Damascus goats aka Shami Goats: unique diamond in the goat world
Damascus goats are one of these goat breeds that you will either raise your eyebrows at, or fall completely in love with. They are not very common, so lots of people have never seen one even in pictures, let alone in real life. But if you ever see a Damascus goat, whether in lief or in the picture, you will probably never forget them again.
Damascus goats are just starting to gain popularity in North America and Europe. In 2008 a Damascus doe won the status of the most beautiful animal during an exhibition in Saudi Arabia. This is when their popularity and the interest to these goats started skyrocketing.
But traditionally they have been bred for centuries in Africa and Asia, and proved to be a highly valuable breed, a little factory of milk, meat and yarn. Let’s see if you might want one for your own homestead 🙂
Damascus goats – origins
Damascus goats originated in Western Asia and have been bred and raised for centuries in Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Lebanon and other countries. They have been around forever, for so long that their images can be found in ancient Arabian documents and historic books.
They are even mentioned in some religious texts and folk stories, where their gracefulness, kind nature and, of course, unusual appearance, are described in loving detail. Apart from that, Damascus goats were valuable providers that supplied families with milk, meat and yarn for centuries.
Back then these unique goats were called Shami goats, until some sailors exported them to Cyprus, where people called them Damascus goats. From there these lovely goats spread all over the world.
Nowadays Damascus goats are more popular than ever. So popular, in fact, that there is a risk that all of them will be exported from their motherland to satisfy the demand they see all over the world.
Damascus goats aka Shami goats appearance
When it comes to their appearance, Damascus goats are certainly unique. Some people think they look like demonic, some find them funny. Yet most see a unique goat with royal and graceful appearance – in its own way. No matter what you think of Shami goats appearance, they won’t leave you indifferent.
Damascus goats are actually quite large. Males can grow as tall as 80 cm to 103 cm tall. Females are a little shorter and grow to around 75-85 cm tall. The males can weigh around 140- 260lb (70-130kg), while females can reach 120-180lb (60-90kg). The newly born Shami goat babies can weigh 7-11 lb which is also quite large. They grow fast too, gaining 200-300g a day. At 4 months old, young Shami goat males can way up to 72 lb already. At the same age, females will weigh around 60-70lb.
No matter what anyone thinks of their unique appearance, Damascus goats are large, powerful but graceful goats with a bit of a regal look. They have unique-looking heads with large, bent noses and massive lower jaw that sticks out to the front. They also have long, hanging down ears, and strong, long legs.
The eyes are usually light – lighter than other goat breeds tend to have. The ears are very long and can reach up to 30 cm in length. Young Damascus goats don’t have this distinguished look and look like any other goat breed, but change as they mature.
Traditionally, Shami goats used to have horns. However, generations of breeding made most of them hornless.
Damascus goat coats can be of various colors – anywhere from white to gray to brown of various shades. The coat is usually quite thick, with an undercoat, which protects the animal from cold as well as from heat. This is why Damascus goats are so hardy in pretty much any climate.
When selecting a Damascus goats, the head is the main thing to look at. A good, characteristic shape of the head speaks of good breeding, which makes it more likely that the goat will also produce milk and meat in abundance, as Damascus goat should.
Despite looking somewhat demonic, Damascus goats are actually the nicest, kindest goats out there. They are very amiable, friendly and outgoing. They get attached to their people and will follow you everywhere for pets and to lick your hands. The bucks can be feisty as with any breed – you should always be cautious around bucks unless they are confined. But the does are the friendliest goats out there. This is yet another reason why they ar so popular in the East.
In terms of food, Damascus goats are not demanding, just like they are largely indifferent towards the extremes of the climate. They have been bred extensively in Africa where they only had scarce pasture feed and they do just fine on that, unlike some other breeds that require luscious greenery with various plant types to thrive.
However, for better productivity and fertility it is a good idea to add vitamins and minerals to their feed, as well as some quality concentrates. You want your goats to thrive, not just survive. During the warm time of the year it is ideal if your Damascus goats have access to open pastures, provided you are lucky to have a big pasture.
Damascus goats milk and meat yield
Damascus goats are gorgeous, but that’s not why people keep them and breed them. This unique goat can also supply your family with a god amount of both meat and milk! Traditionally, they also used to provide excellent yarn, but it’s not considered as valuable these days.
Provided that your Shami goats are well fed and have a good living environment, they will be very fertile and very productive. Lactation period of Shami goats lasts 250-300 days a year, which is great if you are into goat milk. The daily milk yield can be around 3-5L, while some larger does can produce up to 8-9L of milk a day!
During the whole lactation period, one Damascus doe can yield as much as 1000 L of milk. Damascus goats are easy to milk because they are large and have large udders and teats. The milk has excellent taste, fat content of about 4% and protein of about 3.5-4.5%.
Due to their large size, you can also get quite a bit of meat from your Damascus goats, especially th males. It is recommended to use younger goats for meat as the taste can go a little “goaty” the older they get.
Breeding Shami goats
Damascus goats are quite fertile. The females go into their first heat around 7-9 months of age. Of course, they aren’t usually bred this early. Normally you will want to breed your Shami goats when they reach 1around 14 months of age, to make sure the doe is healthy and strong enough to cope with birth and ensure her litter is healthy. At that point, the doe has to weigh at least 42 kg (84lb).
The bucks are ready to be bred from around 9 months old and on. The older the buck, the easier the breeding will be and the more guarantee that it will be successful.
Damascus does will usually bring one litter a year, with 2-3 kids in the litter. Sometimes they can bring 4 kids, but that’s rare. The doe will be highly fertile till at least 6-7 years of age.
Highly fertile, Damascus goats can go into heat after only 45 days after birthing the previous litter. At this time, the kids can be taken away from the mom and hand-fed, while the mom is bred again and used for milking while she is pregnant.
Damascus goats pros and cons
Damascus goats pros
- Despite their unique appearance, Shami goats are relatively low-maintenance compared to some other breeds. Over the centuries of breeding in Africa, they became used to feeding on less than ideal pastures and were still able to produce enough milk to raise healthy litters. However, of course, if you are hoping to get excellent milk yield, feeding your goats good quality feed is a good idea.
- Damascus goats are highly fertile and productive, which makes them excellent farm animals if you are hoping to raise goats for profit. With the growing popularity of these unusual goats you may very well be able to find a good market for young goats as well as meat and milk.
- Damascus goats are friendly and loving, despite their demonic looks. They get quickly attached to their owners are are great to have around.
- Shami goats are strong and sturdy and can thrive in any climate, from the hottest to the coldest. Their thick coat will protect these goats both from the cold and from the heat. However, like most goat breeds, Shami hate wet weather.
- Damascus does are very maternal. They usually have no issues birthing on their own and will not need much assistance. They will also be enthusiastic about caring for their babies and hardly ever reject them. This will make it easier for you to breed your goats and grow your herd.
Damascus goats cons
Of course, as with any other breed, there are some downsides to owning Damascus goats.
- Damascus goats can be expensive to acquire. Because they are still pretty rare, there are only so many people importing them or breeding them. You will have to find those people, and be ready to pay the price. On the other hand, if you are the one specializing on raising and breeding Damascus goats, there might be quite a bit of profit in it.
Although traditionally Damascus goats were used as milk and meat suppliers, today’s goat lovers often keep them and breed them to enjoy their unique look and personality. These goats are happy-go-lucky, friendly and outgoing goats that are easy to deal with on your farm or homestead. Both males and females tend to be calm and friendly. You won’t have any issues keeping even a large herd of Damascus goats as they tend to be easy to handle due to their agreeable personality. And, of course, they are so unique-looking!