The Pygmy Goat Club - How It Began by Hilary Breakell

Since this is the 20th anniversary of the PGC’s foundation it seems appropriate to publish an account of its formation and early years. It would also be an excellent opportunity to recognise the hard work and effort put in by its founder. Fortunately I still have my early issues of Notes as well as letters etc from the beginning of the Club to look back on and research this article from (where my memory lacks)

The Club was started by Sylvia Collyer from Alton, Hampshire. Sylvia had a herd of mostly blue-roan pygmies which originated from Ann Tuckers Dilkhush herd (Bristol) It was Sylvia who introduced me to George and Judy Starbuck from America and who arranged for George to judge our first PGC show at Chelmsford.

Anyway, going back to the beginning – I first heard from Sylvia after she read a letter I had sent to the ‘Fur and Feather’ magazine (which at that time, 1981, catered for goats as well as small livestock) asking if any other pygmy goat breeders would be interested in forming a club. My mother and I had been keeping pygmies for some years and wanted to find a way of connecting up with other breeders. I had also written to the BGS in 1981 to enquire about the possibility of pygmies being recognized and accepted for registration (their reply was negative !)

So Sylvia wrote to me in early ’82 informing me of her plans to start a ‘British Pygmy Goat Club’ and invited us to join, her letter included a list of aims/objectives and a request for offers of help. Needless to say, I replied with our subscription and offered any assistance I could give.

I know that Sylvia worked hard to ‘spread the word’ about the Club, trying to reach as many pygmy owners as possible, the response must have been favourable as the Club was launched and the first issue of Notes was sent out on May 15th 1982. One of Sylvia's first objectives was to open the Identity Register which was to act as a survey of Pygmy goats in the country in an effort to gather as much information, pedigree details etc prior to opening an official Herd Book.

A meeting was arranged at Sylvia's home on June 19th 1982 to discuss the drawing up of a Breed Standard etc. I was sent a transcript of the meeting as I was unable to attend (not having passed my driving test at that time !)

The full transcript runs to 7 x A4 sheets so I have taken extracts from it for use here. The folowing members attended the meeting; Mrs.V.Collins (Cornwall) Miss.P.Good (Essex) Dr and Mrs.Pratt (Herefordshire) Mr & Mrs.Prager (Dorset) Mrs.J.Hoare, Mrs.K.Johnson, Mrs.L.Murphy, Mrs.J.Spooner and Mr.&.Mrs.Rawlinson (Surrey) Mr.& Mrs.Collyer. Apologies for absence were received from; Mrs.A.Mountain (E.Sussex) Mr.&.Mrs.Howard (Essex) Mrs.N.Smith (Warks) Mrs.& Miss.Dowling (Kent) and Mr.Hayward (?)

Those unable to attend had been invited to submit their thoughts via letter for open discussion at the meeting. Letters were read from; Mrs.S.Underwood and Mrs.C.Housden (Essex) and Miss.C. Hayward. Details of all available material regarding Pygmy goat breed standards in America and Holland etc were displayed to enable those present to familiarise themselves with before the meeting started.

The main points covered were; firstly a long discussion on how to cater for the various ‘types’ of pygmy kept in the UK. There were at that time many small goats around which had been given different regional names (African, Cameroon, Nigerian, Sudanese, Egyptian, Guinea etc) and this was the cause of much confusion, added to by the fact that many had been crossed along the way. Various options were discussed but it was decided that it would be too difficult to separate the types and so it was agreed to adopt a single breed standard based on the American one but to include all colours and markings except pure white and swiss-type markings – these being considered proof of impure breeding. The U.S term ‘agouti’ was questioned and it was agreed to substitute ‘roan’ as being the correct term for ‘pepper and salt’ colouring.

Height was discussed and set at 22” maximum for females and 23” for males. The American ‘Evaluation of faults’ sheet was read out and adjusted to suit the requirements of the British Standard ( n.b. This has unfortunately disappeared from our Breed Standard somewhere along the way and in my view should be re-instated – it was a useful tool for breeders and judges. H.B)
Teat faults were given some discussion and it was decided that this problem in females would be listed as a moderate to serious fault, depending on position, and in males would be disqualifying.
Other subjects discussed were the Herd Book, choosing a logo, shows, advertising and finally the question of terminology – ‘buck’ and ‘doe’ were thought to be Americanisms and it was decided that ‘male’ and ‘female’ would suffice !

Sylvia's next project was to write the ‘Pygmy Goats’ booklet and it is to her credit that it has remained virtually unchanged since it was first published (various minor additions have appeared with each ‘update’)

Subsequent issues of Notes contained requests for help in running the Club and I took over the processing of Identity Registrations in early ’83 (and came full circle when I took the job back on in 1996 !) but it was important that a full committee be put in place and so nomination slips were sent out with Notes no. 7 (Nov’ 83) Unfortunately, not one slip was returned and Sylvia was forced to send out a notice to all members to the effect that the PGC could not carry on without more support. I guess this jolted some consciences and led to 5 telephone calls to Sylvia with offers of help. Sylvia called a meeting of these volunteers to her home on March 11th 1984 and the first PGC committee was formed, although I have to say that none of us were elected – just the only ones willing ! That committee was made up of;

Chairperson – Sylvia Collyer
Secretary - Mary Parker
Treasurer - Christine Pratt
Registration Officer - Elizabeth Briggs
Editor - Hilary Dowling (yes, I swapped jobs because nobody wanted the Editors job !)

As already mentioned, the first PGC Show was held on May 19th 1985 at Chelmsford Cattle Market and was judged by George Starbuck. Looking back at photographs of the goats present at this show makes you realize just how far we have progressed with not only the breed in general but also the presentation of our stock (see photographs)

The business of furthering the Club – drawing up Rules/Constitution, deciding upon the format for the Herd Book etc all caused problems and eventually disagreements within the committee which regrettably led Sylvia Collyer to resign. It took many months before these issues were eventually settled by the remaining and replacement officers.

The National Committee was later expanded to 7 with the creation of two new posts - show secretary, to cater for the demands of an increasing list of shows, and membership secretary to ease the workload of the Editor.

Over the years the Club has thrived with the help of numerous dedicated committee members such as Karen Jephcott, Sue Tiedeman, Mabel Brown, Bob Prager, Gill Ruddock to name but a few, and will hopefully continue to progress still further.

I think it is safe to say that the PGC has successfully withstood the test of time and is now established as an officially recognised Breed Society.

Hilary Breakell
(nee Dowling)