Strong demand for angora is one sign the prospects for mohair production in New Zealand are climbing, says Lynne Milne.

The Mohair NZ chair says "pretty much every female is being retained", with no doe culls of late.

"People are seeking even aged does to add to their flocks."

Demand is strongest in the South Island but has spread north. "One North Island farmer who sold some angoras down south said he could easily have sold twice the number of animals he had available."

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TVNZ's Country Calendar 2017 series featured Glen Gamble of West Eyreton, who farms 400 angoras, runs a contracting business and is developing dryland pastures suitable for his property. Extra interest was fired up after last year's Federated Farmers / Mohair NZ conference featuring David Williams, an independent mohair classer and broker, building on the impetus for mohair created by world renowned mohair producer and marketer GT Ferriera at the 2016 AGM.

"It's slowly compounding, one thing on top of the other," Milne says.

Prices are a big attraction, particularly for crossbred wool breeders looking to diversity and better utilise harder land. Mohair fleece returns ranged from $18/kg to a high of $31.50 for the finest micron in the most recent pool sale by Ohuka Farms Ltd.

Milne had more good news on the price front to share at this month's Mohair NZ AGM and conference in New Plymouth. Most of the mohair New Zealand produces ends up in South Africa, where the sale at the end of February showed a 5 per cent price increase right across the quality spectrum. With the rand on the rise with a change of president in South Africa, that's also a gain for Kiwi producers.

The last pooled mohair sale in NZ featured price improvements. "So basically we're likely to get a rise on top of a rise in the next pool sale."

Mark Ferguson, a Christchurch-based scientist who specialises in genetics and livestock production, is also upbeat about the potential of angoras. The founder of neXtgenAgri Ltd, he spoke at last year's mohair conference. The goat farmers obviously appreciated his messages because he was invited back to deliver a more comprehensive on-farm workshop.

On his family's farm in Australia, Ferguson was aged 12 when he and his brother launched an angora stud.

"My brother still runs those goats but the mainstay of my career has been in nutrition and genetics of merino sheep, mainly. A lot of what I talk about is about applying the principles we know work with merino to angora goats.

"There's a fair bit of similarity. It's about managing condition score profile to maximise follicle development in utero, which leads to improvements in mohair quality and quantity.

"The better the condition score is, the better the birth weights and the survival rates. Same with sheep. It's about making sure the condition score is right throughout the key periods of the production cycle."

Angora farmers can apply principles of quantitative genetics and make genetic gain in production and disease resistance

"To me, it's about breeding for balance. If you focus only on fibre production, you end up making an animal that is high maintenance to farm.

"A lot of what we've been doing in the merino game is scanning for muscle and fat, and putting positive selection pressure on that, which is very closely correlated with condition score. So I want to talk about breeding for condition score as well as the fibre traits."

He says the toughest aspect is interpreting which buck and does to keep. "It's the same for sheep and that's where it gets complicated. I have a whole business now helping sheep producers do that stuff."

The economics of a sound nutrition and genetics approach are proven for merino but the data is still being worked up for angoras.

Dr Mark Ferguson, a Christchurch-based scientist who specialises in genetics and livestock production
Dr Mark Ferguson, a Christchurch-based scientist who specialises in genetics and livestock production

"But a $10-$15 improvement per stock unit is there if you get things right," Ferguson says. "You can get the fibre slightly finer, and get more kids surviving, which is where the big payback is."

Ferguson says angoras can be a tough animal to farm in a wetter climate and need good management to keep them productive.

"But they're an amazing fibre-producing animal. I think there's a heap of potential left in the animal to build its disease-resistance and make it even more suitable for New Zealand's farming scene.

"As the pressure comes on synthetics for polluting our oceans, there's certainly going to be a place for luxury fibres like mohair and merino."

If interested, contact David Burt on 0274489170 or email dburt@fedfarm.org.nz