The Icelandic Goat Center is scheduled to open by the goat farm Háafell in Hvítársíđa, in the rural Borgarfjörđur region in west Iceland in early July. Visitors who want to learn more about the Icelandic Settlement Goat, which is at a risk of extinction, are welcome all year round.
Jóhanna Ţorvaldsdóttir and her family at Háafell are the country’s most active goat farmers and has long fought for the goat stock’s preservation.
In 2011, Jóhanna and others who share her passion for the Icelandic Settlement Goat, established an association with the goal of making goat breeding a sustainable option and educating Icelanders about the qualities of the goat, Morgunblađiđ reports.
Jóhanna’s initiative has garnered attention. A number of people foster goats at her farm, that is, pay for its fodder, and in exchange get a chance to visit Háafell, pet the goats and play with their offspring. The kids are born in the spring—the season usually starts in mid-April—which is a popular time for schools and kindergartens to visit.
“I have a fence that I allow people to enter where they can see everything from little kids to a 12-year-old human-loving buck. It usually leaves the most impression,” Jóhanna said of Prins, a white old buck with massive, curved horns.
She runs her farm out of passion, goat farming is not a fruitful business and state funding is slim. “It seems to be a slow process for the authorities to find out how to support the goat stock.” A parliamentary resolution to that regard has been submitted to the Icelandic parliament, Alţingi, several times since 2005 but never been passed.
“The Rio Treaty must be observed in further detail and the conditions included on obligations towards animal species that are at a risk of extinction,” Jóhanna explained.
Yet thanks to her and other passionate goat farmers, the stock has been growing in the past years. Twenty years ago there were only around 300 Icelandic Settlement Goats left but now they number more than 700 with 50-60 owners.
Jóhanna said they have been incredibly successful in maintaining such a small animal stock, which has already survived two critical periods. “At the turn of the 20th century there were around 100 goats in the country. In 1930, approximately 3,000 goats were registered because they had become a source of milk in all seaside villages.”
“In the post-war years people started to grow gardens and therefore it was prohibited to keep goats in urban areas. Shortly after 1960 the number of goats had dropped to 86 and there was only one hornless goat left. This one hornless goat has preserved a significant amount of DNA because all brownish color variations follow the hornless gene and today, they can only be found at my farm,” Jóhanna stated.
Like all Icelandic farm animals, the Icelandic goat is very colorful. Her goat products are primarily meat, skins, soaps and cream. “I cannot cope with demand for meat,” Jóhanna said. She describes the goat meat as low in fat like chicken and rich in protein like beef, and so healthier meat is hard to find.
The goats have cashmere wool—in fact, the Scottish Cashmere Goat is one quarter Icelandic—and experiments are being made on cleansing and spinning the wool in Iceland. “Sorting out the rough hairs takes a lot of work,” she explained as to why it is a difficult process. “But it is, of course, a luxurious product. It is a shame to throw it out.”
Jóhanna has also faced trouble in having her goat milk processed. “I tried to reach an agreement with MS last winter because I don’t have the facilities to make cheeses myself, but they didn’t give me any response,” she said of the dairy company that has a near monopoly on the Icelandic market.
Jóhanna with one of her kids. Photos taken in 2011 by ESA.
However, she milks her goats for children who are intolerant to the dairy protein in cow’s milk and for infants who aren’t breastfed. “This milk should be marketed for people with stomach problems and those who suffer from sensitive digestive systems and eczema,” Jóhanna stated.
Demand for goat milk isn’t lacking but placing it on the market has proven a problem. The association Beint frá býli, which markets products straight from the farm, are working on obtaining permission to sell non-pasteurized goat’s milk, but has not had any luck so far.
“It is strange that we can buy all sorts of chemicals in coloring in sweets and other food products that we know are dangerous, yet we cannot buy a product that comes straight from nature,” Jóhanna pointed out. “Instead I make soaps and creams from goat milk, and the fat, because is very healing and has other good qualities.”
Jóhanna has received innovation sponsorships to develop goat products and reached collaborative agreements on the experimental production of ice cream, cheeses and salami sausages. However, she is still waiting for a break-through for goat products.