Cashmere breeding child’s play at Allandale

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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There are kids galore at the University of WA’s (UWA) Allandale farm, as plump sets of twin and triplet cashmere kids began arriving this week.

There are only a handful of cashmere producers in WA and fewer than 100 across the nation.

Although it’s primarily a research facility, Allandale is the biggest cashmere producer in the State, usually running between 300 and 400 does.

Allandale farm manager Steve Gray said that in the past few years cashmere goat numbers (across Australia) had declined rapidly.

“When it was at its peak in the 1980s it would have been 300 to 400 producers.” he said,

In a market dominated by the Chinese, which produce up to 70 per cent of the world’s supply, Australian producers have faced large fluctuations in fibre price, from $170 to just $70/kg.

Top fibre lines at the moment are around $95/kg but Steve said Australian producers simply were not able to compete against Chinese-produced cashmere.

“The size of the cashmere industry in Australia has got much smaller in recent years and we’re somewhat limited in how we can market our fibre, ” he said.

“We used to be able to pool it all together and sell it to overseas markets, but the volume isn’t there anymore.

“People here are now trying to value-add by processing it in Australia, having it spun in Australia and made into garments here, with a label of Australian cashmere.

“Australian cashmere has some attributes that are somewhat more highly regarded — (it) has been measured to be a softer handle and longer.”

But despite the quality of Australian cashmere, Steve admits it would be hard for producers to survive from the income of the fibre alone.

“Luckily they are prolific breeders and we’ve relied on selling the kids into the capretto market to generate income, ” he said.

“We wean between about 150 and 160 per cent kids and it’s a low-cost operation because the capretto reaches market weight at 10 to 12 weeks. We’ve been getting around $50 a head for a 15kg live weight kid.”

The goats start kidding in August in a standing oat crop, which is later locked up and harvested for hay and there is no handfeeding during lactation or finishing.

Two-thirds of the does are mated to cashmere bucks, while the lower producing does are mated to Boer bucks for the meat market and kid two weeks earlier.

However, the Allandale flock is about more than just a meat and fibre — it’s also one of the best genetic resources the small cashmere industry has.

From 2005 to 2009, the farm was involved in a sire referencing program, which looked at more than 800 progeny from 18 sires.

“We were trying to identify the elite bucks in the Australian herd, ” Steve said.

“(But) the most important thing we’ve done, is by having a genetic link now to basically every herd in Australia… the Australian Cashmere Growers Association has developed a program called Merit, which produces estimated breeding values for all our animals.”

UWA now boasts one of the highest producing flocks in Australia.

“We’ve had goats since the late 1980s and, initially, when we got them they were cutting around 100 grams cashmere and now they are cutting 300 plus, ” Steve said.

“The top producing does here cut about 400 grams.

“Over 18.5 microns is not termed cashmere any more. The finer kid (wool) is around the 14 to 15 micron and the bulk of our adults are in that 16 to 17 micron bracket.”

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