The long-haired Cashmere goat is common among nomadic people that live in deserts as well as arid mountains and plains, because it can handle harsh environmental conditions where cattle and sheep struggle to thrive. These are areas such as Inner and Outer Mongolia.
Cashmere fibre is fine in texture and it is also strong, light and soft. The goats produce a double fleece consisting of fine, soft undercoat of hair mingled with a straighter much coarser outer hair called guard hair. In order for the fine fibre to be sold and processed further, it must be de-haired. This is a process that separates the coarse fibres from the fine.
We acquire our cashmere from some of the finest herds by visiting and negotiating with local traders in China and Mongolia.
The protective outer coat, consisting of 60-120mm long hair, with a very coarse 30-90 mic, is used to make brushes, paintbrushes, ropes, upholstery, carpets, felts etc.
The fine undercoat, a heat insulator of 12-19 mic is exceptionally soft. The fibres are highly adaptable and are easily constructed into fine yarns suitable for sweaters, fashion garments and accessories. The garments produced with this fine fibre are extremely comfortable but expensive. The fibre must be processed with complex machines that require skilled and experienced operators.
There are various ways that the fibre can be collected, the best of which is when the herders of Inner Mongolia facilitate the extraction of the emerging fine undercoat, without tangling and tearing the fibres by using a hooked comb. The combing operation is repeated several times over a four week period through May, June and July depending on latitude, altitude, and conditions. The animal is then sheared to recoup even the smallest remaining undercoat.
In other areas goats are simply sheared, often using shears that have been hand forged. The operation is faster but at least 6mm is lost in length from the fibre as well as some double cutting of fibres. Shearing takes place in late spring so that animals do not suffer from hypothermia and the fresh, new grazing at that time encourages regrowth.
In autumn herders review and select only the best animals to continue in the herd. The herders cull or sell the weakest or oldest animals together with those in poor condition. Often the goats are sold for meat.
Age affects the quality and quantity of cashmere a goat produces produced. Between the first and second year, the live weight of the goat increases by 40-50% and the cashmere fibre diameter increases by 1 micron. Between years two and three the fibre increases by 0.7 micron and by 0.4 micron the year after.