6 Best Dairy Goat Breeds for the Homestead
As I study further about what animals to add to a homestead, I often stop to consider whether to add the mischievous little character that we all know as the goat. This guy has quite a reputation to uphold! Cartoons depict him eating tin cans, and butting anyone who happens to bend over anywhere in his vicinity. Almost anyone would be willing to share with you how they have heard that fencing will not keep them in. If you watch the following video, you will see why that might be rumored.
If I had not seen this behavior with my own eyes, I would find it hard to believe. It’s amazing how they can jump from branch to branch. This video demonstrates their browsing behavior, preferring leaves and small branches to grass. It is one of the reasons that goats’ milk is more nutritious than cows’ milk.
Other than health reasons, why would a person consider using a goat for milk production instead of a cow? Since a goat is smaller, less pasture space is required, and they are easier to handle. Compared to a cow, it's much easier to persuade a goat to do something it doesn’t want to do. When in my teens, I had a cow step on my foot, and stop. No matter how much I pushed and shoved or screamed and yelled, the cow was not moving until she was good and ready.
There are six breeds of goats that are recognized by the American Dairy Goat Association. Listed alphabetically, let’s look at each of them.
The Alpine, one of the Swiss breeds, is a medium to large breed of dairy goat. It has upright ears and can be found in almost any color or combination of colors. They are good milkers (3 or more liters of milk per day) with a 10 month lactation period. It's a popular breed and adapts well to any climate.
The LaMancha, believed to be of Spanish origin, was developed in California. This medium-sized breed has a very interesting appearance. Its ears, often referred to as gopher ears or elf ears, are minuscule, making this caprine appear earless. It can be found in almost any color or combination of colors. It's very hardy and strong, yet also calm and gentle. It's a good dairy breed but produces slightly less milk than the Swiss breeds and has a lactation period of 10 months.
The Nubian, one of the larger breeds of dairy goats, was developed in England as a dual-purpose animal -- bred to produce both milk and meat. It has long, floppy ears and can be found to be almost any color or combination of colors. The Nubian is more stubborn than most other breeds of dairy goats.
The Nubian is the most popular breed of goat in North America. It's known for having multiple births -- 3 or 4 kids are common. It's thought that its ears cause it to be more heat-tolerant and less cold-tolerant. Its characteristic bleat sounds as if it's always complaining! The Nubian's milk has a higher protein content and more butterfat than other dairy goats. Its milk production is less than the Swiss breeds averaging 2.5 liters per day and has a lactation period of 10 months.
The Oberhasli, a medium-sized Swiss dairy goat, is a relatively new breed, formally recognized in 1978. Although fairly uncommon, it is becoming a popular dairy breed that has a docile disposition and excellent milk production. It has a coat that is Chamois colored (a bay color ranging in color from light to a deep red bay) with a black stripe down its back. It has a black udder and belly, legs that are black below the knees and hocks, and a head that is almost entirely black. A female Oberhasli may be solid black.
The Oberhasli is strong for its size, with powerful rear legs. Because of this strength and their courage, Oberhasli goats are frequently used as pack goats. An Oberhasli can produce 2 or more gallons of milk each day. Its milk is sweet-tasting and has a high butterfat content.
The Saanen, a Swiss breed, is considered to be the Holstein of the dairy goat breeds. It is also the largest of the dairy goat breeds. Although they do well in almost any environment, their pure white to light cream coloration enables them to tolerate heat better than some of the other breeds. The Saanen will produce at least 3 liters of milk each day over a 10 month lactation period. (I have talked to goat owners whose Saanen continued to lactate indefinitely as long as they continued to milk her.) The Saanen holds the world record of dairy goat milk production, averaging approximately 10 liters of milk/day over a 10 month period!
The Toggenburg is the oldest and purest of the Swiss breeds. Its coat can be any shade of brown with white ears, white lower legs, two white stripes down the sides of its face, and a portion of its tail is white. The Toggenburg is fairly large and has a shaggy coat. It has no problem averaging 3 liters of milk per day over a 10 month lactation period, but many have been known to produce 4-6 liters per day.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Cindy Murdoch