The Arapawa is a breed of domestic goat whose ancestors arrived with European explorers or colonists in New Zealand as early as the 1600s. The breed was originally only found on the rugged island of Arapawa, which is situated at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. The origin of the goat population on this island has often been associated with the expeditions of Captain James Cook. Historical records indicate that goats were released by Cook on the island in 1777. According to local lore, the present goats are directly descended from the original ones brought by the British explorers. The goats are thought to be descended from “Old English,” a common goat breed in Britain in the 18th century. This breed is a likely candidate to have been brought by British colonists as it is an all-purpose family goat suitable to meet the challenges of establishing new colonies.
Over time, Old English goats slowly fell out of favor on small, English farms. The breed eventually became extinct as more productive breeds became popular and the practice of keeping yard goats diminished towards the end of the 19th century. If New Zealand goat lore is true, then the Arapawa represents the last remaining examples of the Old English goat and has been conserved due to the relative isolation of the island. While the origins of the Arapawa goat will continue to challenge historians and biologists, phenotypical evidence and DNA evidence seem to support the hypothesis of the relationship to the Old English goat.
The Arapawa goat population thrived on the island without major threat for over 200 years, up until the 1970s. At that time, the New Zealand Forest Service concluded that the goats were too damaging to the native forest and had to be removed. In reaction to the news, Arapawa Island residents Betty and Walt Rowe stepped in with friends and volunteers to create a sanctuary in 1987. They began conservation work with 40 goats returned to domestication. It’s largely through their efforts that the breed gained international attention and survives today. The Arapawa remains one of the rarest goat breeds. As of 2011, there are approximately 150 to 200 domesticated goats in the United States, representing about half of the global population. Dedicated breeders are also working with the breed in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Documenting the origins of the herds released on Arapawa Island almost 250 years ago is important in understanding the genetic resource represented in the goats. In 2007, The Livestock Conservancy, through its Technical Advisor Dr. Phil Sponenberg, teamed up with the University of Cordoba and several Arapawa goat breeders to perform DNA analysis of the breed. The study found that Arapawa goats are clearly distinct from other breeds. They’re not Spanish as some scientists speculated, and the Old English connection may prove true. What is certain is that the hardiness and self-sustaining abilities of the goats make them a unique genetic resource.
Arapawas are considered medium-sized goats, with does weighing 60 to 80 pounds and bucks weighing up to 125 pounds. They have long hair and are predominantly black, brown, and white in varying combinations with many having badger stripes on their faces. Does typically give birth to twins with little to no birthing difficulties and possess excellent mothering skills from the start. The Arapawa is a non-aggressive breed, which, if handled early in life, makes for an excellent family goat.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.