Friday, April 10, 2015

Mohair – from the goat’s back to the cat-walks of Europe

Men’s suiting fabric containing mohair has a distinctive sheen which makes it easily recognizable when worn in any board room or paraded on a male-fashion cat-walk. Manufactured in Italy or Britain, mohair fabric not only looks expensive but carries an appropriate price-tag. It is associated with high-end customers who only put their names to top quality fabrics such as Louis Vuitton and Armani, Polo Ralph Lauren, J Crew, and Gucci.
The company, Safil of Italy, owns the largest single worsted spinning mill in Europe making a wide range of high quality yarns and fabrics in wool and wool blends including mohair.  It is located in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and produces 7000 tons a year.  Of the 300 tonnes of mohair and mohair-blended yarns that are processed there, 80% of the fibre is sourced from South Africa.

Cesare Savio, the owner of Safil, said that presently the majority of mohair was used for knitwear and hand knitting yarns, which was in keeping with most people’s image of the fibre’s end-product.  But the luxury characteristics of mohair have long been recognised by the industry as ideally suited to apparel and other fabric uses.
While fine quality tailored suiting is made from mohair blended with wool or other natural fibres, Mr Savio believed there is a market for pure mohair Italian suits.
Unlike wool, mohair is a niche fibre as there are only a few million kilograms produced worldwide. South Africa produces about 4,000,000 kilos annually, of which only about 100,000 kg would meet the requirements of fabric weaving sector.
Australia exports about 130,000 kg of mohair per year (Dec 2013) and is now growing some of the finest mohair in the world. Encouraged by Italy’s biggest spinner, current trial are being undertaken to improve the quality and length even further.

In the mill - raw fibre transformed into fine yarn
Several years ago I visited Britain and was privileged to be shown through two mohair processing mills. Since that time both mills have closed their old premises.

This stuffed Angora Goat was in the foyer
 The first was a traditional 19th century Yorkshire mill building of 7-8 storeys high. After trudging up the stone steps to the top floor, I watched as bales of mohair were opened and the fibre reclassed by a dozen workers. The stencils on the sides of the bales indicated they came from South Africa, Texas, Lesotho, Argentina, Turkey and Australia. The Turkish fibre appeared course, kempy and very greasy. I learned that the angoras were only shorn once a year due to the climatic conditions – the mohair was between 8 and 12 inches in length.
South African mohair is regarded most highly, but today South African genetics are not limited to that country’s goats.
From the classing area, the fibre was sent to the scouring, carding and combing mill some distance away. I next visited the spinning mill where the clean, carded mohair was spun into tops and then mixed with varying percentages of other natural or man-made fibres and lightly spun onto rovings. These rovings were then spun down to 100 times finer thread.
This mill made yarn for various products including high quality mohair velour. Most of the velour was exported to a toy manufacturer in Germany for teddy bears. Top quality mohair velour is also used for plush furnishings in top cruise liners and first class European hotels.

Old painting of mill in its heyday from brochure

The second mill I visited was John Forster and Son’s Black Dyke Mill, established in 1817. It was the largest vertically integrated spinning and weaving mill in Yorkshire producing world famous quality worsted and worsted/mohair apparel fabrics for almost 200 years.
The selvedge edge of the cloth carried such labels as – Celine Paris 60% Summer Kid Mohair and Worsted, Givenchy Gentlemen Paris, and Dunhill Ltd – 60% Summer Kid Mohair. Fabrics were woven using blends of wool, mohair, cashmere, silk and linen.
Almost as famous as the mill itself is the Black Dyke Band, formerly John Foster & Son Black Dyke Mills Band. It is one of the oldest and best-known brass bands in the world. In 2014, the band won the National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain for a record 23rd time.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

GOATS – Mohair production – use of TEASELS

The teasel, teazel or teazle is a flowering plant (considered as invasive species in the USA). It is native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa and grows to 1–2.5 metres (3.3–8.2 ft).

   For hundreds of years teasels were used to create the fluffiness for which mohair is recognized. Evidence exists that teasels were used to comb the mohair cloth worn by the Pharaohs of Egypt.

Historically, teasels were used as a natural comb for cleaning, aligning and raising the 'nap' on wool or mohair. Mohair is the fleece shorn from an angora goat (not to be confused with angora from an angora rabbit).
With their prickly stem and leaves, and purple, dark pink or lavender coloured flowers, teasels are easily identified.

