Pirani Angora Goats

August 2011

Ian and Dawn Pirani are goat farmers producing fibre from Angora goats

Snapshot of the goat fibre industry via recently retired Fed Farmers Goats stalwart and Mohair NZ Chairs – Ian and Dawn Pirani. Ian is also a former member of Meat and Wool’s Goat Advisory Group.

When we are talking fibre we are usually talking mohair – which is produced from the angora goat. Mohair is a luxury fibre used widely in clothing and furnishings. New Zealand produces only about 1% of the world’s mohair – most comes from South Africa and the US.

There is an even finer product – Cashmere – which is “down” – found under the guard hair on several types of goat. It’s a laborious fibre to harvest. In NZ goats are harvested and the cashmere separated out. It is worth a lot but very little of it is harvested in NZ.

Mohair usually grows in long ringlets, and has a fibre diameter of 19–45 microns (millionths of a metre). This compares with sheep wool which can go as fine as 14 -17 microns in merino.

In goats the diameter varies with the animal’s age. Young animals = fine fibre. In New Zealand, good angora goats produce 5–6 kilograms of mohair per year in two shearings. Older animals produce more than young stock.

In 2007 there were about 20,000 angora goats in New Zealand. Angora goat farming in 2007 produced more than double the profit of lamb production – so why aren’t more farmers farming them?

The reputation of angora goats as a farming option is tarred by 1980’s investment fever. Mohair staged a bit of a boom in the early 1980’s and that started a boost in angora goat farming here in NZ.

Good money was made farming goats for their mohair but scarcity of breeding stock soon saw prices rise. At the peak several companies imported angora goats from Africa and southern US . Investors got behind an unrealistic boom and bucks sold for prices of more than $100,000. In 1988 the number of goats farmed reached 1.3m. The sharemarket crash put an end to it.

Angora farming bounced back in 2000’s as low wool and lamb returns forced sheep farmers to broaden their horizons.

We are all aware of a recent lift in wool and lamb returns but not that long ago – as cross bred wool was earning an average less than $2/kg – mohair averaged $17/kg and sometimes up to $30/kg. Even with cross bred wool twice that much the figures still look good.

Around 800 mohair farmers in NZ are now producing around 80,000kg a year of mohair.

Those that are farming them see some significant benefits. First, returns of up to $30/kg for superfine mohair from kids. In addition, goats are complementary to cattle, conditioning the pasture by keeping it free of weeds and thistles.

Goats tend to suffer more problems with their feet than sheep, especially in lush pasture. Like sheep, they are susceptible to internal parasite worms. These are gradually becoming resistant to the drenches used to control them, posing a looming threat to goat farming. An alternative is for farmers to select animals that appear to have resistance or resilience to internal parasites, and to adopt grazing strategies that minimise the intake of parasitic larvae.

Angora goats have sheep’s usual problems of dags, footrot and scald, but they appear to be more resistant than sheep to facial eczema. Foot trials have improved this.

From 2004 to 2007 the National Goat Monitoring Project collected information on goat production and profitability on 16 farms. Analysis showed that fibre goats grossed more than sheep and cattle per stock unit – in two out of the three years the survey was run.

The average return for doe fibre was $13.50/ kg. With these figures a doe could gross around $70 per year (two shearings).  On top of that if the doe had 80% kidding she could add another $28 of meat returns if her progeny was killed. On a per stock unit basis this outstripped sheep (using 2007 prices).

The project concluded that fibre goats were not as suited for weed control as meat goats. To avoid contamination of the fleeces it was best not to graze goats on weeds with small seedheads – like thistles – in the six weeks prior to shearing. This is particularly true for goats producing mohair.

However farms that ran fibre goats still spent half the amount on weeds than traditional sheep/beef farms.

Some aspects of this survey were challenged by a prominent meat-goat farmer – see Hugh Stringleman’s article below.

16-03-2009 | Hugh Stringleman

A $680,000 goat monitoring project over four years on 16 farms came up with results which grossly understate the value of meat goats as a diversification, according to a leading meat goat advocate.

Garrick Batten, of Caprinex Kikonui meat goats, in Nelson, has alleged a fundamental error in the stocking unit for meat goats in the financial analysis of the project. He maintains that 0.3 SU should have been used, not 0.8 SU.

