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INCREASING MOHAIR QUALITY AND PRODUCTION IN SOUTH AFRICA

 

D WENTZEL

Animal Production Section

Grootfontein College of Agriculture

Private Bag X529

Middelburg CP 5900

 

 

CONSIDERABLE progress has been made during this century in increasing the production and quality of mohair in South Africa. It is a well-known fact that South Africa produces some of the best quality mohair in the world and that levels of mohair production per goat are unsurpassed. Several factors have played a significant role in this process, inter alia history, breeding, classing of mohair, marketing and promotion, elimination of specific problems and management aspects in general.

The purpose of this article is to describe the most important factors which have contributed to the development of this industry.

 

Introduction

The concept of increasing mohair production means raising the level of mohair production per goat, while increasing the quality of mohair refers to enhancing the desirable characteristics and/or eliminating the undesirable characteristics of mohair. The desirability or undesirability of mohair characteristics is dictated mainly by the trade, whose requirements for manufacturing purposes have to be satisfied. The presence or absence of economically important characteristics should therefore be the criterion of mohair quality. The characteristics which signify are fineness or fibre diameter, length, style and character, the absence of kemp, coloured and contaminated fibres, clean yield and uniformity in general.

 

History

Angora goats were originally imported to South Africa in the 1800's for the purpose of crossing the male offspring with local goats. The hybrids were superior in meat production and were believed to be more resistant to diseases. Although several importations followed, the majority of fibre-producing goats were still of a relatively low quality at the turn of the century. This is indicated by the fact that at that stage the average annual mohair production per goat was allegedly about 1,8 kg.

Owing to the good demand for mohair, however, the Angora Goat Breeders' Society was founded in 1892, and the resulting emphasis on mohair production led to the expansion of the industry until numbers exceeded 4 million in 1912, Thereafter, as a result of disastrous droughts, world wars and economic depression, the mohair industry suffered severe setbacks, which led to a dramatic reduction in Angora goat numbers. By 1949 only 580 000 goats remained. This event had a profound influence on both production and quality of mohair since the national flock now consisted of only the best animals. Indeed, at this stage the average annual production per goat was estimated to be 3, 2 kg.

Since then the mohair industry gained considerable momentum. During 1960 the standards of excellence and a recording system were introduced by the Breeders' Society. The Mohair Growers' Association had grown considerably, mohair-classing regulations were promulgated, a Mohair Advisory Board was appointed (the predecessor of the Mohair Board of today) and the Angora Goat Stud Breeders' Society of South Africa was established. The Angora Goat and Mohair Journal was brought into existence to disseminate information among producers and a one-channel marketing scheme was introduced.

It can be stated without any doubt that these organizations of the mohair industry in South Africa have made a major contribution to the industry's development. Marketing and promotion has been put on a sound footing, while close liaison between the mentioned organizations and the producers has led to a uniform approach to increasing production and quality of mohair. This is reflected in both the steady increase in mohair production per goat - which at present averages more than 4 kg per annum and the generally accepted high quality of today's mohair clip.

As is the case in any other agricultural enterprise, economic considerations will always determine the trends of development. In this respect the mohair industry has, except for the slump in mohair prices during the early seventies, enjoyed a few decades of rewarding economic returns. This situation has certainly stimulated producers to improve the efficiency of their enterprises. Furthermore, price differentiation between various types of mohair has laid emphasis on the economically important traits and has served as an incentive to producers to produce high quality mohair.

 

Breeding

On stud level, the standards of excellence and qualifications for registration are very high. Any indication of undesirable characteristics, such as the slightest presence of kemp and coloured hair or any other defect, will serve as a disqualification. Furthermore, animals are scored for conformation and fleece characteristics by official inspectors in order to ensure that a uniform standard for approval of stud animals is maintained.

A performance-testing scheme for Angora goats has recently been introduced. This scheme should serve as a useful aid for stud breeders to identify superior breeding material on a sound basis.

Although many rams are sold off the farm, the official ram auctions serve as a platform to evaluate and compare rams offered by stud breeders. Prior to these sales, rams are inspected, since only high quality rams qualify to be offered. The competition inherent in this ram sale situation has led to the identification of superior breeders and has also stimulated efforts to increase quality and production.

On flock level, the system of price differentiation for various classes of mohair discriminates strongly against coarse mohair, kemp and stained mohair, whereas it favours good quality. On the one hand this serves as an incentive to producers to improve the quality of their flocks - through breeding and management - while on the other hand it emphasizes the importance of offering a well-classed clip. The importance of a high reproductive rate which influences genetic progress can therefore never be over-emphasized.

