Nebraska couple dedicate life to breeding rare San Clemente Island goats

Among the 200 or so breeds of goats across the United States, the San Clemente Island goats are one of the rarest. Nebraska Public Media's Dennis Kellogg reports on one Nebraska couple that is doing what they can to save them.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, among the 200 or so breeds of goats — yes, that's right, goats — across the United States, the San Clemente Island goats are one of the rarest.

    As Nebraska Public Media's Dennis Kellogg reports, one Nebraska couple is doing all they can to save them.

  • Chad Wegener, San Clemente Island Goat Breeder :

    Welcome to Willow Valley Farms. We're going to take you guys on a goat walk.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    Chad Wegener is a modern-day goat herder.

  • Chad Wegener:

    Time for breakfast.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    The goats are like family to him. He's gotten to know each one since he left his corporate job to take care of them full-time.

  • Chad Wegener:

    I'm part goat. Maybe that was my calling to do this.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    There are fewer than 1, 500 of these San Clemente Island goats. Threatened with extinction, the largest herd, 250 of them, is located here in Gretna, Nebraska.

  • Chad Wegener:

    It's a nice relationship. I like to keep these guys as feral as possible, as wild as possible, because that's in their nature, and there's something beautiful about it.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    The get their name from San Clemente Island off the coast of California. There used to be as many as 18,000 of them. But after they overran the island's natural ecosystem, most were eradicated.

    Now more than 1,000 miles away on a 40-acre farm, Chad and his life partner, John Carroll, are doing everything they can to save the breed.

  • John Carroll, San Clemente Island Goat Breeder:

    So I think it's really important that these animals were able to survive on their own for 100, 125 years, so they know how to survive.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    John and Chad are working with breeders across North America. They call this their passion project.

    Do you feel a responsibility, like you're the last hope for this species?

  • Chad Wegener:

    I do somewhat, yes, because, if not us, who? And what we're trying to do is on a larger scale, not just breeding, but on a larger scale to show the world that these goats can have a value. And that's why we want to do a commercial goat dairy.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    They think the dairy would be the first ever commercial milking dairy for the San Clemente Island goats. It would include a storefront, cheese room, and a milking parlor.

  • John Carroll:

    And we feel like, if we can do this, we're going to find an outlet for these goats to save them. If they can actually become a dairy goat, those that want to make a boutique niche cheese, the butterfat is very high, and I think it actually will make a really high-quality cheese.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    They'd also like to build an education center where the main subject would be San Clemente Island goats.

  • Chad Wegener:

    Bring different groups and educate them, whether it's children, at-risk children, LGBTQ youth, local elementary kids. Bring them in and let them see us cheese, let them help us milk, and do some of that in this area.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    John adds, preserving the genes of these goats could also provide a potential protein source in the future.

  • John Carroll:

    Right now, we're focused on beef. That's just what — we're in Nebraska, and you eat cows. But we also see our demographics changing, and a lot of cultures do eat goat and sheep.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    Whether it's through meat, milk, or cheese, John and Chad are determined to prove the skeptics wrong.

  • John Carroll:

    We just got to figure out how to make it happen. And it takes money and learning how to do it and all that. So we're just inching our way.

  • Chad Wegener:

    Why are you doing it? What are you doing that for? Why are you spending all that money on it?

    And I think that, one day, we will prove them wrong. When I have that goat dairy up and you and I are sitting there eating goat cheese, maybe drinking a glass of wine, we will toast to this interview and say, told you so.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Dennis Kellogg near Gretna, Nebraska.

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