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GOAT RANCHING

GOAT RANCHING. Commercial goat ranching in Texas primarily involves the raising of Angora goats, from which the textile fiber mohair is obtained. The United States ranks as the second leading producer of mohair in the world, and as much as 97 percent of the domestic product is grown in Texas. The majority of Texas mohair originates on the Edwards Plateau, where wool and mohair productionqv is a major part of the regional economy. Angora goat ranchers reported two million goats in 1992, when they produced 14.2 million pounds of mohair valued at more than $12 million.

Spanish explorers and colonists first brought domesticated goats to Texas, and Mexican and American settlers followed suit. The short-haired goat was generally raised only for milk and meat for home consumption. After the Civil War, when livestock raisers began looking for increased profits from wool and mohair, Angora goats were introduced. This breed, domesticated in Turkey from Himalayan ancestors, had been brought to the United States in 1849 by James B. Davis of South Carolina. Davis's experiments in crossbreeding Angoras with short-haired goats were continued by Richard Peters of Georgia, who demonstrated that thoroughbred-quality mohair could be produced from crossbred goats. William Walton Haupt of Hays County, Texas, brought the first Angora goats to the state in 1857–58, when he purchased eight of the animals from Peters and began crossbreeding them with the inexpensive shorthaired "Mexican" goat prevalent in Texas. Haupt's results received favorable reviews, and other ranchers began raising Angoras, most of them located in the hilly country along the Balcones Escarpment, where steep canyons offered brushy vegetation, water, and protection from the elements. Interest in the mohair goat developed slowly in Texas, however, as raisers in California and Oregon took the lead in mohair production during the 1860s and 1870s. Increasing land prices in California, rising mohair prices, and a growing awareness of the stock-raising potential of the Edwards Plateau led to increased production in the early 1880s. More Texas ranchers began raising Angoras, while stock raisers from western states, attracted by extensive tracts of inexpensive rangeland, transferred their operations to the Lone Star State. This trend was accentuated in 1884 when William M. Landrum, a leading Angora raiser in California, moved his herd of thoroughbred goats to Uvalde County. By mid-decade almost 200 Texas ranchers were raising Angora goats, and stock operations were expanding onto the Edwards Plateau. The growing interest in goat raising led in 1886 to the formation of the American Mohair Growers Association in San Antonio in order to develop a registry for Angoras in Texas and to promote mohair production.

Declining mohair prices in the late 1880s slowed the enthusiasm for Angoras, however, and by 1891 the AMGA was defunct. Nevertheless, the pioneer goat raisers who formed the organization played an important role in developing the breeding stock from which future Angora operations were built, since Turkish authorities placed severe limits on the export of Angoras. The limited number and high cost of purebred animals available to American raisers meant that commercially viable mohair operations had to be developed from crossbred goats. Between 1860 and 1880 Texas raisers had demonstrated that marketable mohair could be produced by crossing thoroughbred-quality Angoras with short-haired Mexican goats, and that Angoras could adapt to the semiarid, brushy environment of the Edwards Plateau. As a result, when mohair prices began to rise again in the 1890s, Texas had a base of high-quality breeding stock to use in developing commercial herds. William Leslie Black of Fort McKavett, a retired stockbroker from New York who spent his later years in raising and praising the Angora goat, played a major role in reviving local interest in goat ranching. He began raising Angoras in 1876, and by the mid-1890s his herds had increased to a troublesome size. Promotional tracts published by Black resulted in the sale of thousands of goats to area ranchers. Black also promoted the value of Angora goats for brush clearance and served as an agent for the sale of more than 15,000 Texas Angoras to midwestern farmers between 1897 and 1900. These entrepreneurial efforts provided the Texas mohair industry with a much-needed promotional boost. Black's sales provided a market for the surplus stock of Angora raisers, and his book on the industry published in 1900 led to increased recognition and acceptance of mohair production as a business. Encouraged by rising prices, Texas raisers enlarged their herds and began to sell large numbers of goats to stock raisers in other states. By 1900, Texas raisers led the nation in mohair production, with 29 percent of the national total, most of which originated on the Edwards Plateau.

About 1895 the Sultan of Turkey prohibited any further exportation of Angoras, but American breeders had already improved their stock to the extent that it was self-sustaining. An importation of 117 Angoras from South Africa, much of which went to Texas flocks, helped to improve the American product further and initiated cooperative ventures between the world's two leading centers of mohair production. By the 1920s Texas ranchers were raising two million Angora goats and producing more than 80 percent of the American mohair clip. The National Association of Angora Breeders, originally formed and headquartered in Missouri, moved its headquarters in 1925 to Rocksprings, Edwards County, in recognition of the overwhelming predominance of Texas raisers in the mohair industry. The active Texas association was responsible for coining the term chevon as a genteel Gallic name for goat meat. Its efforts to introduce the term into the meat trade, however, were not wholly successful.

Angoras fit admirably into a pastoral economy in brushy pastures. Their browsing destroys small shrubs and prunes taller bushes and trees to a height of four or five feet, thus permitting more grass to grow. They have been used at times in the Cross Timbers and to some extent in forested areas of East Texasqv as a first step in pasture clearance, but mohair production has been overwhelmingly centered on the Edwards Plateau. There, ranchers have developed a mixed ranching system of raising cattle, sheep, and goats that fully utilizes the varied vegetation resources of the region. The number of Angora goats reached a record high of more than 4.5 million in 1965, when mohair production was 31,584,000 pounds. Herd sizes and mohair production declined steadily afterwards, however, in response to fluctuating market demand, and reached a low of 1,270,000 animals in 1976. The industry began rebounding in 1981, and by 1992 the number of Angora goats had again reached two million.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Douglas E. Barnett, "Angora Goats in Texas: Agricultural Innovation on the Edwards Plateau, 1858–1900," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 90 (April 1987). Douglas E. Barnett, Mohair in Texas: Livestock Experimentation on the Edwards Plateau (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1983). Paul H. Carlson, Texas Woolybacks: The Range Sheep and Goat Industry (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982).

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

"GOAT RANCHING," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/atg01), accessed April 17, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.