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The goat "HIRCUS ENGAGRUS", descendant of the goat "FALCONERI" is famous for the product obtained from its fleece, called "tiflit" or "duvet" and is the Cashmere goat.
The animals are of a medium size, with a height from the withers of about 60 centimetres and the male goat weighs around 60 kilos whilst the female weighs 35 kilos.
They possess a small head, erect ears and well developed horns bent outwards, which in adult males become majestic.
The animals produce a fleece of long, coarse hairs but upon further scrutiny, particularly on the underside, the fleece is extremely soft and almost silky; the famous "duvet" that can be turned into cashmere as we know it.
In May, during the moulting season, the shepherds round the herds up for the harvesting of the fibre. The goat’s legs are tied and once the animal is laid down on a cover the shepherds begin the combing.
The task is carried out with combs resembling small rakes; they have 16 hooks and pointed teeth.
A large comb is used, followed by a finer one. The animal is combed all over with energetic movements, starting at the back and finishing with the ears and legs.
The job lasts about 30 minutes for each animal.
The product obtained is a mix of duvet and ordinary hair and is collected in bags generally made out of polypropylene or jute.
On average a male "HIRCUS" goat yields 300 to 350 grams of grizzly, the female 200 to 250 grams and geldings yield 400 to 450 grams. Exceptional cases can yield up to 700 grams.
Lambs are not shorn until they are a year old, the best quality duvet can be obtained until the age of four and in successive years the goats’ duvet, which lessens, is of a more ordinary quality. They are long-living animals, living to fifteen or sixteen years old and a female can be expected to bear five or six kids.
The goats can be kept in small groups up to just over 1,000, depending upon the wealth of the shepherd, in fact in Outer Mongolia the wealth of an individual is measured by the number of animals in his possession.
A prosperous family owns at least 250 goats, which yield around 70 kilos of grizzly, which is sufficient to guarantee the means to live for a whole family.
30% of Mongolian shepherds own at least 100 goats, which represents the poverty threshold and only a few farms have more than 500 goats. It is said that the richest man in Outer Mongolia has 5,000 ovine and bovine cattle. It is incredible to think of these modest people whose very existence relies on the product yielded by their animals.
In the People's Republic of Mongolia (or Outer Mongolia) in 1989 there were 4,003,000 goats and only 5 to 10% of their produce was exported. The rest was manufactured locally, some of which made its way to either the national market or the COMECON market. Nine years later the goat population had reached 10,000,200 goats, concentrated in the northern area of the nation (58% males, 39% females and 3% geldings). These figures were updated in May 1998 by Dr. Yo Zagdsuren, teacher at the Agricultural University of Mongolia-Research Unit of Animals and responsible for the "Cashmere Goat Project".
In the last decade, and especially the last few years, several American, Italian and Japanese companies created Joint Venture with the Mongolian society, made possible by the relaxing of the People's Republic of China's government towards foreign investment. Other companies installed dehairing plants mostly concentrated in the capital Ulaan Baatar.
In Outer Mongolia at present there are a little less than 30 dehairing lines, others are due to be built shortly, a few of which will come from the dismantled plants in America, Great Britain, France and Italy, whilst more are being made in Japan. Exportation is regular, of excellent quality and with no record of pollution. The geographic isolation of the People's Republic of Mongolia obliges the operators to export the goods aerially, passing through Moscow or Peking. Recently however the famous Tran Siberian railway is being used more frequently, taking the goods from Ulan-Ude through Irkutsk and Novosibirsk to arrive in the Russian capital: from where it is usually transported to Italy or Scotland.
With respect to the Chinese fibre, the fibre collected in Outer Mongolia is of a slightly lower quality by about 0.8 to 1.3 micron, but homogenous, long and tenacious. To understand the reason for this difference it is necessary to go back almost half a century when, in trying to increase the production per capita of each animal, "PREDON" goats from Siberia were imported. These goats guaranteed a higher return but supplied coarser cashmere than the local one, with a fineness of 18 to 19 micron. In the years that followed, the animals crossbred and so contaminated the local breed, hence supplying a fibre that rarely dropped below 16.5 micron, halfway through the last decade. Following calls for a better product a few years ago, a few agencies took to isolating the goats whom did not meet the required standard; this led to a finer cashmere that, once dehaired, supplied a fibre of less than 16 micron.
