This large bovid possesses a thick, shaggy coat that is essential for its survival in the freezing temperatures of the high altitudes of Tibet. The coat is characterised by long coarse hairs and a thick, soft underlying down. The colouring ranges from black to dark brown with paler patches, sometimes whitish, around the muzzle. The animals that live at higher altitudes develop a thicker and longer coat, which often reaches to the ground.
Each spring the dense hairy coat of the yak is carefully combed to gather the fibre, and is then trimmed. Only the stomach and the lower part of the animal is combed, while the neck, the back and the entire upper part is left as it is. Each animal produces annually approximately 100 grams of hair, and the sale of this fibre represents the only resource of the nomad family for earning money.
The fibre is stored in big sacks and sent to the collection centres where it is sold to the purchasers and enters the production cycle which will transform it into fibre that can be spun.
The first phase is the selection, during which the coarser fibres are eliminated by hand and the material is classified in terms of colour and fineness. This is a slow and laborious task, performed by qualified workers, leading to the production of a daily quantity of approximately 10 kg of selected fibre.
Once it has been classified by colour, resulting in approximately 60% dark brown, 30% light brown and just 10%White, the fibre is then beaten to eliminate any earthy parts and then washed.
After this, the fine soft undercoat has to be separated from the shaggy coarse hairs that form the outer coat of the animal. This procedure, which is the same as that used for cashmere fibre, takes place in the dehairing plant, with the help of machinery which, exploiting the weight difference, separates the coarse fibres (heavier) from those which are softer and finer (lighter).
The dehaired fibre deriving from adult animals, ready to be used in the manufacturing industry, is of a length of 32-34 mm with a fineness ranging from 17 to 18.5 microns, while that originating from animals in the first two years of life is of a fineness that can vary from 16 to 17 micron, and is hence classified as "Super Yak" or "Baby Yak".
The province of Qinghai is the world leader in the collection of Yak fibre, with an annual production of 500 tons a year, while the overall total is around 1,000-1,200 tons.
The fibrous coat of the Bactrian camel is concentrated predominantly on the abdomen, the neck and the throat, and ranges in colour from pale cream to dark brown. The quantity of hair depends on the habitat in which the animal lives.
Like the Hircus goat, the cashmere goat, the camel has an ordinary outer coat and a fine undercoat. The duvet produced by animals that live in hotter and more temperate areas tends to be coarser than that of those who live in colder regions, who have thicker coats of finer hair.
The best fibre comes from Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. More specifically, the desert region of Alashan, where the winters are extremely harsh, supplies the fibre of the best quality in terms of fineness and softness.
In the Bactrian camel the hair grows principally on the head, neck, shoulders, stomach and humps. The outer coat is thick and cannot be used for the manufacture of fabric, with a fineness varying from 20 to 120 micron and a length of around 38 mm. The undercoat of the adult animals instead varies from 19 to 22 micron with a maximum length of 34 mm.
By making a careful selection, it is sometimes possible to obtain a fibre of less than 17.5 micron, and even 16.5 micron, a fineness comparable to that of Iranian cashmere. This is fibre originating from animals in the early years of life, which is hence known as "Baby Camel".
The harvesting takes place in the spring when the camel loses its coat. This does not happen all at once; first the hair of the neck is lost, followed by that of the throat and finally the body coat. This process takes place over a span of 6-7 weeks, beginning in the late spring.
The fleece from the humps is not used, since without this the animal would be more prone to illness in the summer months. The hair is collected using various different systems: by combing the animal, by shearing, or simply by collecting the hair as it falls naturally. Each camel produces about 2.5 kg of hair per year.
Details regarding the quantities of camel hair produced are scarce, and the figures are undoubtedly somewhat inaccurate. The only reliable statistics date to 1987, when the People’s Republic of China recorded an annual national production of 1,800 tons, of which no less than 56% originated from the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. Other regions for breeding and production are Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai and Ningxia. Small quantities of camel hair also come from Afghanistan and Iran, but the quality is decidedly inferior.
Camel fibre features interesting thermal characteristics which make it suitable for use in clothing. Only the most prized fibres of highly selective origin are used for knitwear, while in order to reduce costs the fibres used for weaving are of inferior quality.