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by Laurel Gerkman
(Published in Oregon Coast Magazine, Sept/Oct 2005)
Angora goats are not indigenous to the Oregon coast. Yet, an observant seeker can sometimes spot a small, feral herd grazing peacefully along the edge of steep cliffs, high above the crashing ocean surf. If headed for Pistol River and Brookings, bring your binoculars!
Its a heart-thumping sight, but theres no need for concern. These rugged and robust beasts are well suited for rough terrain. Stocky, muscular limbs, split hooves and a keen sense of balance allow them to navigate precarious ledges with ease.
The normal life span of the sure-footed Angoras is 10-12 years. Bucks weigh in at 120 lbs., does about a third less. Permanent horns are wide-set on the males, spiraling outward and back, giving a magnificent impression.
Their glossy, soft fleece, called mohair, is fire-resistant and highly prized for use in quality textiles. Under drier and milder climate conditions, the goats produce a fine, attractive, white hair that falls into soft ringlets.
Distant predecessors of this herd are believed to have come from Central Anatolia. In 1840, the Sultan of Turkey presented Queen Victoria with 22 of these agile creatures. Exports from Britain were brought west. Three decades later, the breed was shown at the Oregon State Fair, in Salem. By the centurys turn, a large flock prospered in the Willamette Valley.
Robert D. Hume, a successful entrepreneur, brought the Anatolian ungulates to Gold Beach. He theorized their adaptation would be immediate, resulting in a lucrative investment. In 1905, an announcement appeared in Decembers issue of the Radium newspaper: On behalf of Mr. Hume, 400 fine Angora nanny goats and three registered bucks have been purchased in the valley. Goat raising in this county should become very profitable, as there is a vast quantity of evergreen brush.
Angoras thrive where there is a good cover of brush, weeds and grass for chomping. Early ranchers expected them to quickly clear large tracts of harsh coastal rangeland as well as provide valuable mohair for shearing.
Sadly, Humes theory proved incorrect. One year after their introduction, the February 1906 edition of the Radium reported: It is regretted that considerable losses have occurred among the band of Angora goats that were brought in for Mr. Hume last fall. It appears that the finest bred are the most delicate. Previously confined to pastures, their extensive new range gave too much latitude causing them to travel until exhausted.
Humes men rounded up the survivors and placed them into restricted grazing areas in neighboring homesteads. After 1950, the goats proved less useful and were either sold, butchered or released into the forest. A few did subsist, adapting to the often cool and wet environment.
The south coasts wild bunch learned to endure abundant rain and prolonged dampness. In contrast to a normally whitish and silky appearance, their unshorn fleece hangs grungy-gray with coarse, shabby locks.
A century later, a couple of dozen hardy descendents remain, clinging to bluffs in the vicinity of Boardman State Park. Take a look; you might catch a distant glimpse of these elusive and enchanting critters.
The once displaced and outcast Angoras have found a safe harbor, as permanent guests of Oregon State Parks.