In textile manufacture, the dried flower heads were attached to spindles, wheels, or cylinders, sometimes called teasel frames, to tease the fibres in the fabric. One problem with teasel heads in commercial production was that they wore out very quickly so, by the 20th century, teasels had been replaced by metal hand-cards or small brushes.

Craft workers, however, who hand-spin and weave cloth at home often prefer to use dried teasels when finishing their fabric.

GOATS - from feral pest to financial gain – the west Australian story past and present.

The state of Western Australia is vast and isolated. It’s over three times the size of Texas but has a population of only 2.5 million as against Texas’s 27.5 million. It includes several diverse geographical regions and apart from sheep and cattle, it has the highest number of feral goats in any state of Australia.
Feral (not wild) goats have ranged over vast tracts of Western Australia for several hundred years. From as early as the 1600s when Dutch, French and British maritime traders and adventurers set foot on the unexplored southern continent, they purposely left goats to provide food for any unfortunate wretches who might be shipwrecked there at a later date.
Then, in the early 1800s, the early British settlers brought dairy goats to the west. They were later spread by miners and railway gangs who used them as a source of milk, butter, meat and leather. Some goats were intentionally released while others escaped. The result was that the goats thrived, bred and the numbers quickly multiplied until 1928 when they were declared vermin.

By 1982 there were estimated to be 1,000,000 feral goats roaming unchecked in the west. A similar situation applied in the eastern states. Having easily adapted to the inhospitable, hot, harsh and dry environments of the outback, the goats had become resilient and hardy animals.
As the pastoralists extended their boundaries to graze sheep and cattle, the feral pests were trapped, poisoned or shot either from the ground or from helicopters in very costly eradication programs. Other control methods included using Judas goats to locate herds in order to muster them. Those that escaped extermination were pushed deeper into the outback.

With the goat problem impossible to control yet too large to ignore, some pastoralists realized money could be made from trapping the goats and marketing them rather than shooting them and leaving the carcases to rot. With live-sheep shipping facilities already well-established and huge livestock vehicles on the highways capable of carrying 600-800 head of livestock to the ports, and with a ready market for the meat in Asia – just across the water, a few astute farmers quietly developed a lucrative trade in goats. In the early days few outback farmers admitted that goat sales made up the biggest part of their income.

For example, one farmer had thousands of them running wild on his 350,000 acre property, competing for feed with his sheep. Realizing the potential to farm goats for the meat market was staring him in the face, 6000 goats a year were mustered from several nearby properties. Once mustered, the goats were driven into a feedlot where they received supplementary feed and served the required three months behind a 2 meter fence after which time they were classed as domesticated. This process involves training the goats to respect plain wire electric fences in a compound. From there, they are released into a larger grazing paddock with electric fence barriers. 

Installing approved fencing was the most expensive item on large pastoral holdings where fences run for hundreds of kilometres. (Currently the requirements are for a 5 line fence consisting of 2 hot, 3 cold.)
With a 10-year contract to supply the Sabah government with breeding does, over 20,000 goats were supplied in the next few years until Sabah was almost self-sufficient. From there the markets were expanded to the Middle East, and Brunei – a wealthy country with its own shipping line.
Another example comes from two adjoining pastoral stations in the Goldfields region covering an area of 700,000 acres. Despite traditionally running sheep, the station manager admitted there was no money in sheep. Being thick with Mulga (a woody bush very palatable to goats), the country was ideal for goats.
Convinced of the potential, the pastoralist fenced a paddock of 170,000 acres. The 5-line fence running for 170kms. The area included 13 trap yards. Starting with approximately 4500 breeding does, 140 pure South African Boer bucks were purchased to go over them. 

Location and Transport target markets
Western Australia’s geographical position and proximity to Asia are significant advantages for the live shipping trade. Live goat exports were able to “piggy-back” on the sheep ships heading to the Middle East.  Managed goats (taken from the feedlots) travel far better on the ships than the pure ferals that suffer greater shipboard losses.

Apart from the live meat trade, abattoirs licenced for export and Halal killing provide for frozen exports. Markets in both U.S.A. and Canada consist of both skin-on and skin-off carcases which are required during the northern winter, while Australia’s nearest neighbours – Malaysia and Singapore require skin-off goats all year round. However, the biggest market by far for frozen goat meat from Western Australia is Taiwan which requires skin-on carcases weighing 14-16 kgs, the peak period being October to February. In all cases the markets want carcases to be Class1 fat score. The overseas markets do not want fat goats.
Goat prices best ever (January 2015)
According to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, goat producers in Western Australia's rangelands are receiving the highest prices for their livestock for about 30 years. This is partially the result of unseasonal dry conditions and increased wild dog attacks which have greatly reduced the number of feral goats roaming wild. Some farmers are receiving between $50 and $70-a-head to farmers. This represents double the prices seen in 2014.

