Bringing a goat into your life will lead to endless delight at their antics and a wealth of opportunities to turn a profit. Whether you’re interested in a productive dairy goat or one that produces luxurious cashmere, selecting the right goat breed for your needs is paramount. The Joy of Keeping Goats: The Ultimate Guide to Dairy and Meat Goats (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2011) by Laura Childs is an indispensible tool in researching these charming and lucrative animals. This excerpt is taken from Chapter 4, “Introduction to the Breeds.”
Dairy Goat Breeds
Of the six common dairy goats, the Swiss breeds (Alpine, Oberhasli, Saanen, Toggenburg) are the hardiest for colder climates. The remaining two (LaMancha and Nubian) are genetically equipped to handle extremely warm and dry climates but may be kept in the north with proper care.
The majority of dairy goats in this country are managed much the same as dairy cows. They require milking twice daily and have a 305-day lactation cycle. This allows a 60-day dry period used by the doe to centralize her energy into the growing fetus and to replenish her body’s store of nutrients. When a doe has her kid (freshens), it is common practice to remove the kids and raise them separately from their mothers.
The Alpine is one of the larger dairy goats and a popular breed for commercial dairies. Discovered in Switzerland, the Alpine breed gained quick favor across Europe. Alpines match the Saanens in milk quantity.
This breed is known for her amiable personality. She has a straight or slightly dished nose and erect ears. Hair is medium to short. Most often seen in variations of black and white or brown and white. Other color patterns include chamoisée (any shade or mixture of brown, often with a black stripe along the back and white markings on the face), two-tone chamoisée (usually a lighter color on the forequarters), cou Clair (a light-colored neck), cou blanc (a white neck with black rear quarters), cou noir (black front quarters and white hindquarters), sundgau (black with white facial stripes, white below the knees and hocks and white on either side of the tail), and pied (broken with white, spotted, or mottled).
Alpine does should be at least 30 inches tall at the withers and weigh at least 135 pounds. Bucks should be at least 32 inches tall and weigh at least 160 pounds.
Also referred to as the French, Swiss, British, or Rock Alpine.
The most striking feature of the LaMancha breed is ear formation. Ear shape is rated as either a gopher ear or an elf ear and should be no longer than two inches by breed standards. Gopher ears contain no cartilage, just a ring of skin around the auditory canal. Elf ears contain a small amount of cartilage and a small amount of skin, which could turn either up or down from the cartilage. For buck registration, only gopher ears are allowed.
The origin of the LaMancha is a controversial subject amongst breeders. Some say this breed is a direct descendant of a breed imported to the United States from Mexico in settlers’ times; others say they originated in Spain. No concrete documentation of their origin has been found to date. The LaMancha breed was officially recognized in early 1950s in the United States.
LaManchas have consistently pleasant temperaments and are considered by many to be the calmest of the purebreds. Hair is short, fine, and glossy and can be any pattern, color, or combination of colors. They are top producers of high butterfat content milk.
LaMancha does should be at least 28 inches tall at the withers and should weigh at least 130 pounds. Bucks should be at least 30 inches tall at the withers and should weigh at least 155 pounds.
The Nubian goat is the most popular dairy goat for commercial dairies. Considered to be the most vocal and energetic of the breeds. Nubians will thrive in almost every North American climate with some consideration for extreme temperatures and weather conditions. Their milk is high in butterfat (5 percent or more) and are an excellent choice for small farms interested in cheese making.
The Nubian breed originated in the United Kingdom and is popular with both British and Near-East cultures.
The most striking feature of the Nubian are their large pendulous ears, which are both long and wide. They have a strong convex profile. Hair is short, fine, and glossy. These moderately large goats are found in many shades and marking patterns of brown.
Nubian does should be at least 30 inches tall at the withers and weigh at least 135 pounds. Nubian bucks should be at least 32 inches tall and weigh at least 160 pounds.
Also known as Anglo-Nubians.
Oberhasli was once classified and registered with the Swiss Alpine and American Alpine breeds. Although not as common as some of the other dairy goats, this breed is growing in popularity across the United States due to their stunning appearance and a calm, gentle temperaments.
