Arapawa Goats: Discovering the Charms of this Rare Breed

Episode 125
For the Love of Goats

Arapawa Goats: Discovering the Charms of this Rare Breed

If you’ve been looking for a smaller breed of goat that’s parasite resistant, has excellent mothering skills, and comes in a variety of colors, the Arapawa goat from New Zealand might be a good fit, especially if you are interested in conserving rare breeds.

In this episode, we are joined by Emily Nyman, Arapawa Goat Breeders Association President and Livestock Coordinator at Conner Prairie in Indiana, a living history farm museum that has a herd of Arapawa.

Their feral history means that this breed is very hardy, but there are also challenges for those who want to raise them, such as finding breeding stock. With only 300 total goats in the United States, you probably won’t find them locally.

Emily talks about the Arapawa’s history, appearance, size, and more in this exciting episode.

Learn more about the Arapawa Goats online at…

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Transcript – Arapawa Goats

Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:18
Today’s episode is brought to you by Goats 365, my membership program for people who are living with, learning about, and loving goats, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Basic members get access to six courses covering housing, fencing, parasites, nutrition, and health, as well as things like composting goat manure and the basics of starting a goat-based business. Premium members also have the opportunity to attend live online meetings via Zoom to talk about goats every month. Visit Goats365.com to learn more.

Deborah Niemann 0:52
Hello everyone and welcome to today’s episode. This is going to be a lot of fun for those of you who are always looking for the next amazing goat breed to add to your farm. I am joined today by Emily Nyman, the Arapawa Goat Breeders Association President and the Livestock Coordinator at Conner Prairie, where we apparently met several years ago when the Livestock Conservancy had their conference there and I totally fell in love with these goats and spent the whole weekend telling myself, ‘I do not need more goats. I do not need more goats’ because they’re just so awesome. So welcome to the show today, Emily.

Emily Nyman 1:27
Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

Deborah Niemann 1:29
Yeah, I’m really excited to tell people about Arapawa goats because I bet most people have never heard of them before and that’s because they are very, very rare breed. And I do have a special place in my heart for rare breeds. That was when I got started with my farm in 2002, every single animal I got was on the Livestock Conservancy’s conservation priority list. And now, almost all of them have graduated. And so yeah, there’s a part of me that’s like, I should get back into something that needs help. So go ahead and tell us about the history of the Arapawa goats.

Emily Nyman 2:04
Yeah. So the history for these goats is kind of a mystery, which makes them a little bit fun. But it’s said that Captain James Cook put them on Arapawa Island when he was doing one of his voyages. And so these goats got left to be a food source for the future. And goats are goats. They reproduce. And so they kind of went a little crazy on the island. They had all the vegetation that they wanted and minimal predators. So they just flourished. As time went on, in the 1970s, I believe, was when New Zealand deemed that the goats were actually a problem and they need to be eradicated.

Emily Nyman 2:40
So a lot of people in New Zealand wanted to save these goats because it was a big part of their history, and so they started to take these goats off the island, make a sanctuary and try to focus on saving these little goats. They made their way to the United States in the 1990s from what is now formally known as Plymouth Plantation. They brought the first, I believe it was six goats over. And that’s basically what started the U.S. population. The goats are really fun because where they originated from is still unknown. Alison Sutherland in New Zealand has been doing some research to try to figure out what breeds they might have come from. And originally, they thought it was the old English milk goat, but that’s actually now been disproven. They think that it came from South Africa.

Deborah Niemann 3:25
Oh, wow. That is cool. So what exactly do they look like? How big are they? What kind of ears do they have? All that kind of stuff.

Emily Nyman 3:33
Yeah. So our biggest doe right now is 105 pounds and our smallest mature doe is about 60 pounds. So there’s a bit of weight variation. They’re a little bit bigger than a miniature breed, but they’re not as big as like your Oberhasli’s or your Saanen’s. So they’re a good moderate size. They have horns. The doe’s horns are gorgeous. They’re very sleek. They go back most of the time. Sometimes you have a little fun thing that goes forward. And the bucks horns end up being humongous as they mature and they like swoop around. So they’re very photogenic. They’re great to look at. Color wise, you kind of have anything under the sun. We have some that are nearly white and we do have some that are black and they just have like a little bit of, you know, dorsal stripe going on down their back. They always have the badger striped face, which is really a unique feature to them. And what we’re starting to find is nearly every single one of them has a black spot in the middle of their chest. So we don’t know where that came from, but it’s kind of a fun thing to look at. So you’re looking at some Arapawa goats, you can like pick them up and see like, oh, they probably have a little black spot.

Deborah Niemann 4:43
Wow, that is fascinating. Yeah. So do they usually have twins or more?

