Officially discovered and recognized in the mid-1930s, the Don goat breed is native to Russia and more specifically to the Don river basin for which it is named. Though little known outside their native range, the Don goat should be of particular interest to hand-spinners and anyone interested in producing marketable quantities of cashmere. Although individual fleece quality can vary rather widely in this breed, they are renowned for producing upwards of 500 grams of cashmere per year. Compared to the yearly average of 150 grams produced by most other cashmere breeds, the Don is the heavyweight cashmere champion of the goat world.
Although they can’t compete with production breeds like the Saanen or Alpine milk goats, the Don goat is also favored locally for its milk production. Don goats are known to produce a rich milk, high in butterfat and milk solids; during the first 2 – 3 days after kidding, does will give milk with as much as 7 – 12% butterfat, excellent for cheese making and other crafts.
Appearance / health:
Don goats are typically solid black, but can also come in white and mixed colors. They are horned goats with medium-length, somewhat irregularly shaped horns, and strong, stout bodies. Though they are a medium-sized breed, bucks are noticeably larger and wider than does, while both sexes have good conformation, an alert and lively look in the eyes, and a strong, hardy constitution that is well-suited to browsing and free range grazing.
Goats are sensitive animals that can suffer from various infectious and chronic diseases that are sometimes undetected until too late. Vaccinations, as well as de-worming and de-lousing applications must be conducted as needed. Milking goats should be checked regularly using prescribed mastitis tests for udder health. Milking areas should always be clean and the goat’s teats treated with teat dip after milking to prevent mastitis.
Goats must be inspected frequently to detect any signs of poor health, infections, or other ailments. Signs include cloudy or teary eyes, dull or fluffed up coat, droopy tail, hunched back, or poor appetite. A veterinarian should always be on call to address health concerns.
Behavior / temperament:
Goats are inherently curious, active, intelligent, and social. They are known to have the ability to overcome enclosures by unraveling the gate, climbing over the mesh, or pushing and ramming the fence down. Goats have good coordination and balance and can manage to climb low trees, ledges, and overhangs. Their curiosity leads them to constantly investigate items with their mouths; most items get chewed and swallowed. With a little patience, goats can be taught to carry or pull loads, respond to calls, and lead a herd. As social animals, they easily get along with other farm animals.
Housing / diet:
As herd animals, goats are best kept in pairs or groups. As grazers, they require an outdoor habitat that is securely fenced to prevent escape or foraging in restricted areas. The area should be large enough to allow the goat to roam. The recommended habitat per goat is 200 sq. ft. of yard or pasture plus a sheltered or indoor area of about 15 sq. ft. The sheltered area should be adequately built to keep the goats safe from rain and strong winds.
Keeping goats inside the house is not recommended because of the pet’s tendency to gnaw and chew on furniture and furnishings. Goats are also not known to adhere to toilet training.
The ideal food for domesticated goats is alfalfa hay and grass hay. This should be available daily in quantities of at least 3% of the goat’s body weight. Small quantities of feed grain and concentrates (often protein-enriched) like goat show or goat grain can also be given to add nutrition. Supplements are often used to address deficiencies inherent to local habitats.
Clean water is essential to a goat’s daily diet. It should always be available and provided where it cannot be soiled. Dirty and moldy water is hazardous to the goat’s health. Milking goats should be kept away from aromatic or strong-tasting foliage like garlic, onions, mint, and cabbage, which could taint the flavor of the milk.