Cashmere from Outer Mongolia is predominantly light grey or brown; it's estimated that white cashmere represents only 10% of the Outer Mongolian cashmere and comes almost exclusively from the county of Shine Zhist. The cause of this minimal production is ascribed to the fact that white goats are less resistant to the harsh climate and cannot bear temperatures lower than -20C, which is normal for a Mongolian winter. Mongolian white-coated goats are therefore concentrated in the southwestern territory, protected from the freezing, northern winds by the Altai mountain range.
Characteristics and qualities of the Cashmere from the autonomous province of Inner Mongolia
Of the 35 million goats that lived in the territory of the People's Republic of China in 1999, 7 million were located in Inner Mongolia.
Until 1985-6 the channels through which the Chinese cashmere was bought were as secure as the quality. All the exportations were managed and controlled by the "China National Produce & Animal by Products" that also decided the pricing policy. It was possible to buy cashmere 'lots' via telex based on a standard quality referred to by figures that the operators had used for decades. KVSS01 was 38 mm white fibre, dehaired to 0.1%, KVSS02 was white, 38 mm dehaired to 0.2%, light grey was KW, brown was KX etc. Trading took place without any particular problems, the cashmere was of a standard quality: uncontaminated and a 'lot' was a ball of 1,500 kg reduced to 75 kg and marked with the famous red monogram.
Tientsin, in the Hebei province was for many years the historical centre of cashmere processing, with a good number of dehairing centres in the early 60s. Until 1980 it was the most important industry of Chinese dehairing and a point of reference for the "China National Produce & Animal by Products" in Peking, when they took control. Tientsin is also the capital's port and one of the three cities that depend directly on the government.
After Tien Ammen there was an important programme of Chinese economic reform, which resulted in more liberal attitudes towards the end of the 80s. Thanks to this liberalisation and know-how of the operators the number of dehairing lines increased considerably in the early 90s. They sprang up in Quinghe, in the Hebei province; more then 4,000 companies, some private, others local, some centrally controlled and others managed by Hong Kong traders. The control held by the "China National Produce & Animal by Products" was lost after the liberalisation and small companies began to adulterate the product, mixing it with wool during the dehairing and creating all sorts of problems for the sector operators. Since then, little has changed and a secure partnership with extremely accurate controls is the only way to avoid contamination of the cashmere.
Today Quinghe has the biggest concentration of dehairing plants in the nation; an estimated 50% in fact, followed by the Dong Shong area with 20% and Tientsin 5%. The remaining 25% are scattered over the huge Chinese territory.
The fibre collected in Inner Mongolia is ideal for products destined for the shops, with an excellent length and an average fineness of 14 to 15 micron. The difference between here an Outer Mongolia is that about 70% of the fibre is white, which the operators later control, accurately separating it from the coloured hair by hand. In the early 90s in some areas a selection of goats was chosen to try and produce a product devoid of coloured hair. One particular area is the Alan-Shan area, where there is the greatest concentration of white goats of the best quality, here the breeding of coloured or mottled goats is suppressed.
Characteristics and Qualities of Tibetan Cashmere
The Tibetan territory is so much more fantastic than we could possibly imagine, a place where nature rules uncontested. The Tibetan mountains constitute the most important plateaus in the world both in terms of their height and their vastness. The mountainous range from Kuenlun in the north to Himalaya and Karakorum in the south are a geographical strength.
Tibet is enormous, covering an area two-thirds the size of Europe, comprising of deserted areas rich in vegetation, which is steppe-like on the plateaus with an abundance of prairies and tundra and it's here that the herds of Cashmere goat live.
Without doubt Tibet is the mark of excellence, where cashmere was first discovered by the world when caravan leaders in the last century led camels and yaks carrying the precious long fibres of north Indian silk towards the neighbouring region of Ladakh. Today Tibet is still important as it represents 10% of the People's Republic of China's production, or an estimated 1,000 to 1,300 tons of grizzly, which is of the best quality. Tibetan cashmere is the finest in the world, 50% of which is brown and is usually under 13.5 micron.
