When sealers landed on Arapawa (now Arapaoa) Island in the early 1800s, they noted the existence of a small breed of goat. Today, with only 355 live, pure-bred Arapawa goats registered in New Zealand, they are one of the rarest goat breeds in the world. Bordering on extinction, the American Livestock Conservancy rate Arapawa goats as critically endangered. In 2018, DNA analysis by three world-leading animal geneticists supported historical evidence that Arapawa goats are direct descendants of goats released into New Zealand during Captain Cook’s voyages. For over 240 years, without interference from humans, Cook’s goats adapted to the ecological environment of Arapawa Island and evolved into what are today’s unique ‘New Zealand Arapawa goats’.
While some goats remain feral on Arapaoa Island, considered an introduced pest that threatens the natural habitat, their future on the island is bleak. To ensure the breed’s survival, in 2012 the NZ Arapawa Goat Association (NZAGA) was formed and a breeding programme began. Today Arapawa goats living in domestication spread geographically from Invercargill to Northland. While there are a few kept at the Willowbank (Christchurch) and Staglands (Akatarawa) Wildlife Reserves, the majority are nurtured by small-lifestyle-block owners who are passionate about conserving the breed.
The Arapawa goat is a small, light-framed, dual-purpose goat. As a general guideline, a mature female is about 61-71 cms (24-28 inches) at the withers and a male is 66-76 cms (26 to 30 inches. Arapawa goats have distinct patterned faces, which are long and narrow, with dark brown or black-striped facial markings. Does and bucks are both horned, with the does’ horns sweeping up towards the back, and the mature bucks’ sweeping up, back and curling outwards. A distinctive feature of the Arapawa goat is a lack of tassels (i.e. wattles).
How to care for them
The majority of Arapawa goat owners were new to goats and have formed a very supportive network. They can be contacted through the www.arapawagoats.com website and the NZ Arapawa goat Association Facebook page. A particularly good reference for beginners is the ‘Arapawa goats: A practical guide for beginners’ which is accessible via the website and free to download: https://www.arapawagoats.com/forsale1.html.
Some useful tips from the book:
In the beginning
Goats need goats! They are social animals that belong in a herd and should not live alone. For someone new to goats, the ideal starters are two young kids. If you are only wanting pets, consider two wethers (castrated males). If you think you may want to join the breeding programme one day, consider two doelings (female kids) or a doeling and wether.
Arapawa goats do not require a lot of lands to roam over. Too large a paddock can mean your goats keep their distance from people and are difficult to handle. As a rule of thumb, allow 4-6 goats to an acre. A 1-acre paddock can be divided into 4 smaller blocks to enable rotational grazing.
Arapawa goats are great escape artists and require good fencing to keep them contained and safe. Fences should be over 4 feet (with electrified outriggers at the top to discourage jumping) and have corner posts outside the enclosure. If using a chain/woven link, it should be 4 inches or less. Don’t use barbed wire or warratah fences.
Arapawa goats are susceptible to rain cold, wind and extreme heat. The easily accessible and appropriate shelter is not only a necessity, it is a legal requirement. The minimum guidelines are 1.52 metres for each goat. Shelters should be off the ground, easily accessible for cleaning, face away from the prevailing wind, and have a partially enclosed frontage. Allow extra shelters so goats at the bottom of the hierarchy can get away from bullies. Rubber matting (stall barn mats) makes ideal flooring.
Goats are not sheep; they will not mow your lawns. The bulk of an Arapawa goat’s food should be good quality hay (allow 1 biscuit of hay per day), pasture and forage. Keep their food off the ground but avoid hay nets as goats tangle in them. Goats don’t share! Feed separately and have sufficient space and containers between them at feeding time. They should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Warning: Feed grains in moderation. Goats die if fed too many grains at one time. Introduce them gradually and don’t give more than one cup per Arapawa goat per day. Any plant consumed in excess can be toxic, so offer additional fodder (including fruit, vegetables, herbs and supplements) in moderation. There is a comprehensive list of plants considered safe and plants considered poisonous to Arapawa goats in the practical guide for beginners (mentioned above).
Arapawa goats are curious, playful animals that need stimulation to prevent boredom and developing behavioural problems. Enrichment can be offered by providing: companions, different foods and new objects to investigate (e.g. tree stumps, logs, raised planks, large tyres, seesaws, wooden benches, etc.) and places to hide.
Hazards to watch for
Heat stress (ensure there is always shelter from the sun), nails, glass, plastic bags, toxic plants, old fencing and loose wire. Check for trees that have a V in the trunk … goats can get a leg, head or horns caught … remove the extra limb that makes the V.
