What dairy goat breed is best for your family?
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Choosing the right breed of goat for you and your family can be really tricky! I know it sure was for me.
There are 8 main breeds of dairy goats in the US and they each have something a little different to offer.
There are a few things you can ask yourself that will help you decide the best breed to make your dreams a reality. The main question I will ask is, "What you are looking to get out of your goats"?
For me, the most important aspects are:
How much milk would you like to have per day? A doe will reach its "peak" around 4-8 weeks after kidding. After that, her lactation will slowly start to decline until her next freshening. Different breeds have different average lactation lengths but in my opinion, genetics has the most to do with this. One of my goats in my herd has a grand-dam who was in milk for over 18 months! This was very impressive to me. There are also ways to "prep" your does udder to set her up for longer and stronger lactations in the future. I will have to devote an entire post on prepping your goat's udder to help her reach maximum potential. But keep in mind that you won't truly know her potential until her 3rd freshening, so remember this as you buy your goats. Before that, you mostly depend on her genetics to tell you her story, as well as the milking practices of her previous owner (if she has freshened previously). If they didn't breed for milk and you are buying her on her 4th freshening, her cycle may not last as long as if her owners had milked her out for months and months.
How much butterfat would you like in your milk? Cows milk has about 3% butterfat and goats milk ranges between 3%-10%. To make it easier to understand I will sum it up by saying that the higher the butterfat, the sweeter and richer the milk will be. The same goes for cows milk, so you can compare it to store-bought milk. Skim milk is watery and bland, 2% adds some flavor and sweetness while whole milk is richer and creamier. Half and Half would be along the lines of 10% butterfat. I also want to add that along with the butterfat comes sugar, cholesterol and fat, so keep that in mind if these are things that you are wanting to watch in your diet. Now would be a good time to make sure that you know that goats milk is naturally homogenized, so if you want to use the cream for anything (other than cheese) you will need a cream separator. Their milk does not separate the way that cows milk does. A good separator will run you about $100-$200 (as with anything that you buy, there will be variation in cost).
How big of a goat are you wanting to raise? For this you will want to consider things like whether or not children will be helping, the amount of space you can devote to your goats, the amount of food you have available, and any disabilities and/or limitations you may be faced with while caring for your goats. I, for one, have small children at home so size matters here at The Happy Hippie Homestead. I want my kids to be able to comfortably go out into the goat pen and visit with our goats as well as start to learn how to be helpers on the homestead (brushing, etc). If our goats are too big, my children won't be able to do any of this. I had 2 full-sized Nubians for a short period and I had to find them a new home. They were way too big for what I was going for. I am also limited on space since we live smack dab in the middle of a subdivision (and in the city). I dream of someday having a farm with acres and acres of land- but now isn't the time for that. Our laws state that we can have up to 4 split hoofed animals up to 100 pounds. So this capped me off pretty quickly! And since I live in the city I don't have the option for pasture grazing, so it was important for me to choose a breed that utilizes their food as much as possible. I don't want to bring in extra hay and feed if I don't have to (but I want to get as much milk as I can, at the same time). Another thing to consider is whether or not you have any physical limitations. I have systemic lupus so I know that wrangling a 175-pound goat is out of the question for me. I also learned that the small teats of Nigerian Dwarfs were a no-go (this was very sad for me to realize). My hands just couldn't do it anymore! Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the bigger the goat- the more milk you will most likely have. So, if you are hand milking and you have arthritis, you don't want to be milking for 30 minutes straight. Just be sure to look at all the variations that different sizes will bring to the table.
It's also important to figure out what looks are the most appealing to you. For goats, the biggest variations will come with ear shapes as well as colors/patterns of their coats. As far as ears, do you like the short, alert ears of the Nigerian Dwarfs or do you prefer the long, pendulous ears of the Nubians? Or maybe you like the look of the La Mancha's with tiny ears or no ears at all! Ears make a huge difference in the appearance of your goat. Color variations will also vary somewhat with breeds. The biggest one that comes to mind is the Alpine, who is unique in that the front half of their body is a different color than the back half of their body. There are also other fun factors like moon spots and eye colors to take into consideration!
What type of personality are you wanting from your goats? I love the inquisitive personality of Nigerian Dwarfs as well as the sweet docile personalities of the Nubians. I wanted a breed that would keep things interesting without causing me undue frustration on a daily basis. It is also very important to me that they are friendly enough that they won't head for the hills when they see my kids coming. Now you may want a goat who will hop on the milk stand and let you do what you need to do and then jump off without needing much attention. Certain breeds are definitely known for having certain traits, but it's important to remember that every goat is unique. Just when you think you have everything figured out, someone will join your herd and throw you for a complete loop.
So, without further ado, here is a description of the 8 most common dairy breeds in the United States.
1. The Alpine:
Alpines are beautiful goats who were developed in the Swiss Alps. They come in a variety of colors (all of them being a combination resulting in the front half and the back half being different colors). The does grow to be around 135 pounds, so they are a medium-large sized goat. They are known to have a very sweet temperament and they are high milk producers. On average, an Alpine will give you 1-2 gallons of milk a day and their lactation is known to stay pretty strong throughout the year. Their milk has a butterfat content of around 3.5% butterfat. Butterfat of 3.5% will give it a slightly sweet taste but it will still be quite mellow. Alpine milk taste seems to vary greatly from breeder to breeder, so if milk taste is very important to you (which it IS to me) you may want to go to the breeders home and sample their milk. I personally don't think there is anything wrong with asking. If the goat in question is not in milk (otherwise known as being "dry") you may be able to sample milk from does in her lineage.
