MILLERSTOWN, Pa. — The finest fiber in agriculture can lead to a marketable commodity.
Glen Cauffman is a former sheep farmer who is raising and marketing Angora goats.
The long-haired goats appear to be sheep at first glance. Cauffman raises about 300 of the goats on his Perry County farm.
Cauffman was an agriculture teacher in the Greenwood School District in Perry County and began raising sheep in the mid-1980s.
By the early 1990s, he said, “The sheep industry changed. It moved from wool to mainly meat breeds.”
Cauffman had his sheep sheared, but said the wool was not making him any money.
At this point he was working with Penn State in research, Extension and some teaching. He was told he could make more money in the meat aspect of the sheep.
“Sheep make more money than beef,” he said.
Time would not allow Cauffman to invest in that market.
“I was too busy at Penn State and my kids were growing up. I had too many irons in the fire.”
The Millerstown man said he had always been frustrated at how farmers — who were raising beef, growing corn or producing whatever their commodity was — would have their product sold at the same price “no matter how good it is.”
“You can be doing it the best way you can, and your neighbor over here farms haphazardly and his product is selling at the same price,” he said.
Cauffman said he decided to look for an alternative “where quality could be recognized and rewarded.”
He thought back to the 1970s, when he and his brothers were dairy farmers. Cauffman attended a conference in Des Moines, Iowa, on farming alternatives.
It was there he learned about angora goats.
Sheep wool is priced at 40 cents per pound, he said. Mohair from the Angora goats is priced at $10 a pound.
In 2005 Cauffman bought 10 goats.
“I wanted to see how they could deal with this environment,” he said. Most of the Angora goats come from Texas.
Over time, Cauffman has developed a breeding selection program.
He discovered that the difference in the environment and how long they were bred created a weaker immune system.
Cauffman now has found a way to breed goat families with a good immune system and parasite resistance. He keeps peacocks on the farm to assist with removing bugs and parasites.
The more fine the Angora hair, he said, the more valuable it is. The finest hair is on the goat at an early age.
“We have developed a way in which the hair stays fine even when they are old,” Cauffman said. “We have 10-year-old goats producing ‘kid grade’ hair.”
The reason for this is genetics.
Cauffman now has 300 goats, most of which have come from Texas. He has both males and females on the farm, and they are sexually mature at 1 year old. He chooses to hold them off for breeding until about 3 years old.
“It lets them get bigger and smarter,” he said.
Cauffman’s 200-acre farm also grows corn, beans and alfalfa hay. Only 13 acres are dedicated to the goats themselves.
The goats are sheared twice a year, typically at the end of March or end of September. Their hair grows to about 5 to 6 inches long before shearing.
“It produces more pounds of fiber than sheep wool,” he said.
In order to keep good data on the quality of the hair, fleece from each goat is put in a separate paper bag and weighed. A small portion is sent to Texas A&M University so they can gather data on the softness.
“On a graph, you can see how six months of hair looks. You can see if it’s growing thicker.”
There are six grades of the mohair: super kid, kid, yearling, fine young goat, fine adult and adult.
The super kid and kid grades go into making the softest yarn.
“It’s washed in Kentucky. There is nowhere else in Pennsylvania to wash it,” he said.
Cauffman has driven it to Kentucky himself and has developed relationships with the people there. The wool is then spun in one of two Pennsylvania locations: Halifax or Nazareth.
He has picked up numerous customers who use the mohair for varied uses. One new customer is looking to make mattress pads for baby cribs with the mohair. The fiber is wanted because mohair is fireproof.
Mohair items such as socks are knitted in the Reading area. Other mohair clothing pieces such as hats, scarves, sweaters and handwarmers are created in various locations.
Cottage industries in the area and mini-mill machines are used to make some of the products.
Christina Carl, also from Perry County, came on board with the Angora goat business to help Cauffman with marketing the mohair.
Social media has been a large aspect of the marketing. There is also a marketing firm that Cauffman has hired to do data mining based on clicks on the internet.
Cauffman and Carl have traveled to various universities to talk about the textile industry and have had students visit the farm. Their mohair company is known as Pure American Naturals, which is also known as PAN. He pointed out the letters also stand for People, Animals, Nature.
The company’s website is one that is intentionally educational to help people understand the benefits of mohair, at pureamericannaturals.com.
“I’m an educator,” Cauffman said, “I am passionate about enlightening people about mohair and why it is so expensive.”
The pair has been busy recently taking part in New York City-based trade shows where they are placed in booths surrounded by mainly foreign textile businesses.
Prior to the 2016 Summer Olympics, Cauffman’s fibers were being considered for the U.S. athletes’ uniforms. The goal was for the uniforms to be American-made with American fiber.
Though Cauffman did not get the opportunity, he was sent to fashion mogul Ralph Lauren’s headquarters in New York City to plead his case.
“Basically, we are trying to bridge the gap between consumers and farmers,” Cauffman said.