A cashmere goat is any type of goat that produces cashmere wool; the goats are most often bred for commercial use. Cashmere wool grows as the goat's winter undercoat, which is then covered by a second layer of coarser hair, called guard hair. A single goat can produce about 4 ounces (113.4 grams) of wool annually. There are 11 breeds of goat that are raised to produce cashmere wool. Most of the world's cashmere goat supply comes from China, with the rest coming from New Zealand, Australia, India, Iran and Afghanistan.
Goats that are selected for their wool typically share several traits. It typically is preferable to select a cashmere goat with tightly crimped hair; the crimp is called the style or character. The diameter of the hair is an important quality, with measurements taken in microns. Normal hair measurements can range from 16 to 19 microns, and some goats measure at a very fine 14 microns. Any hair that measures greater than 19 microns cannot be labeled as cashmere. As a comparison, human hair measures at about 70 microns. Goats that have a coat of one solid color are generally preferred over those with a mixed-color coat. The most desirable goats often have an undercoat that is solidly white, brown or gray.
A cashmere goat's wool is collected in the spring, when the goats begin to shed their coats in preparation for the warm season. The fiber is usually collected in one of two ways. The first method is shearing, which can be done fairly quickly, but often results in a coarser, less pure fiber. Another method is combing, in which a comb is pulled through the animal's hair in order to extract the fiber. This method is usually much slower, taking up to two weeks to complete. The amount of pure cashmere that is gathered this way, however, is often higher than can be gathered by shearing.
Goats are generally considered easy to raise and can provide more to their owners than just wool. They can be used for milk and meat, and they have an affinity for eating weeds, brush and other lawn pests. Goats are grazing animals, so the cost to feed them is usually low. Cashmere goats that graze and roam outdoors also have the tendency to produce higher quality wool. Goats are social creatures that are happiest and most productive when in a herd. A lonely goat may become unhappy and sick, causing the quality of its wool to decline. For this reason, a cashmere goat should typically not be kept without a companion for any length of time.