Second only to dogs in length of time since their domestication, goats have been managed by man for approximately 12,000 years. At Isle of Man Goats we concentrate on two breeds of goat, the Angora goat and the South African Boer goat. Angoras are classed as one of the world’s ancient goat breeds, whereas Boer goats are one of the newest.
Angora Goats have been highly prized for millennium for their stunning fleeces of Mohair. This fibre is unique to Angora goats. Mohair is known as the Diamond Fibre in the textile industries and has been prized since before biblical times for its inherent strength and lustre. In fact Mohair is stronger than steel of the same diameter.
The angora goat is an ancient breed, with records of the use of goat hair for clothing found as early as the 14th century BC. A little later, in the 13th century AD, there is a record of goats trekked thousands of miles to Ankara by Suleiman Shah, when fleeing Ghengis Khan. A Dutchman discovered the goats in 1550 and they became known as angora goats (angora being a corruption of the word Ankara). Mohair, the name given to the fleece of angora goats, is derived from the Arabic word Mukhaya meaning “cloth of bright lustrous goat hair”.
The Sultan of Turkey placed a ban on the export of both raw fleece and goats, and for several centuries the Angora goats were only found in Turkey. Eventually, in the mid-19th century, small numbers of angora goats were exported from Turkey to South Africa and then to Texas and New Zealand. These animals formed the foundations of the modern national herds in those countries, both by pure breeding and crossing with the indigenous goats. Today, these countries are the biggest producers of angora goats and mohair in the world. Apart from a few animals presented to Queen Victoria which did not survive, the angora goat did not reach the UK until 1981. In spite of most breeders registering their pure bred Angora goats with the British Angora Goat Society no one knows exactly how many Angora goats are in the British Isles. However all the Angoras on the Isle of Man live at Ballanorman Goat Farm and the Angora herd stands at 49 pure bred goats in December 2015 with twelve Does due to kid in 2016.
The Angora goats kid in April when the weather is warming up. The kids are quite fragile and are housed in the barn with their mums until we are sure they have bonded properly and are suckling and are being well cared for by the mums. Angora kids are covered in little whirls of white mohair when they are born and this soon dries to form tiny ringlets all over their bodies. They are the very softest and very cutest of baby animals.
The Does and their kids spend the rest of spring and the summer out in the pastures. Eventually it is time to wean the kids in late summer. This is essential for the mums who need a break from tending and feeding their young before they go back to the bucks. However after the Does have kidded again the following spring the whole Angora herd (except for the big breeding bucks) get to spend the summer together. It is very common to see a Doe with her current kids close to her and also her previous offspring only a short distance away. They never forget their family bonds and because our castrated male Angoras are so valuable to us for the fleeces they produce they have many happy years on the farm with their sisters and mothers as part of our well tended herd.
Our Angora bucks cannot spend all year with the main herd or our goats would produce kids any old time! The bucks Albus and Arthur who were both born on our Farm live together with the Boer bucks through the spring and early summer being lazy and getting fat and putting on the condition they need to go back to work in the late Autumn.
Angora goats grow a fleece that is called Mohair. This should not be confused with Angora wool which is harvested from Angora rabbits. The Angoras at Isle of Man Goats are sheared twice a year, once in Autumn and again in late Winter/early Spring. Mohair is not wool but is technically a hair. The very first shearing which happens when a kid is around 6 months of age produces the very finest Mohair. Depending on the genetics of the individual goat the next few shearings can also be exceptionally fine. Around the fourth or fifth shearing there will be slight reduction in the fleece quality which is more marked in entire males kept for breeding. Once a female is in kid, that is pregnant, and after she kids, her fleece will never grow as soft and silky as it did. This is partly due to the pregnancy hormones changing the fleece. Angora whethers (castrated male goats) can sometimes produce very good quality fleeces for longer than the females as they are not full of raging hormones!
There are some marked differences in shearing Angoras compared to shearing sheep. Sheep grow a wool fleece that is full of lanolin which keeps the sheep waterproof. A sheep’s fleece usually shears off in one piece and holds together. Angora goats have almost zero lanolin and the Mohair fleeces do not hold together when removed. This makes it much more difficult for the shearer. Also, few sheep breeds carry wool other than on the body. Angora goats are covered in Mohair and require its removal even down their legs and faces. It is a much longer shear than with sheep and goat skin, especially in the younger animals, is very soft and easily injured. It takes a shearer with patience and skill to do a good job.
After shearing the smallest Angoras will be kept in a barn with wooden sleeping platforms, deep straw beds, and even heat lamps to ease the transition from being fully fleeced to becoming ‘naked’ goats. As long as they are warm and dry they come to no harm and they do relish being able to have a good scratch with their horns. Sometimes close family members fail to recognise each other immediately after shearing as they look so very different.
The Mohair fleeces are carefully picked by hand to remove all the dag (goat poo and pee!), all the vegetation, any felted bits, short double cuts, and any other bits that will not spin or will downgrade the quality of the batch. Each grade determined by sex, age, whether a goat has bred or not, and most importantly the feel of the fleece is kept separate throughout the process. This is how we can be sure that our Kid is just kid and our Adult is just adult.
The fleeces are sent off to the Mill for washing (called scouring), carding, spinning and plying. The thickness of the spinning and the number of strands plied (spinning two or more spun strands together) will determine what grade/weight yarn is produced.
The Manx Mohair is returned to the Farm on cones. From these the yarns are skeined by hand to achieve the correct weights. This is done using a special wooden piece of equipment known as a niddy noddy! Skeins are dyed in the Farmhouse kitchen and then dried, balled and labelled ready for sale or for knitting into our finished luxury knitwear.
Unlike mass produced Mohair yarns which are usually brushed, Manx Mohair is not fluffy in the ball but only starts to ‘bloom’ and show Mohair’s characteristic fluffiness once it is worked and worn. This initial lack of fluff makes Manx Mohair a joy to knit. Indeed your luxury Manx Mohair item will become fluffier the more it is worn, and you will end up with the very softest of knitwear!
All our colours are hand dyed in small batches in our Farmhouse kitchen. Please do ensure you have enough in your purchase to finish your project. New colours are being trialled from time to time and these will be added to our range in the Shop. If you have a particular colour in mind please get in touch and we will do our best to create it for you!