An Oak Harbor farm dedicated to preserving genetic diversity among farm animals welcomed three goat kids of a rare, endangered breed last month.
Triplets Dahlia, Douglas and Duchess were born Feb. 10 at Cascadia Heritage Farm, owned by George and Shuna Cerrato. The new kids are San Clemente Island goats, a genetically distinct breed that differs from regular farm goats in size and color.
San Clemente Island goats were first introduced to the island they’re named for in the late 1800s by Spanish mariners, likely to serve as a reliable food source for prospective sailors. When the U.S. Navy took control of the island in 1934, it permitted the hunting and trapping of these goats and eventually instituted a systemic removal program. According to the Livestock Conservancy, the 15,000 goat population was a nuisance to the island’s native plants and wildlife.
Beginning in the 1980s, many of the approximately 4,000 remaining goats were adopted to farms and individuals for domestication.
San Clemente goats are slightly smaller than other breeds and resemble deer in their structure and movement. Their fur is typically red or brown with distinctive black markings, and both the males and females have horns.
“They’re a useful, small, farm-homestead type of goat, and they’re adorable,” Shuna said.
The goats can be used for milk, meat or brush clearing — and it’s good for the goats to be put to use, according to Shuna. Putting the animals on a pedestal because of their endangered status will not help the breed survive, she said. Rather, employing the goats for traditional agricultural purposes promotes their wellbeing and survival.
Preserving this unique goat breed and other endangered farm animals matters because genetic diversity among agricultural livestock promotes food security, George said. San Clemente Island goats in particular are able to adapt to a variety of climates and conditions, an important quality to preserve in the gene pool.
“Especially when you’re dealing with a world that’s constantly changing, and people are concerned about climate change, these heritage breeds have a natural ability to adapt,” George said.
Cascadia Heritage Farm has made efforts to preserve other endangered farm animals, including Malay chickens and Dales ponies. George said he and Shuna have plans in the works to expand the farm’s preservation mission through education and outreach programs in the future.