Breeding for Increased Cashmere Production
People will have different ideas on how to go about breeding better cashmeres. What works for one person may not work for another, as everyone's circumstances are not the same. Environmental conditions, facilities available and size of the operation are just a few of the factors which may vary from one producer to the next. Therefore I don't believe that there is one correct way; there is no magic recipe.
The following is an account of the way in which we go about breeding Cashmeres, at Cashdown Goats, for increased productivity. I believe our breeding program is working for us, as we have major gains in the time that we have been in the industry, with another big step forward being achieved only recently.
Setting short term and long term goals is the first and most important thing, that you must do, when commencing a breeding program. Your long term goals will reflect your idea of the ultimate Cashmere goat. At the end of the day, I assume that you will aim to have a herd comprising only ideal cashmere animals and many of them.
Gains will be made in small steps and stages. Don't expect it all to happen overnight. Small gains are usually acievable in a fairly short time span. Each small gain can be built upon and before long you find that you've actually made big gains in productivity, when compared to your starting point.
Initially, you will need to have a good look at the animals that you own and decide what characteristics you will try to improve upon first. These become your short term goals. As an example your short term goal may be to have animals with a measured cashmere down length of greater than 90mm. Therefore only those animals exhibiting that trait would be kept for breeding purposes. *Your short term goals should be consistent with your long term goals.
You will need to evaluate your progress towards long and short term goals frequently. New short term goals will need to be set once old ones have been achieved, in this way you are constantly moving forward toward your final goal.
Every industry has its fads. I would hesitate to change any goals just to follow a fad. If you chop and change you'll find that you make very little progres. Remember, everybody has different ideas about what is the ideal Cashmere Goat and how to achieve it. Decide upon a plan of action and if it's working for you, in your particular part of the country and with your animals, stick to it.
Detailed record keeping is a vital part of any breeding program.
Records enable you to:
Cashdown Goats Partnership keep the following records:-
At joining time, all the ear tag numbers of all does and the bucks with which they are mated are recorded. When using natural mating, each doe only runs with one buck during the mating period. When using artificail insemination, the time of mating is known and a follow up buck is put in with the does 18 days later. Kidding time is used to determine the sire.
At kidding time the kidding paddocks are regularly patrolled and any new kids tagged with a numbered button tag. The details of each kid's sex, colour, birth type, (twin, single etc) dam and date of birth are recored in a paddock book. With experience, we have become quite good at catching and tagging new born kids, without upsetting the does and their kids too much.
These records are transferred from the paddock book to permanent records at a later date. It is at that time, that the sire is added to the individual kid's birth record.
Just prior to shearing (June) all animals are brought in and their fibre assessed. At this time the weaners are tagged with a large coloured eartags which can easily be read in the paddock. It is this tag to which we usually refer. There are times when these large tags are lost. The original button tag, inserted at birth, is then used to sort things out.
To evaluate the animal's fleece we measure the length of the down at 3 sites:
This is done by placing a small metal ruler against the animal's skin, stretching the cashmere out along the ruler and recording the length.
We then take a pinch of fibre from the 3 sites to evaluate:
Always take care to hold the fibre next to the skin when removing the pinch of fibre. If you pull from the end you will only see the longer fibres.
Comment: Nowdays we don't place much emphasis upon crimp. We like to see evenness of crimp across the animal. However experience has taught both us and other successful Cashmere breeders, that crimpyness of fibre is not an indication of fineness. It is possible to have very crimpy coarse cashmere. Likewise it is possible to have very fine plain (straight) cashmere. What we don't want to see is straight coarse fibre and very fine cashmere in the same pluck from the animal; that is cashgora NOT cashmere.
Total fleece weight, yield, micron and standard deviation
When the animal is shorn, the total fleece weight is added to the classing record. After fleece testing, the yield, down weight, micron and standard deviation are added to the record.
It is vital (even if you don't do fleece testing) that you use an accurate and reliable set of scales to weigh the shorn fleeces from your animals. Weighing the fleeces allows you to know exactly how productive your animals are and to readily identify the superior animals in your herd.
Choosing the buck
As the buck will be joined to a number of does, he will exert a greater influence upon your herd than any individual doe. It is therefore vital that care is taken in the selection of breeding bucks.
Currently we keep all buck kids of sound conformation, unbroken colour and from dams that have shorn over 300 grams of cashmere down. These bucks are assessed subjectively and fleece tested at their first shearing. Animals that have not grown out well, have too little fibre, uneven fibre, or fibre that is considered too coarse are sold for meat. The second shearing will see their numbers reduced further.