2. The La Mancha
La Mancha's are so unique with their ears (or lack thereof)! There are 2 types of ears that La Mancha's can have: Gopher Ears, which means the ear flap is virtually non-existent and Elf Ears, which means they have ear flaps up to 2 inches long. They are also unique in that they are the only breed on this list that was developed in the United States. They are a bit of a smaller breed than the two above them on the list, with the does weighing in around 125 pounds. As far as milk goes, they have an average butterfat content of about 4.2% and they produce between 1-2 gallons of milk. This makes them a great contender for people who want a lot of milk with a nice high butterfat content. La Mancha's are also known for being very friendly and good with kids.
3. The Nigerian Dwarf ("Nigi")
The Nigerian Dwarf goat is one of my favorite breeds. In fact, my breed of choice is made up of 1/2 Nigerian Dwarf (hint: my breed of choice is not on this list. But you can read more about it here). I love their small size (about 50 pounds for does), sweet milk, and super fun personalities. What I don't love is the size of their teats and the limited amount of milk that they produce.
Nigi's will average about 1/4- 1/2 gallon per day. In my experience, that number is much closer to the 1/4 gallon mark. Their milk tastes like Heaven with 6%-10% butterfat but you don't get very much. And their teats are usually small enough that you need to fingertip milk. For many goat owners, this is okay. And I was okay with it in the beginning, until I got my hands on the bigger breeds. Shortly after, I sold my Nigi herd and moved into my breed of choice. Nigerians are also a fantastic choice for those with limited space (they are excellent "food convertors") and those who have children. My daughters LOVED our Nigerians! Just were just the right size for them when they were little.
4. The Nubian ("Nuby")
The Nubian! Oh, how I love Nubians (also known as Nuby's).
(If you remember in the Nigerian section of this post, I mentioned that my favorite breed is half Nigerian. Well, here is the other half! My breed is called a "Mini Nubian" and its half Nigerian and half Nubian.)
Okay, back to the purebred Nubian. Their ears are just the cutest things to me! If you have read about our goats, you will read something about their ears in almost every description. I ADORE the long floppy ears! Nubians are unique with their roman noses, as well. This is a very sought after trait for Nubian lovers. If you look at their noses, you will see that they are convex, not con-caved or straight like most other breeds. Nubian does will reach about 135 pounds and produce between 1.5- 2 gallons of milk per day. Their butterfat average is about 5%, making their milk rich and delicious. It's important to note that Nubians are one of the more vocal breeds of goats so if you live in town or are sensitive to noise, this may not be the best breed for you. (As I type this, one of my Mini-Nubians is expressing her disappointment about the snowfall we are getting in Colorado). They will be sure to let you know if you are late with feeding time, milking or giving them a treat. But they will also be sure to tell you if they are stuck somewhere, which comes in handy for many of us! In my experience, a purebred Nubian was not a fitting choice for us living in the city. They proved to be too big and too loud. But if I had more land, I would DEFINITELY consider bringing them back into my herd.
5. The Oberhasli ("Ober")
This is a beautiful goat that is unique in its coloring. They come in a brown/black pattern called "Chamoisee" (does may be black but chamoisee is preferred). They are a medium-sized goat and the does get to be about 135 pounds and average about 1 gallon of milk a day. They have an average butterfat content of around 3.9%. It's worth noting that this another breed that can have unique tasting milk. I would strongly encourage you to taste a does milk (or her mother's milk if she is not in milk) before purchasing her. Many owners of Ober's claim that they are more willing to please than some of the other breeds. I have never owned one, so I can't tell you from personal experience.
6. The Saanen
Saanen's are from Switzerland and they come in 2 colors: white and tan. The does will grow to be around 135 pounds and produce A LOT of milk. They average between 1-3 gallons a day with 3% butterfat. This is on the lower end of the butterfat spectrum, so their milk may seem watery and bland to those who are used to creamier milk. But for those of you who need to watch how much fat is in the milk, this would be a good choice for you! Alpines would also be a good choice for you if you prefer the taste of lower butterfat.
If you plan to make a lot of cheese, you should know that it will take more milk to make your cheese since its the butterfat in the milk that turns into cheese. The same goes for making soaps and lotions. Its the fat that adds the good stuff to your products, so Alpines may not be a good choice for you if you plan to get crafty with your milk.
7. The Sable
The Sable is the same breed as the Sannen but the colors can vary with the Sable, whereas the Sannen can only be white or tan.
8. The Toggenburg ("Togg")
Toggenburgs are another one of the breeds that are known for having "goaty" flavored milk. If you don't mind goaty flavored milk, then this may be a good breed for you. They are great milkers, giving an average of 1-2.5 gallons per day! They have a butterfat content of 3%, so they don't have the sweetest milk of the breeds listed here. Like I've mentioned before, some people don't mind the heavily flavored milk, so you really need to try it to know.
This breed is a bit smaller than some of the other breeds with the does weighing in around 120 pounds. They are known to be one of the more playful breeds, which could make them very fun!
“ADGA Breed Standards - American Dairy Goat Association.” ADGA, American Dairy Goat Association, 16 Apr. 2019, adga.org/breed-standards/.
“Breeds of Livestock, Department of Animal Science.” Breeds of Livestock - Goat Breeds - Breeds of Livestock, Department of Animal Science, Oklahoma State University, afs.okstate.edu/breeds/goats.
Menne, Caitlyn Menne. “Choosing a Dairy Goat Breed.” Mother Earth News, Ogden Publications, Inc, 10 Feb. 2012, www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/choosing-a-dairy-goat-breed.
Saun, Robert J. Van, et al. “Dairy Goat Production.” Penn State Extension, Penn State University, 20 Jan. 2020, extension.psu.edu/dairy-goat-production.