As I mentioned in the last post, we’ve developed a new yarn, our little Piper, a delicate mohair/wool blend. But that’s not the half of it. I don’t want to introduce this yarn, I want to sing about it.
When we started Quince & Co, the idea was to make yarns from American fiber in American mills. We do that. But until now, our wool has come from a commercial broker and we can’t be more specific about it than “it comes from any number of states west of the Mississippi.” Not so Piper. Piper is a TEXAS yarn, quite literally born and bred there. Can I tell you how that makes my heart beat faster?
At the end of March, we took a trip to Texas to see the goats in question and we came back with a lot of pictures. Given that I could talk about Texas and goats and the mohair industry all day and part of tomorrow, I’m going to give you a slide show of sorts with a few annotations thrown in. Got questions? Send them in. Any excuse to talk about goats.
Angora goats first arrived in Texas in the mid-1800′s. Legend has it that these goats and their fiber were prized by the sultans of Turkey. One in particular offered them as gifts to the royalty of Europe. However, he took care to export only neutered goats in order to maintain his country’s exclusive hold on the animal. Somehow or other, a pregnant goat was included in one of the shipments. And, well, that was that.
The vast, arid turf in the western Texas hills was the perfect habitat for roaming goats who can subsist on very little. They multiplied. Over time, the fiber from these curly goats became a major product in Texas. And all the attendant businesses that go with fiber–farm labor, shearers, warehouses, processing plants, carding, combing, spinning, brokers–were a big part of the region’s economy. Today, things have changed.
Goats nibble on anything growing on the ground and can subsist on scrubby thistle, like the plant above, hoarhound, and even tree bark.
Because of the current draught, there’s little plant life around, and more prosperous ranchers buy hay to feed their herds.
This little guy (below) got stuck in his scramble for a snack.
As we drove along small highways through ranch country, we saw new tall fences that have replaced the old shorter ones. Our guide pointed out the difference and explained that many ranchers have succumbed to the demand for game hunting. It’s easier to import wild boar and other exotic animals from Africa and get paid to let sportsmen spend the day crouching around the tundra shooting these creatures. Ridiculous as it seems (sorry, I’m biased), hunting ranches are now big business in Texas.
Occasionally, these imported animals escape from their confines and find new places to roam. Depending on which animal it is, they can have an impact, or not, on goats. The African deer below graze freely on a goat ranch. The owner drives around in his truck with a pair of binoculars on the seat next to him, at the ready when he spots the growing deer herd. He mentions that he could make a lot of money if he allowed hunters on his property. But a glimpse of the delicate beauty of these fleet deer through the lens of his binoc’s is pleasure enough for him.
Not all imports are as benign as African deer. Escaped wild pigs are devastating to baby goat herds. They eat literally every part of the goat between the head and the hoofs. We spoke to one rancher who lost 300 kids this year, many to these non-native pigs. It used to be that Mexicans came and went across a porous border to work on the goat ranches and kid mortality wasn’t much of an issue. Now, ranchers are on their own. And dogs are the only affordable way to protect a ranchers herd. We spoke to another rancher who said that domestic dogs are also a predator, as well as the occasional dog owner.
Baby goats are vulnerable as well in other ways. Angora goats aren’t great mothers. They often abandon their kids when they roam in open territory. Our rancher built small plywood ‘rooms’ near his barn for bonding purposes. When a goat delivers a kid, he puts the two of them in this little house for a few weeks in order for mom and baby to get to know each other.
More on Texas goats and their industry in an upcoming post.