The climatic conditions and altitude in Tibet mean that their harvest finishes later than everywhere else. The usual month for harvesting is July but due to the difficult territorial conditions, communication and the sheer size of the land it can take from 45 to 60 days. Only at the end of August is the fibre ready to be dehaired by the Chinese. It must be remembered that there are no railways in Tibet, the few roads that do exist are impassable for most of the year and many cities and villages are frequently cut off by snow. Plus the fact that the two major collection centres, 'NAGQU' and 'AR LI' are extremely far apart and the only means of communication is an almost inaccessible road.
Tibet is an immense country, with snow-capped mountains 4,000 mountains high, where the ice and snow never melt and there isn't any vegetation or signs of life. Lhasa is the capital and is 3,700 m above sea level and although there is a dehairing centre located there, it doesn't really figure in the cashmere business. 1,800 km north of Lhasa is the city of NAGQU and is the most important collection zone; from here most of the cashmere from Tibet Oriental is taken to Lhasa and then to China. All the cashmere collected in western Tibet is taken to the city of AR LIR in the northwest, near Ladakh and the Indian border. The best fibre in the world is found here as it is where the Tibetan "CHIRU" (Panthalops Hogsani) live, the 9 micron fibre is used to make the famous Shahtoosh shawls. However, Shahtoosh trading is illegal as the Chiru antelopes are on the edge of extinction and all Shahtoosh shawls are therefore imitations. AR LI is linked to Lhasa by a single road, which can only be traversed in the summer months and even then it can be impossible due to constant landslides. The goods are taken from AR LI to HOTAN in southern Xin Jiang, a Chinese province in the north of Tibet. The 10 day journey passes 7 mountains over 7,000 m high and involves a large group of vehicles because to remain isolated in that area means you'll never return. This is the only secure way to transport the west Tibetan cashmere to be dehaired by the Chinese.
The mix of ordinary hairs and duvet, collected by the shepherds, is delivered to traders or taken to collection centres. The displacement brings together the small quantities that would otherwise be lost in the immense territory. They are usually located in major cities, often agglomerations of a few businesses or at a market where negotiations are concentrated on the exchange of the goods.
From the collection centres the product is packed and transported to the factories by means of old, Russian lorries where the process of refining begins.
Once at the factory the material is carefully selected by hand and having discarded the mediocre parts it is divided into piles depending upon colour and fineness. During this operation the inevitable contamination caused by the packing is removed.
Subsequently the selected fibre is dispatched to the opening where strong aspirators remove the residual earth, after which it is washed and the fats are removed. From there it is dried and is then ready for the dehairing process.
The dehairing is a mechanical procedure to separate the coarse hairs from the "duvet". These mechanical methods vary according to the constructor of the plant and the origins of the machinery. Often the machines are constructed, modified and personalised according to the know-how acquired by the operator, who is generally very particular about his own modifications and his shrewdness in improving the quality and return.
The hourly production of these machines is extremely low and varies according to the productive system from 1 to 4 kilos per hour.
The principle of dehairing is very simple but to obtain a good product and a good return requires a correct evaluation of the characteristics of the material to be dehaired and good mechanical experience linked with the knowledge, and limits, of ones own machinery. The fibres are passed through numerous pairs of cylinders, typically in line with each other, and due to the difference in weight, the "giarre", or coarser fibres, fall leaving the duvet, which leaves the machine by means of a conveyor belt.
Some machines have a card, or comb, for the fibre, which is normally used in cotton manufacturing.
This machine is often the only solution to obtaining an effective cleaner for a cashmere laden with scurf, however at the expense of the loss of the fibre length.
This is due to the strong mechanical action that causes many breakages of the fibre.
A good lot of the cashmere originating from Inner or Outer Mongolia reduces to 50-60% prior to the dehairing and 60-70% afterwards.
This signifies that by hypothesising an average return of 200 grams per animal, the quantity would reduce to 100 to 120 grams prior to the dehairing and so 60 to 70 grams afterwards. Therefore 6 to 7 goats are needed to make enough cashmere for a jumper, 12 to 14 for a jacket and 25 to 30 for an overcoat.