D. Evans acquired his agricultural background through a variety
of experiences, including working for corporate agribusiness, learning
to raise Angus cattle in the late 1960s, and owning and managing
his own veterinary clinic in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma since 1983.
Evans’ interest in raising goats was sparked 12 years ago
by a presentation given at his local Chamber of Commerce about Langston
University’s Institute for Goat Research. The institute investigates
nutrition requirements, low-input forage systems and animal selection
for dairy, meat and cashmere-producing goats. The research appealed
to Evans, who was particularly intrigued by the market potential
Ever since the first group of 160 Spanish doelins—young females—with
genes for cashmere arrived on his farm, Evans’ management
style has involved careful scrutiny of his animals. His operation
has focused on selective breeding, the use of preventive health
care methods, and developing on-farm goat research projects.
The land Evans farms has been in his wife Elayne’s family
for three generations; Elayne’s grandparents raised vegetable
crops and her parents, Angus cattle.
On-farm research and preventive health care
Evans spent a year visiting ranches and talking with farmers in
southwest Texas before purchasing his initial herd of cashmere-producing
goats. Before long, Evans realized he would have to alter his management
style to account for the cooler Oklahoma climate.
In Texas, ranchers sheared in January or February. “That
first season [in Oklahoma],” Evans said, “it seemed
like every time we’d go and shear, we’d get an ice storm.”
Living on open pasture with minimal shelters, his goats would stack
on top of each other trying to stay warm. The results were “disastrous,”
Evans says, and all too common in his area, since “most people
don’t have housing for their goats.”
Evans sought advice from Langston University extension. They suggested
that he stagger his shearing throughout the spring months. Applying
their advice, Evans came up with the idea for his first goat research
project. Rather than accepting the common wisdom that goats grow
their coats from September 21 to December 21, Evans decided to research
the timing of goat hair growth.
Evans sheared one side of each animal in February. In subsequent
months, Evans sheared four-inch wide strips off the other side of
the animal, keeping track of the amounts of cashmere fiber collected
each time. He was able to confirm his hypothesis that some of his
animals exhibited a longer period of hair growth than others. With
the data, Evans also developed a “hair holding index”
for each of his animals that he consults during selective breeding
to improve the consistency, length and yield of cashmere fiber from
In 1998, Evans initiated another three-year study, this time with
support from a SARE producer grant, Langston University, and Oklahoma
State University Extension, that investigated combing and shearing
techniques in obtaining cashmere fiber.
They sheared half of each goat and combed the other half. Over
three years, Evans found that combing yielded 73 to 93 percent cashmere,
by weight, while shearing yielded 15 to 21 percent cashmere. Evans
concluded that the practice of combing minimizes an animal’s
risk of shear shock, because it removes the fine cashmere fibers
while leaving intact guard hairs that protect goats against the
weather. Compared to shearing, combing also yielded a much cleaner
fiber, closer to the quality of market-ready cashmere, and eliminated
“second cuts,” short fibers of lesser value that are
produced by repeat shearing of the same spot.
“We’ve switched over completely to combing our goats
[to obtain cashmere fiber]” Evans says. Evans uses a comb
he designed especially for his research, a “fiber rake,”
that enables him to efficiently comb his herd of goats.
Economics and Profitability
Evans has tried to minimize his farm costs. With careful monitoring
of his pastures and herd size to prevent overgrazing, Evans has
been able to limit supplemental feeding of his goats mostly to winter
Evans reserves 25 to 40 acres for grazing, with the remaining 200
acres used for hay and reserve pasture. While he has put in some
cross fencing to create separate grazing areas, Evans has found
that running guard dogs (Commodore-Great Pyrenees mix) is a cost-effective
approach for protecting his herd, though predator birds, such as
hawks and owls still present a major threat to his newborn and baby
Evans contracts out his hay cutting and baling. The price, and
the amount of hay he sells, varies from year to year, with supply
and demand in his area swinging widely.
