Mohair fibre production for the gift and tourism markets.
Mohair is a light, elastic and durable fibre with a high lustre and sheen, harvested from angora goats. It is often used in fibre blends to add these qualities to a textile. The fibre is hollow and so is able to be dyed successfully. It is used in products for the gift and tourist markets – scarves, hats, sweaters, socks, throw blankets and the like. New Zealand’s mohair production is small but it is supported by processing industries and is more profitable than sheep wool.
Mohair goats are a small breed, reputedly intelligent and easy to handle. Unlike sheep, goats do not have a fat layer under the skin so they are more vulnerable to cold wind and rain and need shelter after spring shearing and at kidding time (around October).
Lucie Gilbertson has been running 300 mohair goats on a large sheep and cattle property in the Hawkes Bay for five years. She says that they are much more profitable per animal than sheep. Shearing in March and September yields about 5kg of fibre for which she received around $26/kg. Surplus animals can be sold for meat but because the larger animals produce more fibre she generally holds onto the older ones.
Mating is in May and kidding in October. Twins are common but Lucie doesn’t mind singles because they grow faster. Up to 18 months the kids produce a very fine fibre that is more valuable. As they age they produce more fibre but it is coarser and not as valuable, so the return from all animals is about the same. After five years their fibre production starts to decline.
Lucie says that her goats are equivalent to 1.1 SU, and although they are browsers and will preferentially go for weeds they need to be fed well to produce good mohair. “Sheep are like lawnmowers whereas goats will just take the tops off,” says Lucie. “I once put the goats into a crop of plantain but they just walked through it and got stuck into the gorse and thistles.”
Goats suffer from similar worm and foot problems to sheep, so Lucie runs her goats ahead of the cattle on land that sheep do not graze. Initially she foot-rotted and clipped them regularly but by carefully selecting replacement stock she “just runs them through the trough twice a year and clip some once a year”. The industry was easy to get into, she says, and there is an established infrastructure for acquiring stock, and classing and selling the clip.
Mohair goats have had a small presence in New Zealand since about 1910, but their value was not appreciated until the 1970s when the Lands & Survey Dept re-established a flock and imported some bucks to strengthen the line.
John Woodward has been involved with mohair goats since that time and was instrumental in setting up a marketing company Mohair Fibres NZ, which is now run by his son Michael. John has retired but is still involved with some marketing and fibre classing. He says that the industry boomed in the 80s when very high prices were (unwisely) paid for breeding stock, and this led to a bust in the 90s.
“Despite the ups and downs in animal sales, mohair fibre remained reasonably saleable right through. Today there are good markets locally that are taking up a substantial proportion of the fibre, and that is underpinning the market. There is still a demand from overseas but shipping delays and rising costs are causing some problems”, he says. “In New Zealand, mohair is in demand for travel and bed rugs, which are for the tourist market as well as the gift market. Also, Covid has given hand crafts a boost because people have been stuck at home so there is a demand for knitting yarns.”
“The finer end of the clip is often exported as fleece but companies like the Mohair/possum store in Papakura, Design Spun in Napier and Masterweave in Masterton make and sell product around NZ and overseas.”
John says that New Zealand’s mohair production is 25,000kg, a little less than 1% of world production. There are about 120 producers from Kerikeri in the North to Winton in the South, so co-ordinating mohair collection and transport is a problem and costly. Angora adults produce 5-7kg per annum returning on average $30/kg; kids at 6 months produce 1.5kg at $50/kg, and hoggets around 0.75kg at $35/kg.
“Mohair prices have been really good over the past three years averaging over $30 per kg. Latest auctions have seen this trend continue, so the prospects for mohair producers are still very good. Currently about 60% is processed in NZ and the balance exported to South Africa. Rising shipping costs and lower frequency are a concern. While our cost of production has gone up it is nowhere near as much as the cost rises in Europe. This makes our products more competitive and the export demand is increasing.”
After the goats are shorn, their fibre is sent to a warehouse where it is classed into lines based on micron, length and presence of foreign matter like stains, vegetation and kemp). Once sorted, the individual lines are pressed into bales ready for either domestic use or shipped overseas as raw product.
Locally fleeces are scoured and then sent to a mill where the fibre is combed, carded, spun and dyed. The finished yarn is used in garment making.
Brendan Jackson is the general manager of Design Spun in Napier where they spin the fibre into yarn that may then be dyed and wound on cone for weaving, or balled for handknitting and the craft market. Skeinz is Design Spun’s online craft brand, supplying a wide variety of finished yarns and associated products to consumer customers.