Goat Adaptability

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Three goats standing in a pastureA few years ago my family vacationed at Murrells Inlet located about 15 miles south of Myrtle Beach SC. As part of our vacation rental we received a week long beach pass to Huntington Beach State Park, a 2,500 acre park with 3 miles of beaches that are untouched by man. I personally love spending time at beautiful places like this and highly recommend a visit. Then across on the other side of Ocean Hwy we visited the beautiful 9,100 acre Brookgreen Gardens. The gardens also has a zoo with an emphasis on rare and endangered livestock breeds. At the zoo area I noticed some goats that looked like the goats my Grandpa used to clear brush and basically weed eat around the farm. I remember my grandpa’s Spanish goats as being very tough, hardy, and easy keeper animals. I learned that these Spanish goats at Brookgreen Gardens came from a South Carolina island where they had been living wild, untouched by man, in a challenging environment for over 40 years. There were about 100 goats on this island 30 years ago and that number had dropped to less than 30 goats a few years ago due to predators (wild hogs and gators) and inbreeding. The Livestock Conservancy based out of Pittsboro NC worked to help rescue and preserve this unique genetic resource. The SC population is unique because it is one of only two known purebred strains of Spanish Goats adapted to the hot humid subtropical Southeast Environment. This SC population of Spanish Goats is known as the lowcountry line and is expected to have a very high degree of adaptability and natural resistance to parasites. The Baylis line from Mississippi is another Southeast Spanish Goat strain according to the Spanish Goat Association webpage. Like the Baylis line, the Lowcountry line are a little smaller than some Spanish Goat lines. The bucks average 90 pounds and the does average 70 pounds with nannies typically giving birth to twins twice per year. The Livestock Conservancy continues to work with Brookgreen Gardens and other satellite breeders to secure these animals and their genetics for future generations.

Dr. JM Luginbuhl (NC State University Extension Specialist Goats and Forage Systems) has this to say about goat adaptability in a NC State fact sheet he authored in 2015 entitled Breeds and Production Traits of Meat Goats.


“This trait is the most important of all the production traits. The profitability of any meat goat enterprise may be greatly diminished if an animal’s ability to survive and reproduce is impaired by the production environment. The goat has proven to be perhaps the most adaptable of all the domesticated livestock. Indeed, the goat survives worldwide in a wide range of environmental conditions. However, when taken out of one environment and placed into another, domesticated livestock of any species may not always realize its production potential.” Dr. Luginbuhl also states, “Adaptability is a lowly heritable trait because natural selection has already reduced the genetic variability. Therefore, adaptability will respond slowly to selection”

It is interesting to note that the Kiko breed of goats was developed over two decades of intensive selection from New Zealand feral, untouched by man, goat stock and dairy breeds. Obviously, adaptability for their climate was one of the important characteristic that New Zealand goat breeders wanted the Kiko breed to have.

I’m not trying to promote one breed over another in this article but I feel it is important to realize that no one breed of any animal is going to the best at everything. I also feel it is important to realize that there can also be a lot of variation within any breed. (high and low performing animals) I encourage new goat producers to start out with goats that are adapted to our area of the Southeast. If new goat producers are not planning to sell purebred goats as breeding stock, I also encourage them to purchase crossbred goats or use crossbreeding as a tool. Through crossbreeding goat producers can take advantage of breed traits such as; reproduction rate, growth rate, carcass characteristics, adaptability and heterosis. Heterosis or hybrid vigor is the improved or increased function in a hybrid offspring compared to the average of the two parents.


The Livestock Conservancy

The Spanish Goat Association

Dr. JM Luginbuhl (NC State Extension Specialist Goats and Forage Systems)