By Dr Clive Dalton
- Goats (Capra hircus) were among the first animals to be kept by man. Goat remains (or of their early ancestors) 10,000 years old have been found in central and West Iran, and domestic goats have existed in other parts of the world for 8,000 years.
- Angora goats are believed to have originated in the mountains of Tibet from where they spread to the Angora province in Turkey. There were five types each with different fleece characteristics but these were merged over time into the mohair goat recognised today.
- Commercial mohair production was established in South Africa with goats for Turkey in 1838 with major imports from 1860-1880, and the USA in the 1800s. So these two countries became the main recent sources of genetic material. Angoras were introduced to Australia in 1825.
- Goats have had a very chequered history in New Zealand since Captain James Cook landed the first few animals at Queen Charlotte Sound in 1773. They probably died so it was those that came on his third voyage in 1777 which successfully established them as a farmed species. Early settlers then brought in more goats for milk, meat and weed control.
- Since then goats have gone from valued farm animal to environmental pest many times over, because goat milk, meat and fibre have fluctuated violently in value and this continues. Around 1979 there was a revival of the NZ goat meat and dairy goat industry, buy it didn’t last and it has been boom/bust ever since. These different kinds of goats have very different husbandry needs.
- The feral goat remains a big environmental pest and attempts at extermination continue with varying success and at enormous cost . Goats have been removed from some islands but it’s an ongoing job on the mainland where they travel large distances to repopulate areas of bush and hill country.
- However, it must be recognised that the feral goat population has been useful to multiply (grade up) meat, milk and fibre goats to expand numbers. Indeed once in the 1980s, feral roadside goats were so valuable that they were being stolen.
Why keep goats?
- They are small and easily handled.
- Goats have personalities & bond well with humans.
- They are efficient feed converters.
- They are browsers and relish a wide range of weeds and woody plants not eaten by other livestock.
- Their mohair fibre is currently in demand.
- You can grade up to mohair from feral does.
- They need less capital to buy compared to cattle.
- They are active animals and climb, dig and squeeze through holes.
- They need good fencing to restrain them.
- They need good yards for handling.
- Goats are prone to worms and foot problems.
- Shearing fibre goats needs special care by experienced shearers.
- Goats will ring-bark trees if not protected. They will also climb into trees.
- Male goats have a strong odour in the mating season.
- Goats will cause erosion on steep hill country by lying on the North facing slopes to get the sun and digging lying spots with their feet.