The Spanish Goat – Vegetation Management
The Spanish Goat is a popular breed that first came to the states from Mexico, though the goat originated in the nation from which it takes its name – Spain. The breed is sometimes referred to as a scrub or brush goat, and in some states specifically is referred to by even more names. For example, in Virginia, it’s called a hill goat and in Florida it’s known as a wood goat.
The traditional use of Spanish Goats is to clear brush and undesirable plant species from pasture lands intended to be used for other livestock. However, recently, these goats have been also been used in meat production.
The characteristics of the Spanish Goat
Several characteristics of the Spanish Goat make it ideal livestock for terrain that would not support traditional cattle or sheep. The goat can breed anytime – in season or out – and due to the diminutive size of its teats and udder it is an excellent breed for a range animal. Perhaps the goat is most well-known for its hardiness – it can thrive, not just survive, in even the most barren conditions.
Within the breed, there are several different types of Spanish Goats. There are pure breeds truly of pure Spanish origin. But there are several crossbreeds with other types like Angora and dairy goats. Despite this crossbreeding, there has been no real breeding of Spanish Goats for milk or mohair production and in general, the term Spanish Goat can apply to all different breeds and cross breeds.
The recent escalation in the demand for goat meat has led several producers to experiment with breeding Spanish Goats for their meat. This is because they are such a low-input breed compared to other livestock bred for meat that they offer an economic advantage. In Texas particularly, some producers have been aggressively selecting certain Spanish Goats for meat production and report that thus far they tend to greatly outperform the typical Spanish Goat that is simply used to maintain pastures for other livestock.
The history of the Spanish Goat
The Spanish Goat’s history starts several hundred years ago back in Spain in the 16th century when Spanish settlers brought goats with them to the new world. Settling in the Caribbean, these explorers bred their domesticated goats which they took with them on exploration trips into the interior of the US and Mexico.
The goat survived well in the new world – as it has in all climates, because of its hardiness and ability to thrive in terrain other livestock would perish in. Over time, cross-breeding with the Spanish Goat and other species has become commonplace in order to produce more meat or cashmere from a herd. An unintended consequence of this crossbreeding, however, is that pure Spanish Goats have actually become rare. They now actually on the watch list for the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
In the 1990s, the Boer Goat was introduced into the American Goat production industry. These goats, which came from South Africa, dramatically shifted the demand for and population of Spanish Goats. Many producers simply stopped raising Spanish, while others crossbred what they had with the new Boer breed. The numbers of purebred Spanish Goats fell to new all-time lows following this.
This led to the creation of the Spanish Goat Association to help protect the breed in 2007 as well as it being made a priority by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. By 2009, only 8 – 9000 purebred Spanish Goats were left in the US.
Today, conservancy efforts have led to the identification of several different strains of purebred Spanish Goat, which lays the groundwork for a formal network of purebred breeders. Efforts continue to locate, identify, and preserve different purebred Spanish Goat strains around the country.