Are you interested in dairy goat breeds? Considering getting dairy goats?
With hundreds of breeds available worldwide, how do you choose the best dairy goat breed for you?
Although it’s hard to give a definite answer to this question, I’m going to give you a brief overview of the dairy goat breeds that are commonly found in the United States.
Keep in mind that there is variance among dairy goat breeds and the breed average may not be what your goat produces.
Some individuals are going to be outstanding for their breed, while other individuals may fall short of the breed average. When purchasing a dairy goat, the best thing to do is your homework.
Check out the herd’s performance and the goat’s mother. This will give you a better indication of how that particular goat will perform.
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Dairy Goat Breeds in the U.S.
There are nine dairy goat breeds available in the United States.
These breeds include the
- Nigerian Dwarf
The first eight breeds are readily found and can be registered with the American Dairy Goat Association. The Guernsey is a fairly new breed and is still hard to find in the United States.
The goat breeds in the U.S. are mainly from European and African origin.
Some of the breeds have Swiss origin. Understanding the breed’s background is important for milk flavor and the general environment that the breed is suited for.
If you’re interested in breeds developed in the United States, check out this article about heritage livestock breeds.
Dairy Goat Breeds: Nubian
The Nubian is the most commonly raised dairy goat breed in the United States.
This makes the breed easily accessible for dairy goat breeders.
However, this accessibility has also created some poorly bred animals that are not as productive as the high quality breed standard. It’s best with this breed to purchase from a good breeder and not a goat that’s a ‘high producer’ off of Craigslist.
Since there is so much variance in the breed, there is a large variance in the milking ability of Nubians.
A high quality Nubian will produce one-two gallons of milk per day. Some of the poorer quality specimens will produce about a half-gallon of milk per day.
Nubian milk has a sweet flavor due to the high amount of butterfat. You can expect about 4-5% butterfat from Nubian milk. This does vary with the quality of the goat as well.
Nubians were developed in Africa, so they are well suited for hot climates.
In fact, they have been used to improve breeding stock of dairy goat breeds that are raised in tropical climates. The breed has also developed a longer breeding season and can be bred almost all year long.
Nubians are easy to recognize with their exceptionally long ears. The ears hang against the side of the head and should come past the tip of the muzzle. The short hair can be any color or color pattern.
For more information about Nubians, visit the International Nubian Breeder’s Association.
Dairy Goat Breeds: Saanen
The Saanen is a very popular dairy goat breed in the United States.
Saanens are large, solid white goats. The white coat can be cream-pure white in color, giving the breed a nice clean appearance. Saanens have erect ears and rugged bone.
The clean, feminine appearance of the breed has given them the nickname “Queen of the Dairy Goats“.
The white hair and light skin of the Saanen makes them susceptible to sunburn.
Shade must be provided for these goats. Saanens are more suited to cooler conditions than warm. Other than being prone to sunburn, the breed is hardy and has high vitality.
They are also very eager to please and easy to work with.
Saanens are well-known for their huge milking ability.
Saanens often hold the records for milk production. According to the ADGA, the average yearly production for a Saanen doe is 2,351 pounds of milk per year with 3.4% butterfat content and 3.1% protein content.
This popular breed is sturdy, adaptable and are easy keepers.
They remain productive even in times of hardship. The National Saanen Breeder’s Association continues to encourage improvement in the breed and offers many incentive and reward programs within the breed.
The Saanen is a Swiss breed of goats.
The Swiss breeders developed breeds that had a strong goaty flavored milk. All Swiss breeds have the characteristic goaty flavored milk. If you aren’t a fan of the strong goat flavor (like me), stay away from the Swiss breeds, including the Saanen.
For more information about the Saanen breed, visit the National Saanen Breeders Association.
Dairy Goat Breeds: Sable
The Sable is a breed that is derived from the Saanen.
The Saanen breed only allows registration of light cream-white colored animals. The Sable is essentially Saanen animals that are not white.
