Learn what goat breeds are best for raising goats on your own homestead.
Goat Breeds & Types of Goats
What Goat Breeds are right for your homestead?
First off, if you decided to take a look at this guide you are probably interested in goats in general but likely do not know much about them. It’s always valuable to learn about the fundamentals like knowing the basic terms or facts and certain myths that are not true. Female goats are referred to as does or doelings (if they are under a year old). They are naturally very gentle creatures and will not attempt head butt or bite you under any circumstance. The male goats are called bucks or bucklings (also if they’re under a year old). They can be a bit aggressive at times compared to females, but they are certainly not mean. A wether is a male goat that has been castrated. One myth I mentioned previously is that they will be a lawnmower for you. They also are not capable of chewing alive your old furniture, clothes or your kid’s toys. However, they are curious animals and like a bit of variety and may do a trial taste. Goats and deer are relatives so they are more browsers than they are grazers so anything hanging will often grab their attention, but it’s as a test to them. The challenge most people encounter is knowing which breed they should go for, and it all depends on your intent. Are you looking to raise a goat as livestock for meat and dairy or as a pet? How much meat or milk do you want? Around what weight would be best for you? If you are thinking of raising them like dogs you should remember not to let them roam. They still have instinctive tendencies that can’t be tamed and may cause you more trouble than you expected in your home. Regardless, no matter what size area you live in, even if it is small, you can raise a goat.
1.1 – Types of Goats
Meat Goats are of course you can raise to yield the best meat. There are several common breeds that are popular: Boer, Kiko, Spanish, and Myotonic. The boer is an extremely popular breed to choose in the United States and is white and red in body appearance with a solid red coated head. Some may be black, red or brown spotted. They mature fairly quickly at around six months and are very low maintenance. They are excellent milkers make the best of mothers. The does weigh around 200-230 pounds and the bucks around 240-300 pounds of mostly muscle and thus have a high quality, high carcass production rate. Boers originate from South Africa and have distinct swept-back horns, loose skin around the shoulders and pendulous ears. They are sweet natured creatures and because of their massive size they need more supplemental intake compared to other breeds. If you are the type, that has some interest in showing, the boer would also be a great pick.
The Spanish goats were brought to the New World by the Spanish Explorers to be meat source. Their sizes vary but female does roughly weigh between 60-130 pounds and bucks around 85-200 pounds. This breed is unique in the sense they come in every imaginable color. Their hair, ear shape, body shape varies as well, but they often possess spiral-like or swept back horns. They are typically inexpensive to purchase and highly available within most Southern states.
The kikos, originating from New Zealand, are hardy breeds primarily used for production and has a high feed conversion rate. The word ‘kiko’ literally means meat or flesh. They are smaller in comparison to does with females weighing around 110 pounds and males around 220 pounds. Characteristically, they have a strong, straight head with non-pendulous ears. They are an ideal pick for low input farming with rough and rugged tasks. Though they are born small, they grow at an exceptional rate and as mothers they tend to be protective and kind. They live great on pasture fields, requiring little supplementary food, and this breed is very resistant to worms and parasites. The Myotonic originated the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which is an organization that works to promote and preserve endangered breeds of farm animals. They are also called Tennessee Fainting Goats or Wooden Leg goats and are medium sized animals weighing between 40-200 pounds. The Myotonic breed characteristically has large hindquarters, a straight profile and polled or spiraled horns. They are the quiet and gentle type, but they are not the greatest climbers or jumpers. They grow up to be good mothers that can produce two to three offspring each year. Like the kiko, they are parasite resilient, calm and great browsers. They are the breed that is most vulnerable as prey, and they often mature at a slower pace than other breeds. There are also composite breeds as well which is when breeders choose to cross breeds in order to obtain certain desirable characteristics.
Dairy Goats can produce about 900 quarts of milk each year. Good milkers have soft, wide and round udders with a strong jaw. Their teats are typically the same in size and do not lay on the floor. In the United States, there are several breeds recognized as great milkers: Alpine, Saanen, Oberhasli, Nubian, LaMancha and the Toggenburg. Nubians and LaMachas come from warmer to tropical climates and often best raised around that whereas the other listed breeds are best around cooler climates. The French Alpine originally resided in the Alps and was imported by Dr. DeLangle to the United States in 1920. They come in a mix of patterns and colors, but usually have erect ears and a straight nose. Does weigh at least 130 pounds and males at around 170 pounds. On average, they produce about 3.3% of butterfat and 2500 pounds of milk in a nine to a ten-month period while lactating. They are the most popular breed to go for if an abundant amount of milk is wanted.
LaManchas are the only dairy goats that distinctly is an American breed. There is no way to mistake this breed for any other – you can’t miss their peculiar and nonexistent “no ears” characteristic. It is initially shocking to look at because you automatically will think “where on Earth are their ears”? Those unaware of their trait might accuse someone of improper treatment or had chopped them off. Compared to alpine, they are smaller by a few inches and average about 2,200 pounds of milk and 3.9% butterfat each year. They are productive, sweet-tempered animals with a quirky personality – even when they can hear fine, they will play deaf when it is fitting. The beautifully named Nubians come from Europe and Africa and have two easily recognizable characteristics: Roman noses and long, pendulous ears. You can find them in any color or pattern arrangement and are not the best choice for those who enjoy serenity and tranquility. Their distinct nose acts like the bell and they are noted for their boisterous voices while portraying some stubborn, bossy attributes. Such a fearless bunch nonetheless, they show an apparent dislike to rain and require shelter even when it is just drizzling out. On a greater note – they make the cutest babies out there. A Nubians milk production each year is around 1800 pounds with 4.8% being butterfat; quite excellent for cheese making if I do say so myself.