Emily Nyman 4:49
Yeah. So twins are most typical with this breed. We do have a couple triplets every so often. Your first timers are probably going to just have singles, but they are very prolific. They would probably breed twice a year if you gave them a chance, just like they would on the island. They keep amazing condition while in milk and raising those kids and they keep them fat. They are gorgeous little babies.

Deborah Niemann 5:12
Awesome. Have I heard also that they have really good parasite resistance?

Emily Nyman 5:17
They do. So originally, when I took over the livestock program, I had a regime where I would deworm everyone after they gave birth just because I knew like typically their health would decline. And then I was talking with my boss and I was like, ‘Why are we doing this? This breed is supposed to be parasite resistant.’ And so I completely stopped doing that and in the last six years, I’ve only had to deworm an Arapawa one time. So they really thrive in any environment, unlike my Saanen’s, which tend to be a little bit more parasite iffy. So I do really like them for that.

Deborah Niemann 5:52
Wow, that is wonderful. I always love to hear that. Are most people raising them for milk, meat, pets? What exactly?

Emily Nyman 6:01
Yeah, so it kind of depends on who you talk to. Some people are breeding them more for like your lawn ornaments. We breed them for both meat and milk. They are a lot slower growing where you’re kind of looking at a year and a half to two years to finishing out feeder wether. But I know that that’s becoming more of an idea within the Arapawa community. And so we’re trying to get people to understand like you don’t have to keep every single animal. We need to find their purpose. I know that there’s been talks about doing some milk studies, which hasn’t been done yet. And I would be really curious to see what the contents look like.

Deborah Niemann 6:37
Yeah, that would be awesome. When you’re ready to do that, call me. We used to be on milk tests for eight years with our Nigerians. And I helped the Livestock Conservancy do milk testing and gather data on one of the cattle breeds that didn’t have it. So it’s really fun. I just love- normally I’m not a paperwork person, but I love- I really geek out on the milk numbers, the butterfat and protein and all that kind of stuff. And I would bet that they probably have pretty high butterfat based on their size and the fact that they grow the babies nice and chunky and healthy and stuff.

Emily Nyman 7:15
Yeah, absolutely.

Deborah Niemann 7:16
So how many goats are there in the United States now and how many breeders?

Emily Nyman 7:22
Yeah, so we just did a census for 2023 and our numbers were just over three hundred, which was really exciting for us because when we did it in twenty nineteen, I believe we had two hundred and eleven goats. Worldwide it’s just over six hundred goats. So we’ve grown about one hundred and fifty goats in a couple of years, which is really exciting. Here in the U.S. we have about fifteen breeders, so we’re staying strong.

Deborah Niemann 7:50
Yeah, that’s definitely going to be one of your challenges in terms of like having a small gene pool is just a challenge all the time anyway. Is it challenging to bring in more goats from outside the country other than cost?

Emily Nyman 8:01
Yeah, it is. There is a lot of quarantine regulations and then also just trying to work with other breeders who want to help you. A lot of people do want to help, but there’s a lot of people who will pop up and really be gung ho about importing genetics and the people in New Zealand will do a lot of the back work and then they disappear. So I know one thing that we’re hoping to do in the next couple of years is to continue to build those relationships with the New Zealand people, because we would love to be able to import new genetics at some point. But yeah, cost is a big factor in that.

Deborah Niemann 8:36
Yeah, exactly. What is your favorite thing about this breed?

Emily Nyman 8:41
Honestly, I think my favorite thing right now is their personalities. So at Conner Prairie, we use them in our animal encounters barn and we see a lot of guests regularly over the summer. You know, fifteen hundred people are coming into the barn to interact with these goats and these goats are friendly. They are personable. Now, not all of them are. Sometimes it takes a little bit to get them used to being around people because they still have that feral tendency. But they are amazing animals who are personable, they want to interact with you, and they’re all super quirky. But on top of that, they’re like, you never know when you’re breeding what sort of color combinations you’re going to get. Sometimes you think you’re going to get long goats and they’re nearly black. And it’s just an absolute game. We haven’t figured out a rhyme or reason why, but it’s fun.

Deborah Niemann 9:28
Yeah. People have asked me about colors in Nigerians and I say it’s like Christmas. You never know what you’re going to get until the presents are opened. Because, you know, I used to have a buck. He was black, solid black. His father was solid red. His mother was solid chocolate and he had more buckskin babies than any- I’m like, where did this come from? And it was obviously coming from him because like half of his kids were buckskin and my does were not buckskin. So color genetics in goats is really fascinating. And I love raising any of the breeds where color can be anything because it’s so cool. Like I think a white goat is beautiful, but I don’t necessarily want 30.

