More than 12 years ago, I mentioned that I wanted to raise goats for fiber and was greeted with blank stares. You must mean sheep, I was told, because sheep grow wool. Sheep were not what I wanted. I had been researching mohair goat breeds with beautiful fiber that could be cleaned, combed, and spun into soft, delicious yarn.
I desired the Pygora breed to start our fiber farm.
At the time, our farm did not have space for sheep. I don’t have anything against sheep as wool-yielding animals but I thought they would need lots of grazing area. Goats are known for being better with rough browse and not-so-great pasture. I contacted a well-respected breeder in Oregon and the rest is history.
Over the course of our fiber goat experience, people insist we are raising sheep and not goats. When Pygoras are in full fleece, they look like wooly sheep. The fiber is soft and blends beautifully with other wool.
Mohair Goat Breeds
The Angora is perhaps the most common fiber-producing goat. Surprisingly, fiber called Angora is only from Angora rabbits; fiber from the Angora goat is called mohair. Angora goats originated in Turkey and are productive fiber growers, yielding from 8 to 16 pounds of lustrous mohair each year. Large but not the largest, they range from 75 pounds for does to 150 pounds for bucks. Angoras have long locks of fiber cascading down each side.
Other mohair goat breeds have been developed in recent years; the Pygora and Nigora are becoming more widely seen. Pygoras are bred from an Angora and a Pygmy goat while the Nigora is a cross of Angora and Nigerian Dwarf goat breeds. Both result from careful breeding practices, ensuring the best qualities of each parent breed came forth.
Katherine Jorgenson first bred Pygora goats in the early 1980s in the Pacific Northwest. She sought to achieve the quality of Angora mohair with the coloring of registered Pygmy goats. The trademarked term Pygora fiber can only be used for fiber derived from registered Pygora goats. Breed standard spells out what makes a registered Pygora.
Pygora fleece, very soft and fine, is classified into three categories. Type A is most Angora-like, with ringlets and sheen. Type B is a soft mix between Type A and Type C. Most cashmere in quality, Type C has no ringlets and more of a soft, halo appearance on the goat. In addition to white, the fiber can be black, brown, tan, gray, and caramel.
The American Nigora Breeders Association states that the Nigora breed includes fiber-producing dairy goats of any size. The goals of goats, admitted to this association, is to provide milk and fiber to families seeking to be more self-sustaining. Dairy production meets dietary needs while goats produce cashgora-grade fleece that can be marketed to fiber artists. In addition to pairing Angora and Nigerian Dwarf breeds, other breeding pairs are acceptable Nigoras, including the mini Swiss dairy goat. Breed standards specify: The goats must fall between 19 and 29 inches tall and be of good temperament. They should show no signs of fainting, indicating crosses with Myotonic goats. Other qualifying characteristics pertain to ear size and shape and to lack of fleece.
Goat Fiber Characteristics
Mohair is graded using micron counts. The soft, fine grade normally found in kid mohair is sought-after by fiber artists. A kid’s first shearing often yields less than that of an adult.
Cashgora or Type B fleece beautifully mixes characteristics of true Angora fiber and cashmere from Type C goats. Cashmere-grade fiber should be 19 microns or less.
Cashmere is a qualification of goat fiber and not a true breed of goat. In fact, cashmere-producing goats can change from year to year between Types B and C. Commercial cashmere operations often include various mohair goat breeds that grow a cashmere-grade downy undercoat, such as Spanish Boer. The low amount produced per animal makes cashmere expensive: goats normally produce ounces year. Contrast that with pounds of fiber and yards of yarn, from Angora goats, or wool from sheep.
Mohair can have guard hairs mixed in, but Type A mohair has the least amount of guard hair. These hairs have to be removed from any classification in order to get a good fiber product. Picking them out is often done by hand because, though machines can de-hair fleece, mohair fiber is often too fine for the machine.
What You Can Do with Goat Fiber
Like sheep wool, goat fiber can be used alone or blended with wool or Angora rabbit fiber. Roving is made from cleaned fiber then spun into yarn. Mohair can also be used in wet or needle felting projects or can be woven.
Caring for Mohair Goat Breeds
Goats of all types require food, fresh water, forage or hay, and proper vitamin and mineral supplements. Grain must be low in copper content, as copper is toxic to all fiber-producing animals. We researched and found a grain formula, with very low copper, that can be used for a mixed herd of sheep and goats. Research grain formulas and mineral supplements before buying for your fiber-producing goats. Purchasing minerals designated safe for sheep has been our farm’s method.
Housing creates a bigger concern for fiber-producing goats; they will chill quicker than other goat breeds. This is particularly true for Angora and Type A Pygora goats.
As with raising goats of any kind, proper care, including vaccines and routine health checkups, is recommended. A good parasite prevention program will help keep your flock healthy and thriving. While goats are normally easy to raise, mohair goat breeds require more maintenance. Good observation, catching problems early, leads to the best outcomes when caring for goats. Hoof care is necessary in all goats. You might find that fiber-producing goats require hoof trims more often than other breeds.
These goats require twice-yearly shearing for fiber and the goats’ best interests. Angoras, and those fiber breed goats that are Type A or heavy Angora, cannot shed their coats. If they are not sheared or clipped, fiber can felt to the body and become worthless. Type B and C fiber goats will shed fully or partially. The downside is that they will rub on fences and anything else, ruining your fiber harvest. It’s best to keep a close eye on coats and plan to sheer twice yearly. With Type C goats, some people prefer to comb the fiber off as it begins to release.
Our fiber flock grew to include sheep from four breeds. Blending wool with Pygora fiber gives us a farm-blend yarn with incredible softness and sheen. I am glad I chose to start our fiber farm with goats. Their smaller size and curious disposition was easier to handle. Sheep are more suspicious creatures by nature and require different handling techniques. Goats may be just what you are looking for if you are interested in starting a small fiber production business.
The Pygora™, a fleece producing goat, was originally created by crossing a registered American Angora Goat Breeders Association (AAGBA) goat with a registered National Pygmy Goat Association (NPGA) goat. This first cross is considered a first generation (F1) cross and is so marked as an F1 on its registration papers. The second generation is considered the true Pygora. The Pygora can be bred to other Pygoras or back to an NPGA or AAGBA animal but the ratio is not to exceed 75% of either parent breed (pygmy or Angora). All Pygora goats must have fleece as described in the Breed Standard of PBA. — Pygora Goat Breeders Association website.
Do you keep any mohair goat breeds? How is this different from raising goats for other purposes? Let us know!
Originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of Goat Journal.