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Blackneck goats: Summer favourites in black and white

17.07.2013

Goats hold a magical attraction for humans. This is particularly true for the blackneck goats which take their morning and evening stroll along Zermatt’s Bahnhofstrasse every summer. These goats are the most photographed goats in the world. But who are they, these quaint-looking animals?

While some consider goats to be magical creatures, others may view them in a more demonic light. No wonder, since the devil is often depicted with goat-like features in the history of art and sculpture – replete with hooves, goat legs and horns. Humans find their unearthly rectangular pupils particularly disconcerting.  

In actual fact, however, goats are rather simple creatures, albeit unusual ones. Zermatt goatherd, Kurt Tschop, expresses it this way: “Goats have a very unique character: They are clever, curious, fussy about their food and very stubborn.” He adds that blackneck goats are more archaic than dairy goats such as the Saanen goat. The latter are more amenable and affectionate whereas blackneck goats tend to be more reclusive, similar to chamois or ibexes. While speaking with us, he asks one of his young goatherds to bring the animals down from the rock. “If we leave this too late, we’ll be forced to climb after them,” he says smiling and pointing towards the rugged rock faces towering above the Spiss district of Zermatt.   

Gourmets on the go
The blackneck goats are driven through Zermatt by three children aged around 12. This week, the young goatherds, Aron Arnold (13), Dario Bumann (12) and Matthias Kuonen (12), all come from Zermatt. There are a total of 23 children, among them four girls, who take turns on a weekly basis. They drive the 33 goats along Zermatt‘s Bahnhofstrasse and up to the mountain pasture above the Spiss district, not far from the heliport. 

It’s challenging work for the young goatherds who have to be constantly on the alert. Goats are quick-footed when they are in search of that special delicious herb – they are, after all, gourmets. They love lustrous flowers, succulent herbs and bright-green grass. They take no notice of the dry and tough grass stalks as they wander across the meadow looking for their favourite tasty plants. 

No mixing of black and white hairs
In the 1970s, the blackneck goat was close to extinction. Today, there are around 2,700 of these alpine goats living in the mountains, with 2,300 in the Upper Valais region. Strict criteria and clear definitions apply in the determination of a genuine specimen: The head, front legs and half of the body should be jet black while the hind legs should be snow-white. There must be a distinct border between the black and the white areas. The front cloven should be black and the back cloven white. The hair should be long and hang down below the underbelly. The white part may not contain any black hairs and vice versa. Their bodies have a characteristic shape dominated by a dipping pelvis and a straight back. Both males and females have horns. Billy goats reach a height at withers of up to 85 cm and weigh up to 90 kg, while female goats measure around 75 cm and weigh approx. 60 kg.
Depending on their age, the goats produce up to 2 litres of milk a day. The blackneck goat, which is also referred to as the glacier goat, Sattel goat, Vispertal goat or Halsene, is one of the oldest domesticated goat species in the world.

Goat’s tour in Zermatt
End of June until 9 August 2013
Goats proceed from Zen Stecken to Bahnhofplatz at approx. 9 a.m. In the evening, at around 5 p.m., they return through the village to their “Gädi” (goat pen in Zermatt dialect) in Zen Stecken.

Enjoying the green grass facing the Matterhorn (background).

Responsible for the 2013 goat drive: Kurt Tschop (65)

Goats have rectangular pupils.

Blackneck goats are excellent climbers thanks to their cloven hooves (see picture).

Goatherd Dario Bumann carries a kid in his arms. The little goat is already planning new mischief.

Taking a break on the idyllic meadow above Zermatt’s Spiss district: young goatherds Aron Arnold (left), Dario Bumann and Matthias Kuonen with Kurt Tschop.

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