This is a website written for the amazing Angora Goat, and this section is about how they have played a part in my life.
So, first a brief history of Waipu. It is a small village near the east coast of the Northland province of New Zealand and is famous for its proud Scottish heritage, being settled by Nova Scotians at the end of their long diaspora as the result of the Highland Clearances when the Lairds cleared the glens of crofters in order to carry greater numbers of Blackfaced sheep. The village itself is surrounded by flat land, mainly dairy farms, then ringed by a semicircle of bush (forest) covered hills that overlook Bream Bay. Islands dot the bay and there are kilometers of white sandy beaches. It is a beautiful place.
My family has had the land at Waipu that we call “Tahamoana” since 1943 and my Dad had a big job to clear it of weeds (mainly gorse) and turn it into grazing country.
My quest for good Angoras has been a long one, starting over 40 years ago. As a young pre ‘varsity student on a farm in the King Country (in the Central North Island of New Zealand) in 1970 I used to hunt the feral goats there for sport, dog tucker and just straight culling to control the thousands of multi-coloured goats that ate much of my bosses pasture. He supplied ammo, I shot hundreds. They seethed out of the reserve country that surrounded his steep, wild farm and good goat control was a big part of successful farming in that area.
Came Christmas, and Dad on the farm at Waipu (in Northern NZ) wanted a lawnmower… so I gave him a little grey feral nanny that I had caught by jumping off my horse onto her, brought her home, and she grazed our driveway at Tahamoana tethered on a running wire for a year or two until she earned her freedom by being quiet enough to come when called. Nanny on the loose meant Mum’s garden suffered and Nanny was thus banished to “the trees” behind the house when she wasn’t “on the wire”.
In the areas of bush on the hills surrounding Waipu farmland lived a small population of wild Angoras – remnants of failed attempts to farm them in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. My neighbour Max was a ‘possum culler (vermin hunter) and he had caught some of these wild Waipu Bush Angoras as pets for his children. Nanny became pregnant to one of Maxs’ bucks which had come a courtin’ cross-country. Nanny and her kids died at birth – a sad day for Dad as he then had to mow his driveway himself . “Max” spent a lonely year “in the trees”, til I couldn’t stand it and went into the bush looking for female company. (For him,for him!). With the help of a good collie dog named Toss I managed to run down some of the Waipu Bush Angoras and before I knew it, I was farming them. It was 1974.
By 1977 Toss had caught about 30 more Waipu Bush Angoras during ‘varsity vacations, plus nature had been playing its part, so there were 40+ living in the trees. The then Minister of Agriculture, Duncan McIntyre, was keen to promote new farming options and had the Lands and Survey Department capture some of the wild Waipu Bush Angoras and start up a trial flock at Waipoua near Dargaville. After a year or so, they moved to Waitangi near Kerikeri and, whilst under David McKenzies management there, things started to hot up goat-wise. A lady from Auckland bought a buck off me for $70 and I couldn’t believe my luck. Then it was $200, then $800, then $1200 – people were phoning and arriving at all hours and with no more bucks to sell, Toss and I went bush and caught some more. It was amazing – from living on just $20 a week from the farm, I was earning $500 or more in a weekend catching Bush Angoras, selling the bucks and never selling any does. It was so crazy that it made me crazy too and I spent $10,000 on a well bred buck from Lands and Survey that had been upgraded from Waipu Bush Angora does by bucks imported from Australia – Glenroy Terry and Banksia Chieftain. It was mad, but genius! I was into the Mohair game good and proper.
Into the 1980’s
The market for Angoras boomed, eased back and then boomed even bigger again. My near neighbour, who had also been catching Waipu Bush Angoras, paid $140,000 for a Lands and Survey buck. I sold everything I had and imported 27 very good does from Jim and Val Donald’s Bells Hill stud in Australia. The sire that Val suggested would suit them was Bell’s Hill Imperial and he left some very good progeny which were easy to sell on a willing market. It was the mid 1980’s.