Most of Australia’s processed goat’s meat goes to America.
In the north of Western Australia rangeland goats are mainly processed through Geraldton Meat Exports (GME) which has been Western Australia’s largest exporter of Rangeland Goat for more than 10 years exporting worldwide to USA, Taiwan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Canada, Jamaica and Trinidad.
Processing Goat meat in eastern Australia is undertaken by Western Meat Exporters in Queensland (see Goat Meat – part 2 – Chevon/Mutton)

Note: While I approached GME to get permission to use some to the abattoirs photos on their website, I could not get a response. To see images of the processing line in operation, go to website at:
Carcase images used here were taken at a smaller local abattoir.

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Boer Goat – its history, its features and qualities

The South African Improved or Ennobled Boer goat is the only true meat goat in the world. It represents the culmination of 50 years specialized breeding in its homeland for improved meat quality and quantity.

“The breed was not created from two or more pure breeds, as is the case with other varieties of animals bred in South Africa. Rather, the prototype for the breed was selected from all existing breeds of goats in South Africa in order to achieve the functional characteristics and type as they are today – hence the name Improved or Ennobled Boer goat.” (The Improved Boer Goat Brochure – no author).
The Boer Goat Association of South Africa was founded in 1959 and the breed standard was set at that time, but it was not until the 1990 that the association allowed any of its Boers to leave the country. Prior to that all its goat meat was consumed by the home market and neither goats nor meat were exported from South Africa.
The first Boer goats to arrive in the US in the 1990s, were imported from South Africa via New Zealand.

The Improved breed was first released into Australia in April 1995 after the imported animals had undergone the mandatory seven years quarantine period to ensure they were not carrying the disease Scrapie (related to the devastating encephalopathy–Mad Cow Disease). After completing the stipulated time, the original imports were destroyed and their brains examined for any traces of the disease. Only the progeny of those goats that were born on the quarantine station were released to the stud breeders who had been patiently awaiting them.
In Australia, ‘goat’ was once a dirty word. The cockies (farmers) hated them. However, the introduction of the Boer goat led to a complete turn-around in attitude. Within a decade of their arrival, farmers and graziers were looking at the vast number of feral goats in a different light. From an animal that was long despised, poisoned and shot by the thousands in large-scale and expensive eradication programs, cross-bred meat goats, sired by Boers, were soon to become a profitable and accepted commercial enterprise in the pastoral station country.

Properties of the Boer Goat
With a docile nature, Boer goats are intelligent and easy to manage gentle giants – the mature bucks reaching 135 kg in weight and does 95 kg.

Males (bucks) demonstrate high fecundity (able to serve 40 does easily), while females (does) are capable of kidding 3 times a year and usually produce twins or often triplets. The does also have good mothering qualities.
The weight gain recorded in Boer kids is the fastest of all small ruminants. Early Australian trials using Boer bucks over feral does showed an increase of 40% in carcase weight of first-cross Boer kids as against feral kids.

Desirable physical features of a Boer goat

Colouring: A strong red head and neck with a broad white blaze running down the curved forehead and nose. A pair of strong rounded horns bent backwards.
An all-white body with a well fleshed broad barrel.
Darkly pigmented skin (visible around the anus).
The coat should be short and slightly glossy. The skin should be supple and folded around the neck (on the bucks).
Sturdy legs with strong feet and hoofs.

Farming Boer goats:

Goats are browsers not grazers. Sheep eat pasture from ground level to 5” upwards, whereas goats prefer to browse on anything 5” and above. Experiments have proved that Boers eat 74% leaves, woody bushes and shrubs and only 26% grasses. Therefore, goats are ideal to run with cattle without being in direct competition.
Because goats eat thorny plants, such as blackberry plus other hardy invasive vegetation, they are useful in clearing/controlling weeds.
With good feet and strong hoofs, they are hardy and adaptable and can cover long distances over hard surfaces.

They are relatively disease resistant.
Boer goats are not labour intensive, and production costs are low with no shearing, crutching or muesling necessary. (Mulesing is the removal of wool-bearing skin from around the tail and breech area of sheep to reduce the incidence of flystrike.)
Boer meat goats produce high quality meat with low fat content. They also produce quality skin with a high leather value.
Read more about commercial goat farming in previous article.