Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue TD, today announced the approval of the Old Irish Goat breed as a Native Rare breed to Ireland. Its recognition as a breed is based on extensive DNA profiling using the latest Genotyping technology and is an important step in the conservation of this rare breed.
Minister McConalogue said: “I am pleased to announce that the Old Irish Goat is now classed as a native rare breed. There are many factors such as cultural, historic, and genetic diversity that make the Old Irish Goat a unique breed with a rich history unique to Ireland. The Old Irish Goat is celebrated in Irish folklore, tradition, paintings and literature.
“By virtue of their hardiness, they provided a crucial component of Ireland’s past farming and rural life. Today they provide an important resource in conservation grazing, heritage and tourism. I recently saw first-hand the benefit these goats play at Howth Head in controlling gorse and helping to reduce the risk of fires with their amazing skilled grazing techniques. ”
“The Old Irish Goat Society is now also recognised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) as a breed society and approved to maintain a breeding programme for the breed in Ireland. I particularly thank the efforts of this dedicated core of breeders and community activists in collecting and selective breeding of these animals, the Old Irish Goat can now be recognised officially as a key part of the rich and unique history of Irish breeds.
Minister Pippa Hackett, speaking at the Second National Biodiversity Conference in Dublin Castle today, welcomed this announcement which demonstrates the valuable contribution of Irish farmers to biodiversity goals. The Minister said, “It’s important we acknowledge the value of Animal Genetic Resources to supporting Biodiversity mix across the country and the role and dedication of the Old Irish Goat Society in achieving this status.” In conclusion, she took the opportunity of “Wishing the Old Irish Goat Society every success in their endeavours in the preservation and promotion of the breed”.
Notes for Editors
Briefing on the Old Irish Goat breed.
The Old Irish Goat breed arrived in Ireland during the Neolithic age and adapted naturally to the Irish landscape over time. The phenotype of the Old Irish Goat, long haired, dished face, with erect ears, is captured in the portrait of the Connemara Girl by Augustus Burke 1880, which hangs in the National Gallery. Coats come in a varied range of up to twelve colour patterns that blend with the landscape and are typically long, coarse, thick and act as a natural thatch with an under wool of cashmere that pushes the hair outwards in winter.
The Old Irish Goat has the ability to control the accumulation of gorse, due to their skilled grazing behaviour and efficient digestive systems and can adopt to feeding on harsher environments. The Old Irish Goat is part of a conservation grazing project in Howth Head which commenced in 2021. They are being used to reduce gorse cover in the area that has been plagued with wildfires. By returning to the old ways of grazing land, this method of grazing is a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way of managing the landscape in heathland habitats.
The Old Irish Goat Society was recognised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) as a breed society and approved to maintain a breeding programme for the breed in Ireland, earlier this year. The Society has a core of enthusiastic breeders who are committed to preserving the breed into the future. The Society received funding through the Genetic Resources Grant Aid Scheme administered by DAFM over a number of years in order for it to obtain this recognition and operate its breeding programme.
Following extensive work by Weatherbys on DNA profiling using the latest Genotyping technology, the breed has been shown to be unique, based on the genetic distance from other breeds.
Assessment of the breed to be considered Native depended on a range of criteria including;
- General information: country of origin, Numbers of animals: Breeding males, Breeding females and total population. Trend in numbers in last 3 years: decreasing, stable, increasing. Estimated risk status
- History: Ecological, cultural-historical and social value.
- Performance of the breed: Adaptation to production/environmental circumstances (climates, feeds, diseases, management systems, terrains).
- Breed purity: Influence of other breeds based on DNA/Genomic analysis.
- Based on FAO criteria, the breed can be considered ‘at risk’ and in the Critical Maintained category due to the number of breeding females. There are currently 37 breeding females and 25 breeding males, indicating numerically the breed is scarce and can be considered of critical status as per FAO guidelines. The survival of the breed is therefore of concern to DAFM.
Recognition of the breed as a Native breed with a conservation status “at risk” means that it could be considered for future participation in appropriate CAP funded schemes.
The last time DAFM approved a breed as being Native and rare was the Droimeann Cattle Society in 2019.
The current list of breeds recognised as being Native and rare include;
Cattle: Kerry, Dexter, Irish Maol, Droimeann
Equine: Connemara Pony, Irish Draught.
Goat: Old Irish Goat, Mulranny, Co Mayo