) showed that Boer- and Savannah
goats produced an average down weight of approximately 25 g/goat and
traditional goats an average of approximately 12 g/goat, with a coefficient
of variation as high as 55%, indicating a considerable variation in down
weight within breeds as was found in the current investigation.
The variation in yield indicates a good genetic pool for
future improvement through selection (Braun, 1998). Goats which are good
cashmere producers generally exhibit an obviously wooly neck and such goats
could be used as future breeding stock. The high genetic correlation (0.65
to 0.92) between down length and down weight (Sumner & Bigham, 1993)
means that farmers can utilise down length as an indirect estimate of down
weight. This will reduce the fleece testing costs associated with dehairing
the fleece to estimate down yield. Down length could easily be measured on
the animal prior to harvesting.
The selection for down weight in cashmere-producing goats
will also result in an increase in both down length and down diameter and
some reduction in live weight (Sumner & Bigham, 1993). The live weight
and diameter responses are both undesirable. A reduction in live weight may
lead to reduced fertility, and an increase in diameter will result in
animals producing down outside the accepted cashmere diameter limit of
18.5Fm (Sumner & Bigham, 1993). According to Sumner & Bigham (1993)
the principle non-genetic factors affecting fleece and fibre characteristics
in both sheep and goats are age, nutrition, physiological status, disease
and shearing regime. Norton (1998) also found patterns of cashmere growth to
be affected by age, sex, pregnancy and lactation, as well as photo-period.
All the goats in this survey were in grazing systems. During summer months
the goats in the communal systems rely entirely on veld grazing. Some graze
within the residential areas while others are taken further away to graze
communal land and mountain slopes. The nutritive value of veld in sourveld
areas drops from March onwards limiting animal performance over the winter
period. According to Norton (1984) cashmere production appears relatively
insensitive to the level of nutrition under grazing conditions although
guard hair production may be responsive. There is no effect of increasing
protein or energy intake on cashmere growth or fibre diameter of goats who
are at maintenance level or are actively growing (Norton, 1984). Cashmere
production is however depressed when goats lose weight for a significant
period during the period of cashmere growth (Norton, 1998). Cashmere growth
in does is maximised when kidding and lactation falls outside the growth
period, when does are gaining weight and when they are harvested twice
during the growth phase (Norton, 1998). Environmental factors such as
location and winter temperatures seem to play an important role in the
initiation and development of secondary follicles (Smuts, 1997).
The fleece characteristics of KwaZulu-Natal goats in
different farming systems are summarized in Table 4. The cashmere from goats
combed on Cedara and Bartlow Combine showed exceptionally fine fibre
diameter. The mean percentage of down yield in the combed samples varied
between 60 and 83 % with high standard deviations. Indigenous goats combed
in small-scale communal systems showed the highest yields of cashmere, but
with a higher standard deviation compared to goats in the other systems. The
boer goats in the commercial system showed on average the lowest cashmere
yields. It is clear from the data that enough variation exists in all the
fleece characteristics to allow for the identification of genetically
superior animals to be used in breeding programmes to increase the quality
and quantity of cashmere.
The length of the fibres was not measured. According to
the CSIR (A Braun, personal communication, 1999), the fibres of combed
samples in South Africa are too short for a successful dehairing process and
also influence the quality of cashmere products negatively.
The regression equation describing the relationship
between fibre diameter (x) and cashmere yield (mass) (y) was: y = -13.6 +
1.470 x (Sy.x = 10.1; r2 = 2.9; P = 0.027; n = 134).
Although the percentage of variance accounted for is very low, the
relationship shows that an increase in fibre diameter will increase the
cashmere yield, as was found by Sumner & Bigham (1993). Bigham et al.
(1993) found phenotypic and genotypic correlations between down weight and
fibre diameter in New Zealand Cashmere goats yearlings to be 0.50 ± 0.03
and 0.81 ± 0.08 respectively, presenting an unfavorable relationship when
selecting for heavier fleeces but finer down.
The regression equation describing the relationship
between cashmere yield (y) and the mean sunshine hours (x), mean rainfall
(x) and mean temperature for June (x) and December (x) are summarised in
Analysis showed that cashmere yields decrease
significantly with higher sunshine hours and with higher rainfall.
Temperature, in this study, played no significant role in cashmere yield,
but there is an indication that goats in areas with high temperatures
produce less cashmere.
Table 5. The relationships
between cashmere yield (mass) (y) and the mean sunshine hours, mean rainfall
and mean temperature for June and December.
135.5 - 17.75 x sunshine hours
-30.25 + 0.05031 x rainfall
27.9 - 0.968 x Dec temperature
19.70 - 0.970 x Jun temperature
The regression equations describing the relationship
between fibre diameter (y) and the mean rainfall (x) and December mean
temperature (x) are summarized in Table 6.
Table 6. The relationships
between fibre diameter (y) and mean rainfall and December mean temperature
14.194 + 0.001980 x rainfall
19.45 - 0.1845 x Dec temperature
Although significant relationships were found the
percentage of variance accounted for is too small to read anything into
Possible Income to be Generated from
TEXTEC, CSIR in Port Elizabeth currently pays R 105/kg for
white cashmere with fibre diameter below 16,5 micron. At this price goat
owners in KwaZulu-Natal would earn an average amount of R 1,17 per goat for
cashmere harvested over a season, based on the annual cashmere yields given
in Table 3.
For a 50 goat flock, the annual income from cashmere would
be approximately R 60. In Impendle, the average flock size was found to be
13, resulting in a potential annual cashmere income of approximately R 15,21
per farmer. This is not a positive scenario for a future cashmere industry,
especially when the potential industry relies on the cashmere produced by
approximately 710 500 goats in the less developed areas of KwaZulu-Natal.
A woman’s jersey uses 400 to 500 grams of cashmere
(down) fibre. Results from the survey show that cashmere from approximately
60 goats is required for one jersey. The farmer (goat owner) will receive
only R 70 for this quantity of cashmere, while in the main centres of South
Africa, the finished product will retail at between R 750 and R1000.
A large global market exists for the finer and higher
quality textile fibres and therefore it is imperative for South Africa to
utilise the potential of the indigenous goats to the fullest (Braun, 1998).
The fibre diameter and clean yield results of the study indicate that goats
in KwaZulu-Natal produce good quality cashmere but whether the quantity of
down warrants harvesting is questionable.
The amount of cashmere needed to justify combing is
debatable. If the goats are handled daily and kraaled, it would be fairly
simple for small-scale farmers to comb them. Results showed, however, that
in order to establish a cashmere industry in KwaZulu-Natal, higher yields
will have to be obtained (neither the down fibre weights nor the fibre
lengths are commercially acceptable). Data show that enough variation exists
within the goat population in the Province to be able to improve yields
through a goat selection and breeding programme. The negative correlation
found between down weight and live weight needs to be taken into
consideration. At present, goat owners require an infrastructure and an
easily accessible market to be in place for their cashmere in order to
stimulate any interest in this product.
The authors thank Steve Goetze, Iona Stewart, Ron Bennett,
Extension staff, Staff on the Bartlow Combine Research Station, Albie Braun,
CSIR -Textile Division, Port Elizabeth and all the small-scale and
commercial farmers who participated in this survey for their cooperation and
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