Goats were the first animals domesticated by man. Bones of goats have been found in caves along with evidence of human habitation of those caves. One of the goat remains had evidence of a healed broken leg that could have only healed under the protection of humans. That animal would have died in the wild. Her remains have been carbon dated to 12 to 15,000 years ago. These goats were the Persian (Middle Eastern) goat Pashang. All European Mountain Goats descend from the Pashang goat, also known as the Bezoar goat. This includes our present day Alpines and the other breed variations based on color including the Saanen, Toggenburg, and Oberhasli. Alpines were named for their home mountain range, the Alps. Once you get to know the Alpines friendly curious personality, you wonder who domesticated whom?
Over thousands of years, natural selection developed the Alpine breed with superior agility to survive on steep mountain slopes. They developed a perfect sense of balance. The breed maintained its ability to survive in arid regions. European goat herders started selective breeding for milk production and favorite colors.
The Alpines adaptability, sense of balance, and personality made them good candidates for voyages. Early voyages were made feasible by taking along goats for milk and meat. The early sea captains often left a pair of goats on islands along their shipping routes. On return voyages, they could stop and catch a meal or a fresh source of milk. Today Alpines can be found thriving in nearly every climate and the goat is the most common farm animal found around the world.
When the first settlers came to America, they brought along their milch goats. Captain John Smith brought milch goats over on the Mayflower. A 1630 census of Jamestown lists goats as one of their most valuable assets. Swiss breeds along with Spanish and Austrian goats were brought to North America from 1590’s to 1700. The Austrian and Spanish breeds were similar to the Swiss breeds though smaller. Cross breeding produced a common American goat.
1904 was a turning point for goats in America. The 1904 World’s Fair, in St. Louis Missouri, held the first dairy goat show in America. The Missouri Historical Review said “The first provision made at a World’s Fair for a display of Milch Goats brought to the Exposition some choice imported and home bred specimens of that valuable type.” At the same World’s Fair, Carl Hagenbeck imported two Schwarzwald Alpine does from the Black Forest of Germany. They were displayed in a natural setting mimicking the Alps Mountains in Hagenbeck’s Wild Animal Paradise. More than 20 million people attended the 1904 World’s Fair and had the opportunity to watch Alpine Antics. After the fair, Hagenbeck’s goats were shipped to Maryland. Their history is a mystery. Also in 1904 Frenchman Joseph Crepin and Canadian Oscar Dufresne, imported a group of Alpines to Canada and California. The American Milk Goat Record Association (now ADGA) was started in 1904. The official spelling of milch changed to milk in the USA. Interest in milk goats was spreading across America.
In 1906 Mrs. Edward Roby of Chicago worked to create an “American Goat” that would help to provide a safe tuberculosis free milk supply for the children of Chicago. These were a cross of common American goats and imported Swiss genetics. Her crossbred goats could have become American Alpines had there been a registry at that time. In 1915 a wild Alpine type goat was taken from the Guadeloupe islands. She produced 1600 lbs. of milk in 310 days.
From 1904 to 1922, 160 Saanen were imported to the United States. From 1893 to 1941, 190 Toggenburg were imported. Common American goats were then crossed with the superior Toggenburg and Saanen goats. This breeding up program was very successful. In 1921, Irmagarde Richards speculated that the success of the breeding up program was due to common American goats having a similar European ancestry to the Purebred Swiss goats. Since the resulting animals often didn’t match the color requirements for Saanen and Toggenburg, the animals became grade Alpines.
French Alpines were first imported to the United States in 1922, by Dr. Charles P. Delangle. Delangle was an accomplished scholar, member of the French Academy and close personal friend of Mr. Joseph Crepin. Crepin was the chief authority on French capriculture at the time and author of influential book, La Chevre. In the Fall of 1922, as hundreds of goats came down from their summer pastures high in the Alpes, to winter in the Alpine valleys, Mr. Crepin helped Dr. Delangle select 19 does and 3 bucks from these huge herds.