I met Giele Grobler from South Africa in Australia where he was judging Angoras and spent a week in his company at the home of Gwen and Ian Lawrence in Tasmania. I decided to travel to South Africa in 1984 and with Gieles kind organisation spent some glorious months in the Eastern Cape with real Angora Goat people who gave very generously of their time and knowledge and showed me with pride their wonderful farms, goats and beautiful soft Mohair. I came home to Waipu with a clear vision of the future… get some! The Aussies were going to Texas to get better stock from there, so that angle was covered. Peter O’Hara from MAF was amenable to the concept of setting up a protocol to allow embryos in from Africa. After two more trips to Africa and a lot of talk with MAF and Landcorp things got rolling, and we were underway.
In the meantime large importations of live goats from Aussie, embryo transplants, and natural expansion (plus a change of Government taxation policy and a failing sharemarket) meant the New Zealand market for goats got saturated faster then my front paddock in a tropical cyclone… and the boom was over.
It was 1987, I was President of the Mohair Producers Association (MoPANZ) and we had a tiger by the tail with a bunch of embryos coming to NZ from Africa, a five year quarantine ahead of us, and a “flat” industry. Lands and Survey was by now Landcorp but Bernard Card the General Manager believed in Kiwi goat farmers and encouraged us push on with our joint venture which saw the Angoras (and Boers) come out of quarantine in time for breeding in 1994… ten years since my trip to Africa in ’84.
A Break from Angoras, Then Back Again
Life changed fast then and I got busy doing contract embryo collection work sending Boer embryos and live goats to Texas, raising exotic Finnsheep in large numbers, growing watercress for market by the tonne and fattening cattle. I was so busy I gave my good African Angoras to my cousin Viv to care for properly and had a spell from Angoras and Mohair farming for a few years, just keeping some of the old Waipu Bush Angoras “in the trees”. All to no avail – they had got me and seven years ago I decided to listen to my heart and bought nearly 800 Angoras over 5 years from all corners of the country to end up with around 60 that adapted to conditions here at Waipu. It was tough for them. The foot issues that plague us in our damp Northern climate coupled with the heavy clay soils meant many good Angoras from elsewhere got sore feet here and so I used a “buy em and try em” policy. Large numbers of good haired goats have journeyed on from Waipu to that great pasture in the sky on just two or three feet. I continued buying goats – until recently – in order to achieve my goal of trying to get the genetics of most things that NZ had to offer. Big contributors to the base flock have been Janet and Martin Brierley’s Kaldora stud (which I purchased in its entirety when they sold up) and a particular family of good footed goats from the Peranos which trace to the Thorn Park bloodline from South Africa. Cliff Poynter sold me his Texans (which had reached NZ via Australia) and I have had goats from Joy Sprague, Gary Colebrook, Lynne and Richard Milne, Murray Chapman, Jane Burger, Christine Rope and Phil and Leslee McGovern. For bucks, Bridgit Stokes supplied three heavy cutters which traced back to Joan Irving’s Wairaki Lyons bloodlines, and I have used three medium/fine micron sires from the Peranos as well as three from the Brierleys. John Woodward and Dawn and Ian Pirani give encouragement and enthusiasm. Things were starting to gel and some good Angoras were turning up in my breeding programme, but the Angora globally had developed in a new direction quite quickly during my “absent” years and it was time to see again what Aussie had to offer. So it was off over “the ditch” to look at Angoras – my 15th trip to Australia to see what they have since 1980 and… Bingo! Koorana Hummer is 110kgs and cuts in the low 30’s micron-wise and Cedar Grange Bismark is 100kgs and is also in the low 30’s. These are big ,”doing” type bucks with heavy fleeces of fine hair, proven breeding ability and depth of pedigree. I got a couple of younger bucks too to add genetic variety including a real fine haired, barrel bodied Snyberg Meneer bloodline sire from Cedar Grange and a big growthy Hummer son to ensure I load that size in. Tahamoana is now carrying around 350 Angoras in total and the aim is to hit 500 over the next two years. No excuses now – its breed ’em and feed ’em time.
