Breed Profile: Pashmina Goat
Nomadic Himalayan Goat Produces the Finest Fiber
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Breed: Pashmina wool is fine cashmere, traditionally derived from the Changthangi breed, also called Changra (Chang relates to its native region, the Changthang, and ra means goat), and known internationally as the Pashmina goat.
Origin: Changthangi goats have roamed the northern and western zones of the Tibetan Plateau for centuries. There may be some influence from the markhor in their ancestry, giving rise to their twisted horns. Similarly, there is evidence of domestication of the wild goat in the Indus Valley, where the Sindh ibex still maintains a wild population that may have contributed to the Changthangi gene pool.
History: Changthangi goats have been herded for centuries by nomadic pastoralists called Changpa in the trans-Himalayan region known as Changthang or Changtang. This arid, mountainous area extends into Ladakh, India, where the harvesting of Pashmina goat fiber is an important source of income for villagers.
Each village appoints shepherds to migrate their mixed goat and sheep herd over a long-established route of 6–9 miles (10–15 km), although further for some villages. The routes are agreed between villages to avoid depletion of pastures. Permanent tents, called Rebo, are sited along the way for human shelter. Goats are corralled overnight in paddocks bordered by stone walls. During the day, goats roam the arid valleys and scarce pastures afforded by melted snows. As forage declines herds move to the next camp. This traditional way of life has shown little change or increase in production. The land is too inhospitable for agriculture or other human use.
In the 1990s, there was a large increase in demand for Pashmina goat wool to service the knitwear industry in Kashmir as Pashmina shawls became popular. However, the rarity of true Pashmina fiber and the expertise required to create the shawls meant premium prices. Soon cheap imitations using wool from other cashmere goats and blends of cashmere, sheep wool, silk, and viscose were marketed under the Pashmina name. Government initiatives aim to encourage the development of the fiber industry, including the improvement of breeding and management practices, and conservation of the breed.
Conservation Status: Threatened—158,000 Changthangi goats were recorded in Ladakh in 2003, but numbers are in decline due to high mortality and low returns.
Biodiversity: Although a varied gene pool still exists, the results of inbreeding present a risk as the population declines.
Description: Small- to medium-sized with large curved or twisting horns and long coats. Convex face with short, straight ears and no wattles. A thick undercoat keeps goats warm in cold weather.
Coloring: White is most prevalent and desirable for fiber. Common are various shades from gray to black and cream to red-brown, sometimes with white markings.
Height to Withers: Yearlings average 20 in. (52 cm).
Weight: Females reach 64 lb. (29 kg) by four years old, while males achieve this weight by three years old. Growth is insignificant during the winter due to extreme cold and poor grazing. Yearlings average 35–44 lb. (16–20 kg). Meat is generally harvested from adult animals 2–5 years of age.
Popular Use: Their undercoat provides a soft, light, ultra-fine cashmere averaging 12-13 microns thick and about 2 inches (4 cm) long. It is the finest fiber obtainable from wool goat breeds, three times more insulating than sheep wool, although weaker and more absorbent, taking dye well. It is harvested by combing or shearing in late spring and is sold to supply the textile industry. For family consumption, herders milk does during the summer, and some animals are used as pack goats or for meat.
Productivity: Average 9 oz. (249 g) of fiber per animal per year, ranging from 2 oz. to 23 oz. (50-650 g), increasing as goats mature. Adult males produce most, averaging 14 oz. (400 g).
Temperament: Alert and cautious, as befits their roving lifestyle with its risk of predation.
Adaptability: Through centuries, Changthangi goats have adapted to harsh conditions and meager pasture, withstanding extremes of temperature of –40°F to 104°F (–40°C to 40°C), long winters, and high winds at altitudes of 10,000–17,000 feet (3000–5000 m). From July to September, they survive entirely on highland grazing. In winter, they dig roots from under the topsoil, and lick snow or ice to hydrate, while shepherds supplement their diet with dry fodder. Grain is supplied only in the most severe conditions.
Bucks breed from two years old and does from 18 months between July and November. A doe may give birth 6–8 times in her lifetime. Twinning is rare and the mortality rate in young is high. Abortion and still birth are infrequent, but young often die of respiratory or nutritional disorders, or due to predation or exposure. Although kids are sheltered in corrals or dug into holes in the mountainside, the severe cold, drought, and shortage of forage pay their toll.
Bhattacharya, T. K., Misra, S. S., Sheikh, F. D., Kumar, P., and Sharma, A. 2004. Changthangi Goats: A rich source of pashmina production in Ladakh. Animal Genetic Resources, 35, 75-85.
Ganai, T., Misra, S., and Sheikh, F. D. 2011. Characterization and evaluation of Pashmina producing Changthangi goat of Ladakh. The Indian Journal of Animal Sciences, 81. 592-599.
Mandal, A., Karunakaran, M., Rout, P. K., and Roy, R. 2014. Conservation of threatened goat breeds in India. Animal Genetic Resources, 55, 47-55.
Misra, R. K., Singh, B., and Jain, V. K. 1998. Breed characteristics of Changthangi pashmina goat. Small Ruminant Research, 27(2), 97-102.
Priyanka, M., Verma, N. K., Aggarwal, R. A. K., and Dixit, S. P. 2010. Breed characteristics and genetic variability in Changthangi goats. Indian Journal of Animal Sciences, 80(12), 1203-1208.
Originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.