Sokoto Red Goat

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Other common names: Red Skin Goat; Red Sokoto Goat

The basics:
The Sokoto Red Goat has been described as 'The most famous African goat that no-one has heard of'. This is because the Sokoto Red Goat is the source of the famous fine 'Morocco Leather' that has been known in Europe from the 1300s onwards. However, it was sold to Europeans by Moroccan merchants who transported the fine leather across the Sahara from Mali in their slave caravans. It was only in the 19th century that Europeans discovered the true source of Moroccan leather, the Sokoto Red Goat.

Though the true origins of the Sokoto Red Goat are unknown, it is an ancient breed and because goats are not indigenous to West Africa it is believed that they are an early offshoot of the Sahelian Goat selected for their skins. It is also the only West African goat breed to have been selectively improved. Red coat colour in goats is prized in West Africa and in Nigeria, in 1929 there was a concerted effort to either cull or castrate non-red males, thus stabilizing the colour characteristics of the breed.

Despite having been specifically bred for its skin to make fine leather, all West African goats have to be generalists and they are also raised for meat and milk. They are typically raised in the states of the northern 2/3 of Nigeria. The Sokoto Red goat is classed as a 'medium-sized' goat. They are most well-known in the Sokoto province of Nigeria, hence the breed name. The economic importance of the Sokoto Red goat in Northern Nigeria has put this goat at the top of the breed pile and it is a commonly held belief that all other goats are descended from it (and therefore by implication are of lesser importance). And though this may be true of the Kano goat, it is not the case for any other breed.

Appearance / health:
In appearance the Sokoto Red Goat looks quite similar to Sahelian goats. They are quite thin, with a narrow body, shallow chest, and sloping short croup. The legs are typically long and spindly. The udder is split into two halves and both sexes are horned. Most have wattles and they can have either pendent or semi-pendulous ears. Average heights are about 60-65 cm in the withers for females and 65-70cm in wither for males. It is the coats, however, that make them distinct. All are now red-coated and the skins have coarse, thinly-spaced outer hairs (which makes them easy to remove in tanning). The sweat glands and wax glands are very small for a goat and the layer of subcutaneous fat is very thin (almost absent). Indeed, when slaughtered in the driest months the fat layer is almost entirely absent and the hide weight is reduced by 55% compared with winter weight.
This is an extremely hardy breed, with good levels of hardiness (though they need shade during the hottest part of the day). It is also known to be a very healthy breed and its diverse gene pool means that congenital diseases are almost unknown. The semi-arid nature of its typical habitat also means that infectious diseases are very uncommon.

Behavior / temperament:
Goats are curious, social and intelligent animals and the Sokoto Red Goat is especially so, as it tends to be managed more protectively than other West African breeds. They therefore interact with humans frequently during the day. This is a gentle breed that is easy to manage. Like all goats, the Sokoto Red Goat is very sure footed and will even climb trees (though this activity is discouraged). Like all goats they investigate their environment with their mouths, so if you approach them be ready to be chewed upon.

Housing / diet:
Sokoto Red Goats are deemed valuable and they are typically penned in or near to the village. They are never kept indoors, but where they graze is managed, typically by having a village child shepherd them, to protect the coats from being punctured. Because their sweat glands are smaller than other West African goat breeds they do need shade to prevent heat stroke during the hottest part of the day.

The Sokoto Red Goat is a non-discerning grazer and can subsist on rough grass, shrubs and trees. Sometimes their feed is supplemented with elephant grass and maize, but typically they are allowed to graze and browse as they will. Their requirement for water is lower than for just about any other breed of goat, but they still need access to clean water at least once a day (more if they are being milked).

Written by Dyfed Lloyd Evans

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