They lost 10% of their body weight in 3 minutes! Now that I have your attention and Biggest Loser fans are now reading my blog, I’m talking about the Angora goats in Mason County.
Every six months, the first weekend in August (right before breeding) and in February (right before kidding) the goats are taken to a small shed, front leg and opposite back leg tied together and the shearing begins. And yes, 10% of their body weight in hair (a fleece) is removed. The pace is efficient and yet slow enough that the animals are treated gently, and with a minimum of second short cuts, which downgrades the value of the fleece.
The older goats having memory of this bi-annual event lay fairly quiet on the plywood flooring. The humming of the shears reminds them of the euphoric feeling they soon will feel as they stand up and feel 10% lighter. The thrill of feeling lighter surges through their body and as they quickly leave the area kicking up their back heels, tossing their head to the left and then to the right like a debutante strutting across a golf course. The yearlings, the young ones go first, since their hair is of higher quality and their fleece is quickly gathered and put into one of the two large canvas bags. These young goats have no previous knowledge of what is going on so they scream, baaaa, bleat, and try to scramble away. The noise of the shears and compressor must be a sign that it is Judgment Day.
Quickly the young Angora Goat reviews it’s life….ok…let’s see…“I’ll produce 10-20 pounds of luxurious fiber annually for the owner (check), I grow 1” of hair lock a month (check), I’m small and fairly independent (check), I will raise one or two offspring annually (check), I help to rid the owner’s property of many undesirable species of weed and brush (check), I find every weak spot in their fence line and I’m not impressed with their efforts to intervene……..uh, oh.” And about this time, before the lamenting gets to deep and the fear moves into some sort of weird bargaining between rancher and goat, the shearing is over. The yearling is untied, released and yahoo there is this incredible feeling of lightness as the young one springs, jumps and frolics out of the area back into the field. With their new ‘do’ and a refreshed cocky attitude, they are ready to show those fence lines…”Watch out, I’m The One!”
These fences run across the Edwards Plateau geological bedrock consisting primarily of limestone and are found in Central Texas. For the most part the soil is thin. The thin, rocky and dry rangeland is perfectly suited for raising Angora goats. Mason and surrounding counties were once major national producers of wool and mohair. But this industry changed, particularly since the 1995 elimination of the National Wool Act and its incentive payment for wool and mohair producers.
The Smith Family Angoras of Mason have been raising commercial Angora Goats in the Hill Country of Texas for over 75 years. In 1987, with the purchase of their first registered goats they started winning Best of Show Awards at various stock shows. They now are one of the leading producers of Angoras for 4-H and FFA Projects. In 2011 they won Grand & Reserve Champion Sale Buck and Grand Overall at the Texas Angora Goat Raisers Association. The male goats called Billies are big, structurally correct and still produce a yearling (high, fine, quality) fleece. Their round horns are long and gently curve back. The judges are looking for a fleece fineness, uniformity and fiber quality. And the Smith Angoras bloodline displays a fine ringlet. In the case of the ringlet type goat, the mohair is carried in tight ringlets throughout almost its entire length and represents the finest mohair produced.
For you city people who don’t raise animals but are familiar with the tags on the garments at the department stores, here is reminder of natural fibers. Mohair is Durable, resilient and noted for its high luster and sheen. Takes dye exceptionally well, is warm as it has great insulating properties, resistant to moisture-wicking, stretch, flame and creases. Fine hair from the younger animals is used for finer applications such as clothing and the thicker hair from older animals is more often used for carpets and heavy fabrics for outerwear. It is considered a luxury fiber and is more expensive than most wool. Wool comes from sheep. Angora wool is the fur from the Angora rabbits.
This past August, this city/country Texas Woman decided to watch and then participate in the bi-annual shearing. After each goat is sheared, the rancher evaluates each fleece for quality and then drops it into one of two canvas bags. The eight foot bags hang from the rafters of the shed. Occasionally someone needs to climb inside the hole (bag), stomping down the hair, compressing it so that the bag will hold more fleeces. My friend Judith and I watched her husband do this and it looked easy and kind of fun. After several more fleeces were added to the bags the stomping/packing needed to be done. Shucks…Judith and I looked at each other and said “why not”. Climbing up the side of the shed, across the rafters, dropping our legs into the bags and then dropping down into the holes was the easy part. We stomped about 4 times and then spontaneously Judith and I looked at each other with this look of terror. Later we shared that at the same time we realized that to get out of these bags would require upper body strength that we did not have. Some words were expressed and various noises but no energy was spent on communicating the strategy of getting out of these cocoons. Let me just tell you that the methods were not pretty to watch and Miss Manners would have been horrified. But we managed to get out. And after several months at the chiropractor we were even able to laugh about it.
I have now been told that if I ever get in a situation where I am in the ‘hole” and the rancher is trying to bury me with mohair, that I just need to keep stomping. In just a few hours, I will work my way to the top. Does this time period come with some sort of catering service? I work for jokes, laughter and Dr Peppers.
So here it is February and soon it will be shearing time for the Angora Goats in Mason County. In the past and from the pictures posted the Smith Angora Goats are bred for subtle shades of beautiful white. With the growing market of colored angoras (various shades of brown) for spinners and weavers this spring the first kids will be born with this new coloring. I can’t wait to see them.
It’s exciting to live in Mason. Life is good.