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Management Tips For the Successful Running Of A Cashmere Goat Enterprise

Introduction

These notes cover lessons learnt the hard way by the principals of Cashdown Goats Partnership. We threw ourselves in the deep end when we started out with a herd of 800 cashmere does. Since that time we have bred, raised, shorn & sold thousands of cashmeres.

Starting Out

a) Do your homework first. Learn all that you can about cashmeres and their management. There are a number of excellent publications now available, as well as low cost or free leaflets together with web articles such as this which you can study. Many established Cashmere breeders are happy to share their knowledge & to help potential Cashmere growers if approached for help.

b) Cashmere goats are easy to manage provided you think ahead, as any good stock manager does. Upgrade inadequate fences, yards and handling facilities before introducing your cashmere goats onto your property. Bad habits are easier to prevent in goats than to cure. Poor fencing will lead to escapees and damage good relationships with your neighbours. Inadequate yards & handling facilities will cause unnecessary stress for you every time that you have to work with the animals. Whereas well designed infrastructure will facilitate efficient stress free handling of animals.

c) Start Small. Start with a relatively small number of animals. eg if you want to run 100 Cashmere does, start with 20 or 30. When you have the experience & feel confident that you can manage more, you can increase your numbers.

d) Take care when moving animals from warmer areas into cold climates in Winter. Goats are stressed by a change of feed,environment or travel. Stress makes them very susceptible to cold, wet & windy weather. Such conditions can cause heavy losses, especially in newly acquired goats. If moving goats to a colder climate in Winter cannot be avoided then it is a good idea to provide sheltered areas where they can retreat from the weather. It may also be advisbale NOT to shear those animals that year, but to allow them the time to aclimatise to their new environment.

e) Avoid pampering. If kept in good condition Cashmeres should not require sheds & in fact do better without them as they are tempted to huddle in sheds in cold weather instead of continuing to feed. As a result they lose condition and are more vulnerable to disease & cold stress.

Cashmere Does are good mothers and usually don't experience difficulty kidding. They are therefore best left to kid unassisted. Most will retreat to a private spot to kid, only returning to the mob when the doe feels comfortable that she & her kid/s are properly bonded.

f) Be aware of potential predators. Predators, especially foxes can decimate kidding percentages. Wild or straying dogs can also cause heavy losses in some areas. Put predator control in place before kidding commences. If you are going to introduce a livestock guardian this will have to be done well before the kidding period so that the does have time to get to know the guardian/s and feel comfortable with their presence (You do not want a doe fleeing in fear & leaving her new born kids when the guardian approaches).

g) Join the ACGA so that you can meet and keep in touch with other Cashmere breeders. Through membership of the ACGA you will also have acess to publications & journals with news of the latest research, market trends and industry developments.

Yards

In many cases sheep yards are suitable for the handling of cashmere goats. Yards do need to be about 1.1 metres high to avoid the attraction for pen hopping or jumping out.

Goats respond best to quiet handling in yards. Dogs should not be used for yard work with goats, as they cause unnecessary stress in the animals usually exhibited in the animals behaviours of jumping and crushing.

Goat Notes has an excellent article on yards suitable for goats and is worth reading for an idea of what might work for you.

Fencing Suitable for Cashmere Goats

Goats require good fencing, with emphasis upon ground level barrier, then a mid level rather barrier than the height. of the fence. If seeking to escape, goats will try and go under a fence first. If not successful they will then try and go trough a fence. Cashmeres rarely jump over a fence and then it is usually only the odd one that does so in panic eg being chased or attacked by a dog.

Fabricated fences eg hingejoint and ringlock are the best fences for the containment of goats. The bottom of the fence should be tight and no more than 50mm from the ground. For advice on fencing consult Goat Notes .

Working Dogs

Dogs can be used to muster cashmere goats and can be useful in forcing animals through gateways. As mentioned previously it is not a good idea to use dogs in yards as they cause unnecessary stress to the goats. In a confined space goats are more likely to turn on the dog and attack. Thus working dogs can be seriously hurt if used to work goats in confined spaces. A doe with a young kid at foot is also likey to turn on a dog and attack if it gets to close to her kid/s. A good working dog can be taught (some know instincively)to move the doe without enchroaching on that space that she feels comfortable having between herself, her kids and the working dog. Hence a good eye dog is the best type of dog to have for working with goats.