Their heads are broad at the muzzle, tapering to a thin nose. Foreheads are wide with prominent eyes. Ears are short and erect and point forward. Face shape can be dished or straight. This breed is most commonly found in hues of reddish brown with accents of black along their dorsal, legs, belly, and face. On occasion, a fully black kid will be born from a breeding of two Oberhasli.
Oberhasli does should be at least 28 inches tall at the withers and weigh at least 120 pounds. Bucks should be at least 30 inches tall and weigh at least 150 pounds.
Also known as Swiss Alpine, Oberhasli Brienzer.
Saanen and Sable
Saanens and Sables are registered separately but differ only in the color of their coats. The Saanen is white, the Sable taupe. This large dairy breed produces an average of 4 to 6 quarts of low butterfat milk per day.
Saanen and Sables have forward-facing, slightly erect ears. Faces and noses are narrow. Profiles can be dished or straight. Both sexes are bearded. Amiable, gentle, and calm natures.
Saanen and Sable does should be at least 30 inches tall at the withers and weigh at least 135 pounds. Bucks of these breeds should be at least 32 inches tall at the withers and weigh at least 160 pounds.
The Toggenburg is the oldest registered breed. The Toggenburg breed is small in stature and produces a low butterfat milk (2-3 percent). With pleasing personalities and a small frame, this goat is relatively easy to manage.
Coloration ranges from light fawn to a dark chocolate. Toggenburgs have white markings, white ears with a dark spot in middle, white stripes from above each eye and extending to the muzzle, white socks from hock to hoof, and a white triangle on both sides of the tail. Wattles and beards are common for both sexes. Profile can be straight or dished.
Toggenburg does should be at least 26 inches tall at the withers and weigh at least 120 pounds. Bucks should be at least 28 inches tall and weigh at least 145 pounds.
Meat Goat Breeds
Although any breed of goat (including the grade or scrub goat) can be used for meat, this classification is specific to the few breeds who grow the quickest and have more lean muscle volume than other classes.
The Spanish and Myotonic goats have been raised for centuries by North American farmers to provide a reliable meat source for their families. Both grow to decent proportions and are well muscled animals.
In less than 20 years (beginning in 1993), three new meat goat breeds have entered and dominated the North American market. The South African Boer breed, the New Zealand Kiko goat, and the Savannah breed. Although the Boer has seen the most favored, the Kiko is gaining ground due to their excellence in high meat-to-bone ratio. Savannah goats are relatively new to the scene, but interest among southern goat farmers is strong.
Boers were developed in South Africa to grow quickly, produce flavorful meat, clear overgrown land, and thrive in inclement weather. This thick-boned and heavily muscled breed is capable of grazing during all seasons and will grow larger in less time than any other breed.
Boers are commonly seen with white bodies and reddish brown heads, but solid varieties and spotted types are rising in popularity. The Boer is mild tempered and easily trained.
Boer does range from 200 to 250 pounds, bucks from 240 to 320 pounds.
The Kiko is the product of a New Zealand government-funded initiative that began in the 1970s. The crossbreeding program involved both wild and domestic goats with the intention of producing a fast-growing meat source. Within a few generations and only minor variations during development, the Kiko was established. Kiko translates as “meat for consumption” in Maori (the native tongue of New Zealand).
Kikos are now proven to have the highest occurrence of kidding twins, a fast and reliable growth rate, and an unmatched aversion to disease.
A Kiko may not grow as heavy for the scale as the Boer but it does have a higher meat to bone ratio, therefore providing more consumable product per pound. Kikos are generally white but color variations can also enjoy full-blooded pedigree.
Kiko does average 100–150 pounds, bucks from 250–300 pounds.
The Spanish goat has been present on American soil since the days of early exploration. These goats were either left behind or escaped and became feral. Through evolution they have grown climate tolerant and well muscled. For these reasons, the Spanish goat is often used in crossbreeding programs across the country.
Between current crossbreeding practices and numerous feral generations, the Spanish goat is found in all color variations, face shapes, and weights. The most notable characteristics are horn curvature and ear carriage. Ears are long and wide like a Nubian ear, but carried horizontally and slightly forward. The breed is currently a conservation priority by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
Spanish goats are often incorrectly labeled as scrub, brush, or grade goats (terms used to define goats of no known heritage).