Emily Nyman 10:21
Right.

Deborah Niemann 10:22
So with only 15 breeders in the country and so few goats, I would imagine that probably one of your biggest challenges is getting a really good plan for continuing the breed. And I know I’ve heard sometimes of people like using their Arapawa’s and crossing them with other goats, which is really not what you want to do. I mean, if it’s a buck, fine. But that’s not what you want to do with your does. You know, if you’ve got does, you really want to be breeding them to Arapawa bucks to increase those numbers.

Emily Nyman 10:56
Yeah, I mean, one of the biggest struggles that I’ve seen while being on the board is retaining breeders. A lot of people seem to be discouraged when you can’t make quick money. Just like with any breed, it does take a lot of time to build up your own personal herd. And so I always tell people like, be patient. This isn’t a moneymaker. If that is what you’re looking for, you’re probably in this for the wrong reason, unfortunately. You know, conservation is really important to us.

Emily Nyman 11:22
And so with the association, also, we are volunteer only. And so sometimes things don’t happen very quickly. I always try to do things in a timely manner, but life happens. And I know that tends to be frustrating to some new members because we have such high hopes to get these newsletters out. And we have started doing coffee hours again. And we want to have that member connection because that is really important to me specifically, And I know the other board members, because the way to keep people in a breed is to create that community. And I know for me, that’s super important because I would love to be able to talk to other people to hear about what their struggles are, what their successes are, what are they seeing in the breed? Are there any health issues that we haven’t seen? Because we are such a small population, things can still appear.

Emily Nyman 12:11
So it can be a struggle between just how many goats are available and then retaining those people. We get really sad when people seem to really be in the breed and they’re really excited, and then after two or three years, they just disappear. And those goats that they had also just disappeared. We’re very fortunate that recently a lot more people have been reaching out to the association to disperse their herds. And so that’s been really helpful, making sure that those goats go to appropriate homes where we know that they’re still alive and that they’re still being useful. And yeah, crossbreeding is a conversation that comes up. I am a person who will use my bucks on my other dairy breed does because I want to be able to help create a buck market. Kind of like, you know, in your Holstein dairy world, you’ve got your Angus and your Herfords for the calving ease. That’s kind of what I’m hoping to create with these Arapawa bucks. But with the does, I’m a lot more picky about who I’ll sell to. If they don’t have an Arapawa buck, I’m sorry, I’m not going to sell to you just because those does are going to be what helps continue that population.

Deborah Niemann 13:18
Yeah, exactly. And I’m so glad you mentioned that. And the fact that like this is not a money making thing, you know, I could see where some people would think like, ‘Oh, this is really rare. That means that the babies are going to be really expensive and I’m going to be able to sell them for thousands of dollars and make lots of money’. And I’m so sad it just does not work like that in the goat world, you know. And that is also really important, too, to note that when people decide that they don’t want them anymore, it’s like, don’t put them on Craigslist.

Emily Nyman 13:47
Right. Absolutely. Oh, my gosh. And I’ve seen that happen. And I’m like, hold on. Can I help you find a better solution?

Deborah Niemann 13:54
Yeah, exactly. Like, if you can’t do it anymore, you really want to find a home for them where the numbers are going to be continued. Because like you said, 300 goats, like that’s such a tiny number.

Emily Nyman 14:05
It really is. And I’m glad that that number has grown. Because when we started in 2015, I think there was just less than 100 goats. And so like seeing that number grow is great, but we want to continue to see that number grow.

Deborah Niemann 14:17
Yeah, exactly. We have had over 750 Nigerian dwarf kids born on our farm. And when I think about that, I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s more than twice the number of Arapawa goats in the whole country’.

Emily Nyman 14:31
That’s crazy. But that’s so exciting, too.

Deborah Niemann 14:34
Yeah. So that is just- I’m talking myself into them again.

Emily Nyman 14:40
I think you should. We are about to start our kidding season.

Deborah Niemann 14:43
Oh, my goodness. They are such a cool breed. I just love them so much. And I like the whole idea that they were feral and are just so naturally resistant and resilient and all that kind of stuff is also nice, too. But I also want to make sure we don’t oversell that point. Because like, you know, I used to raise American Guinea hogs. And I saw some people think like, ‘Oh, you just stick them out on pasture. You never have to feed them’. And then you wind up with skinny hogs, which sounds like an oxymoron, but I saw it happen. And even piglets whose growth was stunted because people thought that they didn’t have to feed them. So that is not the case with Arapawa’s So whenever people do get into them, they definitely need to do their homework and stuff and not assume that like, ‘Oh, since they were feral, they’re going to be cheap to feed and cheap to care for.’