Evans sells 50 to 100 goats for meat yearly, at auction as well
as to individual buyers, and usually receives about $1 per pound,
live weight. Average adult Cashmere males weigh about 140 pounds,
and females 85 pounds. Meat sales cluster around holidays such as
the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Easter.
Producing clean cashmere fiber brings extra costs, yet higher potential
net returns per animal than meat, Evans says. He obtains about 1/4
to 1/2 pound of cashmere fiber from each of his goats yearly. In
the past, Evans sold his “raw” cashmere fiber for $30
to $40 per pound to facilities in Texas and Montana that “de-hair”—
or separate guard hairs, vegetation and other material from the
fine cashmere fibers to derive a “pure,” ready-to-spin
product. Finished cashmere fiber now sells for more than $320 per
Recently, Evans has retained his raw fiber to figure out how to
engineer a “dehairing” unit to produce finished cashmere
independently of the processing plants — and obtain better
prices by selling directly to retailers. He expects to find markets
for finished cashmere easily and hopes to tap local spinning guilds.
Evans’ SARE grant also supported his use of rotational pasturing
to reduce internal parasite problems and reduce or avoid costly
anti-parasitic drugs and nutrition supplements. Evans has found
that rotational pasturing is an effective part of a preventative
health care regimen for his animals.
“Keeping animals well nourished is the most important thing
you can do to maximize an animal’s potential immunity,”
he says. Evans has tried to populate his pastures with clovers to
provide high-nutrient forage material for his goats. While the goats
seem to prefer to graze on vetch and patches of Lespedeza, each
winter they eat the hay from the variety of red, yellow hop and
arrow leaf clovers. Evans also places vitamin and mineral blocks
out on his pastures to boost nutrition levels.
Evans keeps his stocking rates as low as possible, watching to prevent
his pastures from being overgrazed. He prefers his herd to browse
on brush and leaves, as the infected larvae animals pick up off
the pasture won’t crawl higher than four to six inches.
Evans has noticed that his pastures seem to have improved with
careful management over time. “I see a difference in the amount
and kind of plants that grow,” he says.
In many places, the goats have eliminated or reduced the weed populations
so much they eliminated the need for chemical weed control. “We
sometimes supplement our pastures with fertilizer, but the goats
dropping their pellets as they graze have gradually reduced the
need for that,” Evans says.
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
Keeping the family farm has meant a lot to Evans and his family.
He and his wife, Elayne, still keep a few Angus cattle on the farm
for Elayne’s father because he enjoys them so much.
In pursuing his on-farm goat research, Evans has formed beneficial
relationships with other researchers and farmers involved at OSU,
Langston University and elsewhere. Since completing the research,
Evans has presented his results on combing all over his region and
has answered countless phone inquiries.
With his veterinary work, tending his goats and participating as
a member of the Board of Regents for five colleges as well as being
on various committees, including a national advisory group to land
grant universities and Southern SARE’s administrative council,
Evans is busy. “What I do with my farming fits into my lifestyle,”
“Saying ‘I can’t’ just is not an option
as you approach and face the challenges of life. You’ve got
to figure out ways to make things happen,” Evans says.
This kind of thinking is what drives Evans’ efforts to make
his farm more successful. Starting out by developing his herd through
selective breeding, and learning over time how to ensure the good
health of his animals, Evans now focuses on how to reduce costs
and add value within his operation.
Having some flexibility to alter his operation has helped protect
pastures and gotten him through the droughts. “You have to
pay close attention to your numbers of animals. You may have to
decrease your herd size, fence off more area for pasture, cut less
hay, or provide supplemental feed, all of which will affect your
costs,” he says.
Evans plans to farm into his eventual retirement. In the meantime,
he looks forward to finding time to engineer the de-hairing unit
that will enable him to produce retail-ready cashmere fiber.
“I don’t think you ever reach a maximum level with
your production,” Evans says. “While we have bred our
goats to have improved hair growth and have good health, I think
we can always look for ways to improve our situation.”