Wednesday, July 24, 2013


The Shami goat is native to the Middle East. Large herds of Shami goats have been historically found in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. Many decades ago, when the British collected Shami goats in the vicinity of Damascus and exported them in great number to Cyprus, they began referring to the breed as the Damascus goat.
It is difficult to pinpoint an exact geographical source for the breed, but both large and small herds of Shami goats have been found in the Middle East throughout the centuries. In addition, detailed descriptions of the Shami appear in classic Arabic literature, religious texts, and folklore; these sources all refer to the goat’s special character, striking characteristics, conformation, and nobility.
Over the last few years a true reawakening has occurred regarding the demand for the Shami goat in our region and prices have risen to extraordinary sums -and this for good reason.
Breed Characteristics and History
The Shami is a multi-purpose goat historically providing its owner with milk, meat, hair and fine leather. If she receives proper care and quality feed the doe is able to produce large quantities of milk, and many are particularly noted for their ability to kid triplets or even quadruplets. Additionally, the typical Shami is characterized by an especially noble conformation and bearing that conquers the heart of all that see her. And finally, her quiet and gentle nature is another important reason that her owner and his family may choose to keep her.
Shami Excellent Bite - Click for larger image!Shami milk has proven to be markedly rich in protein and fat, its quality and composition changing according to the food the doe receives. The ability to produce milk under the radically, rapidly changing weather conditions between cold to hot and the relatively high amounts of milk solids found in her milk has made the Shami the preferred goat breed of the Middle East.
Today the Shami is often kept as an exotic pet because of her intrinsic beauty and ability to adapt to human lifestyles, but traditionally her role has been that of a small food factory - her easily digestible milk used as a food for the raising of infants, to meet the dietary needs of elderly or sensitive persons who have problems digesting normal food, and as a proven home remedy for curing blisters, mouth sores, and more. The milk is typically cultured to produce labaneh, leben, yogurt, and other fresh cheeses for home use, and often these products are marketed locally to supplement family income.
Most recently new commercial dairies specializing in the production of gourmet and ripened cheeses have been established in Israel using milk produced from Shamis, hybrids, and Nubian goats.
The Shami’s many excellent characteristics make her a successful progenitor for the development and improvement of other caprine breeds - in particular, to improve size, meat, milk production, and body shape.
Young Shami Crossbreeds - Click for larger image!The various outcrosses that have been introduced over long periods into the original Shami goat population have given our modern Shami a correspondingly broader genetic base. Even so, the modern Shami retains its ability to pass on its excellent characteristics to goats of other purebred and cross breeds.
While in the distant past the major colors were reddish brown, brown and black, nowadays one may find Shami goats in many different colors. Today one commonly finds grey in many different shades, derivatives of white and beige, and various mixes of white and darker colors. The subject of color is one of style and personal preference, and it seems that every few years the fashion changes and a different color is in vogue.
Additional traits of the Shami goat include long legs, long lines in both neck and body, a small Roman-nosed (convex) head, and long ears that hang down from the upper part of the skull; all these contributing to a unique appearance of nobility and pride.
Shami coat in winter - Click for larger image!The true Shami is beautifully clad in a longhaired double coat, offering protection from the rain and the cold on the one hand, and from the harsh ultra-violet rays of the sun, on the other. She is typically able to survive and thrive on scarce pasture and little feed.
The height of the Shami doe taken from the shoulder in a straight line to the ground measures about 75 cm or more, her weight ranges from between 60 - 80 kg according to her size, the way she was raised, and her body condition. Bucks are typically much larger and heavier than does.
Without a doubt the most striking characteristic of the breed is its specially shaped head - which is clearly convex on the bridge of the nose; the very expressive eyes, and the long ears carried close to the head and gracefully falling downward.
In the past, the Shami goat was used to create the Nubian, Indian, and other goat breeds - in particular, it was used to establish the Anglo-Nubian, and in all likelihood is the source of the breed’s long ears and Roman nose. The Nubian’s shorter coat resulted from crossing Shami goats with British shorthaired breeds.
Modern Breed Standard & Notes on Selection
Below is a description of the ideal Shami goat that we use as our breed standard:
Shami Color Variety - Click for larger image!General Appearance - A goat possessing a particularly aristocratic bearing, arresting beauty, great nobility, and charisma coupled with a strong body structure, long legs and height. Although many of these traits cannot be strictly measured by measuring tape, they are, nonetheless, strikingly obvious to even the most casual observer, and impossible to ignore.
Body Condition and Color - Body condition should be muscular and full, not too thin and not too fat. All colors are acceptable, the shade and markings according to the preference of the breeder and market demands.
Coat - Double and long (as necessary), lustrous and in good condition, free of foreign debris, parasites, etc.
Shami Doe Head - Click for larger image!The Head - The most recognizable characteristic of the breed. Convex (extreme Roman-nosed) in front, with upper and lower jaws meeting squarely and correctly. Goats with long, protruding lower jaws find it more difficult to nurse and graze; animals displaying this characteristic are less acceptable. Very long ears are placed at the upper part of the skull and fall downward at the sides of the head. The head size should be in correct proportion to the body and attached to a long, highly carried neck. Too large of a head lessens the nobility of the Shami.
Eyes - Full of expression and with tight eyelid to protect the eye from dust and debris. The preferred iris color is milk white with a black pupil in the center of the eye, but brown, pinky brown, and black are also acceptable. (Today, at the writing of this standard, the majority of our breeders prefer the white color).
The Neck must be long and attach cleanly into high Withers which flow smoothly into the back.
