Some 40 years ago a small group of Californians was inspired to create a breed out of this offering of nature. To this date most of the rest of the goat keeping world still views these "mutants" with scepticism at least on the official level. In the US we have given them a home and have been recording their family histories for almost half a century.
The name which American breeders adopted for their short ear goats - LA MANCHA - is traceable to a label on a crate bearing a cargo of stubby ear goats. These Spanish imports were exhibited at the 1903 Paris Goat Show. The contemporaneous authority, Joseph Crepin, printed a photograph in his book LA CHEVRE of an alert dark haired doe with a pale muzzle and eye rims and, yes, those short EARS (not, however, showing the trademark bent tip.) Crepin proceeded to identify her as MANCHA and the name stuck. Unfortunately, LA MANCHAS (the usual pluralization) is not a comfortable fit with its decidedly ungrammatical look and sound. The geographic origin of the name is not the problem. Most breeds acquire their names this way. Had a "ns" been added and the "la" dropped (MANCHANS, or even LAS MANCHANS) the awkwardness could have been avoided.
This most publicized tie to a specific geographic origin for our American Lamancha is a huge mesa in southcentral Spain - the largest wine producing area in Europe - roughly bordered on the west by Toledo, the north by Cuenca, the east by Albacete and the south by Cordoba (from which the "famous" crate was shipped.) The area owes its name to the arabic language: AL MANSHA translates to "dryland." It is best known as the setting for celebrated 16th century novel DON QUIXOTE. In more recent times it has established an international reputation for the sheep milk cheese MANCHEGO.
For centuries Spain has been subjected to invasions of Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Visigoths in addition to the dominant Moors, those arabic speaking 8th century nomads originating in Mauretania. They all arrived with livestock and doubtless left some behind on departing - creating the potential for an interesting mix of genetic material.
Although contemporary Spaniards have no official name for their short ear goats they do recognize that they are different and dub them "monas" (little monkeys) or "monadas" (cuties.) They are associated with the most numerous Spanish breed: Murcian or Granada which, as of 1975, was officially recognized as one and the same with red (Murcian) and black (Granada) varieties. The true Murcian/Granada goat carries her erect ear somewhat horizontally.
The "monas" were described by the Spanish authority R.G. Ortiz in 1953 as follows:
WITHERS: pronounced, strong
RUMP: slanting, angular
UDDER: shortened, closefitting, compact
COLOR: blonde, reddish brown
SIZE: Male: 34" - 198# - Female: 30" - 143#
He also noted in reply to a written request by Tom Draper, one of the early California fanciers, that the LaMancha did not exist as a separate Spanish breed, but when these "monas" did appear they were recognized as sturdy animals as well as excellent milkers. Another authority, Pedro Valera of Murcia, in response to a USDA inquiry in 1972, "There is no breed of goat in Spain with ears such as you describe. The breed with the shortest and the most erect ear is the Murciana...what occurs in this breed, and some others, is the presence of some mutation which dominates. But this is a mutation which is undesirable. These are culled." He enclosed a photo of a group of Murcianas including one whose ears were slightly shorter and set more vertically than the others.
Crepin in LA CHEVRE describes characertistics of the Murcian breed which many decades later could also be considered characteristics - for better or for worse - of many American LaManchas:
PUTS ON WEIGHT EASILY: "stout and plump"
EXTREMELY HARDY: "adapted to every terrain."
He goes on to gush, "The Murcian, whose harmoniousness of overall appearance is noteworthy, is undoubtedly the most attractive of all goats." What smitten LaMancha breeder could disagree?
Hopefully this look has been bred out - forever - in American LaManchas if indeed it was embedded in the genes in the first place.
Whether the ear mutation had one, presumably Iberian source, or many is probably unknowable and irrelevant. A variety of "sightings" makes the question continually interesting.
Valerie Porter in her GOATS OF THE WORLD reports that descendants of Murcian imports exist in Brazil, Mexico and other parts of Latin America. She mentions two Brazilian subtypes with tiny external ears: Nambi ("without ears") and Muvo ("nouveau".) Brazilians recognize style when they see it!
Excepting the foregoing references to New World imports most of the citations referring to goats resembling LaManchas are indigenous to an area roughly grouped around the 40th parallel from Spain through the Mediterranean/Black Sea basin to the Caspian Sea.
One possible exception is an African variety noted in Coutryside Magazine (1977):"A LaMancha breeder reports the visit to her farm of a foreign student from Ethiopia. He recognized the goats. There were goats like that back home. Later the breeder happened to see a travelogue on television featuring Ethiopia. There was a brief glimpse of very fat, short legged, GOPHER EARRED goats!"
Likewise the well known American livestock expert, George Thompson, reports in 1904 concerning a reference to a "goat found in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) with a convex facial structure and a very short, straight, pointed ear.
Before we leave the continent of Africa a curious reference to the Zaraibi goat of Egypt should be noted. In the 1926 Year Book of the British Goat Society in an article about this nubian type is the following: "Strangely, enough, some of these goats are born with small, almost abortive, pricked up ears."!!!
I can report two film sightings somewhat closer to the 40th parallel. Sitting in the local movie theatre watching a documentary (People of the Wind - UK/Iran 1976) about the Baktari tribe on their annual migration across the Zagros mountains, I spied among the lopearred/piebald kids cavorting on the stony paths an elf ear creature curiously familiar. I sat through this movie twice just to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing - "an Iranian LaMancha."
The island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean is home to a breed of large, shorthaired, white goat (MACHAERA) at a monastery in the Troodos mountains. It is known locally as Aspri Tou or Aspri Mitou - the later meaning "white short earred." In the British Goat Society Journal (February/March 1994) this goat is described as having "almost non-existant ears." A photo verifying this description accompanies the article. These does apparently produce rather small quantities of milk of approximately 5.5% butterfat and 5% protein and appear to be highly uniform (inbred.)
The English Golden Guernsey breed is said to have as its origin the Syrian goat whom "ancient writers" suggested had ears which turned upwards and outwards at their extremities. Our expert Crepin refers to the tips of the Syrian goats' ears as being very wrinkled and bending outward. He also mentions goats with "very short ears " being imported to Haifa (close to Cyprus!) from Malta and Spain.
In 1996 the well-known dairy goat breeder and judge, Jennifer Bice, was invited to Latvia and Poland as a technical consultant to local breeders. She saw a few animals that looked suspiciously like LaManchas. Her hosts were not eager to display them and referred to them as "deformed" - laughingly suggesting that they were "chernobyl" mutants since one or more had presumably originated in the Ukraine, scene of the nuclear disaster. They otherwise resembled their herdmates, reported Jennifer, who assured her hosts that Americans admired and cultivated these"oddballs."
In the course of a judging trip to Mexico City in the 1990's LaMancha breeder and judge, Dan Laney, uncovered another chapter in the story of the heritability of the LaMancha ear. He visited a large goat ranch in a rather remote area. The aging aristocratic owner pointed out - amongst the Alpine does - a small group of elf ear does with the characteristic "bent tip" to their ears. In 1972 a five month old LaMancha buckling had bred 10 Alpine type does and promptly died. No other LaMancha buck had ever been used: convincing testimony to the remarkable potency of the mutant ear.