Photo by Flickr/Jean
If you’re a cheese lover, or a hiker, you’re sure to become a fan of the Oberhasli goat. In the mountainous regions of Switzerland where the breed originated, they’re known as gemsfarbige gebirgsziege, or “chamois-colored goat,” in reference to their dominant chamois color pattern. Chamois, or chamoisee, is described as a reddish-brown with a black belly, black legs up to the knee, a black stripe along each side of the face, a black muzzle, and a black stripe along the back to the tail. Beyond their striking looks, Oberhaslis have earned a reputation for their steady milk production, calm demeanor, and quality packing abilities, resulting in a loyal following of this versatile breed.
Registration, Recovery, and Recognition
The Oberhasli arrived in the United States in the early 1900s, and most of today’s stock can be traced to an importation in 1936 by Dr. H.O. Pence of Kansas City, Missouri. The breed was called “Swiss Alpine” at the time, and its registration was included in the American Alpine studbook until 1979, when the American Dairy Goat Association granted the breed its own studbook. The name “Oberhasli” was officially adopted at that time, and the breed’s numbers have steadily improved since. Currently, The Livestock Conservancy lists the Oberhasli as “recovering” on its Conservation Priority List, as the breed’s numbers have been improving globally.
Photo by Jeannette Beranger
In the past, the Oberhasli was split into two categories: a naturally polled (born hornless) type and a horned type. The polled Brienzer-Oberhasli came from an area near Brienz, Switzerland. One of the earliest mentions of this type was in an 1892 dairy show in Bern, Switzerland, where 70 bucks were recognized for their quality and consistency. The second type is the horned Bünder, which came from Graubünden (also known as Grisons), Switzerland. In 1936, both types were combined into one breed within the Swiss studbook. However, some people still breed the two separately.
Photo by Jeannette Beranger
In the U.S., the majority of Oberhaslis are horned. Does that are used for dairy production and show are disbudded as kids, because horns are difficult to work with on dairy goats, and they prevent the does’ heads from safely fitting into milking stanchions. Because they have mild dispositions, males typically keep their horns, with the exception of show goats, for which disbudding is mandatory.
A Goat for Every Goal
Oberhaslis produce a medium-to-high amount of milk. They average about 2,256 pounds of milk in a 302-day period. (The breed’s record for production is 4,665 pounds in a 304-day period.) Their milk is sweet-tasting and far from the pungent product people tend to expect from goat’s milk. Those who try it for the first time are often surprised by the fine flavor and how similar it tastes to cow’s milk. The milk is best-suited for fresh chèvre cheeses, and the high butterfat content ensures a creamy product. Some dairies get creative with their products, such as Della Williams of Sleepy Goat Farm in Pelham, North Carolina. Beyond chèvre, she’s produced Goat Blue, Van Cheddar, Alexander the Feta, and a tomme-like Cézanne.
Photo courtesy Lindsey Cobb and Rachel Lilly
Oberhasli does can earn their keep from milk production, but wethers (castrated males) are prized as pack animals because of their strength and calm personality. Dwite and Mary Sharp of Paradise Ranch Packgoats in Council Grove, Kansas, prefer Oberhaslis on the packing trips they lead, because the breed is less fearful on the trail than other goat breeds, and the goats are large enough to carry a good-sized load. You can expect males to reach 150 pounds or more, while the does weigh approximately 120 pounds.
Alison Charter-Smith, former vice president of Oberhasli Breeders of America, is a firm believer that “once you go Obie, you’ll never go back to any other goat.” She says interest in the breed is growing, especially for small-scale homestead use. She says their assertive but gentle disposition is a real bonus to those using them as dairy goats.
Photo by Jeannette Beranger
Another appealing aspect of the Oberhasli is that they’re one of the quietest of the goat breeds. “They’re nothing like other breeds that just scream all the time,” breeder Lindsey Cobb says. She and Rachel Lilly raise Oberhaslis on their farm in North Carolina. They were first interested in the breed as dairy goats, but have since found that there’s also a robust market for the bucks as meat animals. They work hard to ensure the animals they breed have good conformation, and especially good feet, in case folks are looking for pack goats. They’ve found that the does are good mothers, but do require pampering as they adjust to having kids around.
Oberhaslis on the Rise
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, dairy goat herds have grown faster than any other major livestock during the past decade, and between 2007 and 2017, they increased by 61 percent. Use of goats for pack animals has also grown, and many outdoor enthusiasts are now turning to these reliable animals to carry their gear. As goats gain ground across the country, the future of the Oberhasli is bright.
Illustration by Brad Anderson
To learn more about Oberhasli goats, visit:
- The Livestock Conservancy
- Oberhasli Breeders of America
- Oberhasli Goat Club
- American Dairy Goat Association
- North American Packgoat Association
Jeannette Beranger is the senior program manager for The Livestock Conservancy. She maintains rare breeds on her North Carolina farm, and is the co-author of An Introduction to Heritage Breeds.