A Legacy of Breeding Pygoras in the Pacific Northwest
Reading Time: 5 minutes
By Aliya Hall
Veneta, Oregon — It’s in the bathroom of Sonia Hall’s house that her passion for goats come through. On the walls are plates with goats’ faces painted on them, framed pygmy sketches, embroidered goat hoops, a wood panel saying, “Emerald Valley Pygmies,” and a painted wood goat that says, “A nice lady and an old goat live here.”
Growing up and visiting my grandmother, I was used to the goat trinkets and memories, but I didn’t realize how big of effect goats had had on her life, or how much she impacted the goat world by helping Katharine Jorgensen pioneer the Pygora breed. Hall was among the first Pygora Breeders Association committee members in 1990, according to the association.
“Katharine Jorgensen was the one that really set this all up,” Hall said. “This was fun and games. I don’t know if anyone else did any spinning with the fleece, it was just, ‘Can we get this?’”
Pygoras were developed by Jorgensen in Oregon City, Oregon, during the 1980s, according to the Pygora Breeders Association website. On a visit through a Southwestern reservation, Jorgensen was struck by the colored long-haired goats and she wanted to then make colored mohair. Her plan was to produce mohair the color of Pygmy goats, but the Pygmy undercoat was too short and she decided to breed a pygmy to an Angora buck. Eventually, she got the fleece color she was looking for.
Hall started breeding Pygoras in 1984 because she wanted to get that cashmere fleece blend. She bred Pygmies with both Angora and Cashmere goats and said that the Pygora fleece came close to what she was looking for.
“It’s not as nice a fleece as the Angora or cashmere. It’s an in-between,” she explained. “I was crossing Cashmere and Pygmies to get a finer quality, but the Angora would make it softer and it has a beautiful shine to it. It was a fun thing to play with and play God doing all this breeding.”
The fiber was the big appeal, and she would spin it with her father while her mother weaved with it. The goal wasn’t to sell it, but to make for hobby purposes.
“I enjoyed spinning. When it was hot in the summer, I felt like I was accomplishing good stuff,” she said. “We kept it in the family because it seemed easier. I wasn’t going to spin enough to be a production line person.”
To this day Hall has hooked wool seats in her dining room, a cashmere sweater that her mother weaved, a spool of spun Pygora wool and Pygora mohair.
Originally, Hall got into goats as something for her youngest daughter, Dawn, to do. She started with Pygmies because she was told that they were the right size for children. Eventually, she started to show the goats as well, which was how she started to meet others who were interested in crossbreeding. Hall said that at the beginning of the Pygoras, the committee members were still all showing pygmies on the side.
“I discovered I was not a good showman,” Hall said, “There’s a lot of prep work involved with that and I’m not that meticulous. There were people I was showing against that spent days getting one goat ready for one show. They also sold the animals for big bucks and that wasn’t important to me.”
Although Hall only spent five years invested in the goats, there was a time when she had over 100 on her property, Emerald Valley Farm, as well as a herd of sheep.
Eventually, Hall’s numbers began to diminish. She said that she just had smaller and smaller quantities and decided that “enough was enough.”
“I got tired of it I guess, not any big deal,” she said.
The biggest challenge for her was selling what was left of her herd, but she was able to find a man in Springfield who purchased the goats for the meat.
“They’re fun animals to have,” she said. “Goats have wonderful dispositions. They’re just characters to be around. Sheep are just born waiting to die, but not goats. They’re curious, they will stick their noses through any type of fence you have.”
Now, 10 years after stepping away from the goats, Hall has taken in two Pygmies that were gifted to her. The goats grew up in a house and are extremely people-friendly, Hall said. She has had them for two years and she said that they take care of themselves.
“As you get older, maybe you get smarter, but you don’t have the energy,” she said. “When I had someone looking at the animals, part of the game was running and catching them. At 80, I’m not chasing goats anymore.”
At the end of the day, Hall said that the family is full of hobby people, and hobbies can only go for so long. She added that she did all that she wanted to do with it.
“I enjoyed it when I did it,” she said. “It’s a time of my life that I can look back and say I’m glad I did it.”
Originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.