The Arapawa goat has an average life expectancy of 14 years. Like all goats, owners need to be mindful of their feet (keep hooves trimmed) and test regularly for worms. A healthy goat is alert, has a good appetite, glossy coat and has bright eyes. If you think your goat is unwell, it probably is. If in doubt – ring your vet.
Common signs your goat is sick (more symptoms and suggested remedies are in the free-to-download book) include: Not eating; weight loss, not getting up; listless, limping or staggering, coughing, runny nose or eyes, pale or grey eyelids or gums (Anaemia), a hot udder, isolating itself from the herd.
Registered Arapawa goats can be purchased directly from breeders listed on the www.arapawagoats.com website. There is also a ‘For Sale page’ on the website. Very rarely, Arapawa goats for sale will appear on Trade Me. Questions can also be directed to Arapawa goat owners by joining the NZ Arapawa Goat Association’s Facebook page.
While heritage value is the Arapawa goats’ major selling point, their other uses include meat, milk, pets, pelts and weed control. In bygone times, castrated bucks (wethers) became leaders of flocks of ewes, and entire bucks were housed with horses to prevent staggers. To prevent abortions of calves through ingestion of noxious weeds, goats often grazed alongside cows. Today the Arapawa goat continues to play an important role in co-grazing or rotational grazing with other livestock. As a smaller breed of goat, the Arapawa is ideal for lifestyle blocks: smaller means more. The milk has more fat content because they produce less of it by volume; Goat milk/cream doesn’t separate like cows’ milk and it is not thin/watery like the milk of many dairy goat breeds. Admittedly, the quantity they produce is not huge, but single people and small families don’t need the volume of the larger Saneen, etc. According to some enthusiasts, the meat on the table has a flavour reminiscent of mutton crossed with venison. Another useful by-product from the Arapawa goat is its pelleted manure which makes excellent compost. Their soiled bedding, waste hay and faeces will vastly improve the soil quality of your vegetable garden. For the lifestyler who just wants to enjoy their land, the Arapawa goats are small, relatively timid animals that make amazing pets, especially when hand-raised. Just watching them brightens up your day and takes a lot of stress out of life.
NZAGA members’ voices
An unexpected benefit of owning Arapawa goats was the sense of belonging to an amazing group of people with a common bond. You are not alone in your journey to save New Zealand’s Arapawa goats from extinction. When putting together this article, I asked the NZAGA members what they use to put their goats to. Their responses were so heartfelt and eloquent that I share some of them here so that you will gain a glimpse into the life of an Arapawa goat owner.
"I love their personalities (super smart) and how smoochy they are. Being a smaller breed they are ideal for smaller blocks but also for general handling too, so will suit younger and older owners as well. I don’t need a special trailer for them, they easily (full-grown bucks and all) fit into the boot of my 'city-sized SUV. I do firmly believe they are hardier than the average dairy goat (on par hardiness with the ferals of NZ) due to natural selection in the wild - only the strongest survived. Worm-wise, mine seem to not have any real issues with worms and overall health is pretty robust. Being smaller hooved animals they don’t compact your soil like cattle can and their poos (unlike sheep, cow/cattle or horse poos) can go straight into the garden without having to 'cook' it first. Given their rumen process, any seeds they ingest from hay/straw/weeds etc. are completely obliterated and cannot germinate, unlike other forms of fresh manure. They make ideal ‘Therapy Pets’ due to their size and beautiful markings - they really stand out. For fire safety in drought-prone areas, they are fantastic for clearing the highly flammable grasses but not to the point they will eat down to the eroding land level like a sheep. Great natural/organic gorse removers (I have a friend who had 200 acres in gorse, [the goats] cleared the whole property of gorse naturally and that included the thistle nightmare as well). Very adaptable animal and provides hours of entertainment for young, old and anyone in between. And my number one all-terrain pet to take on holiday tramping trips. As good a warning (guard) animal as a dog with supersonic hearing and sight/smell senses that are extraordinarily on par with the best dog breeds." - PJ
"It is amazing how many roles our little Arapawa's can fit into. I just love mine for their size, their brilliant personalities & how good they can be for the soul." - Karen
"They are a good size for all to handle, they leave a small footprint, not expensive to feed, do not pug up the ground, love that (unlike horses) you do not have to pick up poo which naturally fertilises the ground. Bedding waste is perfect for vege garden. Intelligent, friendly, unique personalities, make you laugh. Like the idea of using for pet therapy, ideal for small blocks, and the idea of milking as provide enough without waste or issues storing. Obviously, the right breed for a Green future!" - Sharon