New Valais Goat Breeds Recognized
Switzerland to Announce Three “New” Official Goat Breeds
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As a result of the efforts of Pro Specie Rara, a Swiss conservation group, three breeds of goats will be added to the official list of recognized Swiss goats published in 2021.
The three breeds aren’t new — but quite old.
According to the group, recovery of an ancient breed follows a pattern: a breed, which likely never had an official name because it was the only breed in a region, falls out of favor and is forgotten. Then someone notices the disappearance, and conservationists search for surviving animals, open a herd book, and conduct breeder meetings to agree on breed standards and define breeding goals to preserve genetic diversity.
Pro Specie Rara, collaborating with more than 4,000 volunteers in Switzerland, preserves the genetic and historical-cultural diversity of nationally cultivated plants and livestock for future generations. To date, more than 4,700 varieties of plants and 32 animal species owe their survival to the foundation and its conservation network. Membership, donations, sponsorships, and grants support this group to raise awareness and accomplish its mission.
In 2006, Pro Specie Rara became aware of a goat that resembled the Valais Blackneck goat, except the neck appeared brown. With a physique and horns significantly different from all other Swiss breeds, Valais goats closer resemble African goats. Pro Specie Rara launched an investigation. Historical photos and interviews led them to discover that, at one time, there were four color expressions of a Valais goat group — not just black — but tan, grey, and pure white, even within the same herd. Genetic analysis determined that the color did not result from crossbreeding, as originally thought, but was proof of genetic diversity in the rarest Swiss goat breed, the Valais Blackneck.
The limited recognition of eight official national breeds and derecognition of a vast number of others resulted from a “racial cleansing” (Die Rassenbereinigung) enacted by the conference of the Swiss Goat Breeding Association in 1938. Many factors motivated the change. Between 1921 and 1936, the goat population decreased sharply from 333,000 animals to 220,000 animals. There was concern that having too many small, regional goat breeds would result in a disintegration of breeding standards and a rise in inbreeding the limited populations. Restricting the number of breeds might also offer an agricultural production advantage during the world war era. Despite the official race policy, some small pockets of breeders continued to produce the goats that suited their region and defined their heritage.
With the Valais Blackneck recognized as official in 1938, omitting color variations, the Valais breeders focused on black — and the others became undesirable. While black is genetically dominant, rare exceptions managed to persist. At the beginning of the project, Pro Specie Rara could find only 28 goats. With strict inbreeding guidelines, restoration would be challenging. Creating a genealogical register would allow inbreeding calculators to determine relatedness. A herd preservation and maintenance project began in 2013, which recorded all known animals in Switzerland and Germany in a herd book of Valais goats. While it is recommended that breeders breed true to color, crossing is allowed, and offspring of color crosses can be recorded in the registry. The population is growing and has passed the threshold from endangered to critically low.
Valais Fawnneck (or copper)/Kupferhalsziege/Chèvre col fauve/Vallesana dal collo rosso
Valais Greyneck/Grüenochte Geiss/Chèvre col gris/Capra dal collo grigio
Simplon Goat/Simplonziege/Chèvre du Simplon/La Capra Sempione
Breed Characteristics of Valais Goats
The conservation group defined their breeding goals as a long slender physique, with a long coat and strong, imposing horns on bucks. They aimed to reduce the coat length to eight inches from the ground to make the goat more suited to brush country and attract producers. The Valais goats are multipurpose but primarily considered meat and land management goats. They are expected to be hardy, with kids achieving rapid weight gain.
Height at Withers: 33 inches (buck), 30 inches (doe)
Weight: 165 pounds (buck), 120 pounds (doe)
We greatly appreciate the permission granted by Sabine Bircher, president of the Valais Breeders Association, ZCKG, to translate content from the official website ProSpecieRara.ch to compose this article and for supplying breed photographs.
Karen Kopf and her husband Dale own Kopf Canyon Ranch in Troy, Idaho. They enjoy “goating” together and helping others goat. They raise Kikos primarily but are experimenting with crosses for their new favorite goating experience: pack goats! You can learn more about them at Kopf Canyon Ranch on Facebook or kikogoats.org
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Goat Journal — Goat Health from Head to Hoof Vol. 2 — and regularly vetted for accuracy.