 

Mohair Classing

Certain properties and combinations of properties determine both the purpose for which a specific type of mohair will be suitable, as well as the quality of the end product. These properties also determine the value of the raw product. It is therefore in the interests of both producer and manufacturer that mohair should be classed into homogeneous classes. The basis of the mohair classing system is to achieve uniformity within each type as regards length, fineness, style and character, and contamination (by kemp, vegetable matter) and stains. Although the classing standards provide for 57 different classes, a clip will usually be classed into far fewer classes.

Considering the importance of fibre uniformity for the manufacturer, it should be clear that careful classing of mohair is an appropriate means of delivering a higher quality clip.

 

Specific Problems

It is obvious that the most rapid way to increase production and quality of mohair is to eliminate existing problems which hamper progress. Accordingly, research on Angora goats in South Africa has mainly been aimed at the solution of such problems. The results of these efforts have been used to make desirable adjustments in management practices, which have in turn made a significant contribution to the present healthy state of this industry. It is therefore appropriate to refer briefly to these problems and to describe the progress that has been made in resolving them.

 

1. Abortion

Alarming abortion rates have for many years been regarded as the most serious problem hampering the mohair industry. Research has revealed that the majority of abortions result from an energy deficiency caused by a low dietary intake of energy and/or induced by stress conditions during which the animal's demand for energy is very high.

The adoption of efficient energy supplementation practices, especially during critical periods such as after shearing and during cold spells and droughts, has proved to be the means of reducing abortion rates to negligible figures.

The subsequent dramatic reduction in abortion rates was certainly one of major steps forward in placing the mohair industry on a better footing. Apart from reducing the magnitude of the problem significantly, the finding that energy deprivation is the main culprit gave rise to the notion that other problems might also be related to this condition.

 

2. Losses during cold spells

Experience has shown that it is not cold conditions as such, but combined cold, wet and windy conditions which are responsible for the frequent disastrous losses of especially newly shorn Angora goats. Investigation of this aspect clearly demonstrated that a dramatic drop in blood glucose concentration always precedes the collapse of cold-stressed animals. When the blood glucose level is restored to above-normal levels by intravenous infusion of glucose, recovery of such animals is very rapid and consistent. Obviously, this therapy is unpractical for farmers. In practice reasonable success has been achieved by intraperitoneal injection of a saturated glucose solution, but even this method should be regarded as an emergency measure only.

Subsequently, the possibility of increasing the energy status of animals via nutrition was investigated. This work led to the development of alkalinized maize.

For this purpose alkalis such as sodium hydroxide (1%), ammonium hydroxide (1 %) or calcium hydroxide (2%) proved to be most effective. For practical and cost-effective reasons, calcium hydroxide is commonly used. Either of the ionophores, Monensin-Na, Lasalocid or Salinomycin, at an inclusion rate of 20 ppm, is added. After wetting the maize with water, these ingredients, premixed with a molasses-based urea-containing lick concentrate, are added to the maize and mixed. Owing to its brownish appearance, farmers have nicknamed the end product "chocolate mealies".

When newly shorn animals are housed in shelters during cold spells, the feeding of this treated maize is practical and appropriate. It should, however, be emphasized that while this procedure is a useful aid for the Angora goat farmer during cold spells, it does not preclude the need for efficient shelters. In fact, well-placed shelters on the farm will always be an asset to the prudent mohair producer.

 

Unsatisfactory reproductive rates

High breeding rates in any livestock enterprise are of utmost importance. In the mohair industry where quality is greatly influenced by age, this aspect is of even greater importance.

Unofficial estimates of reproductive rates indicate a considerable variation between years and an even more prominent variation between producers. Kidding rates of less than 60% were generally accepted as being normal. This situation suggested that environmental and especially management had a significant influence on breeding rate.

Several investigations into this situation revealed, without a doubt, that the culprit was again an energy insufficiency. In these trials, increases in kidding rates of between 40% and 60% were achieved by the provision of above-maintenance energy diets. Dissemination of this information to farmers has led to the implementation of efficient energy supplementation practices. Similar improvements in reproductive rates have since been obtained. Today the average kidding rate is estimated to be at least 80%.

The extent of supplementation is influenced by several factors, such as stocking rate, rainfall and type of vegetation. The mohair producer should, therefore, evaluate his situation continuously in order to establish the most economic rate and kind of supplementation for his circumstances.

