Cashmere is the softest of the commercially available textile fibres.
Cashmere was discovered on Australian goats in the early 1970's. Australian Cashmere goats are descended from feral goats captured since the 1970s and selectively bred since that time. Those goats were descended from a diverse genepool of goats introduced during European settlement of Australia. Goats were brougnt out from the British Isles, South Africa, the Indian subcontinent and from Asia Minor. Some of which had partial Cashmere origin.
The Australian Feral goat produced small quantities of reasonable quality cashmere. Generally the quantity produced is in the vicinity of 50 grams per head and this is generally about 17 microns in fineness. That is finer than most wool produced in Australia, but only average for Cashmere produced internationally.
The Merrrit is a new breed of Cashmere goat. In fact it is the first breed of Cashmere to be established in Australia.
The Merrrit arose from a series of Rural Industry Research and Development Corporation research projects. Several of these projects were conducted by Dr Bruce McGregor. He found that Australian Cashmere is softer than cashmeres of other origins and that there is very great variation in both fineness and productivity of Cashmere goats in Australian herds.
A second series of research projects were aimed to dramatically improve productivity in Australian Cashmeres though performance recording and genetic analysis of the data. These projects were called ACGA Merrrit. They produce estimated breeding vales (EBVs) for Australian Cashmeres. A key partner project was the sire reference scheme run by the University of Western Australia.
In the ACGA Merrrit projects, growers were the instigators of performance recording and had their costs for objective fleece testing and genetic analysi of their flocks paid for by the project. In this way all Australian Cashmere Growers Association members had opportunity to participate.
Farmed Australian Cashmeres are very very variable in quality. The Merrrit breed brings together the most highly elite selections and identifies them as 'A' grade. At the breed launch in 2010 there are only 115 goats identified as grade A, from a population of more than 10 000 Cashmeres on farm in Australia.
The Merrit grading system and ACGA Merrrit performance register were developed to give new and existing Cashmere producers a way to identify the quality of stock and thus enter or expand Cashmere production with improved confidence.
A grade Merrrits are those animals that have been performance recorded in ACGA Merrrit and have an across-herd EBV for McGregor index higher than that of the link sire ATJ0W052 and no stonger fibre diameter EBV than the link sire DYNB4800.
An additional requirement of A grade status is that both parents and the animal itself have been performance recorded in ACGA Merrrit.
B grade Merrrits are those animals with across-herd EBV for McGregor Index above average, that is with an EBV of zero or higher and no stronger EBV for fibre diameter than double that of DYNB4800.
C Grade Merrrits are those animals that are performance recorded in ACGA Merrrit but fail to meet either of the two higher grades due to being too high fibre diameter EBV or too low McGregor Index EBV.
D grade are animals with objective fleece tests for micron, yield and down weight, but not recorded in the ACGA Merrrit performance register or are from a flock that is not genetically linked to the across-herd analysis.
E grade are animals with claimed cashmere production and cashmere parentage. These claims are made by the owner or breeder of the animal.
F grade are foundation type animals which might have some cashmere production. They may be of any breed, crossbreed or feral origin.
Progression though the grades is entirely based on performance. Thus it is possible for E or F grade animals to produce progeny that qualify as B grade based on their performance and for their progeny to fall into A grade if sufficiently productive.