Breed Profile: Finnish Landrace Goat
One of the Most Ancient and Productive of Rare Goat Breeds
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Breed: Finnish Landrace goat or Finngoat (Finnish: Suomenvuohi)
Origin: Local to western Finland for at least 4000 years.
History: Goats were brought to northern Europe by migrating Neolithic pastoral settlers. The earliest traces of goats in Finland were found in a Corded Ware Culture grave, dating to circa 2800–2300 BCE. The people of this culture are believed to have lived from pastoral and arable farming. Their burial sites included wares appropriate to the lifestyles or beliefs of the interred, such as battle axes and beakers, including vessels with traces of milk fats.
In Perttulanmäki, Kauhava, in western Finland, local farmers discovered shards of Corded Ware pottery in 1930. The site was investigated by archeologist Aarne Äyräpää, who documented a square shape of “black soil with a length of nearly two meters”. As well as pottery and tools, he found a fragment of human molar. Microscopic examination of the soil revealed animal hairs. These were identified in 2015 as belonging to goats. Krista Vajanto, from the University of Helsinki, explained, “The hairs found in the Corded Ware grave in Kauhava are the oldest animal hairs found in Finland and the first evidence of goats. Our finding does indeed prove that goats were known already at that early period as far up north as Finland.” Moreover, goat farming may have been practiced in the area during earlier times.
Goats were revered in Norse mythology, as two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, were believed to pull Thor’s chariot. The myth may have influenced the later Christmas tradition of Joulupukki, the Yule goat, originally an evil spirit demanding gifts, who later evolved into a benevolent Santa, depicted as riding or driving a goat, and nowadays a Christmas decoration.
During the Middle Ages, goat populations dwindled, due to religious discrimination. However, their economical nature assured their survival as subsistence farm animals for milk, hair, and pelts.
The Finnish Landrace goat remains the most important goat breed in Finland, but modern populations include genes from Swiss (mainly Saanen goats) and Norwegian imports. There have been no further imports within the last 30 years.
Conservation Status: Despite their indigenous nature and ancient history, there is currently no conservation program for the Finnish Landrace goat. Luke, the Finnish Natural Resources Institute, records their numbers as 5,278 head within 145 farmsteads in 2017. The population had dwindled to about 2,000 by the 1970s but increased to 7,000 in 2004, again dropping to 6,000 by 2008. The Finnish Goat Association was established in 1979 for breeders and hobbyists to promote breeding and goat products.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stresses the importance of conservation of landraces in their local environment to maintain the genetic diversity that will allow livestock to adapt to environmental changes and disease challenges.
Biodiversity: Northern European landrace goats share an origin through their migrational route, later specializing to the climate and landscape of their final homes. Finnish Landrace goats possess unique genetic resources related to their adaptation with links to Norwegian and Swiss breeds. Although isolated rare goat breeds risk inbreeding, a good number of males were included in population figures up to 2006, suggesting maintenance of a mix of genes.
Description: Medium-sized, lightweight goats with a coat of coarse guard hairs, normally long, especially over the back and hind legs, covering a dense undercoat, especially in winter. Both sexes have long beards, and can be horned or polled.
Coloring: Usually white, black, gray, or gray-black: either self-colored, pied or saddled. Brown coloration is rarer.
Height to Withers: Does average 24 in. (60 cm); bucks 28 in. (70 cm).
Weight: Does 88–132 lb. (40–60 kg); bucks 110–154 lb. (50–70 kg).
Popular Use: Finnish cheese, feta, and other dairy products. Finnish Landrace goats are mostly kept in small herds by farms and hobbyists and milked by hand. Goat meat is not a tradition in the region, although young goat meat is flavorsome, as kids do not gain weight quickly.
Productivity: Compared to other small goat breeds, does have a surprisingly high milk yield, averaging 6.5–8.8 lb. (3–4 kg) milk per day. Top performers give 11 lb. (5 kg) per day and 2200–3300 lb. (1000–1500 kg) per year. Females are ready to mate at one year old and continue to lactate for several years without further breeding.
Temperament: Friendly and amenable.
Adaptability: Highly suited to the cold local habitat and free-range production methods, the Finnish Landrace goat feeds efficiently from brush and trees. Rotational grazing of pastures is required to reduce erosion. As long as varied forage is available, commercial feeds are not required.
Owner Experience: A backyard farmer in Finland told me about her small herd. The queen doe, Alma, was the smallest goat at 88 lb. (40 kg), but brave and productive, giving 8.5 pints (4 liters) per day. She was white, with grey, black, and brown markings. She bore offspring of varied colors and patterns.
Sources: Ahola, M., Kirkinen, T., Vajanto, K. and Ruokolainen, J. 2017. On the scent of an animal skin: new evidence on Corded Ware mortuary practices in Northern Europe. Antiquity (92, 361), 118-131.
FAO Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS)
Luke Natural Resources Institute Finland
University of Helsinki. 2018. Domestic goat dating back to the Neolithic Corded Ware period identified in Finland. Phys.org
Lead photo by Sami Sieranoja/flickr CC BY 2.0.
Originally published in the November/December 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.