This post examines the key traits and history of the native Portuguese goat breeds. Portugal has six recognised indigenous goats, each with unique looks, temperament and purpose.

Click on each goat or scroll down to find out more about each native breed.

Black and white Algarviana goat, one of the six Portuguese native goat breeds.

ALGARVIA

‘Algarve Goat’

A Preta de Montesinho goat, one of the six Portuguese native goat breeds.

PRETA DE MONTESINHO

‘Montesinho Black’

A Bravia goat, one of the six native Portuguese goat breeds.

BRAVIA

‘Wild Goat’

A Serpentina goat, one of the six Portuguese native goat breeds.

SERPENTINA

‘Serpa Goat’

A Charnequeira goat, one of the six Portuguese native goat breeds.

CHARNEQUEIRA

‘Charneca Goat’

A Serrana goat, one of the six Portuguese native goat breeds.

SERRANA

‘Mountain Goat’

Algarvia

Origin: Algarve

Purpose: Milk and Meat

Weight: Females – 40-50 kg; Males – 60-80 kg

Appearance: Medium sized. Short hair with well-defined black or brown spots. Upright, spiralling horns.

Image above: Novbaesuris.cm-castromarim.pt

Key Info: The Algarvia is distinct among Portuguese goat breeds. Not only is it generally the largest of the Portuguese breeds, but its unique markings make it instantly recognisable. This goat is known as a prolific breeder, mainly raised for dairy.

History: The Algarvia is said to be the result of crossing Charnequeira goats with white animals imported from Morocco by Portuguese fisherman more than a century ago. This was confirmed by a genetic study of native Portuguese breeds (Pereira et al., 2004). It was more recently influenced by Andalusian mountain goats and Spanish Alpines in the 1870s.

Husbandry: Grazed freely on native flora, usually on public land or borrowed pastures. Always accompanied by a shepherd and returned to the goat-shed each night. These goats are said to particularly enjoy wild rockrose as a food source; free-choice forage is supplemented year-round with oats and beans to support milk production.

Bravia

Origin: Northern Portugal

Purpose: Meat and Hide

Weight: Females – 25-40 kg; Males – 35-50 kg

Appearance: Small to medium stature; short, coarse hair in various shades of brown, black, red and tan. Excellent joints and good posture.

Image above: A Bravia goat on fire-clearance duty wears a GPS tracker fitted with a traditional bell, representing the new role of this traditional breed [24.sapo.pt]

Key Info: Bravia are rustic, assertive, adaptable and brave. Grazing in nature, a herd of Bravia look like well-camouflaged wild animals, blending into the terrain and moving gracefully over boulders and bluffs.

Separated by mountains, this breed is divided into two eco-types with slightly differing traits – the Alvão and the Gerês.

History: The Bravia is thought to descend at least partially from the extinct Portuguese sub-species of the Iberian ibex, which once lived in the mountains of Peneda-Gerês. Its hardiness, naturalistic colouration, narrowly set, upright horns (very similar to those of the Portuguese ibex – see image) and incredible agility, all support this theory.

Husbandry: This goat is synonymous with the mountains of northern Portugal, where functions as part of the natural landscape, subsisting entirely on native shrubs and plants as it free-ranges in wild pastures. Large herds are used for fire-prevention. Their agility enables them to browse down the flammable brush in areas inaccessible to other livestock and mechanical implements.

Bravia generally remain outside day and night, except when extremely young or in extremely bed weather. Daily grazing time is relative to the nutritional content of available forage, which varies with the seasons (5 hours in winter to 15 hours at the peak of summer.)

Uses: The meat for which this breed is raised – called Cabrito de Barroso – is considered of excellent quality, having a unique and distinctive aroma and remaining tender and succulent when cooked, despite having virtually no fat. It has been given Protected Designation of Origin by the EU and is traditionally eaten as a Christmas dish in the north of Portugal. The pelts of the Bravia are traditionally used for decoration.

Charnequeira

Origin: Alentejo and Beira Interior

Purpose: Milk and Meat

Weight: Females – 50 kg; Males – 75 kg

Appearance: Tough hide with short hair, sometimes glossy in females. Red colouration varies from a light wheaten to a dark mahogany – darkest in the males. Wide, lyre-shaped horns with ‘corkscrew’ growth pattern, joined at the base. Cow-hocked.

Image above: Ovibeira.wixsite.com

Key Info: The Charnequeira is a rare goat which takes its name from the area of of Charneca near Setúbal. It is a highly efficient processor of scrub into quality milk and meat, thriving in the arid and unsheltered plains of the south, where it has existed in the same state for many centuries.

This native breed is subdivided into two regional eco-types, Alentejana and Beiroa – the result of local differences in the environments where the breed was farmed.

History: Its ancestry is thought to be directly influenced by wild caprines: the Capra aegagrus and later the Iberian Ibex. It fell out of favour as more productive breeds, better suited to intensive farming styles, became available in Portugal. This has left much of the marginal land on which this breed once thrived to waste.