Maremmas (livestock guardian dogs) are also working dogs. They live with the cashmeres full time, protecting the herd from intruders. There may be times when you need to be able to catch and tie up your Maremma dog eg. so that it doesn't try to play with your working dog who is focused upon moving the goats. Hence we try and train our Maremma dogs to accept being caught and tied up or lead.

Health of Cashmeres.

Cashmeres are relatively disease free and robust animals, providing sound management is practised. If cashmeres receive adequate nutition they should remain in good health.

Worms

Like sheep, cattle and horses, goats are susceptible to internal parasites, especially when forced to graze on short pastures. When not intensively grazed in small paddocks and allowed to graze and browse preferentially over large areas goats are les likey to suffer from worm burdens.

It is good practise to drench all new stock brought onto your property. It is good to know what the drenching regime was where the animals came from. If this regieme worked, then maybe it is the one that you should follow. If it didn't work then it is a good idea to try another drench group which is not drench resistant to the worms carried by the goats.

How do you know when goats require drenching? Test houses supply kits with instructions on how you go about the collection of faecal samples from your animals. Once you have collected the samples you send them off to the test house for analysis. You will in return receive a comprehensive result which will tell you which if any worms your animals are burdened with and how heavy the burden is. You will also receive advice on what course of action, if any, you should take.

Your local vet or DPI animal health officer will be able to give advice on how to locate a test house to do the the worm tests for you.

How do you know if the drench you are using is working? Drench resistance occurs once a population of a species of worm can survive a dose of a drench that would have previously killed it. So if your animals fail to respond to a drench then drench resistance may be suspected. To confirm the problem it is advisable to do a drench test. This is very similar to worm testing & is generally performed by the same test houses. Once again details of the procedure to follow are gennerally available from the test houses.

If you are going to drench your animals against internal parasites (worms) then you need to know that you are not wasting time and money and risking the health of your animals by using an ineffective drench. Testing is a good investment.

After drenching goats should be rotated onto a clean well spelled paddock. This ensures that the worm cycle is broken and goats are not put back onto a worm infested pasture.

Goat Notes has an excellent and detailed articled about internal parasites in goats which is worth a look.

Lice

Goats are hosts to two types of lice; biting and sucking lice. Both types can be controlled by commercially available products. All newly introduced stock should be treated for lice and kept apart from the resident stock for the required period (small print on the package). Lice are highly transferrable, so if you notice one of your animals is lousy you will have to treat every animal on your property in order to eradicate the problem.

When we entered the Cashmere Industry we were advised to treat all of our animals annually for lice, preferably off shears. We did this year after year without ever seeing any lousy animals. Nowdays we don't treat our animals for lice. The only exceptions to this practise are animals taken off property to attend shows etc. and newly introduced animals. Once treated, these small groups of animals are kept in a quarantine area for the required time before being introduced back into the main mob.

Even though we don't treat animals for lice nowdays, we do continue to monitor our stock for signs of lice and are prepared to treat them if it becomes necessary.

Vaccinations

It is advisable to vaccinate goats with 6 in 1 vaccine to protect them against the clostridial diseases. Does should be vaccinated just prior to kidding. This will protect not only them but also help to protect their kids until they can be vaccinated. Kids are usually vaccinated for the first time when marking of buck kids occurs. The second vaccination should occur 4-6 weeks after the initial vaccination, so can be timed to coincide with weaning, when the kids could also be given a drench before being put into a clean padock.

It should be noted that goats are different to sheep and require a booster every 6 months rather than every 12 months. We didcovered this the hard way when we lost one of our best stud bucks to Pulpy Kidney disease (pulpy kidney always gets the biggest and the best!)

The cost of the vaccine is minimal compared with the losses you can incur if you don't bother to vaccinate.