Emily Nyman 15:31
Right. That’s a big thing, too. Kind of going off that point is like culling within the breed seems to be kind of taboo because if you have such a small population, why would you want to cull your goats? And so I am a person who will look at my buck kids for the year. And I only try to keep 25% as breeding stock to sell to other people. And I’m also incredibly picky when it comes to my does. I’ve got one doe in mind. She’s the one I had to treat for parasites, who this year, if she continues to have problems, I’m not going to keep her in the breeding herd anymore because I’m trying to in a better way replicate the island. But I still want to take care of her. But on the other end of that same coin, do I want to keep those genetics in the population if she is going to continue to have parasite problems? And if I continue to keep her babies in that population over time, are we going to start seeing that pop up more? And so I’m a big advocate for culling even in small breeds because it’s small now. So let’s keep the problems down to a minimum. We can still take care of them and absolutely doctor them up, give them the vet stuff that they need, but keep good records because that’s really important information as you continue to breed.

Deborah Niemann 16:44
Yeah. Somebody contacted me about a month ago because they had an Arapawa doeling born that had a teat defect. And they were like, ‘What should I do about this?’ And I said, ‘Well, dairy goat breeders would definitely not keep that as a registered goat. Meat goat readers don’t really care’. So even in the rest of the goat world, the answer to that varies. And I would even say this is true, like if somebody’s raising meat goats, I would not keep a buck out of a doe that has a teat defect. I mean, with only 300 goats in the whole country, you could keep her, but then I’d be real careful about what buck you breed her to and ask, ‘Did his mom have a teat defect and that kind of stuff?’ Because usually that gene has to come from both sides. So hopefully it can get bred out eventually. It’ll certainly take a while, but hopefully it can get bred out eventually.

Emily Nyman 17:43
I know. My boss has a really good analogy, especially when it comes to genetics, like the Arapawa goats, especially with your bucks, if you have a cup of water and you put a drop of food dye in it, it’s going to change that water to whatever color really quickly with just one little drop. You know, the water is our population. One thing is going to influence it really quickly, but if you take that same drop of water and put it in a pool, you’re not going to notice it because there’s just such a big population. So that’s something that I always try to keep with me when we’re thinking about what we’re keeping, who we’re breeding, and even talking to other members. It’s like, you might not think right now that that one choice is important, but over time it’s going to be. Just because it is such a small population, one thing can affect everyone in the span of just five to ten years.

Deborah Niemann 18:28
Yeah. Are most of the Arapawa goats concentrated in one part of the U.S. or are they scattered out pretty well?

Emily Nyman 18:36
Yeah, so currently most of the breeders are out east. We’re starting to see more breeders pop up in Indiana, which I love. And then our furthest west right now, I believe, is Kansas. So from the Midwest west, there’s not that many breeders. Most people are East Coast.

Deborah Niemann 18:55
And for people who don’t know, you can ship goats on planes.

Emily Nyman 18:59
Yes, you can.

Deborah Niemann 19:00
So, back when Nigerians were rare, because they used to be on the conservation priority list. One of my goats, the registration number on one of my first goats was like 1,000 something. So we shipped goats all over the country. We quit doing it now because it’s just like, they’re the most popular breed now. You can find them everywhere. If you want to drive to my farm and get them, that’s fine. But shipping goats is a lot of work because you have to take them to the airport and stuff. But when you’re talking about something that’s really rare, like your goats, then yeah, that is definitely a possibility if somebody is out west and thinking about getting started.

Emily Nyman 19:36
Oh, yeah Colleen, my registrar actually just sent out goats to California. I forgot about that. So I guess we’re as far west as California. But yeah, I know for us, we will drive quite a ways for new genetics. And it’s just something knowing that this is a small population. You kind of have to be either willing to pay someone to do it or be willing to do it yourself to just find new goats, get new genetics.

Deborah Niemann 20:03
Yeah, exactly. Wow, this has been so much fun. Is there anything else that people should know about them before they decide to dive in?

Emily Nyman 20:12
Just know that a lot of the breeders are super friendly and they really want to talk to people. So if you have any questions, any of us are more than happy to answer questions, and these goats are just great. I couldn’t say enough good things about them.

Deborah Niemann 20:25
That is awesome. So how can people get in touch with you online?

Emily Nyman 20:29
Yeah, so people can find me on my Instagram, which is @underthestarsreceiving or they can reach out to the association. So our Facebook page is Arapawa Goat Breeders Association, or we also have an Instagram, which is @arapawagoatsusa.

Deborah Niemann 20:44
Awesome. And we will have that in the show notes also for people who are driving and stuff right now. Thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a lot of fun.

Emily Nyman 20:52
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

Deborah Niemann
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

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