Conservation

To Protect and Preserve the Old Irish Goat

The Old Irish Goat Society was originally formed on the Burren in Co. Clare in 2006, but despite significant volunteer efforts to save any Old Irish goats in the feral herds in that region, they were not successful.

In 2012, the society was reactivated when Old Irish Goats were found amongst the feral goat herd on  the hill behind Mulranny village.  They immediately went to work to study the goats with the help of Ray Werner, a London based expert on Old Irish goats.  They set up a breeding program, conducted several DNA studies and with the help of the media, made it known that Ireland’s only indigenous goat had been found and was on the brink of extinction.  

Ray Werner, one of the foremost experts on Old Irish and English goats.

Conservation Grazing Program

The potential to establish a conservation grazing program using a Heritage Herd of Old Irish Goats is being considered. 

Grazing is imperative for the conservation of vast majorities of heathland habitats. Hardy, traditional breeds are being increasingly utilised over machinery. The Old Irish goat has the ability to control the accumulation of gorse, especially after fires and due to their skillful grazing behaviour and efficient digestive systems, adapt to feeding on harsher environments with low nutritive quality heathlands. They effectively offer a more economical and sustainable solution to managing the landscape.

Old Irish Goats Grazing Gunnera Tinctoria October 2021

This pioneering initiative deployed Old Irish Goats to tackle the invasive plant Gunnera Tinctoria for the first time in Ireland. The project was made possible by a dedicated team of volunteers who have domesticated, tamed down, bred and trained up Old Irish Goats over the last decade, 2011 to 2021.

The project delivered the first conservation grazing initiative in Ireland targeted at Gunnera Tinctoria, an invasive plant species, using Ireland’s native landrace goat and the Nordic No Fence system. The process involved training the goats to respond to the herder’s call, migrate in and out of a livestock trailer and respond to the Nordic No Fence system. Grazing the Gunnera came naturally. The goats thrived and grazed the Gunnera leaves and stalks very effectively.

The project also developed a central database for the Old Irish Goat, using the Grassroots Animal Genetic Resource Database, which essentially forms the national register. The database records features, measurements, weight and details aligned to the World Watch List for Domestic Animal Diversity to essentially define the breed characteristics and help to conserve the Old Irish Goat.

A master plan for the Old Irish Goat Visitor Centre and Sanctuary was also developed, which will guide site development over the next decade.

In summary, this project, funded by the Heritage Council, was an enabler of possibilities on several fronts for the Old Irish Goat. It has laid the foundations for an Old Irish Goat based conservation grazing product to develop, it has facilitated the collection of baseline data for rare breed recognition and advanced a master plan for the Old Irish Goat Visitor Centre and Sanctuary.

Ursula, the Old Irish Goat grazing Gunnera Tinctoria

The Old Irish Goat Society gratefully acknowledges funding by the Heritage Council, funding and technical support from Mayo County Council and Southwest Mayo Development Company.

In the News

The Old Irish Goat’s return to Howth head was an occasion of great celebration and caused a national media stir on the 8-September 2021. The Mayor of Fingal, Cllr Seána Ó Rodaigh, Mayo Cathaoirleach Michael Smith and members of the Old Irish Goats Society enjoyed the momentous occasion.

Alpaca Hurdles helping to save Old Irish Goats

Seven new Alpaca Hurdles have been procured by the Old Irish Goat Society and repurposed to support handling of Old Irish Goats. The purchase was enabled by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine grant under the 2021 Rare Breeds Preservation Grant Scheme. The hurdles, 1.5m height, were test run by Old Irish Goat, Néit and proved to be Old Irish Goat proof! The aluminium hurdles are also lightweight and easy to transport.

The new goat hurdles have enabled examination and recording of features, measurement, weighing and detail analysis of Ireland’s native goats, aligned to the World Watch List for Domestic Animal Diversity to essentially define the breed characteristics.

The hurdles will allow the society volunteers to collate the information sought for mammalian species, in the Global Databank for Farm Animal Genetic Resources, i.e. morphology, adult height and weight, number and shape/size of horns, colour, colour pattern, specific visible traits, performance and birth weight. The equipment assists society volunteers in their endeavours to conserve the Old Irish Goat. The Old Irish Goat Society gratefully acknowledges the funding by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Breeding Program

In 2014 a few of the goats were taken off the mountain and the National Herd Breeding Program was established. Science was required to prove the goats’s uniqueness through DNA studies.  This was accomplished by first obtaining samples from the oldest examples of taxidermy specimens in museums and private houses and then next from live goats. Finally comparison studies with other goat breeds was done. This work has now been completed and the results clearly show that the Old Irish Goat in Mulranny is indeed a distinct Irish breed.

Efforts to survey the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for any remaining Old Irish type was undertaken but the results were generally not encouraging. Focus on the Mulranny herd has remained central along with work in South Armagh where fine examples of Old Irish type roam the hills in that area.   

Although the breeding program is not open to the public (except on special occasions) the Society established a visitors centre in Mulranny where information, exhibits,  a documentary film and gift shop is available. 

Planning is underway for an Old Irish Goat Sanctuary in Mulranny. It will be a place where visitors can see this fine animal and learn about the role it has played in Irish heritage and the promise it holds for the future.

Heritage

The Old Irish Goat, with its origins dating back  to the Céide Fields in county Mayo, Poulnabrone Portal Dolman in the Burren and the Megalithic Chamber Tomb, Bru na Bóinne in county Meath, is an unrealised local, national and international heritage /cultural asset.

With distinctive traits, 12 colour patterns, and an ancient appearance, it has the potential to become a tourism icon of Mayo and Ireland. It can add value to a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a cultural asset, and become an eco-friendly alternative to herbicide based invasive species control.  It can also provide milk and dairy products as well as a meat source from challenging farm land scrub.

The goats are a living history, aptly named:
“Heritage on the Hoof”.