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...?"