These long-horned goats are probably descended from domesticated wild goats. Historically, there have been long established scattered populations over the more rugged hills of Scotland. Goats first appeared in Scotland before sheep, dating back as far as 8,000 years ago when there was still ice in Scotland. They have been used for cheese, milk and meat production in the past. Today milk and cheese production has gone. It is the only indigenous goat in Scotland – those used today for cheesemaking are imported breeds. Their skins and horns would also have been put to good use; goat hair was once spun through wool to strengthen the yarn for socks and suchlike that needed to be hard wearing. They were certainly domesticated prior to and up to the Highland Clearances of the 1750’s. There is evidence there were goats up at the sheilings. Upon the Clearances, folk fled, emigrated or were killed, and goats escaped. These significant herds form the basis of the Scottish colonies to this day. They have never been appropriated to one community, being free to roam since the Highland Clearances that started around 1750 when crofters were evicted from the land and their flocks left to wander. They are predominantly on the west coastal fringes of Scotland.
Today the breed is at risk of extinction due to changes in farming practice and a lack of appreciation for old breeds. There is a lack of knowledge of their history and increasingly a demand for large cuts of modern breeds, neither of which help this breed to survive. Seen as pests by some, and cross-bred at times with imported goats, place the breed at risk.
If you lose this breed you lose a piece of the Scottish soul. The population is declining, and Britain has very few undeveloped breeds left. The native Shetland goats roam wild on estates where some ignore them, others curse them and, fortunately, some appreciate and nurture them. With goat management, you can have a balanced population level while maintaining the overall health of the herd. This supports tourism and also provides a sustainable food source in the ecosystem. By selecting mature males past breeding prime, the population can be kept in balance and as wild goats are not classified as game they do not have an official closed season. That said, for ethical reasons they are not hunted before autumn, to allow any young offspring to be independent. It is possible to hunt native goats either on Ardnamurchan Estate or the Scottish Borders.
The goats seek unpopulated and rugged places, off the beaten track. Currently only those who hunt them create access to the meat. The goats are endangered as they are ‘under attack’ from quite a number of authorities. Classified ‘wild,’ it requires veterinary certification prior to butchery that is an added administrative task, but there are butchers who will do it and the meat is popular.
According to a Spanish investigation and another conducted in Norway, goat meat is classified as the healthiest meat in the world for people with digestive problems. These goats have not been ‘developed’ and are eating from nature, creating distinctive qualities and a taste of terroir in their meat. It has a richness, and when slow cooked creates the most delicious casseroles. It is very versatile and can be dried, cured and made into sausages. The legs can be dried for charcuterie.