Basic Angora Husbandry
The Angora goat is a small ruminant animal originating in the area now known as Turkey. It evolved in a dry, arid area and, like all goats, has a dietary preference for browse and taller pasture. It is not suited to wetter environments with short, green pasture and is susceptible to internal parasites (nematode worms and coccidia) under such conditions.
The Angora goat grows a simple fleece of Mohair. This fleece grows throughout the year and is shorn every 6 months to produce a long, lustrous fleece about 12-15cm in length.
The biology of the Angora goat is similar to British Long-wool sheep and is dominated by strong seasonal rhythms in both reproduction and fibre growth. These rhythms are under the control of day length and much of the husbandry is related to matching seasonal changes in biology to efficient farming practices.
Angora goats breed in the autumn as day length decreases. Does begin to cycle in mid February and if not mated, usually become dormant in July. The onset of oestrus can be stimulated by the presence of bucks and there is often a strong natural synchronisation of heat, which can lead to some 60% of does conceiving between day 8 and day 12 of mating. This produces a “kidding storm” which can be difficult to manage.
The oestrous cycle lasts 19 days but can be interrupted by stress, rainfall or the introduction of males. The gestation period is 149 days. Kid does can begin to breed at 7 months of age (at about 25kg live weight). Older does usually produce twins but this can depend on body condition at mating.
Kidding usually occurs in daylight hours, though maiden does may kid in the evening. Does separate from the flock to kid. The kids are relatively small and lack the energy reserves of lambs. This makes them susceptible to cold and wet conditions. Predation can also be a problem since the doe will “plant” the kids and graze. Fox attack can be a serious problem if major efforts are not made to protect the kids up to an age of at least 4 weeks. Cold stress at birth and the problem of foxes has led most producers to use intensive kidding systems with shedding at night and the use of pens to hold does with their kids for the first 2 to 3 days. Weaning percentages can be as high as 140% using such systems. Guard dogs have also proven successful.
The second area where seasonal rhythms affect husbandry of Angora goats is that related to fleece growth. While the fleece seems to grow continuously, there is a fundamental annual cycle of growth. The primitive cycle involves a shedding of old fibres in early spring, a rapid replacement of the coat and a gradual slow-down of growth into winter which leads again to a moult. In the Angora goat the moult is restricted to a few fibres but this varies between animals. In some animals fibre growth is continuous and there is no sign of shedding, but in many there is some degree of shedding. The result varies from a slight “cross-fibering”, to cotting (matting of the fleece), or even the loss of head, neck and belly cover.
Animals shorn in mid winter may appear to lose fibre and become coarse and sparse in the fleece as finer fibres shed. Animals in longer fleece may become cotted or become difficult to shear in the spring as new fibres grow through the old fleece.
Kemp fibre (the coarse, chalky, short, pointed fibres which make up the coat of the milk goat) is found to varying degrees in the Mohair fleece. While the amount of kemp has been reduced to very low levels with the introduction of Texan and African Angora goats, kemp is still a problem to watch. It is also controlled by season. Kemp grows rapidly in spring and summer and may shed from the skin in autumn. Kemp is more obvious in older animals.
The timing of shearing depends on many factors including kidding, the amount of cotting and the danger of burr and seed contamination of long fleeces. Shearing should occur just before kidding (and then 6 months later). A late August or early September shearing, with kidding in mid September, is probably the most advisable timing.
As with young kids, all Angora goats are sensitive to cold, wet conditions off shears. Sheds or heavy scrub paddocks are essential to prevent losses if cold, wet weather occurs after shearing. A danger period is that following the February-March shearing when storms or cold snaps are not expected but often occur.
Angora goats are generally healthy but require careful drenching to control internal parasites. Vaccination is recommended as for sheep and external parasites are generally easy to control with pour-on dips, provided all animals are treated correctly. Mineral supplementation with Iodine (pre-kidding) and Selenium (pre-mating and pre-kidding) is recommended. Calcium in salt licks, especially if feeding cereal grains, is recommended as a standard practice.
Foot care is often a contentious issue. The hooves of goats grow rapidly and some animals develop ugly hooves. Traditional thinking suggests hoof trimming as often as every 3 months. This is hard work and may be unnecessary except for show and sale stock.
Footrot is a specific infectious disease requiring treatment. Mild forms called "scald" should also be treated with foot baths. Simple laminitis on the side of the hoof can be treated by trimming when animals become lame, but foot abscesses should be treated with antibiotics and the animals isolated until healed.
Crutching of does and ringing (clipping round the pizzle) is essential with modern Angora goats. This prevents excessive staining and fly strike in wethers and bucks (which are usually the only animals to suffer fly strike).
Wigging can also be done to prevent grass seeds getting to the eyes and to allow muffle faced animals to see. This is usually done at about 4 months of fleece growth.
An annual management plan should be drawn up to help organise the work pattern. Start with kidding and mating, then set shearing and crutching dates. Weaning is done at about 4 months of age when kids are drenched and crutched. Add a "drench plan" to reduce worm burdens when pastures are dry, and treat susceptible animals at critical times. Culling old and inferior stock is usually done prior to joining in autumn.
The show and sale process is important to breed enthusiasts and stud breeders. Selection and preparation of animals needs to be added to the management plan.
Introduction of animals to the property should be done using an internal quarantine system. Animals should be shorn, drenched and kept separate from the home flock for a period before release. Specially prepared animals should be fed their usual ration and gradually introduced to pasture.
© 2000 D.L. Stapleton