Old English Goats are naturally adapted to the British Climate. Their constitution and hardiness are two of their greatest characteristics. They will eat a wide range of food and are not deterred from foraging by poor weather. They are specialists in converting rough scrub into milk & meat for the household, requiring little or no additional feed.

 Key Characteristics 

  • The Old English goat is cobby in nature, and shorter than more modern breeds, standing at around 26” at the withers
  • The outer coat may be any length from short to shaggy, but it is never smooth or sleek. There may be a fringe of long hair along the back and/or down the hindquarters.
  • The copious fine cashmere undercoat is particularly noticeable in winter, but it should be detectable even in summer.
  • Colour is variable, usually shades of grey or brown and often with black markings
  • They are known for producing moderate amounts of milk – perfectly suited to self-sufficiency!


The Old English goat was the native breed of the UK before the major imports of foreign goats to the UK after 1880. Previous to these imports, regional differences would have been present, but the vast majority of goats were of the Old English breed. The notable exceptions would have been in some major port towns, where sailors may have been offloading the occasional exotic breed of goat.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries (and before!) it would have been common across the land for every smallholder and small farm to have a couple of goats to supply economic meat & dairy. It was also a common practice to send your Nanny goats “up the hill” – i.e. to leave the farm into the wilds – in order to be mated by one of the feral/wild males in the area. This was both logistically practical, and ensured any offspring retained the hardiness they needed to thrive.

Native populations of feral/wild British Primitive goats still exist in the UK today in locations as diverse as the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland, The Valley of the Rocks in Lynton North Devon, and the Isle of White. Whilst populations and management strategies vary, the Old English Goat Society does make occasional use of these populations to ensure the characteristic hardiness of the breed is not lost. This practice is intended to more precisely mimic the original practice of sending nannies “up the hill”.


The primary use of the breed today mimics their specialism in the 18th & 19th Century (and before!) – that is, to provide enough milk for the household, and the occasional meat for the freezer. They accomplish this through thrifty conversion of our native flora, and thus make a very sustainable and efficient choice for today’s sustainable and regenerative approaches.

It is thought that the Old English Goat is likely descended from the ancient goats which came across the land-bridge from Europe with the 1st farmers. There is some evidence to suggest that successive waves of Viking introductions may also have played a part in their distant history.

The Old English Goat is truly the original smallholders’ goat!

Did you know?

Many Old English Goats exhibit 'bezoar' facial markings (white, tan or black eye stripes) - these are thought to be genetic remnants from the Bezoar goats native the the Caucuses. This is the area most goats are thought to descend from.

Breed Society

For more information please visit The Old English Goat Society