New Zealand Goats

New Zealand Goats

Goats (capra hircus) came to New Zealand at a very early stage in our European history. The first release was made by Captain Cook in 1773 at Queen Charlotte Sound, but these probably did not survive and it was the liberation Cook made on his third voyage, in 1777, that first really established a goat population here.

Many of the early European visitors to New Zealand, such as the whalers, brought goats with them which they released as a future source of sustenance for ship-wrecked crews; a large proportion were placed on off-shore islands.

Although some of these goats could well have come from Britain, it is also probable that some were picked up by the mariners during calls at African, Asian and American ports en route. So that these early introductions could well have been of almost any known breed of goat.

Later settlers brought in a few milking goats, some of which subsequently escaped to join the growing feral population, and in the 1860s introductions of Angora goats were made by several acclimitisation societies who saw a future for a mohair industry in this country. There are also records of `cashmere’ goats being introduced, but no explanation as to what breeds they really were.

Goats were also brought in by early farmers to control blackberry, and these too took to the hills and the bush for easier pickings — particularly during the Depression when farms were deserted and fences allowed to deteriorate — so that gradually a feral goat population of very mixed parentage began to appear.

Feral Goat

Originally feral goats were most numerous around northern Hawkes Bay and Mahia Peninsular, Wairarapa, the West Coast, Southern Lakes and, the largest populations of all, in backcountry Marlborough and the Wanganui- Taranaki-King Country region. There were smaller populations in other areas, including some on our off-shore islands, and several of these too built up to problem status.

Although government cullers were primarily concerned with the deer problem, they did also from time to time slaughter many thousands of goats where they caused severe damage to native forest or competed with sheep for grazing. Some of these eradication campaigns were very costly, and this accounts for the concern which NZ Forest Service has about goat farming today, especially when it occurs in areas bordering forest parks. Catchment boards and environmentalists often take the same attitude in the belief that escaping goats from farms will re-populate areas from which goats have been largely eliminated at considerable public cost.

The problem is almost identical to that faced by the deer farming industry in the early years. The attitude of those who worked so hard to protect the native bush is entirely understandable, and one of the matters to which the new goat farming industry must give attention, is proving that goats can be, and will be, effectively controlled at all times.

Although government shooters made heavy inroads into the feral population, they were not alone. For a time, after the Second World War, there was a good demand for goat skins, and so private shooters for a time took a heavy toll. Even now, hunters who find deer and pigs too difficult to track down, turn their telescopic sights on goats with devastating effect. Goats are easy prey; once the lead billy or nanny has been dropped, the rest of the mob will mill about in total confusion and allow themselves to be picked off.

Milking Goats

The rebirth, in effect, of commercial goat farming in New Zealand dates from 1979 (the ‘Year of the Goat’ in the Chinese Calendar). In the early 1970s pioneering work was carried out on weed control by MAF in Nelson, and there had been a revival of Angora breeding in Northland by the Department of Lands & Survey. It was in Northland too that a small dairy goat co-operative had its painful beginnings at about that time.

Then in 1979 Lincoln College staged a seminar that drew together goat farmers and breeders, research workers, processors and exporters and other commercial interests, as well as government departments.

This event stimulated producer groups to form the New Zealand Goat Council, with the objective of promoting awareness of goat farming potential among decision- and policymakers. It was from that point that the tempo of development of the goat industry really began to increase.

Several Angora flocks had already been established — including the Lands and Survey stud in Northland — and in 1979 about 27,000 feral does were transported to the South Island and mated to Angora bucks.

In 1980 Dawsons International moved into Australia to establish a cashmere goat farming industry, and to promote in Australia and New Zealand the concept of  a major industry based on the feral goat populations in both countries. Since any potential form of diversification for hillcountry farms was eagerly sought after here at that time, traditional farmers here took keen interest in the new development.

Australia desert Goats

The existence of feral herds, and of several flocks of Angora goats, created a base for the rapid expansion of a goat industry here. One might question why Dawsons were so interested in encouraging the development of an industry ‘Down Under’.

They themselves state that as far as cashmere goes, they can get white fibre from us, whereas the present bulk of supplies is dominated by brown, which is less acceptable. Our cashmere is also of better length, and free of lice egg casings, which are a problem with fibre from some sources.

But it is also true that a major source of supply in the past has been China, which now has adopted a policy of processing its own cashmere, thus forcing Dawsons to seek alternative sources. In fact most processors in the UK, USA and Italy, have lost several sources of supply and for this reason look to Australia and New Zealand to make up the shortfall. Their difficulty, and ours in a sense, is that they need this replacement supply in a hurry before processors and fashion designers switch to alternatives.

The rate of increase is of course partly limited by the reproductive capacity of the goat, but expansion has been maximised through importations and capture of feralgoats. It is estimated that in 1984 there were about 800 Angora goat flocks in the country, but that a year later the number had risen to around 2000. Three years ago the Meat and Wool Boards’ Economic Survey revealed that 5 percent of all sheep and cattle farms in the country were running some goats and that proportion has probably more than doubled since. The goat industry in this country might well have progressed more rapidly had it not been for the Livestock Incentive Scheme and SMPs, which applied to other forms of pastoral farming. These tended to mask the true economic value of goats, as did the subsidies on fertiliser and herbicides.

The dairy goat industry did receive some government assistance in the form of loan monies to carry it through a difficult period but, in the main, goat farming has had to stand entirely on its own feet. Now that other pastoral farming systems are being deprived of crutches, goat farming is beginning to be seen as having very viable commercial prospects for many farmers.

Baby Goat (Kid)

In the past years or so, the industry has received a great deal of publicity, in which a number of terms have been used with little attempt to define their meaning, so that there is some confusion at times. The following is an attempt to clarify what is meant by the more common terms, at least in this book.

Feral goats are simply wild goats, and as we have seen, our feral goats in New Zealand are the progeny of an uncontrolled cross-breeding programme involving most of the commoner breeds.

A wild goat out of the bush may have strains of one or more of the milking breeds, spiced with a little Angora, and possibly something of the early ‘meat’ breeds among its early ancestors, and in all probability growing some cashmere.

The trouble is, that for want of another name we continue to refer to feral goats by that title, long after they have ceased to be ‘wild’. In a sense it is a contradiction to talk of a farmer adopting a feral x feral mating management policy, and it may prove somewhat confusing to differentiate between the progeny of such matings and freshly-caught goats from the bush. Until someone comes up with a better name, however, ‘feral’ goats in a farming situation are not wild goats, but those with the ‘fruit salad’ ancestry of the wild goats which have provided the basis for the development of a cashmere industry in this country.

Recently some commentators have argued, with some logic, that what is at present termed a ‘feral’ should more properly be referred to as a ‘cashmere’ goat.

This would certainly be more accurate,and it would perhaps follow that a crossbred would become a `cashgora’ goat or a ‘chevon’ or ‘meat’ goat, depending on the purpose of the cross-breeding. Angora is a specific breed of goat which yields mohair, as distinct from cashmere. There is no such thing as a ‘cashmere’ breed, but the Angora is used to cross with cashmere-producing goats and the effect of this cross-breeding programme is one of the more important aspects of goat farming policy and planning.

The male and female of the wild goats in this country were normally referred to as billies and nannies, but on farms they have been elevated to the status of bucks and does. The progeny remain kids as before.