Buck Selection

Careful selection of the first bucks that you use in your Cashmere herd is vital. Your first progeny will determine both the short term & long term viability of your operation. N.B.Good quality livestock in any livestock industry will sell themselves. Inferior stock will always be difficult to sell.

New breeders must decide what their breeding goals are.

  • eg. breed only white cashmeres

  • or black cashmeres with dark pigmented cashmere.

  • breed animals with fine cashmere

  • breed animals with high yielding cashmere

  • breed animals with high cashmere down weight

  • a combination of some of the above breeding aimas or something else entirely

Whatever breeding goals the new cashmere breeder chooses as his / her own, buck selection is the first step taken in trying to attain those goals. Those goals must be kept very much in mind when viewing prospective stud sires.

Ideally the stud sire you chose should be of superior rank amongst his peers in the characteristics you are seeking. He should be physically sound and have a fleece test history. Full fleece tests provide subjective assessment of the animal's fleece production. Some buyers are happy with just a test for the first shearing, however I would prefer to have 2 years production results before I consider using buck as by then the fleece has matured and you have a good idea of what the cashmere production & micron of the adult animal will be. Fleece testing and subjective assessment of animals under 12 months of age is an unreliable basis for the purchase of a stud sire as their fleece can change a lot into adulthood. Buyers purchasing non fleece tested bucks, must do so at their own risk.

Mating Does

Cashmere does in good condition are mature enough to be mated when they are 15 to 18 months old. Though doe kids will mature sexually at 4 to 7 months of age it is advisable to allow them to grow and mature phsically before mating them.Does are usually mated in Autumn to kid in Spring. This also allows for the does to be shorn in Winter, at least four weeks before kidding.

Does cycle about every 21 days and are on heat for about 24 hours. Does in heat appear restless, wag their tails frequently and have red and swollen vulvas.

Gestation is 150 days and most days will kid within a 3 day period of the 150 days. Premature kids are able to survive from about 140 days from conception. It is therefore advisable to have have done any husbandry tasks (eg pre kidding drench & vaccination) and have the pregnant does moved to the area that you have set aside for kidding, just prior to 140 days after the buck was put to the does for mating. Moving does with very young kids at foot is slow, difficult and fraught with mismothering problems.

The nutritional requirements of the pregnant doe greatly increases during the last trimester of pregnancy (last 4 to 6 weeks). If there is insufficient paddock feed available it will be necessary to supplementary feed the does. If the does do not have acess to good nutritional feed at this stage of pregnancy, mortality of new born kids will be high. Does in poor condition, may also reject one or both of their kids in an effort to survive themselves.

Bucks should be in good condition when joined with the does to ensure their maximum fertility. A cashmere buck should be able to mate 80 cashmere does within a mating period. Some vigourous bucks are happy to mate much larger numbers. The buck will lose condition over the mating period so we like to give him a recovery period after the mating period. Our stud bucks are put together in a small paddock and supplementary fed to bring them back to their premating weight.

Goat Identification

Reliable eartagging of goats, supported by accurate records, are an integral part of any cashmere goat enterprise. They are obvious aids in the sale, selection and assessment of animals.

We have been tagging kids at birth for many years as we have found that this is the most accurate way of determining the correct dam. Initially we used a large comercially numbered coloured tag (coloured coded for the year of birth). These tags can be read in the yards & paddock without too much difficulty. However we found that the big coloured tags were too easily pulled out of ears and lost. Once the ear tag was gone, so too was the accurate individual record for that animal. So in 1993 be began using a small white button tag which was commercially printed with a number. All kids are tagged at birth with one of these consectutively numbered numbered tags. Prior to the first shearing all doe kids and those males retained as bucks receive a larger numbered coloured eartag (paddock tag). Careful recording of both numbers is done so that if one or other tag is lost the animal's individual identity is not.

Record Keeping

Rough records of births, deaths, husbandary performed etc are kept in paddock and shed books.N.B. It is easier to use a pencil for outside records as biros don't work well on a wet page. I have used a laptop computer in the shaering shed to record shearing fleece weights, & to make subjective assessments of the fleeces.This works well, but I'm alawys afraid that I'll lose records. I have bought a Sharp Zaurus to replace my paddock book, but haven't taken the plunge to do so yet. If I was certain that records couldn't be lost, then such a system would save a lot of work in transferring paddock records to the computer.

