November 06, 2013

Know Your Goats

Shami goats up in Falougha, some 35 km east of Beirut

I do seem to be harping about the wildlife in this place lately, but that’s because I have been out in the countryside a lot (something that you Beirut dwellers should be doing more often), and I have - inadvertedly so - gotten stuck in a number of goat herds (see here  and here).

Shepherds from Arsal
 So I thought I knew my goats.  But while in the mountains over the weekend (this time of year is perfect for hiking; not too hot &  not too muddy), I ran into some really odd goats.
The shepherds were all from Arsal, a village on the east side of the Beqaa (known for its conflicts with authority), on he border with Syria,  but I encountered them way up on the other side of the valley, in the mountains on the west side, near Falougha.  

It seems they do not own the land there, but pay ‘grazing rights’ per season, based on the number of sheep or goats they have. This can range between 5,000 to 10,000 LBP per goat. And so they are there until the end of the season, which is somewhere halfway November.  It won’t snow in those mountains until January, if at all,  but there’s a fierce wind in those mountain regions which can make it quite difficult for goats and their shepherds.
Rock-a-billy goats
And their goats were unlike any goat I had ever seen. They looked like those American rock & roll girls from the late fifties, with their ears curled outwards. But the profile gives them a rather dumb look. Not very pretty at all; ex-boxer type of face.
They’re Shami,” said the herder, “Very famous in the Middle East.”  I had to look that one op. And indeed.

Odd noses though

 The Shami seem to actually exist. They are a ‘multi-purpose goat historically providing its owner with milk, meat, hair and leather. If she receives proper care and quality feed the doe is able to produce large quantities of milk, and many are particularly noted for their ability to kid triplets or even quadruplets. She is typically able to survive and thrive on scarce pasture and little feed’.
Shami comes from the word ‘Sham’, which is the Arabic name for Damascus. These goats originate from Syria.  I am not sure if their presence is related to the war in Syria. Due to my pathetic Arabic, the shepherd I asked did not quite understand my question.
 So what are the other goats called? The European goats, or at least the goats I am used to, are Saanen goats.  
Which one is better? That apparently is the topic of quite a few studies. Saanen give more milk, but Shamis give more kids (according to this research), and so projects are under way where the breeds are being merged. Or mixed. Or whatever you call it. The Renee Mouawad Foundation is one of them. And then there is also the Baladi goat, the local breed.   

The regular (Saanen) goats, mixed in with sheep and a sheep dog

Not that we need more goats; we currently have about 450,000 goats, according to the Ministry of Agriculture (figures date from 2009) and the land suffers from over grazing. Sheep are not as disastrous as goats, I am told. Sheep graze just the grass, whereas goats rip it out with roots and all, causing erosion.
What to do when you get bored amongst the sheep and goats

Anyway, after spiders, I thought you might want to know something about goats. And if you don't think these goats are odd, check out these.

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