The two then transported the 22 selected animals to Paris for shipment to America. Going by steamer, they spent quarantine in Cuba and arrived finally in America at the port in New Orleans. From there they continued overland by rail to California. Dr. Delangle’s herd name was “Alpine Goat Dairy” but it was short lived. He was in poor health and had conflicts with a number of goat breeders, including the Goat Association Board of Directors. On August 20, 1923 he was expelled from the American Milk Goat Record Association. Shortly thereafter, he sold and gave away his herd and apparently left the world of goats. However, Dr. Delangle’s legacy lives on as all goats registered as “French Alpines” directly descend from the 22 animals he selected and imported in 1922
Rock Alpines were created by crossbreeding goats of the 1904 and 1922 importations. In 1904, through Frenchman Joseph Crepin an importation of Alpines including Saanens and Toggs was brought to Canada. Mary E. Rock of California purchased some of these because of the illness of her little daughter. One doe from the 1904 importation was a CouBlanc named Molly Crepin. She is the only imported coublanc doe of record. She then acquired French Alpines from the 1922 importation. Rock Alpines were the result of breeding these animals together without any other outside genetics. Rock Alpines were the finest of their time and regularly won at shows and milking competitions. The Saanens used were either Sables or color carriers. One of her Saanen does was named Damfino. She was a black and white Saanen. When a friend asked, “How come the color?” she replied “Dam-if-I-no” and that became the doe’s name. (And you thought the Sable debate was new) Mrs. Rock’s herd name was “Little Hill”. She was an avid writer and contributed articles to popular goat publications for many years. The American Milk Goat Record Association recognized Rock Alpines as a breed in 1931. AGS recognized Rock Alpines. Rock Alpines flourished until World War II. Rock Alpines have not been registered for many years now, but their excellent genetics have been absorbed into the American Alpine herd.
British Alpines look like black and white Toggs. They also resemble the Grison breed of Switzerland. British Alpines were first bred in England after Sedgemere Faith, a female Sundgau goat was imported to England from the Paris Zoo in 1903. The British Alpine Section of the British Goat Society herd book was opened in 1925. Allan Rogers imported British Alpines to America in the 1950’s. In America, British Alpines are no longer registered separately, but as Sundgau in the French and American Alpine herdbooks. Sundgau is the name of the hilly geographic region near the French/German/Swiss border along the Rhine River.
Swiss Alpines, now called Oberhasli, have a warm red-brown coat with black trimmings along the muzzle, face, back, and belly. This coloring is known as chamoisee for Alpines. The Oberhasli come from the Brienzer region of Switzerland near Bern. The first Oberhasli were imported into the United States in the early nineteen hundreds. Three Swiss Alpines (called Schwartzenberg-Guggisberger in a 1918 USDA Farmers Bulletin) came with Fred Stucker’s 1906 importation, but their descendants were not kept pure. Purebred Oberhasli descend from four does and one buck imported in 1936 by Dr. H.O. Pence of Kansas City, Missouri and identified as Swiss Alpines. In 1937 Dr. Pence wrote, “I was particularly interested in pure blooded animals, long lactations, large quantities of milk with extra fine quality. This I found in Switzerland. The goats were in the Alps. The secretary of the goat association personally conducted a tour of 10 different herds of hundreds of goats of different breeds. After seeing the herds of the various breeds, I chose the Swiss Alpine, which are a rich chamoise in color with black inside of ears and tips with black stripe down the entire back, black feet. They are hornless and have been for over thirty years period.” Three of the four does had been bred to different bucks while still in Switzerland. Purebred descendants were registered as Swiss Alpines, while the crossbreeds were registered as American Alpines. In 1941, Dr. Pence sold his Swiss Alpines in two divided groups. One of the groups was eventually lost in the 1950’s while the other ended up in California, owned by Esther Oman. Her herd names were Patterswiss and Play Fair. For the next thirty years she was one of the few breeders preserving the Swiss Alpine in the United States. The pedigree of most purebred Oberhasli can be traced to Mrs. Oman’s herd. In 1968 Oberhasli breeders first asked ADGA for recognition as a distinct breed with a separate herdbook. In 1979 ADGA recognized Swiss Alpine as a separate breed and the name was changed to Oberhasli. In 1980 the Oberhasli herdbook was created and these animals were pulled from the Alpine herdbook. No doubt Oberhasli genetics are still a part of the American Alpine gene pool.
American Alpines are an American original. This breed is the result of crossbreeding with French or American Alpines.
Information for this article was excerpted from the book “The History of Goats in America”.
Used with permission
First published in United Caprine News
copyright May 2000 Paul Hamby