The Back must be straight and strong, neither convex nor concave.
The Loins are the portion of the spine not supported by ribs and should give the appearance of great strength. These attach to a wide, generous croup.
The Croup continues the topline, and should have a gently sloping appearance, to allow for easy kidding. Too steep a slope is undesirable.
Normally the Tail is carried gaily, vertically to the ground.
The Limbs should appear powerful with strong bone and well developed musculature apparent from both front and behind. They should be straight and parallel, showing especially great width from behind to allow the development of a well-attached udder capable of great milk production. From the front the build should also appear wide, with straight, parallel legs that offer both stability and room to encompass a well-developed chest, with plenty of space for heart and lungs.
Distinguishing male from female - Sexual differences between doe and buck should be immediately obvious.
Shami Doe Front Right and Mixed - Click for larger image!The Female (doe) - should appear finer than the male (buck), with the long and fine neck indicative of good dairy character. Both fore and hind legs should appear strong, but correspondingly finer and more delicate than the male’s.
The doe must have a well-developed digestive system with a large rumen allowing for large food capacity and good ability to utilize feed for maximum milk production. A heavy, meaty doe will utilize her food for meat production rather than milk production.
In order to produce a modern doe which both represents the original ancient beauty and the ultilitarian advantages of the Shami, we must pay great attention to the development of a well-attached, wide udder, velvety smooth on the outside and spongy and soft from within. We select for teats that point downward and not to the sides, since both hand and machine milking are done in a downward direction - proper teat placement means that no milk is left in the lower portion of the udder. When the teats are pointing sideways, one must push with the hands each and every milking in order to get the last ½ liter of milk.
In our country, until recently, the selection of does based on proper teat placement and structure has been largely ignored - the area given most attention has remained the head. Even today a doe with a nice head will sell for more money than a good dairy goat with a less typical head - even if she gives less milk.
Recording daily milk yields and keeping individual production records is a very new phenomenon in our local goat industry. In contrast to our well-established dairy cattle industry where we can most precisely rank dairy bull performance, our dairy goat industry is in its infancy. Most bucks used to date have not sired enough daughters to allow us to accurately measure their breeding value.
Shami Buck - Click for larger image!The buck’s power, strength and size should be immediately apparent. The head should be very typical, with a strikingly convex foreface and an especially expressive eye (white color preferred). The ears must be very long and made of soft flexible skin, carried close to the head, and fall downward.
The buck’s neck often appears somewhat shorter than that of the doe, but this is an optical illusion - it is its comparative massiveness and thickness that make it appear so. As a rule, bucks with long necks pass on better dairy character to their offspring.
Overall, the buck’s body structure should show more massive muscling than that of the doe.
One must look for large, well-developed testicles with a squarer build and largest development at the bottom. All four limbs should appear broad and powerful with strong hooves, preferably dark in color.
Shami Bucks - Click for larger image!The most important distinguishing factor and mark of excellence of both buck and doe is their ability to pass on his or her good traits to their offspring. When making breeding choices, one must always be certain that the buck and doe do not share identical faults so as to not strengthen these faults in future generations.
Today, the Ministry of Agriculture of Cyprus is involved in an ongoing project dedicated to the improvement of their local Shami goat, and occasionally they publish their results. Some excellent Cypriate stock was imported into Israel a few decades ago and has greatly influenced our local animals. In Cyprus selection is being done primarily on the basis of health profiles and milk yields, with less emphasis placed on preserving the typical Shami head or other distinguishing physical traits of the breed.
Here in Israel we are convinced that the correct approach is to actively select both for distinct Shami physical type and beauty and for the utilitarian characteristics of the dairy goat. Using this method we hope to produce the most excellent and beautiful Shami goats in the world.
Additional Notes for the Breeder
* The Shami breeder must be particularly attentive to physical faults in the head that affect the health profile and proper functioning of the animal. For example, a Roman nose so extreme that it restricts the nostrils and impairs proper breathing is actually a deformity. An overly protruding lower jaw that makes nursing or feeding difficult is a definite fault.
**Breeding bucks should be selected from mothers known for their good dairy characteristics, high milk yields, and excellent daughters - they themselves should display the typical Shami head, proper conformation, beauty, and nobility.
When a particularly beautiful buck is identified, he should be tried on a limited number of dissimilar does. The more daughters a buck sires from dissimilar does, the greater our ability to assess whether he is consistently transmitting specific desirable traits.
Kids must be judged according to their quality in relationship to the quality of their dams and the other does in the herd. Once the female kids are grown and producing milk, we can decide whether or not to continue breeding with a particular buck, based on his daughters’ quality and performance relative to the other does in the herd.
*** In modern dairying, speed of milk flow during milking is a key factor to consider in doe selection decisions. In large milking herds the amount of time it takes for a doe to let down her milk is critical, as time saved in the milking shed can be used for taking care of the many other chores necessary to proper herd management. In a herd of 100 does, if each doe takes one minute more for milk letdown than average, the extra time spent in the milking shed will be formidable.
Click for larger image!In Conclusion
We hope that this article will provide a basic picture of the Shami breed and a bit of background about our preservation efforts. Today, Arab and Jewish Shami breeders in Israel and the Palestinian Authority cooperate closely in a common effort to preserve the original Shami goat.
We warmly invite all readers, both in the Middle East and beyond, who shares our interest in Shami goats to contact us directly or through the Goatworld site. By uniting our efforts and working together, we can ultimately produce herds of high quality, high-performing, typical Shami goats for the benefit of all.

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