Rough records are entered onto the computer. Backups made and kept as well as printouts of the records. The printouts put into what used to be my inside record books.

Birth records are uploaded to the ACGA Merrrit progarm. The details which I include are:

  • dam

  • sire

  • sex of kid

  • colour of kid

  • Type of birth (twin single etc.)

  • date of birth

Shearing / fleece test records are uploaded to the ACGA Merrrit progarm. The details which I include are:

  • date of shearing

  • Total fleece weight

  • cashmere micron

  • cashmere yield

  • cashmere down weight

  • type of test ie. full fleece test, midside samole only etc.

  • test house

Shearing Cashmeres

Timing of Shearing

This will vary due to a number of factors.

  • a)Local Conditions The optimum timing, just prior to the goat shedding the cashmere, may vary from May/June in warmer areas of Australia to August/September in the colder areas. However in colder areas it has been found that if animals are shorn in May they will grow a short fleece again which will protect them during the cold of winter.

  • b)Your Management Program eg If your shearing shed is also used to shear sheep, you may wish to schedule shearing of cashmeres at a different time. You will want to give the does at least 4 weeks off shears before kidding. If you have to bring the cashmeres in for some other animal husbandry work you may wish to shear at the same time, to save mustering the animals twice.

  • c)Your labour requirements eg. manpower available on farm at a particular time (school holidays). Talk to any group of Cashmere growers & you will find that not only do they do things slightly different to one another, but they also experiment with different shearing times themselves. Most will try to shear to maximise returns (when the maximum quantity of fleece is on the goat). You may need to experiment a bit yourself to discover when this is for your particular animals and locality.

Preparation for Shearing

Existing shearing sheds are suitable for shaering cashmeres, providing steps are taken to avoid wool contamination in the cashmere clip. If no shearing shed is available & you wish to build a new one, the shed need not be as large as that required for shearing sheep. There are 2 shearing methods usually employed for shearing Cashmeres. The Tally-Hi method (traditional sheep shearing technique) & the Go-Down method, where the goat is shorn standing up retrained in a headbale. Both methods require about the same amount of floor space, however the Go-Down method will require a head bale bolted to the floor. Conventional shearing gear, pneumatic or electric driven handpieces are suitable for shearing Cashmeres.

Not everybody has a shearing shed or the finances to build a new one, however they can improvise.

Portable yard panels set up on pallets as flooring in an enclosed or partly enclosed shed make adequate holding / catching pens. A sheet of masonite makes an edequate shearing board. A portable shaering plant (with generator or air compressor if necessary) can be set up to suit the location.

It is important that the shearing area is:

  • Clean and free of anything which may contaminate your cashmere clip.

  • Free of draughts, as cashmere being very light is easily picked up & blown about by wind & draughts.

A good set of electronic scales is a must in any cashmere shearing shed. By weighing each fleece you are able to estimate how much cashmere each animal is producing. This will help you to identify your superior fleece bearing animals more objectively. Those fluffy cashmeres are not always the ones growing the most cashmere.

Pre Shearing Draft

There is a pemium paid by some cashmere buyers for pure white (WW)cashmere. To shear to WW standards requires early separation of coloured animals from the white ones and meticulous cleaning of the shed before shearing the WW line. You need to look at the price paid to decide if it is worth the extra work involved to attain the premium price. If not, it is simpler to class to WC, to (white with the odd coloured guard hair )muster animals & colour draft just prior to shearing. Your white animals should be shorn before your coloured animals and young animals before older animals. This practice assumes that the young white animals will have the most valuable fleece (fine white cashmere), which you will not want contaminated with coloured fibres or coarser cashmere.

Shearing

You can;

  • Shear the animals yourself using a head bale and the GO-Down technique. Cashmere producers have been using this technique and shearing their animals themselves for many years. There are a number of experienced do it yourself shearers within the industry who would be willing to give you a demonstration on how it is done. There are also numerous publications which give from full details, to a quick outline on how the task is performed.

