Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Fifteen years ago, my friend Edith and I bought two cashmere goats, sight unseen. Their parents had been purchased some years earlier by a guy who wanted the goats to clean out his wood lot. He turned them loose and hadn’t seen them since.

So what Edith and I bought were the feral offspring of wild, but previously domesticated cashmere type goats. They were cute, little black kids, horns just beginning to look impressive, golden eyes with vertical black slits for pupils. They were nervous in our presence, but otherwise perfectly normal looking. It wasn’t until we released them from the truck that we realized that we might have made a mistake.

They both dashed across the pasture and cleared the first five foot high fence without slowing down. They quickly disappeared in the west woods. The sheep were all in that pasture, so we decided to leave them. We could begin taming them when we brought the flock in for the winter.

Beezlebub (named for his personality) and Phaedra were only manageable because their horns made convenient handles. They flocked with our sheep; so if we penned the sheep, we could capture the goats. Shearing came and went. We didn’t shear them, cashmere was supposed to be combed, removing the soft down fibers and leaving the coarse guard hairs. It took both of us to harvest a scant ounce of cashmere from each animal – one to hold the goat and the other to use the dog comb on their bodies. None of us enjoyed the process. Even with the combing, there were a lot of guard hairs in their cashmere. My mother worked all day picking guard hairs from the down fibers and ended up with a small handful of good cashmere. No wonder cashmere sweaters were so expensive!

Beelzebub met the fate of other famous, wild, un-manageable men (Frankie, Billy the Kid, etc.) He was shot while trying to kill our ram after jumping two fences during breeding. His hide made a beautiful drum head.

Phaedra lived a long life and was never combed again. She spent her declining years frightening little kids with her sharp, pointed horns.

Many years later, we adopted my niece’s pygmy goats. She raised them in her backyard until she was ready for college and then they came to our farm. They loved people and after their initial adjustments, enjoyed being part of our flock. They had hair, coarse hair, instead of fleeces, so they were never sheared.

Then one year, Cedar had a pair of white twins. Goat kids are small and dainty and impossibly cute. We kept them because they were Cedar’s babies. Imagine our surprise when they both developed thick wavy fleeces with lots of downy cashmere fiber.

Combing Phaedra’s cashmere had been so unpleasant that I kept putting off catching Cedar’s twins and combing their cashmere. And then one day, it was too late. They shed their fleeces. A felted mat of soft down fibers slid right off the guard hairs, like a woman throwing off her fur coat. Someday. I’ll have to come up with a fiber project that uses naturally pre-felted cashmere.

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