The Strange Story Of The US Army Manned Cashmere Goat Farm
Given how cashmere was initially located in a relatively remote part of the world, it is remarkable how much cashmere clothing has changed the lives of people around the world.
Whilst primarily associated with one particular region, cashmere has had a remarkably diverse impact, making a town in Scotland one of the centres of the textile world for a time, being specifically named in military treaties and being associated with Queens, Empresses and psychedelic music.
However, possibly the strangest story in recent years involving cashmere was a plan by the United States armed forces to airlift Italian goats to help Afghanistan’s cashmere industry in what can only be described as a baffling disaster.
No other story about cashmere required a lengthy government tribunal to unpack.
The Road To Herat
The largest producer of cashmere in the world is China, followed by Mongolia, with Kashmir itself producing a tiny amount of very fine and high-quality material.
The third highest producer of cashmere is Afghanistan, which has millions of cashmere goats but a problem with its versatility.
There are three main colours of cashmere hair, and lighter colours are far more popular because they can be dyed without damaging the hair and affecting its lifespan.
The majority of cashmere goats in Afghanistan have dark coats, so to help stimulate Afghanistan’s economy, the United States Task Force for Business Stability Operations (TFBSO) hatched a plan that can at least be described as novel.
You Will Believe A Goat Will Fly
At an estimated total cost of $6m (£4.2m) of an $800m total budget, the TFBSO looked at potential ways to stimulate Afghanistan’s economy, and in 2013 gave Colorado State University a grant to start a cashmere goat farm in Herat province.
To get around the issue of the darker fur, CSU and the TFBSO believed that the most prudent and sensible plan was to cross-breed them with nine Italian goats with the aim of lighter cashmere goats in Afghanistan.
With just nine goats with the genes they wanted, the project was doomed from the start, and a deadline for putting the plan in motion and having 2000 market-suitable cashmere goats in just two years was almost laughably optimistic bordering on impossibly delusional.
In total, the CSU farm bred a total of 350 goats during that two-year timeframe, far below the goal.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, as it turned out that the farm they had created was too small for the goats they already had, and despite goats generally being easy to graze, cost $50,000 in food alone, leaving local farmers aghast.
Worse than this, however, was that the goats were not tested before being airlifted to Herat province, and four of the nine Italian goats had the contagious and lethal Johne’s Disease, leading to them and 33 other goats being culled.
The TFBSO and CSU had no experience with cashmere, and because of this, the farm was a disaster, described as a “poisoned chalice” by the Afghanistan Cashmere Manufacturing Association and contributed alongside other TFBSO efforts to Afghanistan’s economy shrinking between 2009 and 2015.