Breed Profile: Turkish Hair Goat
Anatolian Goats Are Rich in Biodiversity from the Cradle of Goat-Kind
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BREED: The Turkish Hair goat is the native landrace of Türkiye (AKA Turkey), also known as the Anatolian Black goat, Turkish Native goat, or Kıl Keçi (kıl means hair).
ORIGIN: Goats were first domesticated more than 10,000 years ago. Although there are several domestication centers, Eastern Anatolia in modern Türkiye contributed the most to the modern goat gene pool that spread throughout the world. Anatolian goats are found throughout the country, especially in the high plateaus and mountainous areas, and they have evolved to suit the varied environments (plains, plateaus, massifs), climates (Mediterranean and continental: cold winters, warm summers, and little rainfall), and husbandry systems. Thus originated breeds as diverse as the stocky, shaggy Turkish Hair goat and the delicate, silky Angora goat.
The Turkish Hair Goat as a Pivotal Economic and Cultural Resource
HISTORY: For thousands of years, goats have been farmed by families or village shepherds on a subsistence basis in a nomadic or transhumant (seasonally nomadic) system for meat, milk, fiber, and skins. Shepherds and dogs guide goats to higher, cooler ranges in summer months in search of fresh browse. Then, they return to the valleys in winter. In other areas, there are small settlements where families or villages graze a small herd on farmland or common land, some supplementing with stubble grazing and a small amount of barley before breeding and during the last term of pregnancy. Goats browse areas unsuitable for crops in a silvopastoral system of meadows, brush, and trees.
The original nomadic system involves continual movement between camps, following forage availability, with shepherds residing in cloth tents woven from goat hair. This system is in decline since the ban on goats in forested areas. Population loss also resulted from a shift toward more intensive agriculture, consumer preference for poultry over red meat, low economic returns from goat farming, and the desire of younger generations to pursue other careers.
Although goat farming is secondary to sheep and other livestock, it is still an important activity economically and culturally. In 2005, an estimated 500,000 households kept goats, contributing to the incomes of nearly three million people.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Goat farming peaked in the 1960s when estimates were around 25 million head. Since then, decline in numbers has been due to market and cultural changes, which have most affected Angora goats (now only about 2% of the population). Around 98% of goats in Türkiye are the native Hair breed, estimated around 10 million in 2015. In that year, a herdbook was established to ensure the preservation of the breed’s genetic diversity.
Characteristics of the Turkish Hair Goat
BIODIVERSITY: Native Anatolian goats enjoy a varied gene pool with many alternative genes (average 16 alleles per locus) and many gene pairs are of different types (heterozygosity 0.52–0.94). These figures are high for domestic species. There is also significant genetic distinction from the other native breed, Angora.
DESCRIPTION: The body and legs are sturdy and muscular. The facial profile is straight to slightly convex. If horns are present, they curve backward and outwards. The semi-lop to lop ears are normally large, but can be smaller. The body has long, coarse, straight hair with a thin undercoat of soft, fine cashmere. Beards are present in both sexes. Wattles are rare. The tail is often held curled upward.
COLORING: Normally black, but sometimes gray, brown, or pied coats. Lower legs are sometimes paler or darker. There may be darker or paler markings from the eyes to the muzzle. Skin color is dark.
HEIGHT TO WITHERS: Adult does average 27–30 in. (69–75 cm); bucks 32–34 in. (82–86 cm).
WEIGHT: Adult does average 88–143 lb. (40–65 kg); bucks 99–198 lb. (45–90 kg). Sizes vary according to location and conditions, being larger where better pasture is found.
POPULAR USE: Mainly subsistence for meat, milk, and hair, although meat is also sold to market and there is an increasing urban demand for cheese. Small-scale farms contribute significantly to nation’s food supply. Hair is an important by-product for weaving (tents, rugs, sacks, and clothing). Farmers harvest hair by shearing once a year in summer.
Hardy, Diverse, and Multipurpose
PRODUCTIVITY: Does kid yearly from 23 months of age for an average of six years. Twins are rare (average litter size 1.02–1.15) and successful birth rates are high (90–95%). Due to low milk yield, dams are not normally milked for the first 4–5 months while kids suckle. However, any excess goes to feed the family or for local sales. Yield varies, averaging 141–448 lb. (64–203 kg) over 132–235 days, producing a daily yield of 1–2.2 lb. (0.45–1 kg) during lactation. That is about 2–4 pints per day and 17.4–55.3 gallons per year. Fat content averages 4–5.2% and protein 3.2–4 %.
Kids are raised for meat, giving a live weight of 46–64 lb. (21-29 kg) at 6–12 months.
Males can produce 4–6.6 lb. (2–3 kg) of coarse hair per year, does 0.8–2.2 lb. (0.36–1 kg), of 70–85 microns averaging 5.5 in. (14 cm) long. There is little cashmere (about 1.6 oz./46 g per year of 17 microns).
TEMPERAMENT: Dams have excellent maternal abilities and survival instincts.
ADAPTABILITY: Hair goats thrive in forest, brush, and Mediterranean evergreen scrub, as well as on farm meadows. They adapt easily to the varied geography and conditions in Türkiye, including rough, rocky terrain, low and high altitudes, and scrub regions. Their rugged, strong frames and legs allow them to walk far and climb easily. In addition, they have good resistance to local diseases and are tolerant of drought and extremes of temperature. Consequently, they survive on little healthcare, poor feed quality, little or no feed supplementation, and kids have a high survival rate (94–100% weaned).
QUOTE: “… its endurance and adaptation abilities make Hair goat a very valuable breed … it has made a crucial contribution to existence struggles of human populations.” Elmaz and Saatcı (2017).
- Elmaz, Ö. and Saatcı, M., 2017. Turkish hair goat, the main pillar of goat population in Turkey. In: Simões, J., Gutiérrez, C. (eds) Sustainable Goat Production in Adverse Environments: Volume II. 113–130. Springer, Cham.
- Yilmaz, O., Kor, A., Ertugrul, M., and Wilson, R.T., 2012. The domestic livestock resources of Turkey: goat breeds and types and their conservation status. Animal Genetic Resources, 51, 105–116.
- Ağaoğlu, Ö.K. and Ertuğrul, O., 2012. Assessment of genetic diversity, genetic relationship and bottleneck using microsatellites in some native Turkish goat breeds. Small Ruminant Research, 105(1-3), 53–60.
- FAO Domestic Animal Diversity Information System
Feature and title photos from Adobe Stock.
Originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.