Sables can be any color except white or cream. Sables can be either solid colored or patterned.
For more information about Sables, visit the International Sable Breeder’s Association.
Dairy Goat Breeds: Alpine
The Alpine breed has European origins. In the United States, there are two main subsets of Alpine goats- the French Alpine and the American Alpine.
The Alpine is a medium-large sized goat that is very hardy. It is also a horned breed. The breed is well suited to warmer climates and has short-medium length hair.
Alpines can be any color except solid white or the color patterns seen in Toggenburgs.
Alpines are very good milkers and have the ability to milk through. This means that they can continue to milk for 1-3 years, whereas most breeds only milk for about 9 months before production begins to drop off and they dry up.
The longer length of time between freshening reduces the breeding costs associated with keeping a dairy doe (does have to kid to produce milk).
The milk from Alpines has a good butterfat content and protein content, making it an excellent milk for making cheese.
The Alpine males also make excellent meat animals, making the Alpine an almost dual purpose breed (they are still mostly used as a dairy breed). Alpine males will gain weight as fast as meat breed goats in most cases.
Wethers are also used frequently as pack animals and are known for being intelligent, sure-footed and being able to remember trails used years before.
For more information about the Alpine breed, visit the Alpines International Club.
Dairy Goat Breeds: LaMancha
Another easily recognized dairy goat breed is the LaMancha.
The LaMancha has very unique ears (or lack of).
There are two types of ears that LaManchas can have gopher ears or elf ears. There is no difference in performance between goats with the two ear types.
The gopher ear is described as follows: “an approximate maximum length of one inch but preferably non-existent and with very little or no cartilage. The end of the ear must be turned up or down.”
This is the only type of ear which will make a buck eligible for registration.
The “elf ear” is described as follows: “an approximate maximum length of two inches is allowed, the end of the ear must be turned up or turned down and cartilage shaping the small ear is allowed.”
Does can be registered with either gopher or elf ears. The breed can be any color or color combination and should have short, glossy hair.
LaManchas are known for having very sweet and calm temperaments and are often described as being very pleasant to handle.
The LaMancha produces well, milking an averages of 1-2 gallons/day of sweet milk. The milk has a good butterfat content of 4-4.5%. LaManchas are highly adaptable and can thrive in warm conditions.
Dairy Goat Breeds: Toggenburg
Toggenburg goats are characterized by their unique coat color.
They are light fawn-dark chocolate in color with distinct white markings.
The white markings include white ears with dark centers, two white stripes down the face reaching the muzzle, white socks coming to the hocks and knees of all four legs and white triangles on either side of the tail.
The breed is medium-sized and is quite sturdy. Toggenburgs have short-long hair that is very soft. It is a Swiss breed, so it’s more suited to cooler climates than warm climates.
Toggenburgs produce at least two gallons of milk per day. Being a Swiss breed, it does produce milk with a strong goat flavor. It has a fairly low butterfat content of only 3%.
For more information about the Toggenburg breed, visit the National Toggenburg Club.
Dairy Goat Breeds: Oberhasli
Oberhaslis are medium-sized dairy goats that are ‘chamoisee’ in color. They are a bay colored goat with black markings. Does can be black, but chamoisee is the preferred color.
The Oberhasli is another goat of Swiss origins. Like the other Swiss breeds, it’s best suited for cooler climates and will produce milk with a strong goat flavor.
Oberhasli does have very high production rates.
Two gallons a day is considered very average. In fact, its common to see Oberhasli does that produce three gallons per day.
The downside to this high production rate is the low butterfat content. Oberhasli milk only contains about 2.5-3.5% butterfat.
Dairy Goat Breeds: Nigerian Dwarf
The Nigerian Dwarf is a great breed of dairy goat, especially for those that only want to produce milk for their family or a family with children interested in goats.
This breed is a miniature breed, not to be confused with a pygmy breed.
