If you’re thinking of keeping dairy goats to enhance your preparation for an emergency, you’ll want to consider the different breeds that are available to determine which will be best for you.
Not all goats are used for dairy production. Depending on a goat’s genetics, the goat’s body uses nutrients in different ways; meat breeds use nutrition to bulk up, hair breeds use nutrition grow extra luxurious hair, and milk breeds use nutrition to produce nourishing milk.
First I’ll cover the dairy breeds, and then I’ll mention the popular other breeds. Even once you decide what breed will be best for you, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the characteristics of other breeds. If you decide to buy goats that are not registered, you will encounter many sellers who advertise their goats as belonging to particular breeds, even when the goat’s appearance indicates otherwise. If you’re familiar with what the common breeds look like, you’ll be able to identify mixed-breed goats better, and decide for yourself whether a particular goat will likely be good or not.
Nubians are generally considered the most popular goat breed. Nubians are distinguished by their “Roman” noses and pendulous ears. Nubians also make a noisy, obnoxious call; they are a very vocal breed. They produce high fat milk (about 4.2%), which is optimal for drinking or for making cheese and extracting cream. Of the full-size breeds, their milk is considered the best.
Saanens are the largest dairy goats, and they originated in Switzerland. Saanens produce a high quantity of milk, that is lower in fat (about 3.5%). Saanens are always completely white, and they have erect ears. Saanens are docile and quiet, and they are calm goats.
LaManchas have very small ears, so it looks like they don’t have ears. They are known to be calm and gentle. LaManchas have relatively high milk production and relatively high butterfat (about 4.2%). This breed was developed in the United States from Spanish goats.
Toggenburg goats produce milk that is typically used for cheese production; their milk can have a strong flavor that some people object to. The goats are light brown with white ears and lower legs; they’re a little shaggy and have more of a wild disposition. Toggenburgs are more popular with dairies. Their milk has a relatively low butterfat, 3.3%.
Oberhaslis are brown with black. They’re a medium-small breed, and their disposition is quiet and sweet. Oberhaslis are fairly rare in the United States. Their milk butterfat is about 3.6%.
Alpines can come in many different colors. They are popular with dairies because they produce a lot of milk. Alpines originated in the Alps, and they produce milk with an average butterfat of 3.5%
Nigerian Dwarfs are very small. They produce the highest butterfat milk (about 6.1%), but not much of it, and since they’re so small they can be somewhat difficult to milk.
Kinders are a cross between Nubians and pygmy goats. They are a small dual-purpose breed, used for milk and meat.
Pygmys are small goats. They are technically a meat breed, but they’re usually kept as pets because they do not produce much milk or meat. (These are not a good pick for survival goats!)
Boer goats are considered the best breed for meat production. They were developed in Africa and they have long ears; mostly white with brown head and shoulders. (Sometimes people try to sell “Nubian” goats that actually have long ears because they’re part Boer.)
Kiko goats are also meat goats. They were developed from wild goats in New Zealand, for their ability to survive under many conditions.
Myotonic goats are also considered a meat breed. They are commonly called “fainting goats,” because they have a gene that makes it so that when they’re scared their muscles tense up and they fall over.
Angora & Cashmere goats are kept for their hair. Angora goats produce a large quantity of “mohair” that is similar to wool; it is typically used for upholstery, and other strong fabrics. Cashmere goats produce less fleece, but it is very soft.
If you’re thinking about keeping dairy goats, the main breeds to look at will probably be Nubians, LaManchas, Nigerian Dwarfs, and Kinders, although you may consider some of the other breeds particularly if there are reputable breeders nearby. Next time I’ll discuss the preparation that needs to take place before you bring goats home, and then we’ll look at how to select individual goats for your herd!