What breed of goat should I get?


In the US, there are more than twenty goat breeds to choose from. Each one has a unique set of qualities that make it suitable (or unsuitable) for different purposes, production systems, and markets.

Goats are multi-purpose animals. However, they usually excel in the production of meat, milk, or fiber -- seldom two or all three. It is common to classify goat breeds according to their primary purpose, and you should choose your breed(s) on this basis.

Dairy is the purpose most commonly associated with goats. The six major dairy goat breeds are Alpine, La Mancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Sannen, and Toggenburg. Alpine, Oberhasli, Sannen and Toggenburgs are collectively referred to as the Swiss breeds, having descended in the Alps region of Europe. The Swiss breeds are known for their large size and high level of milk production. According to the American Dairy Goat Association, the Alpine and Sannen are the heaviest milk producers. These breeds are usually favored by commercial dairies.

Toggenburgs and Oberhaslis are known mostly for their color patterns. The Toggenburg is mousy-brown in color with white markings on its face. The Oberhasli is perhaps the prettiest breed of goat. Its color pattern is called chamoise. It is a brown goat with black stripes down the legs and face. Both breeds are excellent milk producers.

Nubians are the most popular breed of dairy goat. Known for their roman noses and pendulous ears, they produce milk with the most fat and protein (among the standard size goats). Of all the dairy breeds, the Nubian is probably the most dual purpose (meat + dairy). When the Boer was first imported, it was common to cross it with Nubian, especially for show. The (Anglo) Nubian was developed in England, but can trace its roots to North Africa.

The La Mancha is the only breed of dairy goat developed in the US. Its distinguishing characteristic is its very small ears. The short ears are the result of a genetic mutation. Crosses with the La Mancha will have have all sorts of ear types. The La Mancha is considered to be the hardiest of the dairy goat breeds. It is a good milk producer.

Two less common dairy breeds include Sable and Golden Guernsey. The Sable is similar to the Sannen. Sannens are white. Sables are any color but white. The Golden Guernsey is a rare breed of dairy goat. It is the smallest of the standard size dairy goats.

Meat goat production has increased substantially in the US in the past thirty years. The increase was led by the importation of the South African Boer Goat in the early 1990's. The Boer is the most popular breed of meat goat in the US. It is characterized by its white body and red head and neck. The Kiko was imported soon after the Boer. It is a New Zealand breed, the result of crossing feral does with dairy bucks. Compared to the Boer, the Kiko seems to be better adapted to the climatic conditions common to the southeastern US. The newest breed is the all-white Savanna, another import from South Africa.

There are two meat goat breeds indigenous to the United States: Spanish and Myotonic. Spanish goats descend from the goats brought to the New World by Spanish explorers. They are considered to be the hardiest goat. The Myotonic is native to Tennessee. It has many other names including Tennessee Fainting Goat, Wooden or Stiff leg goat. The colorful aliases are due to the goat fainting or stiffening when it is frightened. It is a hereditary condition (called myotonia congenita) that causes the muscles to temporarly stiffen, causing the goat to fall over. The Myotonic is the heaviest muscled goat breed. The Tennessee Meat Goat™ is an improved, trademarked version of the Myotonic.

A few years back, Tennessee State University conducted research comparing the various meat goat breeds and their crosses: Boer, Kiko, Spanish, Myotonic, and Savanna. Their research showed Kiko and Spanish does to be the "fittest" and most productive and efficient -- the best choice for commercial meat goat production. Myotonics had the lowest fecal egg counts. The research did not show significant differences in meat yield among the different breeds and crosses. Crossbreeding is the recommended breeding strategy for meat production in most production systems and climates. Boer goats are favored for showing and usually require better feeding conditions.

There are two breeds of goat that produce fiber: Angora and Cashmere. The Angora is a small, very old breed that produces mohair. Mohair is similar to wool, but more valuable. The Angora goat is a poor meat producer, gives birth to fewer kids than other breeds, and is considered to be the most "delicate" of the goat breeds. It is best adapted to dry, mild climates.

