Mohair Mojo: How the surging goat industry is letting its hair grow

A small herd of Angora goats. Photo: Some farmers are even discovering that goats are more profitable than sheep. (ABC Landline: Tim Lee)
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Goat farmers are no longer considered the poor relation of Australian woolgrowers with goat production booming and some farmers discovering goats can be more profitable than sheep.

Key points:

  • Since 2010 goat meat exports have almost tripled to be worth about $260 million this year
  • A bale of top grade mohair recently fetched $42.50 a kilogram in NSW
  • The Australian industry has moved its focus to dry inland areas as goats prefer coarser forage

Since 2010 goat meat exports have almost tripled to be worth about $260 million this year.

And like wool, fetching its best prices in a quarter of a century, mohair prices have also seen a spectacular surge.

Mohair — the fine fibre grown by Angora goats — is in high demand and short supply across the globe.

Mohair producer Doug Nicholls wearing a jacket standing inside a shearing shed. Photo: Mohair producer Doug Nicholls from Seaspray in Gippsland, Victoria helped to launch the Australian Mohair Company. (ABC Landline: Tim Lee)

Severe drought in South Africa, the world’s largest producer, has curbed production there causing spinning mills to look for other suppliers. It’s an opportunity the industry in Australia is aiming to capitalise on.

“I think in Australia we have the perfect opportunity,” said Mohair producer, Doug Nicholls, from Seaspray in Gippsland, Victoria.

“We’ve got the country, we’ve got the climate. All we need is more stock,” Mr Nicholls said.

Mr Nicholls and a nucleus of Australian Mohair producers have just launched the Australian Mohair Company.

It aims to bolster Angora numbers by attracting larger commercial producers. And it’s focussing on Australia’s dry inland.

“The lower the rainfall the better they go,” Mr Nicholls said, citing the Angora’s origins in the harsh plains of central Turkey.

Traditionally Australia’s Angora industry has been centred in the higher rainfall coastal regions. Years of lean prices for Mohair meant many left the industry.

But recent research by Meat and Livestock Australia confirmed goats, unlike sheep, prefer drier, coarser forage.

That means they can be run in conjunction with sheep without reducing the grazing capacity.

North West of Dubbo, the Mudford family made its name as Merino breeders and wool growers.

Four years ago its flock of 12,000 Merinos was joined by a flock of 1,000 female goats. Now the two species are flourishing side by side.

Family of three inspect their goats in a shearing shed. Photo: The Mudford family from North West of Dubbo with a herd of goats, June 2018 for ABC Landline story. (ABC Landline: Tim Lee)

“The stigma of, ‘oh they’re goat farmers’ or whatever I think is very outdated. We want to diversify our business,” Robert Mudford said.

“If it’s going to make us money without costing us any more money to run, we’re all for it,” said Mudford.

Global trend towards natural fibres

Angora goats require the same infrastructure as sheep, although most producers make sure their fences are first rate. Goats are notorious escapees.

They have fast growing fleeces and so need to be shorn twice yearly. The present high prices for Mohair makes that a tantalising task.

Earlier this month at an auction in New South Wales, a bale of top Mohair fetched $42.50 a kilogram.

When you include the animal’s meat value it puts goats well ahead on the profit comparison with wool-growing sheep.

“They’re nearly double,” Mr Mudford calculated.

“The top end of the goats would be double the average Merino.”

Two Angora goats. Photo: Meat and Livestock Australia says the industry is ‘coming of age’. (ABC Landline: Tim Lee)

Cameron Allan from Meat and Livestock Australia said the industry was coming of age.

“It has been fragmented historically. There have been markets that have opened up overseas for the meat market. The US market has been going gangbusters and so there’s a opportunity to capitalise on that,” Mr Allan said.

Mohair buyer David Williams, saw Australia’s Mohair industry hit its peak of 1 million kilograms in 1987.

He also saw the luxury fibre, like wool, in dramatic decline losing out to cheaper synthetics.

However, now Mr Williams believes the global trend towards natural fibres gives Australian Mohair producers a great opportunity saying the key is to breed more productive animals.

“We’ve got a world class product, it’s a matter of improving on it,” Mr Williams said.

“We’ve increased the fleece weights, that’s the important thing. If you can put an extra kilo on your animal in most cases that’s an extra, 15, 20, 30 dollars,” he said.

Tim Lee’s story Wild and Woolly screens this Sunday on Landline at 12.30 pm.

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