The lower figure would take account of the goat’s preference for weeds, which reduces its competition with sheep, cattle and deer for ryegrass and clover pastures.

“If the intention of the long and costly monitoring project was to encourage the farming of more meat goats, then that error should be corrected,” Batten said.

He also alleges that AgFirst Waikato consultant Sally Lee, who ran the project under contract from the Goat Advisory Group (GAG) of Meat & Wool New Zealand, accepted a basic error in the financial presentation, corrected it and recommended amendment of the published results.

Lee’s amendment would have boosted the total annual return from a meat goat to $29, not $2 to $12 as published by MWNZ, making extensively farmed meat goats very competitive with sheep at $22.

However MWNZ, on advice from the GAG and its own Economic Service, declined to change the figures, leaving the understated comparison to stand.

Batten has written to the GAG, asking it to reconsider its actions at its annual general meeting in Gore last week.

In response, former GAG chairman Tom Mandeno said “We had to stay with the (methodology) the report used, to get the comparison between goats and the other livestock classes.”

Pastoral farmers wanting to weigh up the advantages of running more meat goats can make their own subjective assessments of the likely diet and change stocking rates accordingly, Mandeno said.

The report uses a 40kgLW meat goat doe as 0.8 SU, which Mandeno called a widely accepted figure, used by MWNZ Economic Service and Lincoln University in its annual farm costs manual.

He acknowledged the ongoing controversy about the estimation and use of stock units, especially in the goat industry, where what the goats eat is very important in making comparisons with other livestock classes and when considering the stocking rate.

In that regard Mandeno quoted from Batten’s own book, called Simply Goats, in which it states that 35kgLW does with 130% kidding at a low stocking rate an “ample browse” could be considered 0.5 SU, whereas similar goats run on flat land with only pasture would be 0.87 SU.

Batten replied that his book, written some nine years ago, also said that “some of the points in this book will be overtaken by new knowledge by the time you have read them”.

Batten said experience has shown that the common extensively farmed goat mustered from hill country is about 35kgLW, versus the ewe at 60kg. Therefore the doe value begins at 0.6 SU.

“Although I could argue that the goat SU is actually zero, I think that one can reasonably take a meat goat stock unit at 0.3, which assumes they are eating half of their diet as sheep quality feed,” Batten said.

Batten is an experienced farm advisor with a strong interest in goat breeding and husbandry. In recent times he has developed the Kikonui maternal breed meat goat and exported genetic material.

He does not deny a commercial interest in seeing that meat goats are evaluated and promoted to their best advantage. He said that more people in the world eat goat meat than any other meat, and that NZ is well-placed to increase production in response to the demand.

Batten is very disappointed that MWNZ and the GAG have not much more positively encouraged the farming of meat goats in NZ, particularly during the recent slump in lamb returns.

“For the past decade the intention of the Goat Council, of which I was a member, and then the GAG has been to get more goats on more farms, but instead numbers have continued to fall,” he said.

It has been widely accepted that hill country farmers could add up to 10% of total farm animal liveweight as goat liveweight without reducing their sheep and cattle production, but even that modest target has not caught on.

MWNZ general manager, farm services, Richard Wakelin, said he and Batten had long discussions about the presentation of figures from the goat monitoring project and had agreed to disagree.

“The report stands because 0.8 is the standard meat goat stock unit,” he said.

“Farmers and their advisors can use their own figures and if 0.3 is the most appropriate conversion in their circumstances, then use that.”

The GAG meeting in Gore considered a buck evaluation scheme along the lines of SIL for rams, although that possibility is only at an early stage, Wakelin said.

Present members of the GAG are Dave Aitken, Ian Pirani, Ray Thompson and Nigel North (farmer representatives), Roger Driver (meat industry), Sue Tullett (dairy goats), Gwen Verkerk (technical) and Richard Wakelin and Phyllis Mangin (MWNZ).

Mandeno has said he will be standing down from the GAG following his defeat in the northern North Island election for Meat & Wool NZ director. The group has one annual face-to-face meeting and three or four teleconferences.

Mandeno said the cash cost of the monitoring project was $390,000, plus in-kind contributions from the farmers. The Sustainable Farming Fund contributed 65% of the total cost, plus levies from MWNZ, the Boer Goats Breeders Association and Mohair NZ.