Breed Profile: Navajo Angora Goat

The Hardy Mohair Breed of Navajo Goat Herders

Breed Profile: Navajo Angora Goat

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BREED: The Navajo Angora goat is the hardy dual-purpose breed of the Navajo Nation. The term Navajo came from the Spanish designation of Diné Native Americans (indios apaches de Navajó) who developed the breed, and Angora is an anglicization of Ankara, the capital of modern day Türkiye (aka Turkey) and the province in which the mohair-coated breed originated.

ORIGIN: Goats producing a thick white undercoat with very little guard hair arose on the dry plateaux of Anatolia (now Türkiye) at least 2000 years ago. This long, fine, crimped hair became known as mohair. After developing Angora goats’ size and mohair production in the nineteenth century, Ottomans traded their fiber and its products worldwide. In 1849, Sultan Abdülmecid I of the Ottoman Empire gifted Angora goats to his American advisor.

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In the following 70 years, several hundred head were imported into the United States from both Anatolia and South Africa (which had also imported the Ottoman breed). Following the construction of the railroad in the 1880s, Angora goats spread across southwestern states to the Navajo Nation (located at the Four Corners between Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico). The Navajo people blended the breed with their Spanish goat herds to develop a hardy, pastoral animal suitable for subsistence production of milk and meat, while producing quality fiber for trading textiles.

Navajo Angora goat does at Tanglewood Farm. Photo credit: Tanglewood Farm, GA.

History of the Navajo Angora

During the 1700s, the Diné acquired livestock from Spanish colonists and became semi-nomadic pastoralists, relying on their flocks for sustenance and trade. Severe drought imposed the nomadic pattern of grazing to avoid long-term degradation of the land and its vegetation. The people’s spiritual endeavor to value and protect their animals and environment lead them to become successful, self-sufficient herders.

When they returned to their traditional lands, following forced relocation by the US Army, they rebuilt their herds and a form of pastoralism modified by fragmentation of their territory. Through clan networks and kin links in different parts of the reservation, they were able to guide flocks to fresh pastures. In the early 1900s, they incorporated Angora goats into their flocks. Mohair was sought for railroad car seats, increasing its price. This provided income from trade of fiber, blankets, and rugs. By the 1920s, pastoralists enjoyed a good standard of living and their livestock population grew.

Navajo Weavers by Pennington & Rowland, copyright claimant 1914, public domain.

When drought returned in the 1930s, US government officials were concerned that large herds, particularly goats, were causing erosion that threatened to silt up the Hoover Dam, which would supply electricity to growing cities. Environmentalists were also concerned about erosion and the sustainability of herding activity. Navajo flock size had historically fluctuated due to climatic and market forces and Diné herders had methods to mitigate land degradation. However, the authorities did not consult them and imposed drastic livestock reduction and restrictions on herd movements. The goat population dropped from about 330,000 head in 1933 to around 32,500 in 1945.

Economic and Ecological Impact

Many people lost their only source of income, especially women who ran the herds and weaving businesses. In the long term, movement restrictions have prevented pastoralism from returning to a sustainable and self-sufficient way of life. Most families need to seek additional income. From an ecological point of view, the steps did not prevent degradation of the pasture. As Frank Goldtooth observed in 1974, “A homesite is not good when a family lives in the same place too long. The vegetation is tramped on too much, and it never gets a chance to grow again. Long ago, moving with the stock from one place to another was much better than what we do now. It gave the vegetation time to grow again.”

Navajo Angora goat herd at Tanglewood Farm. Photo credit: Tanglewood Farm, GA.

These days, herders hold permits to graze Navajo Nation land. They negotiate permission to move their flocks to camps on other permit holders’ lands. Herds tend to be small, averaging 15 goats and 25 sheep, and some families may own just five animals. However, they remain important for subsistence and cultural reasons.

CONSERVATION STATUS: There are no accurate figures, but there are likely to be less than a thousand. The breed should be considered both rare and heritage. Currently, it is preserved by Diné families. Navajo Angora goats for sale are normally traded within the clan or with neighbors.

Photo credit: Tanglewood Farm, GA.

Characteristics of the Navajo Angora Goat

DESCRIPTION: A small/medium-sized goat with strong limbs and a mohair coat of distinctive broad wavy crimp. Locks are flatter than those of the modern Angora, while the face and lower legs are short-coated, remaining free of mohair. Michelle Standing Chief tells me that the modern Texan-style Angora “… would not have survived on the open range of the Southwestern desert as they would have been snow bound and iced over around their legs in the winter—as well as the thorns and burrs in the same area. Cleaner legs meant survival.”

The ears are wide, long, and pendulous. Some goats are polled, but most have upward- and backward-growing horns: females’ in a simple curve; males’ in a spiral.

COLORING: Coats may be white or shades of tan, brown, or black: solid colored or with markings. Foundation goats of the Colored Angora Goat Breeders Association were mainly Navajo types that have been developed to be more like the increasingly fine-fleeced modern type.

Red Navajo Angora goat doe. Photo credit: Tanglewood Farm, GA.

Unique and Useful Traits

BIODIVERSITY: Their hardiness is unique for Angoras, and their climatic adaptation is valuable for survival during climate change. They combine the gene pool of the original Anatolian goats with the regional adaptation of the Spanish, then refined through traditional husbandry in the area. Some interbreeding with the modern type has occurred due to the popularity of finer mohair, but crossbreeding threatens to dilute their adaptive genes and distinctive fiber. However, more remote families have preserved original lines.

POPULAR USE: Fiber for weaving and artwork; milk and meat for family consumption; leadership of sheep flocks. Navajo goats lend themselves to milking, unlike the typical Angora.

PRODUCTIVITY: Fleece grows quickly and thickly. Does kid easily, often producing twins, and are good mothers.

TEMPERAMENT: They are independent and inquisitive, ideally suited to their role of leading sheep to pasture and water. Although active, they are calm when handled and milked.

ADAPTABILITY: Over the last 150 years, Navajo Angoras adapted to the dry Colorado Plateau, its seasonal heat and cold, and frequent droughts. Whereas the original and modern Angoras are somewhat delicate, the Navajo breed is hardy, built to walk long journeys over rough ground, and to survive and produce on sparse forage.

“English words cannot describe the value Navajo Angora goats and Churro sheep have had in the Navajo economy, spirituality, and ways of life.”

Michelle Standing Chief, Tanglewood Farm


  • Sponenberg, D.P., 2019. Local Goat Breeds in the United States. In Goats (Capra)–From Ancient to Modern. IntechOpen.
  • Tanglewood Farm
  • Kuznar, L.A.,
    – Flexibility in Navajo pastoral land use. In Kardulias, P.N. (ed.), 2015. The Ecology of Pastoralism. University Press of Colorado.
    – 2008. Reclaiming a Scientific Anthropology. Rowman Altamira. 140–143.
  • Skurlock, D., 1998. A poor man’s cow: the goat in New Mexico and the Southwest. New Mexico Historical Review, 73(1), 3.
  • Harris, B.J., 1988. Ethnicity and gender in the global periphery: a comparison of Basotho and Navajo women. UCLA: Institute for Social Science Research.
  • Downs, J.F., 1984. The Navajo. Waveland Press.
  • Kramer, B.A., 1999. Livestock demographics, management practices, and attitudinal orientations of native livestock producers on the Navajo Reservation. Dissert. Arizona.

Lead photo by Tanglewood Farm, GA.

A current example of Navajo sheep and goat herding.

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