Get Your Goat

GRIT helps you choose the right breed.

Goat family

If you only want a few goats, you should keep males isolated from the herd.

Ardea/Johan de Meester

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Goats are the Swiss Army knife of livestock. They can play many roles on a farm. For example, goats can be raised for milk, meat or mohair. They can be raised as pets or pack animals, and they can clear brush better than a Bush Hog.

As with all types of livestock, it’s important to consider your needs when selecting a breed – think about, for example, whether you want to raise goats to make cheese or sausage. With goats, you also might want to reflect on your own character and farm situation. For example, if you have Nubians, non-farming neighbors might complain during weaning and breeding season. (I’ve heard of a rural SPCA officer who was called more than once about people “torturing goats” only to find Nubians in heat.) They are beautiful animals that produce rich milk, but they are also very vocal.

On the other hand, if you have low or even moderately high fences, Alpines might not be the breed for you. Their ability to jump may exceed your patience. That said, many wonderful breeds of goats are available and, within each breed, the productivity, appearance and character of individuals vary considerably.

Another consideration is the availability of breeding stock. If you want to keep only a couple of dairy goats, you probably don’t want a buck as well. Not only do you risk unplanned pregnancy by having a male around (imagine kidding in January and you’ll see the downside of this), but bucks are smelly and prone to behaving badly. If you raise dairy goats, their milk will be flavorfully, pungently tainted if there is a buck in the barn with them. You will need to build separate, very secure, living quarters for the buck and raise a companion animal with him. For small operations, you might be better off borrowing or leasing males as needed.

Goats are incredibly versatile livestock. A Saanen can supply the dairy needs of a family, a couple of Angora goats can keep handspinners busy year-round and a herd of Kikos can be raised on the range like pint-sized beef cattle. With goats, you can have it all – milk, meat, fleece and lots of character.

Flair for fiber

Two of the softest natural fibers available are produced by goats – mohair and cashmere. Mohair is from Angora goats – not to be confused with the Angora fiber, which comes from Angora rabbits. Angora goats are covered with long, lustrous ringlets of mohair. Bucks have the coarsest fleece, but wethers (castrated males) produce fine fleece year after year. Kid mohair is particularly soft.

Angora goats are shorn twice a year, often before kidding and breeding. Unlike shearing a sheep, which requires considerable strength and skill, as well as special equipment, Angoras are relatively simple to shear. Their small size and docile nature leads many owners to shear the goats themselves by using sheep shears with a mohair blade, dog or horse clippers, or even just scissors.

Cashmere is the name of a breed as well as a type of fiber – the soft downy undercoat of the Cashmere, as well as certain Spanish and other goats. Cashmere goats produce more of the fiber than other breeds but the yields are very low compared to the production of mohair by Angoras. An Angora may produce more than 10 pounds of mohair a year, but a Cashmere goat will often produce only a half-pound of cashmere.

Good eating

Goat meat is an important protein source throughout the world; its consumption is more widespread than any other type of meat. It might not be in your supermarket yet, but in North America the market for goat meat is on the rise. In 2007, the United States boasted three million head of meat goats (breeding and meat stock), with half of that number in Texas alone. Despite this, the United States remains the world’s largest importer of goat meat.

Goat meat is known by two names – cabrito for young kid meat, and chevon for the meat of a weaned kid or adult goat. The meat is lean, high in iron and has a distinctive flavor that lends itself nicely to cooking with fire.

When choosing a meat breed, consider its productivity (i.e., singles, twins or triplets), growth rate, size and carcass quality. Most importantly, think about how well the breed will do under the conditions of your farm or range. For example, a Boer or Boer-Nubian cross can excel under good forage conditions and management. However, on a range with poor to mediocre forage, Kiko and maybe even Spanish goats will outperform Boers.

Only you can choose

Are goats in your future? Use the entries here as a starting point and then visit as many goat farms as you can, ask plenty of questions and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime.   

Janet Wallace is an organic farmer in New Brunswick, Canada, and the editor of The Canadian Organic Grower . Her favorite goat is the Nubian; She feels their affection, rich milk and fun floppy ears are worth the noise and hassle of dealing with such high-strung, overly opinionated creatures.

