IT’S 6am and a little light is shining up at what must be one of the remotest shops in the three counties.

At the foot of the Black mountains in Llanveynoe, Herefordshire, Robi Mandley is busy packing mohair socks and other garments made from the fleece of her Angora goats outside.

The dawn start is necessary in the run up to Christmas. Robi is packing up to 40 orders a day to be posted around the world and at the same time preparing for a big Christmas show at Blenheim Palace.

She moved to remote Daren Farm 20 years ago from a 40-acre holding in Lampeter, West Wales, so she could bring what was then a much smaller business closer to her customers and expand.

Now business is booming at The Goat Company and Robi is braced for early winter starts until March.

She has a strong local following too with farmers pulling up in the yard in their trucks to buy her soft but hard-wearing mohair socks, which need washing less often and can last for five years.

The business had started with just eight mothers and four kids. Now 100 goats graze the slopes of the 100 acre farm, together with a flock of Texel cross sheep – wool from the lambs is mixed with the mohair to make it easier to spin – and 30 Welsh Black cattle.

It’s traditionally sheep country but the land is perfectly suited for goats which happily cleared the reeds, brambles and docks.

“They like the deep-rooted stuff for the minerals. They like the crab apples on the ground at the moment and the leaves on the trees,” said Robi.

So, with her mohair in demand and always selling, and for several times the price of a sheep fleece, she says goats are a good alternative to sheep.

“They don’t need a lot of extra work, but a bit more than sheep. They need to be housed now winter has come. They won’t stand out in the rain and they get sore feet in a muddy field. They were sheared in September too so it would be too cold for them now outdoors,” explained Robi.

She shears the soft, curly fleece herself twice a year; in March, which also means teats are easier to find following kidding in mid-April, and in September, to avoid having to pick hay and seed from the long lustrous fibre after the goats have been moved indoors.

The precious fleece is graded. The finest is kid, which Robi can sheer when the kids are just six months old as it grows at the rate of one inch a month. The kid fleece this year is worth £14 a kilo. It’s made into knitwear and lacy scarves mixed with silk by lace makers in Nottingham before being dyed by Robi.

The next grade is young kid, still super soft and reserved for socks, made by specialist sock knitters and dyed by Robi.

Finally the adult fleece, worth around £9 a kilo, is made into luxurious blankets and throws.

“There’s not enough mohair out there to satisfy demand. There’s never any trouble selling it,” said Robi, who said producers can also sell through British Mohair Marketing, part of the Angora Goat Society.

Last year she said mohair sold for £17.50 a kilo in South Africa, the “capital of mohair production.” Pure mohair is prized for its silky feel and strength. It naturally sheds bacteria and stays in shape for years.

Robi said that from goat to garment the process at The Goat Company takes nine months and each item of knitwear takes three weeks to make. Luckily Robi can call on 15 great hand knitters in the UK who work from home. She has been knitting herself since she was five-years-old after being taught by her grandmother.

She sells the clothing, which she has designed herself, in the shop on her farm, together with a range of bags, blankets, throws, scarves, gloves and socks. It’s a draw for tourists who enjoy a hike over the mountains to buy socks or for day trippers out for a scenic drive.

“It’s a bit unusual to find something like this tucked away,” said Robi, who also sells on-line. Her products can also be found at some National Trust shops, including the one at Croft Castle in Herefordshire.

For now she’s holed up in the warm, pleasantly goaty fug of her shop as she packs Christmas gifts and is praying for a mild winter.

“The winter can be tough. We can get cut off for up to five weeks. When there’s deep snow you can’t get up the bank, even in the tractor.

“I pray it doesn’t snow in November and December. A neighbour comes up on his ATV with the post and he has taken my orders down to the post office in Longtown on the ATV. I am an on-line business customer with the Royal Mail. I think please God, don’t let the internet go down.”

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