If you are a goat owner with a developed activity and a homemade goat milking machine already in place, you might be curious to know a little bit about the history of these animals and about how they got to the United States in the first place.
Luckily, you are not the only one who has had this question, so there is a lot of research and historical facts that help shed light on this topic. Dairy goat products are today a significant agricultural commodity, but this was not always the case in America. The large-scale production of this type of products is more recent compared to others.
The important thing is that goat milk comes with a lot of nutritive properties that make it an excellent choice for many people. For this reason, goats play an important part in the country’s economy as well as in ensuring a healthy diet, if you want to make this choice in your everyday life.
With this thought in mind, let’s take a look at how these animals came to American soil in the first place, as well as at some of their characteristics.
A few facts on goats
These are curious, adaptable, and sociable animals, qualities which made goats suitable for domestication in the first place. Their hardiness made them an important part of subsistence agriculture around the world, no matter if we’re talking about developed countries or areas with fewer opportunities.
It’s true that today they are also bred as companion animals, but that’s another story. Given the great number of goats and their distribution across the world, a large number of standardized landraces and breeds appeared, although not all of them are very well documented.
Besides the fact that they are adaptable, goats are also known for their versatility, which means they offer multiple benefits to people. Used for fiber, meat, milk, or land management among many other things, goats are highly useful animals no matter in which part of the world they are bred.
Moreover, since the demand for goat milk has significantly increased throughout time, various specialized breeds were developed for dairy production, especially across India and Europe.
When it comes to meat production, though, things are not the same since fewer breeds were selected for this purpose. One of the most popular ones is the Boer type of goats which originated in South Africa but has become increasingly popular in various other countries, the United States included.
One of the main benefits that goats offered throughout time is their hair coats. Although all hair goats have usages, some breeds produce specialized and highly-valued types of fibers such as cashmere and mohair. The latter is actually considered a luxury item, it’s produced by Angora goats, and it’s well-known for the long and lustrous appearance.
Even more of a luxury, cashmere is different from mohair in that it’s the soft undercoat of these animals that is used to produce this fiber. Here as well there are specialized types of goats that can produce cashmere of excellent quality and in bigger quantities. The name comes from the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Given the high quality of these fibers, you can only imagine why goats play an important role in the textile industry as well. All the benefits these animals offer made them a key factor throughout history. And speaking of history, let’s see how goats got to the United States.
The first time goats made it in North America it was through the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 1500s. These settlers brought a few of these animals, while explorers from England did the same in the 1600s, which led to these two types of goats being the most accounted types across North America up until the Civil War.
Even though they were never recognized as standardized breeds and had little market value, they played a significant part in the history of the newly discovered land.
Around the mid-1800s things started to change in terms of goat production in the United States, and several other breeds were imported from Europe, thus diversifying the genetic resources available in the country. At the beginning of the 1850s, Angora goats were already present within the country, which led to Texas becoming the key area for mohair production.
Next, several dairy breeds were imported at the beginning of the 1900s, including the Saanen, Nubian, French Alpine, and the Toggenburg goats. Of course, the dairy production of these newly brought breeds exceeded that of the English and Spanish goats by far, which led producers and owners to quickly crossbreed them.
Soon after that, the Old English goat found in North America became extinct, and the pure Spanish goats survived in the southern parts of the country. As you can imagine, crossbreeding played an important role in the development of various breeds and types of goats.
For example, imported cashmere goats were bred with Spanish ones in order to increase their fiber production, while the Boer goats from South Africa were crossed with the Tennessee Fainting and with Spanish goats for superior meat production.
While such combinations definitely have an economic value, they also pose a threat to the survival of unique breeds that can only be found in the United States such as the Spanish and Tennessee goats.
In more recent history
Around the early 1930s, goat milk became increasingly popular since it was a suitable alternative for those who could not tolerate cows’ milk, which led to the creation of a market for this purpose. Jackson-Mitchell was one of the first companies that started producing goat milk on a large and commercial scale, placing its products in drugstores across the country.
The 1970s brought on more changes since a back-to-earth movement became increasingly popular, which led people to search for suitable animals that can provide many benefits for sustainable living and agricultural practices. Of course, goats were a logical answer since they are versatile and don’t take up so much space as cattle do.