Courtsey of Autry Farms, TN
On the coast of South Carolina, on a plantation that dates back to our founding families, is a small river island, home to the Lowcountry herd. The island was used as a rice paddy that was farmed until the 1911. When that enterprise was abandoned, coastal grasses, brush, and trees grew up on the island. In the 1960’s a local resident living near the plantation stocked the island with Spanish goats and harvested a few for meat on occasion.
Unable to cross the channel to the mainland, the Lowcountry goats ran feral and untended on the island for over 40 years, being secluded from the mainland. The old dykes from the rice paddies acted as a network of dry ‘highways’ for the goats in the middle of very wet and swampy land. Some areas on the island became impassable over time due to dense brush encroachment or impassable swamp.
As time went on, the goats were harvested less frequently, but by then new predators were present: feral hogs. In recent years these became the main predators for the Lowcountry herd, and the hogs were joined by alligators and the wild cats of the region. The population of goats began to dwindle.
The Lowcountry goats originate in the Southeast. Like the Baylis line, they tend to be smaller than some of their southwestern counterparts: nannies average about 70 lbs and billies average about 90 lbs. Their coats cover a broad range—they sport a variety of colors and color patterns, and the guard hairs and amount of cashmere vary from goat to goat. One adult on the island is polled. They typically give birth to twins twice a year.
In 2008, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) learned of the existence of these feral goats. They began efforts to coordinate with the plantation owners and local residents to capture some representatives of the herd before predators wiped out the population. The goal was to rescue some goats, breed them off-island to increase the numbers, to conserve as many genes as possible, and to bring these rare genetics back into the hands of goat ranchers once the population is large enough.
In 2010, working with local residents, the ALBC caught five nannies and buck from the Lowcountry feral herd and plans to continue the captures in 2011. The goats were tested for parasites and found to have an almost non-existent parasite load. Their hooves were in great shape and their overall health was excellent. They adapted to their new home immediately and without any signs of stress. The first off-island birth occurred shortly after they arrival to their new home in December of 2010.
The captured goats are currently on a reserve in South Carolina in a conservation breeding program that is being carefully monitored by the ALBC. They are on natural forage supplemented by hay, and given occasional handfuls of corn to keep them friendly.
Story by Jeanette Beranger, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, February 2011.