Why Mongolian Herders Hand Comb Cashmere and Not Shear
After surviving the harsh Mongolian winter, a new season starts and with it a need to shed any excessive winter insulation. This is true for all native fur animals, but especially so for our renowned cashmere goats. Mongolian herders naturally help their goats in this process as it is beneficial for both, but they never use mechanical shearing machines. Instead, our suppliers exclusively comb by hand. This helps remove the already loose finer undercoat hairs (which is the cashmere) and leaves the coarse overcoat intact. Consequentially, the goats enjoy enough insulation for spring until they later shed their overcoats naturally when summer comes. To the experienced herders who can easily spot signs of shedding on their goats, knowing the precise moment to start the process is key to navigating their busiest time of the year. Not only does it waste time for the herder, but goats much prefer if their undercoat is already loose. This also means that combing, when done correctly, is a totally painless and the only cruelty-free method to process cashmere.
Although this wise tradition is very obviously labor and time-intensive for the herders (compared to fast electrical shearing machines), it has many proven benefits. For example, combing by hand gives time for the herders to effectively check on the wellbeing of their vital livestock. Moreover, combing the undercoat hair prevents entangling, the build-up of crust and breeding of various parasites. In addition, it helps the goats avert heat exhaustion in the upcoming warmer seasons and finally, it helps to cultivate the growth of a fresh new coat for the next winter. On the other hand, although using shearing machines is much more efficient for humans, it is considered to be stressful for cashmere goats.
Shearing tends to remove both the undercoat and the much coarser overcoat layer. This results in the goats being left highly vulnerable to Mongolia’s dangerous weather conditions and opens up the possibility for a myriad of health problems. The end product quality weakens too as cashmere loses part of its uniquely luxurious softness. This is due to the soft fine fibers mixing with the coarse guard hairs that have been removed by shears. It also has the potential to create blunt edges on the naturally combed strands. Hence herders much prefer the traditional method of hand combing in order to preserve the quality of the cashmere fiber. At the end of the day, shearing machines are still used in a lot of regions where animal welfare comes in second to profit. Thankfully, this Mongolian tradition is looking to last for the foreseeable future.