I went to a lecture about goats this week.
Then yesterday, I went on a guided tour of Lochcarron’s factory in Selkirk where they manufacture scarves and cardigans from Cashmere wool.
The lecture was actually about the flocks of wild Northumberland goats that roam wild in three separate herds around the Borders. There is one herd of around fifty animals in College Valley, which I have seen; this is the herd that features in the final chapter to my novel, RICCARTON JUNCTION. Then there is another, larger herd of about 150 animals up on Deadwater Fell, again, which I once came across and there is apparently a medium-sized herd roaming the hills near Rothbury. Not seen that.
No-one seems to know a great deal about them. Newcastle University Biology Dept have been carrying out tracking via satellite collars over the last five-years and he had charts showing a surprisingly small grazing range. None of the three flocks ever meet one another; although they are all the same shaggy, long horned animals. They can be shot and a farmer killed twelve males he found on his land back in 2008. The College Valley herd almost didn’t recover from that but somehow the National Park found the money to build a 3-meter high wood plus wire boundary fence all along the western edge of Yetholm, to keep the goats away from the hills that the local sheep live on. Although he was saying that shepherds still leave farm gates open and the goats will happily wander through in search of greener grass.
They are a problem but also quite a tourist attraction, too.
They think the breed could be descendants of herds that lived in the Cheviots 5000 years ago then were farmed and bred for meat, milk and wool by the monasteries.
When we went to Lochcarrons they were saying that they import all their cashmere from China. I was curious to know whether the cashmere-bearing goats could be reared here; perhaps in the Borders, where the sheep-raising economy seems to be on a knife-edge. It turns out however that there are about 124 million cashmere goats in China, so a couple of hundred in Roxburgh aren’t going to make a lot of impact on the market.