When most people think of goats, they think of the kinds of goats they’re used to seeing in fields and people’s back yards: LaManchas (dairy goats), Nigerian Dwarfs (dairy goats), Nubians (dairy goats), or Boers (meat goats). Or they think about those cute viral videos featuring fainting goats (and let me tell you, when you tell people you have goats, one of the first reactions you get is, “Oooh! Are they fainting goats? I want a fainting goat!”). Basically, no one really thinks about Angora goats, even though Texas is home to the third largest Angora goat population in the world.
History of Angora Goats
Angora goats are actually an ancient breed of goat that orginated in Asia Minor, with Biblical and Sumerian Cuneiform references pinpointing their origination to somewhere between 12th and 15th centuries B.C . In fact, in the Bible, Moses mentions them in roughly 1500 B.C.
The name Angora goat comes from Ankara, Turkey, which is where they became well-established. Coincidentally, this is also the same province where Angora bunnies and cats were also developed, thus their names. The fiber that Angora goats produce–mohair–is derived from the Arabic word “mukhayyar,” which means to choose or prefer. And in fact, Angora goats and their mohair were so preferred way back when, that some stories depict the goats sleeping in their shepherds’ homes rather than outside like most livestock typically did.
Because Angora goats and their mohair were so prized, it took a long time for the goats themselves to actually be exported out of Turkey. Until 1554, in fact. That’s when the first Angora goats were exported from Turkey to Europe. All accounts have this initial exportation as being highly unsuccessful, and after that the Sultan of Turkey placed an embargo on Angora goats and mohair.
The embargo was eventually lifted, and from 1832-1833 Angora goats were first imported into Australia. New Zealand followed suit in 1867.
In 1838 South Africa imported their first Angora goats–12 wethers (castrated bucks) and one doe. See, Sultan Mahmud II was trying to protect his mohair empire (and doesn’t that just sound fun–a mohair empire?), so he figured he would send Angora goats who couldn’t reproduce. Little did he know the doe he sent was pregnant. Oops. And guess what she gave birth to while en route to South Africa? A buck kid. And thus South Africa’s mohair industry began. Today, the Karoo region in South Africa is the largest mohair producer in the world. So, I guess you could say they got the last laugh?
In 1849 Angora goats were first imported into the United States thanks to Dr. James P. Davis. Seven adults were given to him as a gift from Sultan Abdulmecid I for Dr. Davis’ service and advice regarding growing cotton. More Angora goats were imported over the years, but the Civil War destroyed almost all of the herds in the south. They eventually thrived in the Southwest, particularly here in Texas due to our climate and vegetation. Texas is currently the largest mohair producer in the U.S. and the third largest in the world.
Colored Angora Goats
For centuries Angora goats were bred only for their white, lustrous locks. If a kid happened to be born colored, it was considered impure and it was destroyed/culled.
The thing is, sometimes two AAGBA white goats will have a colored kid. It’s usually red, and that red will usually fade to white as it gets older. But for a really, really long time, that was considered to be a bad thing, and thus that kid was culled. Sometimes, colored kids were the result of unintentional crosses/breedings between white Angora goats and Spanish goats or other breeds.
Over time, the views towards colored Angora goats have shifted, to the point where colored Angora kids were intentionally developed by crossing white Angora goats with dairy, Spanish, Pygmy, and other colored goat breeds. And with the increased interest in naturally colored fibers, the formal development of colored Angora goats happened. In 1999, the Colored Angora Goat Breeders Association (CAGBA) was established.
When we were doing research on Angora goats, we decided we wanted to focus on raising and breeding colored Angora goats for a few different reasons. One of them is their history. Another is the fact that as a fiber artist, I (Aubrey) appreciate the naturally colored fibers they produce. And honestly? I just think they’re more fun. I like color. There’s nothing wrong with white Angora goats, and we might end up owning one or two at some point for genetic purposes (and to expand our mohair offerings), but I just love the color variations that can be found within colored Angora goats. They’re beautiful animals, and we want to be a part of helping to make the breed better. Eventually, we want to offer more information on the genetics and color pools and how all of that stuff works, but I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it all myself. If you do want to read up on that, Ronan Country Fibers gives a great explanation, IMO.
She’s got electric boots a mohair suit
Even if you have no idea what mohair is, you’ve at least heard of it thanks to Elton John and “Bennie and the Jets.” Aside from the decades-old pop culture reference, though, what exactly is mohair, and what is it good for?
Well, a very basic answer is that mohair is the fleece of the Angora goat. Those curly, lustrous locks? Yeah, that’s mohair. And it. Is. Awesome. Why is mohair awesome? Well, for example, some of the characteristics of mohair include:
- Luster: helps dyed mohair resist fading, making it hard-wearing.
- Non-flammable: yup, mohair is mostly non-flammable. It’ll basically roll up into a little ball when exposed to fire/super high heat. Because of this, mohair was actually used in early teddy bears.
- Less allergenic than wool: wool is a fantastic fiber, but lots of people are allergic to it. Mohair is actually far less allergenic than wool, making it a great alternative for those with wool allergies (it also doesn’t have the “scratchiness” that some wools have).
- Durable: mohair can be bent and twisted without breaking or damaging it, making it the most durable of all the animal fibers.
- Elasticity: mohair stretches 30% over its length and springs back into shape, making it great for garments since it retains its shape.
- Breathability: natural fibers simply breathe better than synthetic fibers, meaning the wearer is much more comfortable.
- Soil resistant: woven mohair fabrics are highly soil resistant due to the slippery nature of the fiber itself, so all that’s required is to make like Taylor Swift and “Shake it Off.”
- Dyeability: mohair dyes easily and brilliantly, making it a fantastic canvas for fiber artists who also love to dye their own locks and yarn.
- Strength: mohair is super strong, as in, “diameter to diameter” stronger than steel (according to Ronan Country Fibers).
- Fine: the fineness of mohair is actually its most important characteristic, as the fineness is what makes it so soft.
Part of what makes mohair so awesome is its versatility. Mohair is used in knitting, crocheting, weaving, felting, and other fiber arts, and to create a wide variety of products. It can be used to create the softest baby garments, or a mohair cinch for a horse rider, or car upholstery. Because of its similarities to human hair (seriously, I’m a curly girl and mohair definitely shares some characteristics with curly human hair), it’s also often used for Santa beards and for doll hair. It’s hard to find a more versatile fiber, IMO.