Breed Profile: Golden Guernsey Goat
Guernsey Goat Milk is Ideal for Cheese and Yogurt
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Breed: The Golden Guernsey goat is an extremely rare breed that has given rise to the British Guernsey in the UK and the Guernsey goat in America.
Origin: The original scrub goats on the Bailiwick of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France, contained a number goats with golden hair. They were thought to descend from Mediterranean goats brought to the island by sea traders, possibly including a red variant of the Maltese goat.
A Heroic Rescue of a Rare Breed
History: Although probably present on Guernsey for several centuries, golden goats were first mentioned in 1826 in an island guidebook. The first actual registration was with local association The Guernsey Goat Society (TGGS) in 1923. Their survival was largely due to the dedication of goat-keeper Miriam Milbourne. She first spotted golden scrub goats in 1924 and began keeping them in 1937.
Hardship came to the island in 1940 during the five-year German Occupation. The States of Guernsey reported that “The humble goat was a lifesaver, supplying milk and cheese, and was a valuable addition to the 4 oz. meat ration.” Nevertheless, the occupying forces were short of food due to Royal Navy blockades and ordered the slaughter of all the island’s livestock. Milbourne bravely hid her small herd, risking execution if they had been discovered.
Having successfully survived the Occupation, Milbourne began her breeding program for Golden Guernseys in the 1950s, on the suggestion of a British Goat Society (BGS) judge. Her herd grew to about 30 goats. TGGS started a dedicated register in 1965, supporting goat-keepers and maintaining the purity of the breed.
The Golden Guernsey Goat in Britain
Registered goats were exported to mainland Britain in the mid to late 1960s and the Golden Guernsey Goat Society (GGGS) formed in 1968 to serve that nation. The BGS started a register in 1971. Due to a shortage of purebred animals, enthusiasts built up the mainland stock by crossbreeding Golden Guernseys with Saanen goats, then mating the offspring back to Golden Guernsey bucks. Through successive back-crossing, offspring can be registered as British Guernsey when they reach seven-eighths Golden Guernsey.
The Guernsey Goat in America
Guernsey goats first appeared in the U.S. in 1999. A Canadian breeder started a purebred herd by importing embryos and implanting them into Spanish dams. Then the Southwind herd in New York state imported pregnant dams. Some of the resulting male progeny are used to upgrade developing herds. Starting from a ADGA-registered Swiss-type dairy dam, successive generations are bred back to registered purebred, British or American Guernseys (for details, see GGBoA’s breeding up program). Several committed breeders are using both imported and domestic semen and bucks to establish the breed.
A Beautiful Breed in Need of Conservation
Conservation Status: The FAO lists the Golden Guernsey as endangered. The export of some of the best males left a shortage on Guernsey, limiting available bloodlines. Numbers dwindled from a peak in the 1970s to a low in the 1990s (49 males and 250 females), but are now slowly increasing, assisted by the import of three males from the mainland in the 2000s. In 2020, the FAO recorded a total of 1520 females. Local and national societies and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust endeavour to ensure their survival. GGGS organizes the collection and storage of semen to preserve their unique genetics.
Biodiversity: The original bloodlines are limited, so care must be taken to ensure founder lines do not become inbred. Adaptive old-breed genes are retained, while udder conformation and milk yield have been improved through breeding selection.
Golden Guernsey Goat Breed Characteristics
Description: Long or short hair, with longer fringing down the back, hind legs, and sometimes along the belly. Small, fine boned, with a slender neck lacking wattles, and a straight or slightly dished facial profile. Ears are large, with a slight upturn at the tip, and carried forward or horizontally, but not pendulous. Horns curve backwards, although some goats are polled. British and American Guernseys are larger and heavier boned, although still smaller than other non-dwarf dairy breeds.
Coloring: Skin and hair can be various shades of gold, from pale blonde to deep bronze. There are sometimes small white markings or a white blaze on the head. Even crossbred offspring readily inherit the golden coat color, and it can occur by chance. Consequently, not all golden goats are necessarily Guernsey.
Height to Withers: Minimum for does 26 in. (66 cm); bucks 28 in. (71 cm).
Weight: Does 120–130 lb. (54–59 kg); bucks 150–200 lb. (68–91 kg).
The Perfect Family Goat
Popular Use: Family milker; 4-H harness and agility classes.
Productivity: Milk yield is around 4 pints (2 liters) per day. Although less than other dairy goats, food intake is lower and conversion rate high, resulting in an economical milker. BGS records indicate an average 7 lb. (3.16 kg) per day with 3.72% butterfat and 2.81% protein. However, Guernsey goat milk yields larger cheese weight per volume than average. The makes Guernsey goats ideal for small homesteads making goat cheese and yogurt.
Temperament: Their placid and affectionate nature makes them ideal as household milkers, pets, or 4-H projects.
Adaptability: Through a long acclimatization to the British Isles, they cope well with a damp, temperate climate. In addition, their placid nature allows them to feel at home on a small plot as well as at range.
- The Guernsey Goat Society (TGGS)
- Golden Guernsey Goat Society (GGGS)
- Guernsey Goat Breeders of America (GGBoA)
- FAO breed database
- Rare Breeds Survival Trust
- Lead photo credit: u_43ao78xs/Pixabay.
*Creative Commons photograph licenses CC-BY 2.0.
Originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.