Breed Profile: Mongolian Cashmere Goat
Where Does Cashmere Come From?
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BREED: The Mongolian Cashmere goat is the native breed of Mongolia, also present in China as the Inner Mongolia(n) Cashmere Goat.
ORIGIN: Native to the Mongolian steppes and desert regions, the breed represents 80% of goats in Mongolia. As in many remote areas around the world, the main husbandry technique is pastoral and semi-nomadic.
HISTORY: Nomadic herders have kept goats with sheep in mixed herds for meat, milk, fiber, and hide since ancient times. Goats, being more adventurous, led the flocks to water and new grazing. They moved freely across the Mongolian steppes until border restrictions in 1924 and 1949.
In the 1960s, a centralized agricultural collective system was introduced. Some populations were crossed with cashmere-producing Russian breeds to increase production. However, native goats produce finer and more desirable fiber than crossbreeds. Consequently, breeding goals have switched to coat color, fiber quality, and hardiness in native populations. Recently, there has been considerable development to meet market demands.
Challenges to a Traditional Livelihood
In 1990, Mongolia started to convert to a market-driven economy. Simultaneously, worldwide demand grew for fine cashmere goods. Collectives were dismantled and livestock divided between farm workers. In addition, unemployed factory workers moved to rural areas to take up herding. This led to a sharp rise in livestock numbers; many managed by inexperienced new farmers with little support or guidance. Newcomers lacked the techniques practiced by experienced pastoralists to allow restoration of natural vegetation. Overstocking has led to significant degradation and erosion of about 70% of Mongolia’s grasslands. Other economic activity, such as mining, has also put increased pressure on available land.
Today, about 30% of the population relies on pastoral herding as a livelihood. The environment is harsh, climate extreme and recently more erratic. Climate change has invoked hotter, drier conditions and desertification. Zuds are extreme weather conditions, such as snow storms leaving a thick blanket of snow or ice that renders pasture inaccessible. Despite growing a thick coat to protect against the deep freeze, many grazing animals have died of starvation during zuds within the last 20 years.
Loss of livestock has impoverished rural families and driven many back to the city where they face unemployment and poverty. Rural communities cannot afford to lose their pastures and traditional livelihoods. Therefore, various private and government initiatives aim to restore sustainable practices, encourage local processing of fiber, and establish a label assuring good practice.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Not at risk—the FAO records almost 25 million head in 2018, rising from nearly 7 million in 1995. There were also 2 million recorded in Inner Mongolia in 2004.
Characteristics of the Mongolian Cashmere Goat
BIODIVERSITY: High levels of genetic diversity have been found in DNA samples, making this breed an important genetic resource. There is little differentiation between areas, probably due to nomadic practices, whereby populations can mix.
DESCRIPTION: Small- to medium-sized with sturdy legs, long hair, and thick undercoat. Ears are erect or horizontal, facial profile concave, and horns curve back and outwards.
COLORING: Usually white, but also common are black, brown, gray, or pied.
HEIGHT TO WITHERS: Bucks 26 in. (66 cm); does 24 in. (60 cm).
WEIGHT: Bucks 128 lb. (58 kg); does 90 lb. (41 kg).
POPULAR USE: Subsistence farming is widely practiced, for which the Mongolian Cashmere goat produces meat and milk. The coat of fine, soft, elastic fiber is harvested for the international cashmere market.
PRODUCTIVITY: Average 11 oz. (300 g) per goat of fine fiber of less than 17 microns thick. Does normally kid for the first time at around 19 months. A short lactation is preferable to allow fine fiber growth, and milk is rich (average 6.6% fat).
ADAPTABILITY: Goats have been selected for their tolerance of extreme conditions of heat, cold, snow, and storms, and their ability to seek out forage and water. Management is nomadic during summer months and fixed around a more sheltered base during winter. Open shelters are available to livestock at night, and walls made of dung bricks are constructed to shelter against the zud. Although hay is provided during severe winters and after kidding, summer drought can limit its availability. Such perilous conditions have assured survivors a strong and hardy constitution.
- Porter, V., Alderson, L., Hall, S.J. and Sponenberg, D.P., 2016. Mason’s World Encyclopedia of Livestock Breeds and Breeding. CABI.
- Shabb, D., et al., 2013. A mathematical model of the dynamics of Mongolian livestock populations. Livestock Science, 157(1), 280–288.
- United Nations Development Programme
- Takahashi, H., et al., 2008. Genetic structure of Mongolian goat populations using microsatellite loci analysis. Asian-Australian Journal of Animal Science, 21(7), 947–953.
Unless stated otherwise, photos by Martin Vorel/Libreshot.com
Originally published in the January/February 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.