Swiss Alpines, now referred to as Oberhasli after the 1970’s, date back to Switzerland and are rich in appearance with their red coat and black markings along their face ears, back, belly and udder. This breed produces about 2,200 pounds of milk each year, with 3.8% comprised of butterfat. It is not just their looks either; they are very dignified and rarely aggressive even when around other breeds who make a commotion like around feeding time. The Oberhasli display a people-person attitude and enjoy the attention when they are the focus. They also have no issues sharing shelter and scratches with herds belonging to its group. The Saanen are large, white or cream colored goats that also originate from Switzerland. While lactating, this breed can make more than 2500 pounds of milk a year, with only 3.3% being butterfat. Because they have a much lower ratio of butterfat to milk, they are best for those with the intent to have only milk. However, they are still a good pick for both for someone who desires cheese and milk. The Toggenburg, also from Switzerland, is the smallest of all the breeds. They only are brown in color, but can come in a variety of shades that are light brown or as deep as chocolate. Some will have white markings often riding down their face or lower legs. They make about 2,200 pounds of milk and 3.1% butterfat in a year.
Dairy goats can supply enough milk, meat or leather should you need it, but if you are interested in becoming a homegrown fiber, consider two popular fiber breeds: Angora and Nigora. The Angora is the primary choice for many who make clothing because of its lush, silky supply of fiber called mohair. Does weigh around 70-110 pounds; bucks weigh about 180-230 pounds. You can shear them up to twice a year rather than once a year unlike most sheep as their long and wavy coats can grow multiple inches in a matter of months. They are usually short, white and have curved horns. They are delicate animals are sensitive to cool, wet climates and are susceptible to internal parasites. Don’t count on them as good mothers if you plan to breed more, they are known to abandon their offspring and will need human nursing. The Nigora has the same qualities as the angora, but one extra advantage they have is that they can produce a generous milk supply as well as colorful fiber. They are a mixed breed crossed between the Nigerian Drawf and the Angora.
If you want a Companion Goat, the pygmy is a small breed that could suit you perfectly. They have short legs, broad head, a large torso and are pretty furry creatures. They come in a surplus of colors with the main color being grizzled. They are great pets because they have a friendly and calm nature.
1.2 – Where you should and Shouldn’t Buy Your Goats
After you have done all your homework researching, you are totally hyped and ready to purchase your goats. It is important to look for a healthy animal that is responsive and productive, but where and who exactly will you buy them? These days it is as simple as going online through classified ads and find people who are selling them. The big issue the quality of the goats is questionable because you do not see them and pictures are often not enough; sometimes what is displayed is not what gets sold to you. It’s all a gamble in the online environment. You will not find sellers that would be willing to sell a $500 goat for $100, and if you do, there is a plausible reason. Rather than being generous you could instead find that the goat had some defect such as kidding compilations, poor milk production or has a disease. Most people will have to buy their breeds online, and it is not a bad thing. You should just be more careful about who the seller is and their trustworthiness. Going the local route through ads, bulletins and the like is fine too, but you should have extra guards up. The more trustworthy people you can find online through breeder directories your area by entering your state and breed of interest in search. Good breeders should have a separate website where you can learn even more about the breed you like, the breeding philosophy, milk and show records, and even a nice background story on their goat sometimes. For many reasons, it is a very good idea to buy your first goats from someone who has a similar philosophy to yours and can mentor you when you need the assistance. There are also several other great options to find reputable livestock sellers:
- Try contacting the American Meat Goat Association or breed registries – via a website, phone, e-mail or member-breeder directories to get more information.
- Check out the ads in goat magazines – Look for published journals and publications that are reputable such as the American Boer Goat Association, Meat Goat Monthly, and Goat Rancher.
- Visiting goat shows – You can check out the booths or converse with the exhibitors for reliable knowledge on raising certain breeds and buying them
- Be a part of goat related e-mail groups – Being a subscriber on a list is an excellent option to locate many goats or goat related supplies.
When you are trying to buy a goat online, you need to narrow it down to which seller you will choose to buy from according to their reputation. There are several tips you should consider when you do decide on pursuing to buy. Ask for a video footage of the goat you like or recent pictures taken from various angles; attempt to receive a written guarantee; Have all answers done in writing and be concise as to how they will arrive at your location prior to depositing.
It is a better idea to buy from people at production sales that have been around a while over neighborhood barn sales. Should you still decide to visit it, be sure to access goats that are coughing, limp, have diarrhea or, you see they have a sore mouth with scabs. Do not take them home with you. It is also best to avoid livestock auctions like the plague as they are notorious for other breeders’ ill or dysfunctional goats. At auctions, you will be left unaware as to whether or not the goat was vaccinated, pregnant or infertile – and it is best not to take that chance. Some people are curious if they should purchase all their goats from a single herd, and yes, it is. If you decide to buy your animals from various areas, they each have their parasites and germs that may be ok for them, but not for everyone else. You should also be concerned about tuberculosis and brucellosis if you decide to get a dairy goat as these are diseases that are transferable to humans by blood, body fluids, milk or vaginal discharge during birth. Tests are available for these conditons, and though there is seldom any incidence, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
That was Chapter 1: Goat Breeds from our Homestead Handbook: Raising Goats