Published April 1, 1993 | April 1993 issue
Goat farmers Ann and Tom Dooling, Dillon, make a profit turning their weeds into cashmere.
The Doolings own and operate two related businesses: Pioneer Mountain Farm, where they raise cashmere goats, and the Great American Cashmere Co. knitting plant.
Not only do the hardy, easy-care cashmere goats eat a variety of noxious weeds, but more profitably, they produce cashmere, an exquisite luxury fiber used in garments such as coats, dresses and sweaters.
Cashmere goats can be both sold to other growers and sheared for their wool-like fiber. Ann Dooling says their 800-head herd is the largest in the country.
"We sell our goats all around the country, in Alaska and Canada, too," Dooling says. "Cashmere is a new commercial agricultural industry in the United States," Dooling says, "and the more people we can reach with both the animals and the garments, the more we can grow as a nation."
The Doolings chose cashmere goats because they are much easier to raise than sheep or dairy goats, Dooling says, and they are less land- intensive than livestock like cattle. Eight to 10 goats can be raised to every cow, an important consideration on the Doolings 100-acre farm, a very small parcel by Montana standards. Cashmere is a commercial product with a big, continuous demand. Further, each goat brings in about $100 annually.
The companion, and more profitable, operation is the Great American Cashmere Co., a machine knitting plant of hand-fashioned cashmere and alpaca sweaters.
The Doolings buy cashmere from growers around the country. "We control more than half the US [cashmere] clip through the knitting plant," says Dooling, who designs and drafts the sweater patterns.
The cashmere is first sent to Rhode Island to be dehaired. Then it is spun in New York and returned to Dillon, where five knitters produce about 300 cashmere garments a year. Completed garments are dyed at Texas Technical University and sold informally, often by word of mouth or in shows, for $350 to $650 each. "I would like to see cashmere be more affordable for more people, and that will only happen when cashmere is as common as wool," Dooling says.
Dooling says the full-cycle nature of their combined operations is the key to their success. "We make a lot more money in cashmere than anybody else because we carry our product to the end. When you talk about value-added, the only way to go is to the end."