  • Hire a shearer. Local cashmere growers or sheep farmers should be able to assist with contacts.

Sub Sampling Individual Fleeces for fleece testing.

We recommend subsampling of a whole fleece. There are 3 methods used by Cashmere producers to subsample fleeces.

  • 1.The Divisional Method. Divide the fleece into 32 equal parts, by dividing it in half, then each half in half etc. You then take an equal sized sample from each of the 32 parts which the fellece has been divided into.

  • 2. Place a 32 hiled grid over the fleece and take a sample from each hole (this speeds things up a bit).

  • 3.Place the fleece in a fleece coring machine press the button and take a core sample. This method is fast and is totally objective. Unfortunately for the rest of you out there, we are the only ones with a cashmere fleece coring machine. We had it built for us by a fellow in Western Australia who has spent his life building similar machines for the wool industry. It has had a few modifications done to it since it was delivered, as there were still a couple of glitches (helps to have a husband who is an engineer with access to all sorts of useful resources).

Pooling Days

Currently the cashmere buyers are based in NSW and Victoria. By sending clips together from one area each individual cashmere grower can greatly reduce the cost of transportation. If unsure who to contact in your area regarding regional pooling of cashmere consignments, it is a good idea to make the enquiry through the ACGA national body. Questions can be directed through the website www.acga.asn.au

Management of Animals Off Shears

  • 1. Shelter Cashmeres require shelter from inclement weather off shears. Natural shelter is best & if you have areas where the vegetation or the landscape (small caves, crevices, old mines or large boulders etc) allow the animals to escape the elements, this should be adequate.

    If necessary a shed can be used to provide shelter for the animals without actually letting them into the shed. For example, a large machinery shed can be fitted with double gates along the front of the shed so that the goats are kept out. They won't be able to huddle in the shed, to climb all over the machinery and chew electrical cables etc. They will however be able to shelter outside the shed on whichever side happens to be out of the weather at the time.

    If no adequate shelter is available it may be necessary to allow animals access to a shed at night. Don't allow them to huddle there full time though. Make sure that they go out to graze during the day.

  • 2. Feed Make sure that the animals have full bellies with the approach of a cold night. Hay is an excellent filler. The process of digesting the full belly of feed actually helps to keep the animal warm overnight.

  • Have the animals in good condition when you shear. The animals will lose some condition post shearing just trying to keep warm. Those animals in poor condition are highly likely to succumb to cold stress & die. If your animals are in good condition at shearing you are unlikely to lose any off shears.

    Without providing acess to shelter for your cashmeres you can lose them for many weeks after shearing. The younger animals are the most vulnerable to cold stress, probably because of their lower body mass. pregnant does are the least vulnerable to cold stress as the foetus actually helps to keep her warm. However once the doe has kidded & is lactating she is the most vulnerable of all to cold stress. If she huddles in one spot in the cold, with a kid or kids feeding from her, she can succumb to cold stress very quickly.

Management For High Kidding Rates

To attain high kidding rates (multiple births) then the does need to be in good condition when joined with the buck. As joining usually occurs in early Autumn when there may be little availble feed in many areas of Australia it pays to supplementary feed the animals with hay & grain if necessary.

Management required to turn off Meat Kids (Capretto)

Good Pastures:

The production of a grazing system depends on the amount of availble feed. Good pastures require the planting down of improved plant species and in making sure that soil is healthy & fertile. A good comprehensive soil test will provide advice as to what should be applied to your soil so that it can grow healthy pastures. If the soil is defecient in trace elements & minerals, it will grow pastures which are deficient in those things as well. It follows that deficient pastures will not be providing a balanced nutritional intake to your animals. Your animals may not be as productive as they could be, at worst they could become sick & even die. So good pastures begin with healthy soil.

Goats appear to like variety in their diet, so choose a mix of pasture seeds when planting down your pasture. The varieties that you choose will depend upon the soil types & climatic conditions in your area.

