Goats are a popular family dairy animal, because they can be easily handled and can be kept on small parcels of land. Their milk is delicious, and is used in making cheeses and ice creams, as well as body care products such as soaps and lotions. They also can make wonderful pets.
If you’re new to goats in general, we’ve put together a general introduction to the various breeds of dairy goats here in the United States. Of the hundreds of breeds of goats around the world, only eight are generally recognized as dairy breeds in the U.S. – we’ve listed seven of them here (not listed or pictured is the Sable, which is just a non-white Saanen).
Nubians are probably the most popular breed of dairy goat in the US. While they do tend to produce somewhat less milk than other breeds, their milk tends to be higher in protein and butter fat content. They’re also one of the larger breeds, weighing around 135 pounds. One of their more prominent features is their long, floppy ears, and Nubians come in a variety of colors.
The LaMancha goat is the only breed of goat developed in the United States. It was first bred in Oregon by Mrs. Eula Fay Frey, and is easily recognizable by its very small ears. LaManchas weigh about 130 pounds, and are known for their high milk production, and the comparatively high butterfat content in their milk. Like the nubians, they can come in a variety of colors.
The Alpine breed of goat originated in the French Alps and was first imported to the US in 1922. Alpine goats are extremely popular in the dairy industry for their docile temperament, high quality milk output and long lactation; they are considered to be the leading dairy goat breed for milk production. Weighing in at about 135 pounds, Alpines are a medium to large breed, have ears that are erect, and come in a variety of colors.
Originally known as Swiss Alpine, the Oberhasli goats were brought to the U.S. from Switzerland in 1936. They are a bay color known as Chamoise, with a black dorsal stripe, udder, belly, black below the knees, and a nearly black head. Oberhaslis have erect ears, and are a medium-small breed weighing about 120 pounds. They produce a moderately high amount of milk and milk components.
Toggenburg goats, nicknamed Toggs, are the oldest registered breed of milk goats, and are named after the region in Switzerland where the breed originated. They’re moderate in their average milk production when compared with other milk goats, with relatively low butterfat content (2-4%) in their milk. Toggs range in color from light fawn to dark chocolate and have white ears and white on their lower legs. They are often extremely curious and inquisitive animals who, in addition to being dairy goats, make good pets.
The white or cream-colored Saanen goats are the second most popular breed of dairy goat in the US, and are the largest of all breeds. They usually have a large udder capacity and are popular with dairies due to the quality of milk they produce. With their mellow temperaments and adaptibility, does are known for their ease of management in herds. The Saanen breed was originally developed in Switzerland, and began coming to the US at the beginning of the 20th century.
7. Nigerian Dwarf
The Nigerian Dwarf is a miniature breed of dairy goats, with does measuring no more than 22 ½ inches at the withers. They come in a variety of colors, and are the only dairy breed known to occasionally have blue eyes. Their small size and easygoing demeanor make them popular as pets, and the high butterfat content of their milk make them useful to dairies in making cheese.