Husbandry: Usually reared in herds of 100-150 animals with a diet it based on wild pastures, crop stubble and native flora.

Preta de Montesinho

Origin: Northeast Portugal

Purpose: Milk and Meat

Weight:

Appearance: Medium stature with a long, poorly muscled neck. Short, smooth hair of a very dark brown to black colouration. Horns, not always present, are small, backwards-facing and sabre-shaped horns- sometimes flared. It has long, slender legs and small, hard hooves.

Image above: Ter-ra.pt

Key Info: The Preta de Montesinho is the rarest of Portugal’s native goat breeds – it is in real danger of extinction due to rural depopulation in Tras-Os-Montes, ageing farmers, desertification and cross-breeding. A lack of facilities for milk collection and the loss of the cheesemaking industry further contributed to the Preta’s decline.

Husbandry: With its recognition as an autochthonous breed in 2009, breeders were able to benefit from support for Agri-environmental measures, which contributed to slowing down the abandonment of this ancient breed.

Depending on whether it is kept for meat or milk, the Preta was reared differently. Meat animals are still kept in small communal herds, grazed on convenient patches of land. Milkers formerly lived in larger herds on more productive pastures.

Milkers are now more likely to be kept in small numbers – where they are kept at all – as ‘house-does’, for an individual’s use. A few can sometimes be found integrated into herds of Churra Galega Bragançana sheep.

Serpentina

Origin: Alentejo

Purpose: Milk and Meat

Weight: Females – 45-60 kg; Males – 60-75 kg.

Appearance: White or cream hair, accented with black belly, ears, face and limbs, often with a black dorsal stripe. Semi-pendulant ears and wide horns, joined at the base, which grow up and back in opposite directions with a slight spiral. A deep chest, but a relatively slight abdomen. Strong, long legs.

Image above: Quintadozorro.pt

Key Info: The Serpentina goat is perfectly adapted to harsh condition of Alentejo – thriving on sparse native vegetation and rough terrain while enduring extreme aridity as well as winter cold. Its rusticity makes it far superior to non-native goat breeds and even to other livestock raised in the same conditions. Large, purebred herds can be found in East Alentejo, south of the Tagus, where they predominate.

History: The ancestry of the Serpentina breed, as with many types of Iberian goat, resulted from centuries of trade, migration and transhumance, which miscegenated animals from across the peninsula and North Africa. The founding population came to Alentejo over the border with Spain, soon taking its name from the region of Serpa.

Husbandry: Traditionally farmed extensively, housed in wooden stalls with a tin roof, furnished with brushwood bedding. In front are usually corrals where the animals are milked and managed, also used as an exercise pen for suckling kids.

Uses: The breed has an excellent milk yield, even when grazed on the most marginal land. It is considered an essential tool for land management, including the maintenance of Alentejo’s traditional silvo-pastoral landscape, preservation of biodiversity and prevention of fires.

Serrana

Origin: Serra da Estrela

Purpose: Milk and Meat

Weight:

Appearance: A medium-sized goat with long hair. It may be black (Serra and Ribatejano eco-types), dark brown (Ribatejano), chestnut brown (Jarmelista) or grey (Transmontano). The Jarmelista (and sometimes the Ribatejano) has a striped face.

Rough horns with a triangular cross-section grow backwards in a sabre form – either parallel or divergent, sometimes spiralling.

Image above: Serrana Transmontano [Dgav.pt]

Key Info: Separated by mountain peaks, the Serrana goat diverged into four eco-types:

  • The ‘Serra’ from the mountain slopes of Serra da Estrela itself
  • The ‘Transmontano’ from Tras-os-Montes
  • The ‘Jarmelista’, from Jarmelo in the northeast foothills of Serra da Estrela
  • The ‘Ribatejano’ from Ribatejo

Of these, the Serra type is in greatest danger of extinction. It has been in decline since the 50s – another victim of rural depopulation. A few may still be found running with herds of native sheep.

History: The origin of the Serrana goat is particularly difficult to determine. Like all Portuguese goats it likely descended from several types of wild goat, with a particular closeness to the Iberian ibex (read more about the Portuguese Ibex here). The breed itself developed in Serra da Estrela; its name means ‘of the mountain’.

Habits: This goat is kept in different manners depending on the region and terrain. The most common method in Trás-os-Montes is the traditional free-ranging system – consisting of around 80 goats without extensive management. The Jarmelistas tend to live in dairy herds of 45 or so, giving birth once a year. Ribatejo specimens have access to higher quality pastureland and can be kept in closely-maintained herds of up to 100.

Uses: The Transmontano, from the northern interior of Portugal, is primarily raised for meat rather than milk – although between March and August its milk is used to create the PDO-recognised Transmontano Goat’s Cheese. The Jarmelista eco-type is used mainly for dairy. The Ribatejano is kept for dual purposes.

Fore more information on Portuguese native livestock breeds, see:

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