As people from all over the world welcome in the Chinese Year of the Goat it seems appropriate to give the goat some attention. The main product of Angora goats is mohair fibre (not to be confused with Angora fibre, which is produced from rabbits).
Angora goats originate from Asia Minor, with references to them dating back to between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. They are found in Sumerian cuneiform tablets and the Bible. This breed of goat was well established in Ankara, which the name Angora is derived from. The name Mohair is derived from an Arabic word ‘mukhaya’, meaning ‘to choose or prefer’.
It was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that mohair fabrics started reaching European markets. Demand soon grew too high for supply and the Turkish sultan placed an embargo on exporting raw mohair. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that importation to other countries of pure angora goats was successful. South Africa established the breed and America received a gift from the Sultan of Turkey. This gift was in thanks to Dr James Davis for his help in cotton production experiments in Turkey. South Africa and the USA remain the two largest mohair producers with smaller populations of goats existing in Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Great Britain.
Angora goat fleece grows approximately one inch every month. These goats are typically shorn twice per year yielding around five to ten pounds of mohair with each shear. As an Angora goat ages, its fleece becomes coarser, making the youngest goats fibres the finest and therefore the most valuable. Angora fibre is extremely strong with a tensile strength rivalling steel. It is also particularly resistant to wrinkling and is essentially non-flammable. These characteristics, along with its ability to be dyed in many vibrant colours, make mohair a popular choice for upholstery and blankets.
In order for a fibre to satisfy the textile industry it must accept dye in a uniform manner. For this reason many angora goats are traditionally selected by commercial farms for a pure white fleece. Hobby farmers however fulfil a different niche. Because of the mixed background in history of Angoras being crossed with domestic goats to increase the population of mohair producing goats, occasionally a coloured sheep will be born in an otherwise all white flock. Breeder’s interest in these ‘throwbacks’ has led to a cultivation of Angora goat in a variety of shades from blacks, to browns to reds. These animals are used to fulfil the demand for naturally coloured fibres that will remain undyed, and can command a premium for it too.