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The British Primitive Goat is now one of our rarer breeds. 200 years ago there were not less than a million domestic goats, belonging to out old British breed, in Scotland and Northern England. As agricultural practices changed, however, the goat became less and less popular. When, in the 1870's, a Victorian goat revival began to reinstate it as 'the poor man's cow', culminating with the founding of the British Goat Society in 1879, no one was by then interested in the old British breed. They were simply too small, hairy and inconveniently horned. What was wanted was a big goat with a short and smooth coat and no horns that gave plenty of milk.
And so it was that foreign breeds were introduced from India, the Middle East and Switzerland. All our domestic breeds of today are descended from these foreign imports, and our primitive breed would have died out completely but for the fact that some escaped or were turned loose on the hills to run wild. Hence the origin of the Cheviot goat nearly 150 years ago.
To date, 233 locations where feral herds were once to be found have been identified. But having all died-out in domestication our feral population has been in decline now for some time. By the 1950's, at least 60 of the original 233 locations no longer supported feral goats, often due to shooting off as softwood plantations were developed on upland areas that had formerly been hill farms.
By 1990 the number of herds had again diminished - this time to only 45, with a total population of around 4000. (RSPB Inversnaid Goat Management Plan, 1990)
Recent large culls (e.g. c.1200 in Galloway) have seen numbers drop dramatically. Known introgression with modern breeds has spoiled some herds. The number of true British Primitive Goats has therefore been severely reduced (possibly to c. 1500).
Urgent action is needed to protect, preserve and promote what is rapidly becoming a remnant of our Primitive breed. We have been fortunate in persuading Battersea Park Zoo and Windsor Great Park to hold small populations of these animals.
This is the breed that was brought by the first farmers, was kept by the builders of Stonehenge, changed hands constantly during the Anglo-Saxon invasion and Viking raiding; was the herding goat of the Mediaeval manor, and the mainstay of the Cheddar Cheese industry. We had NO other breed until the late 18th century.