Cashmere is the soft downy undercoat of a goat. Any goat except an Angora goat can produce cashmere. Cashmere goats are goats that have been selected to produce significant amounts of cashmere fiber. Cashmere is a luxurious fiber, more valuable than wool and mohair. There are several crosses with the fiber breeds. The Pygora is a cross between Pygmy and Angora. Cashgora is a cross between Angora and Cashmere.

There are numerous miniature goat breeds. The two breeds which all other miniature breeds are derived are Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf. Both breeds descend from North Africa. Though small in stature, the stocky Pygmy is classified as a meat goat, whereas the Nigerian Dwarf is a minature breed of dairy goat. Pymgy goats are raised mostly as pets, though sometimes they are sold for meat or are part of crossbreeding programs. The Nigerian Dwarf produces milk with the highest amount of fat (among all breeds of goats). It is a good choice for home dairy production, since it does not produce as much milk as standard sized breeds, and its milk is better quality for cheese-making.

The Kinder is a cross between the Nubian and Pygmy. It is considered a dual purpose goat: meat + milk. There are miniature breeds of each of the full size dairy goats: mini-Manchas, mini-Alpines, etc. The initial cross is between a Nigerian Dwarf and a standard size dairy goat. Future generations are produced by breeding minis to minis. The miniature dairy breeds are favored by people with smaller acreages who are looking for a smaller dairy animal to produce milk for the family. Miniature goats may be allowed in more urban settings where full size goats are prohibited.

Rare breeds
Because the US goat industry is already small, many breeds are raised in small numbers. However, the two rarest breeds are Arapawa and St. Clemente. The Arapawa was imported from New Zealand in the mid 1990's. St. Clemente goats are small goats that live on the island of St. Clemente off the coast of California. Many have been removed from the island one way or another. The Spanish and Myotonic are considered to be heritage breeds, as they are native to the US.

Vegetation control
Increasingly goats are being used to control unwanted vegetation. While any goat will eat brush, the larger dairy and meat breeds will eat higher and be able to knock over and penetrate brush better than smaller goats. Hardier breeds like Spanish and Kiko are usually preferred. Crosses between meat and dairy breeds are common. "Brush" goat is a common designation for crossbred goats of unknown ancestry.

Working goats
A pack goat is a goat used as a beast of burden. The large dairy breeds are the best option because of their longer legs and bigger frames. Breeds with more horizontal horns (e.g., Spanish and Kiko) may not be as suitable as pack animals. Meat x dairy crosses are usually good choices. Smaller breeds should be avoided. Myotonics should be avoided for obvious reasons. Any breed of goat can be used as a therapy goat. Since goat yoga is usually done with kid goats, any breed will do.

Any breed of goat can be raised as a pet. It's often a result of circumstance or personal preference. If you have the chance to choose, it's best to avoid horns and intact males. Many people prefer the miniature breeds. The minis don't necessarily make better pets than big breeds, they just eat less. Some places limit ownership to the miniature breeds.

Be sure to raise pet goats in pairs or small herds, as they are herding animals. Make sure the goats are of similar size and temperment. Don't mixed horned goats with those that don't have horns. It is customary to disbud dairy goats and sometimes other goats. Any goat can be disbudded. It is done at a very young age and is different from dehorning. Naturally polled goats are fine for pets. They should be avoided in commercial enterprise, as the polled condition is genetically linked to the intersex condition.

Regardless of the breed(s) of goat you choose to raise, they all have the same basic needs in terms of health, nutrition, and welfare.


Additional reading
Breeds of Livestock: goat breeds - Oklahoma State University
Breeds of goat - American Goat Federation
Breeds and breed characteristics - Langston University
Research publications of Richard Browning, Tennessee State University
DHIA Breed Averages - 2019 lactations