Spanish does grow to an average of 150 pounds, bucks to 250 pounds.
The Savanna goat is the newest introduction from South Africa. This breed is hardy and sun-tolerant with a temperament similar to the Boer. Popularity and interest is growing for this new-to-the-scene breed.
Savanna goats are usually pure white with solid black hides. With a roman nose (rounded face) and long pendulous ears, they resemble a Nubian in the head shape, but a Boer in body type.
Savanna does grow to an average of 130 pounds, bucks to 240 pounds.
The Myotonic goat has a genetic propensity to myotonia congenita. Myotonia is a muscular response to a startle. The response results in a spasm that locks the animal’s legs, potentially causing unbalance similar to a human fainting. Brain and nervous system activity is unaffected by the myotonic response. This response condition also renders the animal helpless in the pasture until the animal regains control.
Myotonics were introduced into America by a Canadian (Nova Scotia) breeder. Repeated stiffening has given this breed muscular thighs—enough to be classified as a meat goat. Raised more as a novelty in modern times, the Myotonic breed was listed in the threatened breed category by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy until just recently.
This is an intelligent, friendly, and easy-to-keep breed of goats with minimal desire to climb over or jump fences. Available in a wide variety of colors and coat lengths, these goats are straight-faced with long, slightly protruding ears and bulging eyes.
Myotonics are the smallest breed in the meat class (17 to 25 inches tall at the withers). Does should reach 130–150 pounds. Bucks have been noted to reach 200 pounds.
Also known as Wooden Leg, Stiff Leg, Nervous, or Tennessee Scare Goat.
Two distinct fibers are produced by goats—mohair and cashmere. While mohair is only produced by the Angora goat, cashmere can be found on over sixty of the world’s goat breeds. (In North America, we most often find cashmere on Spanish and Myotonic breeds.)
Finding a top-producing cashmere goat is difficult in North America, not to mention an expensive acquisition for the small herder. Primarily you won’t be looking for a breed, but a type (or class) of goat. For a goat to be classed as a cashmere, it should produce fiber with a crimp, be under 19 μ in diameter, and over 1 1/4 inches in length. The size of μ, from a simplistic understanding, is the result of a calculation from an equation of two or more measurements.
Angoras, on the other hand, are a pure and registered breed. These silky-haired goats generate 10 to 15 pounds of mohair annually. A wether produces slightly more than a doe.
The Angora is certainly in a class of its own, but the care is similar to that of other goat breeds. If you are only planning on keeping a few and hope to sell the fiber twice a year, find a local breeder or Angora Goat group to collaborate with. Not only will they share invaluable breeding, feeding, and coat care tips, they will also assist you in finding a buyer for your yield.
An import from Turkey, the Angora breed has been in North America for over 150 years. Texas is the second largest producer or mohair worldwide. The breed is neither hardy nor an easy keep in comparison to other breeds, but they are an amiable pet for knowledgeable and conscientious owners.
Angoras are a silky-haired breed with long coats of wavy or curly locks, 5 to 6 inches in length. Although most Angora goats kept for fiber collection are white, they are also found in black, red, and brown.
Angoras are not a particularly hardy breed. As focus is on coat growth and quality; their diet should be closely monitored. Prone to parasitic infection given their dense coats and seldom set out to browse in mixed pasture where seeds and burrs can collect in the coat, lessening the value.
Does grow to an average of 95 pounds, bucks to 190 pounds.
Miniatures are currently popular on farms with limited space or need for full-production animals and their output. When I decided a few years ago to settle on a breed, I almost passed over any goat labeled as a mini, dwarf, or pygmy until a goat-keeping friend convinced me to consider the yield and personalities of these breeds.
Although only two miniature breeds are widely available in the United States and Canada, more than a few crossbreeds are worthy of a second look.
The Pygora (a cross between an Angora and a Pygmy) produces a lesser grade mohair but will also produce the fine down a Pygmy provides and finish larger if you are interested in meat. The Kinder (a cross between a Pygmy and a Nubian) is a great dual-purpose crossbred for both milk and meat.
