Icelandic goats are a rare heritage breed that has been raised in Iceland for at least the last 1100 years. Although their numbers have fluctuated widely over the course of history, Icelandic goats are currently a critically endangered breed and a prominent conservation priority in Iceland. Due to their limited marketability, most of these goats are kept as pets or for home milk production by small farm owners and hobbyists.
In addition to serving as decent milk producers, the Icelandic goat has a dressage rate of roughly 40% and is known to produce a reasonably high quality meat with little fat. Although some attempts at crossbreeding have been attempted to increase fiber and milk quality, the fiber, milk and meat potential of this breed remain largely unexplored. Unfortunately however, due to their limited numbers (currently less than 800 head) and isolation from other goats, the Icelandic breed has become quite inbred.
Appearance / health:
Icelandic goats are typically white, but may also come in shades of gray, black, pied, or a mixture thereof. Generally a small to medium breed, individual animals can vary rather widely in size, but bucks are typically larger than does. Some Icelandic goats are naturally polled, but most have medium horns that sweep upward and back slightly over their head. Ears are typically small to medium, erect and forward facing.
Bucks and does are both bearded, and they typically have long bangs that hang across their forehead and eyes. Their coat may be medium to long, especially during the winter months when it grows in. Coarse outer guard hairs protect a dense undercoat of quality cashmere during the winter, with goats shedding during the spring. Outside of Iceland, the only place you’re likely to find these goats is in Scotland, where half a dozen head were imported for crossbreeding.
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:
Due to their critically endangered status, Icelandic goats are not typically raised for meat consumption. Since the demand for goat products is rather low in Iceland and because of government subsidies offered to farmers who raise this breed, most Icelandic goats are simply kept as pets. As such, Icelandic goats are a well-tempered, friendly breed that takes easily to humans and usually enjoys being pet, brushed, and rubbed.
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.