It is difficult to compare the performance of a goat from one herd with one from another herd without help from fleece testing and modern genetics.
Since 1982, we've planned to fleece test every goat for every shearing for micron yield and down weight. Occasionally we have a miss on a goat here or there but, we're confident that our fleece and breeding records are the most meticulously maintained in Australia.
Bathampton Cashmeres has been involved, along with other cashmere growers, in a range of genetic improvement projects. Important among them were the Sire Referencing Schemes run by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and the one run by the University of Western Australia. The ACGA Merrrit program is then used to integrate all that data into one easily understood measure.
The following graph shows a comparison of Bathampton-bred bucks born since the year 2000 with progeny in the sire referencing project. Each blue dot represents the Merrrit - estimated breeding value of a single buck used in a Sire Referencing Project. Only the Bathampton bucks are labelled here with their identity. The full data set can be checked over at the ACGA Merrrit website.
Necessarily those bucks are getting a bit old now and have been made redundant in our herd by better sons and grand-sons. However, they are all finer and higher down weight producing in their progeny than the vast majority of other bucks enrolled in this independent genetic analysis.
The next challenge?
We feel we are well on track as far as fineness and productivity per head are concerned. However, we currently have about half a tonne of Bathampton Cashmere working its way through the Scour and Dehairer. Its been quite a learning experience. One of the main lessons of course is just how expensive and damaging the whole process is. Costs of transport, scouring and dehairing are large, amounting to nearly half the finished value of the dehaired product. But there are hidden costs too.... Of course the factories are highly professional at what they do, but some cashmere is inevitably lost in processing and a significant shortening of length also occurs due to physical breakage during processing.
If we could just breed a goat that did not require dehairing we would more than double the farm-gate value of our raw fibre. That's just due to the reduction in dehairing costs. That fibre would also be more valuable due to greater length.
The first steps in this path, we believe, are to breed for very short guard hair and breed for density. A few goats have fleece tests with fewer than two percent (by number) of guard hairs and we've already some on which it is difficult to find guard hairs on the mid-side of the goat. Small hair-free patches only at this stage, but showing promise of what might be!