Alpine 

Size: large
Appearance: various colors and markings; upright ears; dished nose; beard on bucks
Fleece: sleek
Kidding: often twins
Milk production: high yields, low butterfat
Behavior: friendly, curious, high-spirited
Use: dairy
Origin: Switzerland
Environment: can thrive in arid climates as well as lush pasture

Named after the Alps, where the breed was developed. Their agility, which enabled their ancestors to leap between rocky crags, makes them more difficult to fence than many other breeds. According to the Alpine International Club, “the breed can be highly individual in character and tends to be a breed for enthusiasts who like a challenge.” Alpines are tied with Saanens for the breed that produces the most milk; they average almost 2,000 pounds of milk (more than 3 quarts a day) over a 305-day lactation with 3.5-3.8 percent butterfat.

Alpines International
7195 County Road 315
Silt, CO 81652
www.AlpinesInternationalClub.com 

Angora     

Size: small
Appearance: cream-colored hair over body and legs; long, drooping ears; spiral horns
Fleece: long ringlets or wavy locks; often shorn twice a year
Kidding: usually singles; seasonal breeding
Milk production: negligible
Behavior: friendly
Use: fiber (mohair)
Origin: Asia Minor
Environment: cannot tolerate wet conditions at kidding or after shearing

Angora goats produce mohair, a lustrous soft hair. They are usually shorn twice a year and yield more than 5 pounds per shearing. The goats are very delicate and vulnerable to pneumonia, internal parasites, lice and urinary calculi.

American Angora Goat Breeders Association
PO Box 195
Rocksprings TX 78880
830-683-4483
www.AAGBA.org 

Boer 

Africander, Afrikaner

Size: large
Appearance: stocky goat with lop ears; Roman nose; often white body with reddish head and neck; variable colors and markings
Fleece: short
Kidding: usually twins; extended breeding season
Milk production: enough
for offspring
Behavior: docile
Use: meat
Origin: Dutch farmers in South Africa
Environment: best in dry areas

Boer goats have an excellent confirmation for meat production and gain weight rapidly; under feedlot conditions, kids can gain 0.3-0.4 pounds per day. Boers are often used as a terminal (sire) breed crossed with Nubian, Kiko, Spanish or even Cashmere does. In humid regions, Boers are more susceptible to problems with internal parasites and hoof rot than other goats.

American Boer Goat Association
1207 S. Bryant Blvd., Suite C
San Angelo, TX 76903
325-486-2242
www.ABGA.org 

 International Boer Goat Association
P.O. Box 1045
Whitewright, TX 75491
877-402-4242 or 903-364-5735
www.IntlBoerGoat.org 

United States Boer Goat Association
P. O. Box 663
Spicewood, TX 78669
866-668-7242
www.USBGA.org 

Cashmere 

Size: medium
Appearance: stocky, various colors and patterns
Fleece: cashmere and guard hair
Kidding: 140 percent; easy kidding
Milk production: rarely milked
Behavior: alert and wary; strong maternal instinct
Use: fiber (cashmere), meat
Origin: Central Asia
Environment: hardy in cold environments

Cashmere goats produce small amounts of valuable cashmere, a soft, crimped non-lustrous fiber. Each year, an adult can produce 2.5 pounds of fleece made up of 20 percent cashmere and 80 percent guard hair. The animals are shorn once a year. Because of the cashmere “insulation,” the goats can be raised with minimal housing in harsh climates. In hot weather, they shed the cashmere. The kids grow quickly.

Eastern Cashmere Association
P.O. Box 203
123 Rial Herald Road
Bremen, ME 04551
207-529-5747
www.EasternCashmereAssociation.org 

Kiko 

Size: large
Appearance: usually white
Fleece: slick in warm areas, flowing in colder regions
Kidding: high twinning rate; can be bred every 8 months
Milk production: sufficient for kids
Behavior: great browsers; males are bold
Use: meat, graze-for-hire
Origin: New Zealand
Environment: can tolerate harsh environments, from mountainous area to dry brushland

Kiko kids are hardy, vigorous and fast growing. They can grow as quickly as Boer kids but do not require as much feed or care. Kidding is often easy. They are resistant to internal parasites. Often used as a maternal meat breed to increase hardiness and foraging ability in the offspring.

