If you have decided that you want a dairy animal of your very own, and the many advantages of goats over cattle appeal to you, then you may be wondering which type of dairy goat will best suit your needs?
The most common dairy breeds are: Nubian, French Alpine, La Mancha, Saanen, Toggenberg, Oberhasli and the Nigerian Dwarf. (Another, as of yet “unrecognized breed” the Golden Guernsey is gaining popularity as well.) And of course there are the “grade” or mixed breed dairy goats as well.
So with so many choices, which breed is right for you and your homestead? The answer to that depends on several factors.
(Nigerian Dwarfs from Grasse Acres http://grasseacres.com/)
The Nigerian Dwarf is the smallest of the common dairy breeds. These little goats come in a rainbow of colors and, despite their stature, give a surprising quantity of milk. Though the quantity can vary, 2.5 pounds of milk per day is the average. Keeping in mind that you must keep a minimum of two goats, since goats are herd creatures, with two does in milk at the same time you could be averaging 5 pounds of milk per day. For a pair of goats averaging only 20″ tall that’s impressive! Another wonderful attribute of these tiny caprines, is their milk’s exceptionally high butterfat content. Indeed, of all the dairy breeds, this diminutive breed boasts the highest percentage of butterfat averaging about 5% but going as high as 10%. What does this mean for you? ND milk makes incredible cheese, and some of the richest soap you could ever want. And if you’re just looking for milk for your family, you won’t find a richer, creamier milk from any other goat. One more thing to consider about these highly trainable little goats is that they don’t have a specific breeding season, so if you have two and stagger the breeding you can be in milk all year round. (And the kids are quite easy to sell as pets or dairy animals, if you can bear to part with them!) Oh and if you have any physical limitations (bad back etc) these little guys can be easier to handle than a full-sized dairy goat.
If you’re interested in primarily cheese making, then consider the Toggenburg. Toggs are the smallest of the full-sized dairy breeds. (Still weighing 100lbs+ though, so not exactly tiny!) Despite this, they produce plenty of milk for the average family (around 2-3 liters per day) and have exceptionally long lactation periods. One factor in choosing a Togg is to note that of all the dairy breeds they tend to have the lowest butterfat content, averaging 3-4%. Some people find they don’t prefer the Togg’s milk for drinking because of this, and some find it to have a slightly stronger taste than other breeds. Cheese is where the Togg shines.
Saanens are known as the “holstein” of dairy goats. These goats give copious amounts of milk with 4 or more liters per day being common. This breed current holds the world (goat) record for milk production, giving over 4000 pounds of milk in a 305 day period. Saanens are white/cream in color, and average 4% butterfat. Saanens are known to be friendly and gentle goats. If you have a large family or plan to make a lot of dairy products, Saanens might be the best choice for you.
(La Mancha www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/goats/lamancha)
For sweet personality, good milk, and a somewhat startling appearance there is the La Mancha. This breed is the “earless” goat. People often mistakenly think something is wrong with or has happened to the goat’s ears. The ears come in two forms, “Gopher” or “Elf” ears. The “Gopher” ears (almost invisible) are considered more desirable by breed standards, though the “Elf” ears are not considered a fault. (I prefer the Elf ears myself, too cute!) Because the La Mancha is such a sweet, personable goat, and their earlessness makes them unique, their popularity has grown in recent years. La Manchas come in any color, and produce 2-3 liters per day on average, and 4% butterfat. Recently people who love the ears of the La Mancha but preferring the smaller size of the Nigerians have been crossbreeding the two. These “Mini Manchas” are not that common yet but some groups are already working toward creating a breed standard in order to further their efforts in establishing the Mini Mancha.
One of the most common of all the dairy goats is the Nubian. Nubians also have a distinctive appearance, having large pendulous ears and a “Roman” nose (meaning convex). They are known for being a very vocal breed, so if you have close neighbors this may be a point of consideration for you. (They also have a reputation for a stubborn streak, though every goat is an individual and you really can’t make a blanket personality observation on an entire breed.) The original intention of the Nubian breed was more of a dual purpose animal, used for both milk AND meat. Due to this they do have a slightly lower than average milk output, around 2, 2.5 liters per day with 2-3% butterfat. However if goat meat appeals to you the Nubian is definitely the way to go! And what homesteader can resist a dual purpose animal? If you’ve never had goat meat, it has a good flavor, and very typical red meat texture. It makes an excellent roast!
The Alpine dairy goat (French Alpine) is the one people generally think of first when a dairy goat is mentioned. The Alpine comes in any color or pattern, and is middle of the road in size. They are known for having reliably long lactation and good quantity, around 3-4 liters a day with 4% butterfat on average. Also called a “Swiss” by some, Alpine’s are known for being docile and amicable goats. Truly you can’t go wrong with this breed for dairy, and they are quite common, making it easy to find a local breeder with quality animals.
The Oberhasli is the least common of all the typical dairy breeds. This breed has very specific color requirements, with all animals being “chamois” in color. (This color pattern is similar to what would be called “Bay” in horses, a reddish brown with black points on the face/legs.) Does can be black, but it’s not preferred. However if you are looking for a quality dairy animal and aren’t concerned about showing and meeting the breed’s color standards, don’t pass up a goat of good dairy character due to a color fault. Another “Swiss” breed, similar to the Alpines, the Oberhasli will produce around 3 liters per day with 3% butterfat on average.
The choice of which dairy breed is right for you is mostly a matter of personal preferrence based on individual circumstances. No breed is better than another, though your specific goals may influence which one you choose to keep on your homestead. Any way you look at it, a goat is a welcome addition to any homestead! Happy milking!