Finally, almost every dairy breed has a miniature version now. If you run a search on the Internet you’ll find Mini Manchas, Mini Toggs, Mini Nubians, and more. Many of these miniature versions provide a better match of production quantities for the average family!
The miniature breeds are perfect for family farms, make great pets, and are easy enough for children to handle. These goats are 1/3 to 2/3 the size of a full-size breed and require much less space and feed.
Considered both a miniature and a dairy goat, the Nigerian Dwarf doe can provide up to a gallon of milk per day at her peak, but she averages a little over a quart by standard. Small- to medium-sized families interested in putting high-quality milk and cheese on the table would be hard pressed to find a better match than the Nigerian Dwarf. Butterfat content in milk ranges from 5 percent on average to 10 percent near the end of lactation.
The Nigerian can also breed year-round and is known for having multiples—twins, triplets, and quadruplets.
The face of the Nigerian Dwarf can be straight or slightly dished. Their coats are straight and medium length and come in every pattern and color imaginable. Most are naturally horned and some will have blue eyes. They are friendly, easy to work with, and bond quickly with their keepers.
By breed standards, Nigerian Dwarf does should be at least 17 inches tall at the withers, bucks at least 19 inches and neither should be taller than 21 inches. Mature does average 30 to 50 pounds, bucks and wethers 40 to 80 pounds.
The Pygmy Goat, another African import, has gained wide popularity as backyard pets due to petting zoo exposure. They are hardy and adaptable and make excellent little browsers for overgrown fields and small pastures.
Although it isn’t documented, there are two breeding styles for Pygmy owners. While some will breed for the purpose of pet stock, others are bred to be milked. You will need to have small hands to milk a Pygmy, but at her peak, a doe can produce two quarts per day of a high butterfat milk (approximately 6 percent). The milk is higher in calcium, iron, potassium, and phosphorus than the average dairy breeds’ milk and lower in sodium.
The small stocky legs and lack of agility of the pet Pygmy makes containment less challenging than other breeds. Coats are straight and of medium length and come in a variety of patterns and colors.
By breed standards, does should be no taller than 22 3/8 inches at the withers, bucks no taller than 23 5/8 inches. Weight averages are 50 to 85 pounds.
Of Dairy Breed Interest
• Nubians produce milk with high butterfat content and are often referenced as the Jersey equivalent of cattle. They are also considered to be the most vocal.
• Saanens and Sables produce the highest volume of milk. They are compared to Holstein cattle. Their milk is lower in butterfat than the other breeds, which makes it more palatable to unconverted fans of cow milk.
• The Toggenburg goat is the oldest registered breed of any animal in the world, with records tracing back to the seventeenth century.
• If you are more interested in milk than the meat from the offspring, consider a miniature version of your favorite dairy goat; almost all breeds are available as minis today!
Quick Facts on Goat Meat
• Australia exports over sixteen thousand metric tons of goat meat annually. Over 50 percent of that export comes directly to North America.
• Goat meat is the most common red meat consumed worldwide. North American market demand is growing. Increased ethnic diversity represents the greatest demand for goat meat but health conscious consumers are quickly discovering the many uses for this lean and tender protein source.
• Cabrito, the meat of a ten- to twelve- pound milk-fed kid, is a considered a delicacy among the Hispanic culture. The United States Hispanic community is currently over thirty-five million strong. This community is forecasted to comprise 18 percent of our total population by 2025.
• African, Asian, Caribbean, Filipino, Jewish, Italian, and Middle Eastern cultures also purchase goat meat for standard dinner fare as well as religious and ethnic holidays.
• The Roman Easter market prefers goats that weigh 20 to 50 pounds. The Greek market, between 55 to 65 pounds. The Muslim market, 50 to 70 pounds and 100 to 115 pounds. The Christmas market has the widest range: 25 to 100 pounds.
Excerpted from The Joy of Keeping Goats: The Ultimate Guide to Dairy and Meat Goats by Laura Childs, Copyright 2011. By permission from Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.