American Kiko Goat Association
295 Hall Lane
Trenton, Georgia 30752
706-657-8649
www.KikoGoats.com 

 International Kiko Goat Association Inc.
P.O. Box 677
Jonesborough, TN 37659
888-538-4279
www.TheIKGA.org 

LaMancha 

Size: medium
Appearance: tiny “elf” or “gopher” ears; various colors
Fleece: short
Kidding: often twins
Milk production: moderately high yields; moderately high butterfat
Behavior: even-tempered, sturdy dairy goat
Use: dairy
Origin: United States from Spanish stock
Environment: tolerant of a range of environments

LaManchas are docile dairy goats. A good doe will produce an average of
3 quarts of milk a day over a 10-month lactation. They are relatively easy to raise due to their docile nature and hardiness. According to the article, “The American LaMancha, and Its Ears,” written by Dale L. Woods and appearing on the American LaMancha Club’s Web site ­(below), the gopher ear, with a maximum length of 1 inch and turning either up or down, is the only ear that makes bucks eligible for registration.

American LaMancha Club 
11075 Old Oregon Trail
Redding, CA 96003
530-241-4214
www.LaManchas.com 

Nigerian Dwarf 

Size: small (under 2 feet tall at the withers)
Appearance: various colors; nose is dished or straight; erect ears
Fleece: short
Kidding: usually triplets; can breed year-round as often as three times in two years
Milk production: moderate yield of rich milk
Behavior: gentle, easily trained
Use: milk, pets
Origin: United States from West African stock
Environment: tolerant to a range

The Nigerian Dwarf is a small prolific goat that produces a surprising amount
of milk. On average, does give more than 2 quarts a day of milk with 6-10 percent butterfat.

Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association
8370 W. Abbey Lane
Wilhoit, AZ 86332
928-445-3423
www.NDGA.org 

American Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Association
1510 Bird Road
Independence KY 41051
859-356-2478
www.ANDDA.org 

Nubian 

Anglo-Nubians

Size: large
Appearance: long, pendulous ears; Roman nose; variety of colors and patterns
Fleece: sleek
Kidding: often triplets; long breeding season
Milk production: moderate yield, but milk is rich in butterfat and protein
Behavior: high-strung, highly vocal
Use: dairy, meat, pack animals
Origin: England from North African stock
Environment: very tolerant of hot weather; in extreme cold, the tips of the ears can suffer from frostbite

Nubians are often called the Jerseys of the goat world. They produce less milk than other dairy breeds, but their milk is rich, high in both butterfat and milk protein. A good doe will give an average of 2.5 quarts a day over a 10-month lactation. They are more prolific with a longer breeding season than other dairy goats. Nubians are the most popular breed of goat in the United States.

International Nubian Breeders Association
5124 FM 1940
Franklin, TX 77856
979-828-4158
www.I-N-B-A.org 

Oberhasli

Size: medium
Appearance: bay, deep red or black with black muzzle and facial stripes and a black dorsal stripe; does may be black, but bay is preferred (the deeper the more preferred); bucks often have solid black faces; face is straight or dished, and alquiline noses are discriminated against
Fleece: sleek
Kidding: often twins
Milk production: moderate yields with moderate levels of butterfat
Behavior: vigorous, alert, gentle
Use: dairy
Origin: Switzerland
Environment: prefer cool areas

A dairy goat noted for its beauty and fine-flavored, slightly sweet milk. Oberhasli goats are far less common than any of the dairy breeds but their popularity is growing.

Oberhasli Breeders of America 
c/o Elise Anderson
1035 Bardin Road
Palatka, FL 32177
http://Oberhasli.net 

Pygmy    

Cameroon Dwarf Goat

Size: small (under 2 feet tall at the withers)
Appearance: various colors, often a grizzled (agouti) pattern with light areas around eyes, forehead, muzzle and ears
Fleece: medium to long hair; bucks have manes and beards
Kidding: 1-4 kids
Milk production: low yield
Behavior: alert, good-natured, gregarious
Use: pets
Origin: West Africa
Environment: tolerant of a range of conditions

Pygmy goats are often raised as pets or for companion animals for horses or other goats. Despite their small size, the does can be milked and at the peak of lactation, a Pygmy goat can give more than 2 quarts of milk a day.

