The Icelandic goat breed was presumably brought to Iceland with the early settlers over 1100 years ago. Since then the breed, most probably of Scandinavian origin, has existed in isolation and gone through at least two severe reductions in the population size, so called population bottlenecks.
Icelandic goat. Photo taken by Jon Hallsson.
One bottleneck occurred in the years 1875-1885 when the population went down to only 62 individuals. In the year 1930 the breed reached its largest known size of almost 3000 individuals. However, this period was followed by another population bottleneck, and in the years 1950-1967 the population was comprised of only 87 individuals. Since then the Icelandic goat population size has grown steadily reaching 729 animals by the end of the year 2011. Population size has not been this large since 1945, when it counted 855 individuals. Goats are now kept at around 60 farms in Iceland.
To prevent the spread of infectious diseases, transport of livestock between regions in Iceland is prohibited. This restriction has resulted in many isolated and often very small goat herds, in some cases showing signs of possible inbreeding depression. One way to alleviate this problem is to break the isolation of herds through semen collection and the use of artificial insemination (AI). Semen has now been collected for two consecutive years. During 2010 semen was collected from eight bucks, and the following year form two additional bucks, resulting in a total of 1037 straws of semen. Collected semen was used immediately in 2010 with promising results: from 38 inseminated ewes 21 kids were born.
Steadily increasing population size and the possibility for AI promise a new start for the Icelandic goat, a breed that was near extinction only few decades ago!
The figure below shows the population size for the Icelandic goat since the year 1703. Dashed line indicates non-continuos data.
Jón Hallsteinn Hallsson
Birna Kristín Baldursdóttir