“Horrific footage of goats yelling in pain as workers ripped out their fur” Yahoo News described. The Mongolia name was perhaps unconventionally attached to the scandal as 70 percent of Chinese cashmere comes from Inner Mongolia. The steppe nation still uses the ancient and the only cruelty-free method of cashmere extraction, “combing”. This is because Mongolian goats are not farmed but herded free range.
Mongolians boast many traditions in terms of goat combing and shearing practices that prevent pain and distress using non-edgy scissors. On top of this, nomads assemble a ger to comb the goats to establish ecologically and animal welfare-friendly environment.
Cashmere, a luxurious garment that is soft and cloud-like wispy. Stemming from the cashmere goat, the fiber is three times more insulating than sheep wool. It is combed from the underside of the goat in a very natural process at springtime when it starts to lose their winter coats. Herders with generations of expertise hand comb the fiber to protect the goats from overheating and to prevent them from follow-up animal diseases such as ticks and lice when it gets warm outside. This is the most sustainable and humane way of harvesting cashmere. To the goats, it is almost like receiving a massage. Imagine yourself still wearing heavy winter-coat on nice warm days. It is unbearably hard. If you don’t comb goats for cashmere, then they are at the risk of freezing to death during harsh storms. After the rain, their coats become crusty and prevent the growth of new fiber.
Privatization in the mid-1990s opened the opportunity for all nomads to own, exchange and trade their capital and this led to the massive growth of livestock particularly, goat. They are the keepers of the nomadic culture and tradition, who have drawn into the whirlpool of a free market economy with their livestock. A nomad’s wealth is measured by how many horses and livestock he and she have.
These days, some herders having livestock more than 1000 try to hire herders and also campaign to raise awareness in the significance of herding among young people to make the position attractive and serious enough. This could also be a job to play a significant role to pull down the current unemployment rate and reduce over-concentration in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of the country. For nomads, animal husbandry is their business and their method of living.
There are over 200 hundred thousand families highly dependent on livestock production out of over 800 thousand households of Mongolia according to the National Statistical Office. On the other hand, those 200 hundred thousand families tend 66 million livestock including cow, horse, sheep, goat, camel. Whereas goats take up the highest number of the structure, 27 million because cashmere accounts for almost 80 percent of income for nomad families. So it is the main source of income. On the other hand, cashmere fiber creates workplaces at the national manufacturers' indirect and in an indirect way. For example, Gobi corporation which takes up 71 percent of domestic cashmere market share, has over 2000 employees. Moreover, cashmere is the most bought product of Mongolia by all-purpose travelers because the price is almost 5 times cheaper than other luxury cashmere brands and the quality is truly high-end. This is the ripple effect of the cashmere fiber in Mongolia.
Adding value sustainably...
The generation born after the 1990s will soon become fashion designers and main consumers. As opposed to the exterior appearance and design of products, generation z is more concerned with what is happening on the inside. According to a survey conducted by McKinsey&Company, 65 percent of the z generation take into consideration as to where and how the product is made before purchasing. Moreover, 80 percent replied that they reject buying from controversial companies. The users want to be aware of the pasture, environment and livestock conditions.
Mongolia has a unique ecosystem and the largest open grasslands in the world which makes cashmere fiber healthier and more special compared to cashmere goats fed by artificial supplements in other countries.
The livestock heads have drastically been increasing since the 1990s and by 2018, there were 66.4 million heads of livestock. Despite this factor, the size of the pasture has decreased nine times. The pasture monitoring news of 2018 also shows that 60 percent of pasture has changed. While eating grass, goats are very selective and scout out the most nutritious grass and pull them out with the root. It was evident that the goat population in Mongolia is way more than what the grasslands can support. It was quickly realized that the country needs to have fewer goats but have selective breeding so that the overall product would be worth more.
In Mongolia, not only the wrestlers and singers are famous. The hard-working nomads who managed to raise their livestock to be more than 1000 were awarded and gained popularity as well. There are almost 7000 households having livestock heads more than 1000. In terms of animal husbandry optimization and increase of its efficiency, D.Gombo-Ochir who is a well-known herder with 3000 heads of animals has his own distinctive opinion. Mongolian livestock is small in stature and paltry in productivity. Yet, they are the best possible naturally gifted versions that could survive harsh weather and elevated mountainous areas of Mongolia. That is why he considers total animal husbandry optimization to be impractical. By opting for various sires from domestic and foreign resources, he made many attempts to improve his livestock. The result was the realistic conclusion that the best breeds were the ones that could survive harsh drought and dzud and require a small number of feeds even though they have considerably low levels of productivity.
Production of quality cashmere is already reflected in the government policy towards herders and the Mongol livestock national program according to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry. To show the quality of Mongolian cashmere to the world, the Khaan Shirkhegt /King Fiber/ quality standard was introduced. The right to implement this standard was given to the Mongolian Cashmere Association and it is accepted in 33 countries. For sustainable herding and pasture, all the respective sides need to work together. The highest grade of processed cashmere is classified as King fiber, a national cashmere-fiber brand that stands out from Chinese fiber for its high quality.
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