Breed Profile: Argentine Criollo Goat
Native Argentine Goats Thrive in Local Climates and Systems Better than Any Other Breed
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BREED: The Argentine Criollo goat breed group is a native type sharing a common foundation but differentiated into distinct breeds. Their distinctions stem from the different climates and geography of their regions and the culture and selection preferences of their farmers. Recognized breeds include (from the northwest mountains to central plains):
- Serrana (northwest provinces in the Andes);
- Formoseña (northern plains);
- Criolla de los Llanos (plains of La Rioja);
- Criolla de Córdoba (central mountains);
- Sanluiseña (central mountains);
- Criolla del Sur de Mendoza (central Andes);
- Neuquén Criollo (North Patagonia, Andes);
- and Colorada Pampeana (central plains of La Pampa).
ORIGIN: From the sixteenth century onwards, colonists brought goats from Spain, Portugal, and ports of Africa and Canary Islands to the Americas. These were first brought down to northern Argentina from Peru and Ecuador around 1550. They dispersed throughout the country, where they adapted to varying local conditions.
A Long Pastoral Tradition
HISTORY: Argentine criollo goats have been farmed by indigenous peoples, then later by settlers, in pastoral systems throughout the toughest environments unsuitable for traditional agriculture. In 1826, Angora goats were introduced from Tibet. Although these and their crossbreeds did not thrive in local conditions, there remain traces to greater or lesser extent in many herds. Several attempts to improve milk and meat production were made during the twentieth century through introducing Toggenburg, Saanen, Nubian, and Boer goats. Again, these and their crosses did not reach their production potential and adapted poorly to the local environment, climate, pastoral system, and cultural tastes and lifestyles. Farmers returned to their traditional types, preferring their hardiness and the flavor of their products. However, traces of foreign breeds remain in most flocks, although farmers eliminate poorly adapted types where production in harsh conditions is essential.
The farming system remains pastoral and family-run. In homestead-based systems, goats and dogs roam pastures by day, then return to corrals overnight. In transhumant systems, herders guide goats into the high mountain pastures during the summer for several months and return to valley pastures for winter. Transhumant journeys were original undertaken by the whole family, but latterly, as children now attend school, are undertaken by adult male crianceros and their older children and dogs. Women raise kids, milk dams, and make cheese. Families in southern areas shear for cashmere during the molt.
While in some areas bucks run with the herd, giving two seasonal kidding periods, in others, one herder will take care of all local families’ bucks during the summer months, so they can be reintroduced in the fall, synchronizing births for the spring.
Revalorizing The Argentine Criollo Goat
Recent fencing and forestry on government land has disrupted traditional routes, threatening the culture and livelihood of mountain herders, and leading to degradation of available lands. Although many families have inhabited and pastured on such lands for centuries, their tenure is often undefined and precarious.
From the nineties, governmental programs have sought to characterize, improve, and protect local criollo goats, having seen that these animals are best suited to the producers and environments in which they have evolved.
After the 2011 eruption of the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano and seven years of severe drought, families in southern Rio Negro, Patagonia, suffered a loss of 70% of their Merino sheep and Angora goats. In response, government and private organizations backed a project to provide Neuquén Criollo breeding herds. The criollos proved able to survive and adapt to adversity better than previous flocks, improving the nutrition and economies of affected families.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Breeders of regional varieties are seeking recognition to preserve the breed and market their products. The FAO records several tens to hundreds of thousands of each breed in northwestern and north/central regions down to north Patagonia. In addition, several hundred goats are involved in conservation/improvement plans.
BIODIVERSITY: There is a strong Spanish/Portuguese source mixed with African and Canarian genes from their common origin with influence from modern commercial breeds. Although some adjoining populations share common traits and much of their gene pool, many have unique characteristics and genes molded by varied environments and preferences of herders. Consequently, they possess a rich variety of traits and genes. Although related to the Spanish goats and Myotonic goats of the U.S., they have adapted to different conditions.
Characteristics of Argentine Criollo Goats
DESCRIPTION: Common distinctive traits include a straight facial profile, curved to gently spiraling horns, medium-sized horizontal to slightly drooping ears, medium-sized body, and strong legs. Beards are common in both sexes, wattles generally absent.
The Criolla de Córdoba has a greater Nubian influence, with longer, larger body-type, lop ears, and wattles. However, smaller udders are preferred to avoid mastitis from thorn damage.
Coats vary according to climate: in warmer northern climes, coats are short and shiny, sometimes with longer hairs along back and hind legs; in cooler areas, such as Neuquén, Mendoza, and La Pampa, goats have thick cashmere coats. There are two Neuquén types: the short-haired “pelada” in the north and long-haired “chilluda” in other areas. The Colorada Pampeana has long, fine, silky hair.
COLORING: Various shades of white, gray, tan, brown, and black, including pied and patterned coats. Some herders prefer differing colors and patterns to help them spot and distinguish animals. The majority of Formoseña bear distinctive spotted coats. Some herders select particular colors as an indicator of the quality of their product, such as the red of Colorada Pampeana or the white of Neuquén chilluda cashmere.
HEIGHT TO WITHERS: Females average 24–28 in. (62–70 cm); males 25–30 in. (64–77 cm).
WEIGHT: Females average 82–115 lb. (37–52 kg); males 110 –176 lb. (50–80 kg).
POPULAR USE: Mainly kid meat for family use or market. In Neuquén, kid meat labeled “Chivito Criollo del Norte Neuquino” is Argentina’s first protected denomination of origin product. In northern and central regions, women make cheese after weaning. Additionally, some producers market their artisan cheeses. Neuquén families produce cashmere of 19 microns in various shades, while Colorada Pampeana produce 27-micron fibers from cream to dark brown and cashmere of 22 microns.
PRODUCTIVITY: Does mature early, generally first kidding at about 18–23 months old. They are productive for about eight years. Kidding percentage is high for a tough climate, generally about 1.5 per kidding. Kids grow quickly to about 20 lb. (9 kg) by weaning. Dams give 2–3 pints (1–1.5 liters) per day of high-quality milk, rich in fat and milk solids, including alpha-s1 casein, giving high cheese yield.
Hardy, Thrifty, and Versatile
ADAPTABILITY: Hardy, resilient, and free of CAEV and brucellosis. Dams are excellent mothers. Each breed suits its environment and management system and copes well with arid to semi-arid conditions, outperforming other breeds in survival and productivity. In the south, tough coats and thick cashmere protect from cold, snow, wind, and solar radiation. White coats reflect sunshine at high altitudes, while pigmented skin protects northern breeds from sunburn. Above all, their variety assures survival and production in changing environments.
QUOTE: “They represent a strategic option for these communities to migrate from poverty to prosperity, taking advantage of the adaptability and rusticity of these goats, given that they survive, reproduce, and produce acceptable levels of meat and milk in adverse conditions and environments. For this reason, they are a key species for generating foods of high biological and nutritional value, in the face of changing environmental and climatic conditions.” Torres-Hernández, G. et al. 2021. Creole goats in Latin America and the Caribbean: a priceless resource to ensure the well-being of rural communities. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability.
Originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.
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