It is generally known that in practice a large proportion of two-tooth ewes; mated for the first time, fail to kid. Investigation of this aspect revealed that inadequate growth is the most common cause of reproductive failure in these animals. As a general guideline two-tooth ewes should have a live body mass of at least 25 kg for successful reproduction. Well-fed young ewes can, however, weigh more than 40 kg. Kidding rates in excess of 80% have been obtained from such ewes. Indeed, kidding rates of approximately 60% have been obtained with well-grown and well-fed youngsters mated at an age of eight months – although such a practice is probably not desirable. These findings indicate that the two-tooth Angora ewe has the potential to reproduce successfully and that failure in this regard may often be associated with an inadequate body mass and as such is easily surmountable. The dictum that fertility can be weighed is certainly very true of the Angora goat.

Unnecessary and rather expensive reproductive losses are usually experienced soon after birth. Rough estimates indicate that neo-natal losses in practice may be as high as 15% of the potential kid crop. The majority of these losses occur because the newly born kid does not ingest colostrum soon enough after birth, a factor which is of vital importance for survival. In order to reduce these losses, suitable facilities should be created so that the necessary care can be taken of kidding ewes. The use of a stomach tube to infuse colostrum directly into the kid's stomach has also proved to be a useful aid for this purpose.

On account of economic considerations many producers, especially those in and surrounding irrigation areas, have resorted to semi-intensive systems for their breeding flocks. In such systems peri-natal losses can be reduced to a mere 1 %. Obviously the availability of such facilities during the mating season enables the producer to implement all possible measures to achieve maximum kidding rates.

Although the use of exogenous hormones, such as are employed in the sponge and PMS method, has proved to be a useful aid in increasing reproductive rates, its application in practice is currently being surpassed by the more practical flushing practice, which yields the required result without the danger of having unwanted triplets and quadruplets.

 

Natural Pasture

Mohair production is greatly dependent on veld as the primary source of fodder. Over the past few decades natural pastures in the semi-arid regions of South Africa, where the majority of Angora goats are kept, have deteriorated considerably. The primary cause of this situation is overstressing of the vegetation through mismanagement coupled with a relatively high incidence of severe droughts. The reduction of stocking rate is obviously the first step in reversing this disquieting trend. Secondly, the introduction of more animal species to avoid the depletion of certain plant species and the application of effective grazing systems are imperative measures to safeguard the future of this natural resource.

Awareness of these aspects has already led to the introduction of Angora goats - with favourable results - into regions which have presumably been over-exploited by sheep. It appears that expansion of the mohair industry into areas outside the borders of the traditional Angora region will continue.

Fluctuations in nutritional supply within years and the occurrence of seasonal and long-term droughts are characteristic of the semi-arid regions in which Angora goats are kept. Experimental results have shown that energy availability is the major limiting factor of these pastures as far as stock production is concerned. Furthermore, the ebb in energy availability occurs during the winter and spring which unfortunately coincides with the period in which reproducing animals require increased nutrition.

As long as it is economically warranted, as is the case at present, supplementary feeding will remain an accepted management practice to allow the potential of the high-producing mohair goat to be exploited to the full.

 

Animal Health

As with other stock industries, the mohair industry is subject to a diversity of diseases and parasites which limit profitability in general. Losses resulting from these contra productive factors can be divided into direct losses (mortalities) and indirect losses (sub-optimal production). In the South African mohair industry the total annual loss caused by diseases and parasites is estimated to be at least 12 million Rand. The total cost of dosing, dipping and relevant inoculations to prevent these losses is roughly estimated to be less than 3 million Rand.

Generally speaking, most producers adhere to recommended dosing, dipping and inoculation programs aimed at controlling the more important problems, but preventative measures against less common conditions are quite often neglected. Losses resulting from uncommon diseases are of greater significance than is generally accepted.

Coccidiosis used to present a serious problem, especially in young kids, but is currently well contained by the inclusion of antibiotic ionophores in supplements.

While remedies or preventative measures exist for almost all diseases and parasites, there are two conditions of which the underlying causes have not yet been elucidated, namely swelling disease and nenta poisoning.

 

General

It is apparent that a number of factors are involved in the concept of increasing the production and quality of mohair. Especially from the producers' angle, this calls for several inputs as far as management is concerned.

Finally, it should be borne in mind that, while the producer is responsible for providing the primary product, various other organizations and institutions render equally important services to the mohair industry by taking care of aspects such as manufacturing, marketing and promotion, policy-making, and research and extension. Close and continuous liaison between all these involved parties has proved to be crucial for a healthy and prosperous mohair industry.

 

Published

Karoo Agric vol 3, no 3, 1984, 15-18 Proc. Intl. Ranchers Roundup. Texas A