Pygmy goats are bred to be short and have a stocky, disproportionate appearance. Dwarf goats are bred to have the same balance and proportion as standard breeds in a much smaller size.
Nigerians are very small, with does only reaching heights as tall as 22.5″ and bucks reaching 23.5″.
They can be any color or color combination with short, fine hair. The average weight of a mature Nigerian Dwarf is 75 pounds, considerable smaller than some of the standard breeds that can easily reach 200 pounds.
Don’t let the small size of the Nigerian Dwarf turn you away.
These tiny goats are productive powerhouses. They can produce anywhere from 2 cups to 3/4 of a gallon of milk per day. That’s incredible considering they are less than two feet tall! Not only do they produce for their size, but the milk they produce is extremely high in butterfat.
The butterfat content of Nigerian milk usually starts off around 6% at the beginning of lactation. The butterfat content peaks a couple of months into lactation, reaching 8-10% butterfat.
This high butterfat content remains high until the goat is freshened.
Nigerian does are also extremely prolific.
They can easily have 3-4 kids, with 5 not being out of the question. They are excellent mothers and many of these very prolific mothers have nursed their kids to weaning. That’s incredible considering some goats struggle to produce milk for two or three kids.
These gentle goats are quite affectionate and make excellent goats for children. The small Nigerians are easy-going and can be added to standard sized herds with minimal issues, if any.
The only concern when housing Nigerians is fencing. They are quite small and require fencing that will keep them in. Nigerians originated in Nigeria and are well-suited to hot climates.
For more information about the Nigerian Dwarf breed, visit the American Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Association.
Dairy Goat Breeds: Guernsey
The Guernsey, often called the ‘Golden Guernsey’ is a the newest of the dairy goat breeds in the United States.
The first recorded Guernsey in the U.S. arrived in 1999. The breed, being so new, is rare.
It is not yet recognized by the American Dairy Goat Association. However, there are a few breeders and a breed association working diligently to increase the number of Golden Guernseys in the U.S.
Guernseys are solid in color ranging from a creamy gold color to a rusty-brown. They also have a unique golden-colored skin. The skin cannot be pink or black. Guernseys are also horned and can have quite long hair that hangs past the body.
The Guernsey is the smallest dairy breed that is considered a standard size.
Similar to the Nigerian though, this small breed can be very productive. Guernseys will produce about one gallon of milk per day with high butterfat contents. The butterfat of Guernseys is around 6-8% and makes excellent cheese.
Guernsey goats are very docile and easy to handle. They are also well-suited to being raised on pasture. This is unique as most dairy goats require additional grain to be productive. Guernsey goats can readily turn pasture into high quality milk.
For more information about the Guernsey breed, visit the Guernsey Goat Breeders of America.
Choosing one of the dairy goat breeds
When you’re looking at dairy goat breeds, it can be hard to decide which one is best for you. Ask yourself these questions to get started in a general direction-
- Will I be raising the goats mainly on pasture or will I be able to supplement their diet with grain?
- Will my goats have access to adequate shade?
- Do I live in a warm climate or cool climate?
- Do I have children that will want to interact with the goats frequently?
- What are my fences like? Can I handle a small breed or a horned breed?
- Does the flavor of my milk matter to the people who will be purchasing it?
- Will I be making cheese, butter or soaps with my milk?
All of these questions can direct you towards a dairy goat breed. If you can’t settle on one breed, it may be a good idea for you to consider crossbreeding goats. If you aren’t worried about breeding purebred goats, this may be the direction for you.
Remember that although I’ve listed average numbers for you, there will be variation among individuals. It’s a good idea to ask for herd records to see how productive the doe or her mother was. This will give you a feel for how she will produce. Always purchase the best quality goat that you can afford; she will pay you back for the investment soon.
Do you raise dairy goats? What breed(s) do you have? What products do you sell from your dairy goats? Let me know by leaving a comment below!