Bucks that we consider exceptional at their first shearing, are test mated to a small number of does. This allows us to acess progeny, and if something unforseen occurs, preserve the buck's genetics.
As the bucks have such a large influence upon the success of your breeding program, trying to guess which buck kids will perform and selling the rest for the Capretto market really isn't an option. If you don't have the resources, or inclination to run on a large number of bucks, you are probably better looking to other herds for your stud bucks. Likewise you will require the best buck that you can buy. I cannot understand why people will settle on an inferior animal just to save a few dollars in the purchase price. In the end it does not make sound economic sense, as the few dollars saved will result in slower ( and sometimes no) progress towards your goals. The extra dollars spent on the superior animal should be more than recouped by gains in productivity. You should also realize, that better quality stock are not only more productive, but they are also more valuable when it come to selling excess stock.
The buck you choose needs to reflect your aims for the current stage in your breeding program. For example, your does only average 140 grams of 16.1 micron cashmere per head. Your aim is to increase the average cashmere down production. You have the choice between two good bucks, both are white of stocky build and sound conformation. Their fleece test results at their second shearing (22 months of age) are as follows:
Both of these animals are good bucks in their own right, however buck A. is probably the better choice in these circunstances.
Time of buck selection
Our provisional selection of sires for the next breeding season is usually made when we subjectively assess the animals (that is 9 months before joining). After the fleece test results are returned we study them and finalise our selection.
If buying a buck or semen from another breeder, I like to view the animal/s prior to shearing (once again this is about 9 months before the following year's joining). I would also require fleece test results and be interested in fleece test results of progeny if these were available.If you leave buck selection till the last minute you will find that you are looking at the animal's fibre at the wrong time of the year. It may not have grown much cashmere and it will be difficult to make a true assessment of its fleece. Test results alone do not tell the whole story.
Shearing time is busy, but buck selection is an important and intergral part of your breeding program. So remember, just before shearing, is the time to see the source of the genetic material that you intend using.
Initially we used random selection of does. That is after deciding that a buck was to be mated with, say 80 does, then the first 80 does through the drafting race would be put with that buck. This may be good method for a scientist trying to apply statistical methods to breeding programs, but it doesn't give you the best results when you have specific breeding goals. Nowdays, a good deal of time is spent pouring over records, i.e. breeding (family background), past progeny, shearing / classing records and fleece tests in order to select what we consider to be the best match. All matings are worked out on paper. Lists of mating groups are taped to a board (so they don't blow away) and the board set up beside the drafting race. The does are drafted into their mating groups and checked off the list as we go.
I can see a better way of doing all of this, as the method we have used is very time consuming and laborious. In the near future I can see us embracing new technology; using computerised animal records, electronic eartags and computerised electronic drafting facilities in order to become more efficient. We have begun to investigate such systems,currently being developed for the sheep industry.
In order to ensure that your breeding program progresses as you have planned you need good fences. Wandering animals and unplanned pregnancies upset your breeding program and can slow down your progress. All bucks which aren't being used in the breeding program, should be moved as far away as possible from the mating groups and weaner does (action by others makes the heart grow fonder!) Any bucks which won't stay where they are put, should be culled!
The Australian Dairy Industry has been able to make phenomenal progress over the past 30 years or so through the use of artificail insemination. Individual dairy farmers would never have been able to afford the elite bulls which enabled this progress to occur. They were however, able to afford to buy the semen from these bulls and have their cows artificially inseminated. The same philosophy could be applied to the cashmere industry. Breeders may not be willing to sell their elite bucks,as they wish to use them in their own breeding programs, however they may be willing to sell the semen from these animals.
In these times, when people are worried about the transfer of disease, artificial insemination is a way to bring new genetic material onto your property with reduced risk of infection.
We have tried artificial insemination and have been pleased with the results. If you are thinking of undertaking an A.I. program we would recommend you employ a qualified vet or technician. Someone working in the field all of the time, is more likely to obtain successful results.
Evaluating your progress
Each animal and its value to the continuing breeding program, needs to be critically evaluated annually. As progress is made and goals shift to the next stage, an animal which in the past was quite valuable to your breeding program may no longer be of use. This doesn't mean that the animal is no good. In fact to someone else, with different breeding aims or at a different stage of progress, the animal may be quite valuable. Animals, (especially bucks) which are not an assest to the industry, should be sold for meat. Does may be sold as weed eaters or mated to boers to produce meat kids.
In order to breed more productive Cashmere Goats, set your goals, keep detailed and accurate records and constantly evaluate your progress.