National Pygmy Goat Association
1932 149th Ave. SE
Snohomish WA 98290
425-334-6506
www.NPGA-Pygmy.com 

Saanen 

Size: large
Appearance: solid white with forward-facing ears; straight or dished nose
Fleece: sleek
Kidding: often twins
Milk production: high yields with moderate levels of butterfat
Behavior: docile
Use: dairy
Origin: Switzerland
Environment: prefer cool climates; can suffer from sunburn

The Saanen is often called the Holstein of dairy goats because of its high milk production and large size. A Saanen goat holds the world record for goat milk production reaching 7,000 pounds of milk over a 10-month lactation. However, average does will give 3 quarts of milk per day over a 10-month lactation.

National Saanen Breeders Association
P.O. Box 916
Santa Cruz, NM 87567
805-461-5547
www.NationalSaanenBreeders.com 

San Clemente Island 

Size: small
Appearance: deer-like, fine-boned, mostly red or tan with black markings
Fleece: short
Kidding: year-round breeding; often twins
Milk production: yield of very rich milk comparable to Toggenburg
Behavior: gentle
Use: rare breed, meat, dairy
Origin: Unknown from feral stock. According to DNA, don’t track to anything, possible origins in Europe or Africa
Environment: adaptable to environment

This rare breed is derived from feral goats that ran wild on San Clemente Island since 1875. The island, off the coast of California, is managed by the U.S. Navy. In 1972, there were 11,000 goats on the island, and a goat removal program (to protect endangered plants and environments of endangered animals) reduced numbers to 4,000 by 1980. A handful were brought to the mainland for adoption, and today, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy lists the endangered breed as critical. Most are now raised to preserve the species; some are used as breeding stock and for milk production. Farmers report that does can give a quart of milk a day with butterfat levels of 5.5-7 percent.

San Clemente Island Goat Association
3037 Halfway Road
The Plains, VA 20198
540-687-8871
www.SCIGoats.org 

Spanish 

Scrub, Woods, Brush

Size: often small to medium, but some strains are large
Appearance: come in a variety of colors; smaller ears with downward curl; often twisted large horns on bucks
Fleece: hair with some cashmere fiber
Kidding: almost a year-round breeding season, often twins
Milk production: rarely milked
Behavior: flighty
Use: brush-clearing, meat
Origin: United States from Spanish stock
Environment: tolerant of harsh conditions

These goats are excellent foragers and mothers. They grow more slowly and have lighter carcasses than other meat goats, but they are also more hardy. For a few centuries, most goats in the southern United States were Spanish goats, but many of these were bred with dairy or fleece breeds since the 1980s, and there was a decline in the population within the breed. The does are noted for their productivity and longevity.

Spanish Goat Association
3037 Halfway Road
The Plains, VA 20198
540-687-8871
www.SpanishGoats.org 

Tennessee Fainting 

Myotonic, Wooden Leg, Stiff Leg

Size: medium
Appearance: large prominent eyes (sometimes called “bug-eyed”); ears stick out sideways; various colors and patterns
Fleece: sleek to cashmere-like
Kidding: breeds out of season; can kid twice a year
Milk production: rarely milked
Behavior: calm
Use: meat, pets
Origin: Tennessee from Canadian stock
Environment: fairly adaptable

When startled, the goats stiffen and fall over. They rise again soon afterwards but walk stiffly for a short time. The condition is the result of recessive genes. The Tennessee Meat breed has been developed from the Fainting goat by selecting for larger size and better meat confirmation, and crossbreeding so the recessive “fainting gene” is not expressed.

International Fainting Goat Association
c/o Lottie Long
2455 Deanburg Road
Pinson, TN 38366
www.FaintingGoat.com 

Myotonic Goat Registry
P.O. Box 237
Chapel Hill, TN 37034
931-364-7206
www.MyotonicGoatRegistry.net 

Toggenburg 

Size: medium
Appearance: brown with white stripes on face, erect ears
Fleece: soft, medium-length hair
Kidding: often twins
Milk production: moderate to high yields with low butterfat
Behavior: active, vigorous and alert
Use: dairy
Origin: Toggenburg Valley of Switzerland at Obertoggenburg
Environment: tolerant of various climates; prefer cooler regions

The Toggenburg is thought to be the oldest of the Swiss dairy breeds. They are smaller than other dairy goats, but also hardier and more tolerant of a range of climates. A good doe will give 3 quarts of milk per day over a 10-month lactation. They are noted for their long lactations and overall longevity.

National Toggenburg Club
1156 East 4100 North
Buhl, ID 83316
208-543-8824
www.NationalToggClub.org