Weeds:

which goats consume are often of high nutitional value. The young leaves on prickly bushes and the seed head of thistles for example are quite nutritious and the animals do well on them. One should not assume though that all weeds, or even weeds at all of their growing stages, are excellent sources of nutrition for goats. For many plants, after the leaves have been eaten, the remaining plant stems have very low nutritive value.

There is an excellent book titled: The Palatability and potential Toxicity of Australian weeds to Goats by Helen Simmonds, Peter Holst and Chris Bourke. ISBN 0 642 58169 X . This book was published by RIRDC in 2000 and enquiries regarding its availablity can be directed to RIRDC by:

phone: 02 6272 4539

email: rirdc@rirdc.gov.au

Timing of kidding:

This will be dictated according to the season unless you have irrigation. The nutritional requirements of a lactating doe are about twice that of a dry doe. In our climate (Southern Victoria, Australia) grass growth occurs in late Winter and throughout Spring. We therefore try to have our kids on the ground by early Spring so that they can be raised when grass is plentiful and at its most nutritious. Late kids ie kids that are born at the end of Spring don't thrive as well, are small and struggle to grow out. Likewise their mothers don't grow as much fibre the following year as they were rearing a kid until well into the cashmere growing period.

We know that it is cold and miserable in August, often creating problems with cold stress in newborn kids; but it can be cold and miserable for all the months of Spring. It is simpler to deal with the cold, wet & windy conditions during kidding for a few days than to deal with no feed for lactating does with young kids in a December with hot dry days and no feed in the paddocks.

If it is cold wet & windy at kidding time and you are worried that you are going to lose kids to the cold out in the open overnight it is best to try and entice them into a sheltered spot for the night. When you know your animals you get quite good at moving the doe and her new born kids without upsetting them too much. Whatever you do try not to touch the kids until you have positively identified the mother (got her eartag number written down or memorised). Then if things don't go well & she takes off you can muster her & lock her in a pen with the kids. If she's a sensible doe, try quietly moving the doe with the kid/s following her. If the kids are too cold or too dopey to walk pick them up, but hold them so the doe can see that you have them and encourage her to follow while you carry the kids to the sheltered spot. We have found that the first night is the most critical to newborn kids, after that they should be ok. It is worth your while putting in the effort during nasty kidding weather as your returns are dependant upon your weaning percentages.

Fodder management:

Fodder management is important as there may be times, due to seasonal fluctuations or drought, when there is not adequate feed available in the paddocks to meet the animals' dietary requirements. The animals must be well fed if they are to grow cashmere and produce and rear robust healthy kids. In times of availble feed shortages the stock must be provided with supplementary feed. Be careful if feeding grain to animals. Goats love grain, but introduce it into their diet with care. Too much grain too quickly, can lead to quick but painful death.

Weaning:

Buck kids mature sexually at about 3 to 5 months of age and should therefore be weaned from their mothers about 12 weeks of age before they begin working. Buck kids that are not wanted for breeding purposes should be castrated at 4 to 6 weeks of age.

Doe kids should be weaned from their mothers can be weaned from their mothers from 12 weeks, but should be weaned before 20 weeks of age. All young weaned kids should go into a paddock that will provide acess to nutritious feed eg Summer fodder crop or stubble. If little feed or feed of low nutritional value is all you can offer your weaned kids, it will be necessary to supplementary feed them in order for them to continue growing.

The Importance of Good Management.

Like any other animal, a Cashmere Goat will only do well if provided with adequate nutrition. A Cashmere doe capable of growing 400 grams of cashmere may only produce 200 grams of cashmere if her nutritional intake has been inadequate.Under extreme nutritional stress she may not even grow enough cashmere to be worth shearing. The same is true when it comes to rearing kids.Our cashmere doe under extreme nutritional stress may not be capable of rearing a kid, or if she does it will be a scungy little worthless specimen. However our same cashmere doe, with good nutrition will fulfill her true genetic potential. She will produce 400 grams of cashmere (from a total fleece weight of say 800 grams), and then go on to rear 2 good sized kids all in the one season. With good management the Cashmere Doe is a very profitable animal.

Look after your Cashmere Goats if you want to succeed in having a profitable and successful fibre / meat goat enterprise.

With Cashmeres and good management you can have it all!