Breed Profile: San Clemente Island Goats

An Endangered American Goat Breed With a Unique Genetic Heritage

Breed Profile: San Clemente Island Goats

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Breed: San Clemente goats or San Clemente Island (SCI) goats.

Origin: Introduced in 1875 to San Clemente Island (57 square miles) from Santa Catalina Island, both of which are Channel Islands off the coast of California. Previous origin is unknown, although they may have originated with sheep ranchers that populated Santa Catalina Island in the early 1800s from the Spanish Franciscan Missions in California, probably San Gabriel Arcángel. Goats were often used by sheep ranchers to lead the flock due to their willingness to follow humans. Mission livestock was originally driven up from Mexico, and in 1832 the missions collectively owned 1711 goats.

Although SCI goats were traditionally believed to have been left on the Channel Islands by Spanish settlers approximately 500 years ago, there is no evidence of their presence before the early 1800s. Furthermore, genetic studies have found that San Clemente goats are distinct from Spanish goats and native breeds from other parts of the U.S. or Latin America. However, the original mission goats would have descended from settler goats from Spain, and their uniqueness is likely due to long isolation from the mainland.

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A Critically Endangered Landrace Breed

History: In the 1970s, there were about 15,000 running feral on San Clemente Island, and they were found to present a threat to native plants and the local ecology. A removal program sold captured animals at stockyards, and hunters drove the population down to 4,500. When the U.S. Navy started shooting goats from helicopters, the Fund for Animals stepped in. They removed most of the population to the mainland for adoption after neutering. Others were picked up direct from transport barges by farms and breeders and these form the basis of our breeding stock. Those remaining on San Clemente Island were exterminated by 1991.

san clemente island goats
San Clemente goat buck by Heather Paul/Flickr BY-ND 2.0.

Conservation Status: Critical—approx 1,700 San Clemente goats remaining worldwide.

Biodiversity: Genetically distinct from all other U.S. breeds, they carry unique versions of genes that are valuable to the future sustainability of agriculture. Due to large-scale eradication and the low population number, inbreeding has inevitably arisen. Therefore all colors, horn shapes, sizes, and other variations in appearance must be kept in the gene pool to retain their genetic diversity. Although multiple teats occur frequently, all does who are able to feed their young are needed to propagate the breed, regardless or not of the conformation of their teats. In fact, all variations that do not cause infirmity are valuable for conservation.

Characteristics of San Clemente Island Goats

Description: Hardy, small- to medium-sized, with a fine-boned, deer-like appearance, although individuals vary widely in adult size. Both sexes have curved-back horns, which sweep out and twist on mature bucks. The head is long, lean and slightly dished. Ears are narrow with a distinctive crimp, often floppy during first few weeks after birth, and normally held horizontally; long neck, straight back to steep rump and deep chest, slender legs and small hooves; goat wattles absent, slight wispy beard on female and long, dark beard and mane on buck.

San Clemente Island goats
San Clemente dam and kid by Rio Nido San Clementes.

Coloring: Colors and patterns vary. The most common pattern is red, amber, tan or light brown with black markings: black face, outer ears, neck, shoulders with pale stripes from eyes to muzzle, pale patches on jaw, inside ears and under neck; black markings on legs and dorsal stripe. In the sixties, a large variety of colors and markings were seen on the island, including cream, solid and painted: these are occasionally seen in current populations.

Weight: Adults 60–130 pounds (27–59 kg). In some herds, mature males are larger, averaging 165 lb. (75 kg).

Height to Withers: There is a wide range of sizes, depending on bloodline, region, and availability of forage or feed. As goats are slow growing, true heights and weights cannot be ascertained until 2.5 to 3 years of age. The breed registry (IDGR) records show averages of 24 in. (60 cm) for does and 28 in. (71 cm) for bucks with a range of 21–31 in. (53–79 cm). However, there are herds of larger goats with does averaging 27–30 in. (69–76 cm) and bucks 30–33 in. (76–84 cm). Mature buck horns may spread 32 in (81 cm).

Temperament: Alert, gentle, excellent mothers, vigilant with sharp anti-predator reflexes.

San Clemente Island goats
San Clemente goat buck by Rio Nido San Clementes.

Hardy and Adaptable

Adaptability: Since arrival on the mainland the goat breed has proved to be adaptable to a variety of climates, having a wide geographical distribution over U.S. states and western Canadian provinces.

Popular Use: Their survival instincts make them an excellent multipurpose ranging goat. Currently they mainly kept for conservation and brush clearance, but have good potential for rich, creamy milk for cheesemaking.

San Clemente Island goats
San Clemente goat kid by Rio Nido San Clementes.

Owner Quote: “I love everything about these goats—their gorgeous, wild looks and even their wary, deer-like personalities. Earning their trust took a long time, but now I feel almost honored when they eat from my hands and let me pet them. Owning San Clemente Island Goats has encouraged me to learn about goat body language and behavior. I think the bucks’ unique deficiency in scent glands may be one of the biggest selling points for this breed, but extremely good health and easy, safe kidding also make them a pleasure to have.” Catharina, Rio Nido San Clementes.


Lead photo by Heather Paul/Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0.

Originally published in the January/February 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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