The aim here is to breed well constitutioned , fine haired Angoras.
Big: Size is important. Its easy to cut fine hair off a poor doing runt. I believe that truly fine haired Angoras can be both big (45 Kg plus as mature does) and fine i.e. genetically fine not “hunger fine”. Size goes with good fecundity, milking ability and general vigour. 50kg body weight is a goal for me in the does. I’ve got some, it’s do-able. Big goats give better twinning and survival rates at kidding. So big does to give more kids equals better flock structure (younger average age). In turn, this gives more high end Mohair equals more dollars. My plan is avoid at all costs using a buck that is small and the saying “He’s small but has a tremendous fleece” is no excuse. The small ones leave poor-doing “powderpuffs” and runty,low fertility does. (This “good fleece but small stature syndrome” is a tendency of the Angora to revert to its Turkish ancestry of the pre-industrial revolution era when the angoras were pure of fleece but smaller and less commercial).BUT,with all this there is a problem.Work done by Bruce McGregor and others in Australia indicates that bigger goats tend to have more medulation in their fleeces,so as with all these things it is probably best not to go to extremes,but to breed Angoras that are in the sweet zone- big enough to show good constitution,but not lose their Mohair quality,so my goal of 50Kg does will have to be watched carefully so I don’t lose fleece quality.
Fine Haired: What’s fine? For me, it’s under 34 micron from a well fed adult Angora. A bit finer would be better, but in our wet climate (1500-2000mm rain per year) if the mohair gets too fine without good staple formation it can lose its weathering ability and turn to mush. Good style and character in the staple helps hold a fine fleece in wetter conditions, so that is a very desirable factor. I intend to edge the micron down over time with some goats for a start as much as is practicable without compromising other value areas of the fleece and see what happens. The first kid shear grows over the drier summer months (so no issues then) and the kids’ second fleeces seem to cope quite well at around 26-28 micron during winter when it is wetter. They have access to sheds which they use by self choice which helps both fleece quality and growth rate.
I was lucky enough to have met David Uys, a wise man from South Africa, who was sure we have a “green drought” situation affecting our ability to feed our goats well. I agree with him. We starve them constantly as they struggle to pump the water out of lush feed in order to get the dry matter they require.
However, replacing water with low quality roughage will not work either – it must be high quality, nutrient dense feed. These modern Angoras are an extremely high performing animal and need feeding. These modern Angoras are an extremely high performing animal and need feeding. (I wrote it twice so you would remember). Ferraris don’t run well on regular gasoline and an Angora cannot produce good Mohair by eating poor food.To quote that marvelous Angora Goat sage Jean Ebeling from Texas, “You can’t starve a profit out of an Angora Goat”.
I use greenfeed oats, chicory, plantain, high ME ryegrasses, kikuyu in high growth form and various lotuses and clovers. Grazing with high pasture covers showing lots of high quality “leaf tip”is the best. I then use cattle to clean up the tag that is left. Browse and weeds in the diet is good too, including soft leaf tips on gorse, but we don’t have the high octane forbes, brush and herb species that Angoras do so well on in Texas and South Africa. Old run out “bleached” pasture is not good enough on its own and stalks of dry kikuyu and “Old Man Gorse” are as valuable in the diet as a piece of baling twine. Small amounts of hardfeed in the form of a high protein pellet (21%) with rumensin, minerals and a high calcium:phosphate ratio help me get freshly weaned kids through that period of autumn ill thrift (starvation) and off to a good start in life. It isn’t cost effective to feed lots of expensive feed to adults, but I am finding that a strategic boost to the weaned kids is very worthwhile as they end up bigger, grow more hair and have more kids over their whole lifetime if grown out better at that crucial time in their lives.
So, in summary, my goal is to breed medium/fine haired Angoras with good constitution, and to feed them well enough to be able to express their genes fully by managing the land and resources to provide optimum Angora conditions… and then to enjoy fat goats dripping lustrous Mohair.