Saturday, April 5, 2014

harvest time

For the past few weeks, I've been combing at least one, usually two, and occasionally three goats nearly every day. Remember Acer the Early Bird? He's done. The others are all in various stages of releasing the fiber on different parts of their bodies. This can go on for weeks, and once you see the signs, the only way to know if a particular goat is ready to be combed on a particular day, is to gently comb a little and see. If the comb feels stuck, no combing today. But if there is a slight but yielding resistance, you know that beneath the concealing topcoat, cashmere is gathering into a roll of near-weightless fluff in the teeth of the comb.

That's it.
That's the cloud harvest. 

Here's how it works:

Once a goat has released the cashmere undercoat, one of two things can happen. 

First, the cashmere may gradually fall off or, more often, be vigorously rubbed off on fencing and trees and the edge of shelters and the tips of horns. Either way, it's gone. 

What's that on your horn, Sambucus?
"I had a ITCH!"

And what's that on your horn, Lily?
"I blame Bui! Seeing her scratching made me itchy, too."

A blend of topcoat strands, bits of hay and old leaves,
muck, ice, and, oh yes, cashmere.

So the first scenario results in lost cashmere, period.

The second thing that can happen: cashmere fibers can be released from the skin but then be caught in the topcoat. As soon as this happens, you have the perfect conditions for combing. And there is no time to delay: it doesn't take long for some of the cashmere to become matted into clumps or tags, making the fiber useless. (At least, as far as I know, it's useless. If anyone knows how to salvage tiny fibers of cashmere from dirty, felted, matted clumps, please let me know! Like spinning straw into gold.)

A lot of fiber is being lost this year, despite the goats' excellent efforts at growing it, and my diligent efforts to collect it. It's due to the variable weather; especially, the wet and the bitter cold that came "after" Winter. Some of the goats suddenly started dropping fiber during a very wet period, and you really can't comb a damp goat. Then after a brief taste of warming weather (when I combed daily), it suddenly got terribly cold again, with ice storms for added drama. Lily and Tsuga had just begun to shed, but as long as the fiber was trapped in the topcoat, it was doing its real job of keeping the animals warm and healthy. So I left it there, and hoped it wouldn't be ruined before the weather changed and it could be harvested.

A lot has been ruined, but some has been salvaged!
And the combing isn't over yet, by any means. On and on and on.

For example, this is what LeShodu looks like right now:

You can bury your icy, numb fingers in that fiber,
and in seconds, you'll feel the heat
radiating back into your hands. 

And this second picture gives you an idea of what she looked like
at this same time, two years ago:

This is all topcoat. She looks like a black bear.

LeShodu is the original source of every bit of cashmere on the place.
She is the Matriarch of the herd, 
and considers herself very much 
The Boss of Them

It's a big responsibility,
but she is up for the task.

"That's right, I'm in charge.
Now, I believe I requested carrots...?"


  1. Interesting post, Quinn. Can you use those wasted bits for felting? Your goats are truly lovely to behold (personality and all :)

    1. Thanks, Leigh - and congrats again on your new kids!
      Unfortunately, I think the bits are pretty thoroughly felted already, but with dirt and vegetable matter imbedded during the process. Ick.

  2. We have the same problem with the alpaca fleece. So we have to ensure that everything / edge is blunt so that there is nowhere for them to rub themselves and thereby deposit / damage / "mislay" their fleece. Barbed wire fences are definitely out - which is why we made our wood offcut fences for their paddocks.

    1. I think it may be different because the goats are actually dropping an entire undercoat. The goats don't need a sharp edge, they just need a surface. You should see my dungarees at this time of year, just from having the goats brush by me when I'm in the pens! :)

  3. how interesting, I had wondered how you harvest the fibre. I have never owned any cashmere garment, as they are very expensive, but years ago, a friend lent me a cape. She said it contained cashmere and it was the warmest thing I have ever worn. I was sorry to have to return it :-)

    1. It's remarkably warm even when something very light and airy is made with it. An ounce or two of very thin cashmere yarn can be turned into a magical garment!

  4. Quinn, the goats are beautiful and aren't you glad harvest is finished! The shearer is coming Wednesday, spending the night and shearing on Thursday. 22 sheep, 4 alpacas and they'll de-worm for me as well. I'm fixing supper and shortbread, unless they arrive too late and then it's just shortbread.

    1. I'll still be combing for quite a while, but I love the idea that you can get all those animals' fiber harvested in a single day! And get the worming done at the same time. Good planning!

  5. Very interesting! I had no idea about harvesting cashmere until now! I hope that not too much is lost... Your goats are SO cute. I always love photos of them, especially when they look like black bears!

    1. LeShodu really started letting go of some fiber today, and I talked to her about black bears while combing her. Her summer coat always reminds me of a healthy black bear, especially glinting in the sunshine.

  6. Quinn - having had dogs that hated to be brushed, how well do these goats tolerate brushing? Just wondering - this was SO interesting!

    1. Well, one thing about goats in general is they are suspicious of anything that wasn't their own idea. So I try to make it stress-free, with food and quiet conversation and No Tugging. Lily can be a real rodeo, but some - like Acer and LeShodu - actually settle down and like the attention - at least for a while! It varies with the day/mood/weather and probably their horoscopes for all I know ;)
      I always stop for the day when a goat has been behaving well but is beginning to get restless. And I try not to comb the same goat two days in a row...but sometimes I have to if the whole coat is coming off at once. Generally, though, I just try to be flexible and patient, because I don't want to give them a valid reason to hate it.

      I'm so glad people find this post interesting! I was hesitating to write in such detail, thinking it might be WAY more information than anyone wanted to read about combing goats! :)

  7. I do enjoy your goat posts. I'd keep goats too - a friend does - if I only had the space! I shall just have to enjoy a spot of vicarious goat and hen keeping courtesy of your posts


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