Goats: more than milk! (and they're definitely not sheep)

When people see my Angora goats grazing out in the pasture, all horns and ringlet curls practically down to the ground, their response is invariably, "Oh! Cool sheep! What kind are they?"

See, when people think of goats, they either think of the pictures of animals they see on Facebook, climbing trees or sheer rock faces; or, if they happen to have had exposure to milk goats, they assume that milk is all goats have to give.

That couldn't be further from the truth, and I have the fiber to prove it.

The 'sheep' that visitors are seeing are in fact Angora and pygora goats, makers of mohair. As the demand for hand-made and hand-crafted items has grown over recent years, so has the demand for specialty materials. Mohair can be used for felting (both needle felting and garments), spinning into yarn, making doll hair... and that's just what my customers tell me they do with my fiber!

I think of the the things that people who hand make value is the closeness to the source of materials, much like the 'Eat Local' movement. I have found that people who work with the raw fiber - washing, drying, carding and spinning it - care about where it came from. The want to see pictures of the animal it came from, the animal's name, and I often direct people to the blog so that they can see where the animals are kept too. The quality of the animals' lives is very evident in the quality of the fiber; no amount of washing and processing would hide the truth about animals that were kept malnourished in dirty or unacceptable conditions.

This personal touch, the farm-to-wheel aspect of fiber farming, it's what puts the heart in it for me. I fed those curls. I raised them. I tended them until they were long enough to harvest, and then I snipped each individual one by hand, shook any hay or dirt out of it, and placed it lovingly in a box, ready to be selected by a purchaser. And then I get to watch someone turn it into something beautiful.

The animals and their fiber

This is Binky, she is my first home-bred pygora, and she taught me a lot about the difference between mohair and the pygora mix fiber. She has beautiful type A fiber; as you can see in the pictures, it has a beautiful curl to the locks and is silky soft.

Cilla is Binky's dam (mother) and she has type b/c fiber; it never grows longer than 2-3" before it felts, right there on the goat, and peels off in chunks. I have a fine line to walk when I want to shear her; I want to let the fiber grow as long as possible, but I don't want to leave it so long that it felts or begins to shed.

Binky's sire (Father) is my Angora herd sire, Tipp. He is red, but none of his color has passed down to either of his pygora daughters.

Tipp's other pygora daughter from the same dam is Button, but her fiber leans way more towards the type b than Binky's. But for someone who has the patience to either dehair it by hand or send it off to a mill to have it dehaired (the guard hairs removed) it is a truly stunning fiber to work with.

Compare the pygora to the regular mohair... it's hard to really see the difference in a photograph, but the handle is so different.

This is a close-up of the fiber from Tipp's neck; while shearing him isn't always top of my 'favorite things to do' list (bucks are STINK-EE), his fiber is always beautiful. It just requires some intensive washing!

This is another of Tipp's daughters, a pure Angora doe, on the shearing stand. You can see that I have begun by snipping along her back, and then started to work down her sides, leaving the belly and neck until last. Brownie just happens to be an especially clean girl (she's a bottle-raised diva), but if the fiber on the belly and back end is dirty, I will often skirt right on the animal, taking a pair of shears / clippers and taking it all off before I begin to shear the clean fiber. I shear all the anogras and type a /b pygoras by hand with a pair of deadly sharp titanium scissors. I like doing it this way, as I get to inspect the fiber and shake it and pick it clean as I go.

And then, when the fiber is clipped and clean and bagged, spinners purchase it and turn it into amazing yarn like this corespun mohair.

Or this utterly stunning corespun pygora... I'm saving this one for a very special project!

So while I do grow a large garden (around 2500sqft) for both my family and for selling extras locally, farming isn't all about food. Small business Saturday, Etsy, Farmers Markets, they're all contributing to the boom in hand crafted products that goes beyond Eat Local. And the true hand crafted products come from hand raised materials - like these.