Sometimes, the best things in life come to you unexpectedly. I think that every day as my goats greet me in the barn with inquisitive eyes, curly coats and anticipatory bleats. I have fallen in love with this group and the Angora goat breed in general. They are fiber animals, producing curly locks called mohair (not angora, which is produced by Angora rabbits). In full fleece, they look like loveable moppets on four legs. Freshly sheared, they resemble a more common breed of goat, although they don’t stay looking that way for long. In my eyes, there is nothing quite so beautiful as a herd of Angoras, in full fleece, grazing in a green pasture on a beautiful summer day.
My husband, Randy, and I started raising Angora goats in 2002. We had just moved to my ancestral home, a 68-acre farm in southwestern Wisconsin called Skjønsbergdalen Farm. It was a dream come true moving back to the place where I grew up with my own family. We found the farm well cared for but needed to stock it with something to bring the overgrown pastures back to their prime. A friend suggested Angora goats.
I had never liked goats and was initially skeptical, but when we first visited an Angora farm in Minnesota, I was amazed by the multicolored herd’s beauty. We came home with six goats: a buck, his companion wether and four does. Our intent was to breed and sell Angoras in our area and to market the mohair, which we knew could be used alone or blended with wool, spun and knitted. Some could also be used for doll hair. I was determined to find the right people to buy my fiber.
My family and I knew absolutely nothing about Angora goats – nil. We bought a book on raising them “the northern way.” From the book – Angora Goats the Northern Way by Susan Black Drummond – we learned white Angoras are commonly raised in Texas, the second largest mohair producer in the world. South Africa leads production, and Turkey comes in third. Raising Angoras – colored ones, even – in a colder climate seemed to be a fairly new concept, and we were eager to see if we could do it.
The journey begins
On the first night home with the goats, our three children and I sat on the barn floor with the does and gave them treats, hugs and names. We added Bunny, Ivy, Patches and Satcha to our family. Randy stood outside with Dallas, the buck, and James, the wether, fixing a fence that had already been challenged. If you suspect a pattern was forming, you are correct.
Friends in the goat world and Drummond’s book helped us through the processes of worming, tetanus shot administration, hoof trimming and delousing. (Angoras can get species-specific lice that must be controlled.) Randy developed a fencing obsession, partly out of necessity, as he tried out different types of fencing, posts and fasteners to keep our boys in. An aggressive, rutting buck and a wether that likes to jump do not make a good combination. Sometimes, Randy would come home from work and, with that crazed look in his eyes, barrel past me and head straight for the fence section that Dallas and James were “working on.” Over the next few years, we tried various types of fencing, and eventually put up a 5-strand electric fence that keeps the animals safely contained. (For more on electric fencing see “Electric Fencing Basics.”)
Kids, kids, kids!
We bred our does that first October, and by the middle of March 2003, we had six kids in our barn. Born with delicate ringlets, Angora kids can walk, nurse and vocalize within minutes of birth. Raising Angoras in a colder climate, we monitor late-term does carefully so we can be there to dry off the kids and place them under a heat lamp in a stall with their mother. To this day, we have never lost a kid to the cold.
Shearing on the farm
Wanting to be self sufficient at the beginning, we learned that shearing a goat is no easy task. We bought all the necessary tools, and it took us 45 minutes to shear one goat. When we finished the last goat hours later, we were beat, and since Angoras get sheared twice a year, we decided to hire a sheep shearer in the future. Our shearer, David Kier, is a master, having studied and trained in New Zealand. While this impresses us, it does not impress the goats. They are intuitive and have an excellent memory. They see David’s van pull up the lane, and their discomfort is clear. No matter, in short order, six to eight inches and two to seven pounds (depending on the goat) of warm fiber come off in sheets. Kids will give their mothers extra sniffs to make sure they recognize them. The bucks will fight each other, horns locked, until they tire. In six months, all will be hairy again, and the scenario repeats.
What to do with mohair
Marketing the mohair can be tricky, but with perseverance, one can do it successfully. We skirt and wash each goat’s fleece and sell it to home spinners and doll makers. The white fleece is popular with Santa doll makers. Knitters buy mohair and make beautiful sweaters, hats, mittens and scarves. It is stronger and warmer than wool. Blended with wool, it creates a durable and attractive garment. As goats age, their fiber becomes more coarse and wavy. It is still usable. I’ve found that some spinners prefer the older goat fiber, as it is not as slippery as the kid fiber. And it’s easier to spin. The coarser mohair is a popular choice for rug weavers, as well.
Making good fiber
Proper care is extremely important if one wants to see happy goats producing top-quality mohair. We worm our animals with drenches at least every six weeks, sometimes more often in the summer. Biting and sucking lice love to set up house on an Angora goat. We treat for the pests with a pour-on every two to three months. It’s most effective right after the goats been sheared. Our herd also gets tetanus shots every year.
For good mohair production, Angoras need proper nutrition with protein. Our local co-op mixes a custom, 14-percent-protein ration containing corn, oats, soybean meal, selenium, liquid molasses, vitamins and minerals. In the fall and winter months, the herd gets good alfalfa-grass hay. We also supplement with sea kelp and selenium salt blocks.
Worries and rewards
We have prowling coyotes to worry about, but the electric fencing and two guardian llamas ease our minds a bit. We see a coyote now and then watching the goats. The llamas are keen, though, and will spot it quickly. They sound a shrill alarm, which sends the goats running back to the safety of the barn. Llamas are one type of guard animal recommended for goat or sheep herds. We know of goat owners who have donkeys, Great Pyrenees or Maremma Sheepdogs, all of which can make excellent guards and defenders. (For more on guard animals, see “Animals on Guard.”)
At the moment, we have 14 Angora goats, but our numbers rise and fall with the seasons. We breed to sell, but in small numbers to ensure that each goat goes to a good home.
Our most interesting goat sale occurred this past August. We found ourselves putting a five-month-old buck, Lincoln, in a pet porter and flying him to Alaska. The lucky chap had a group of Alaskan does waiting for him in Palmer. The last we heard, he was doing very well, and understandably so.
Our goats have done their job and earned their keep on the farm. Our pastures are clean, and the weeds are down. Our children are discovering the rewards of keeping goats – something they will never forget. We’ve formed many good friendships with people who come to us for goats, fiber or advice. We may not see much monetary profit, but that is beside the point. Perhaps when the children are grown and gone, we’ll try raising a larger herd for more profit. For now, we’ll just enjoy the ride.
Now you must excuse me – it’s rutting season and Randy just got home from work. He’s looking towards the barn with that look in his eyes.
Information on our farm and goats, and our goat adoption program, can be found at www.PrettyAngoras.com.
The Colored Angora Goat Breeder’s Association has an informational website, www.CAGBA.org. It includes almost everything one needs to start raising colored Angoras: a breeder locator, facts, information on mohair, membership and more. They also have a Yahoo! Group list.
The book that got us going
The same book that helped us get started is available in a new and improved edition. Angora Goats the Northern Way is targeted for people who want to raise these beautiful goats in a colder climate, but it also has invaluable information for Angora owners anywhere. The author, Susan Black Drummond, passed away of breast cancer in 1996. Her love for her goats shines through in this book, and it is in honor of her memory that we offer the ordering information here. Her husband, Don Drummond, has been busy promoting the new edition. He does not raise Angoras now, but he continues to love the breed.
Heidi Overson has been multi-tasking as a wife, mother, writer and goat woman extraordinaire for many years. More on her writing can be found atwww.LaneWriting.com.