Goat Breeds

15 Best Breeds of Goats for Milk, Meat and More

Come on, admit it! All the goat breeds are confusing, right?

You want some goats. But there are so many different types. How do you choose?

The process of selecting a breed of goat may seem like a daunting task, and that is not a surprise because there are over 200 unique breeds of goats around the globe! Some goat breeds are not so common, and some are. For simplicity, I’ll walk you through the different breeds of goats and typical functions of goats that are most popular with today’s goat farmer and hobbyist.

After we get done here, you should have a clear understanding of the best breeds for different purposes, and which breed may be ideal for you. In this article I’m going to show you the 15 Best Breeds of Goats for Milk, Meat, Pets and More.

 

Choosing the Right Goat Breed

Let’s talk about the “why” – why you want to purchase goats.

Now, you may have noticed that I said “goats” – in plural, not “a” goat. Goats are social animals, referred to as “herd” animals. They typically don’t flourish in a solitary environment. When you are in the first stages of choosing your own goats, be sure to plan on buying two or more. Keep ‘em happy and healthy. You don’t want a lonely goat on your hands, one that might grieve itself into poor health.

So, now you know you should buy at least two goats. Next, let’s look at the most common functions of the various goat breeds, which are:

  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Fiber
  • Show Goats
  • Brush Clearing Goats
  • Pack Goats
  • Pet Goats

As we talk about the breeds, consider the space, facilities, and time you will be allotting to your goats. This helps to break your selection process down into smaller, easier-to-digest pieces.

Goats are social animals. They typically don’t flourish in a solitary environment

My suggestion, which is what helped us when we were beginners, is to sit down with pen and paper and list the pros and cons of each goat breed and their specific functions.

I’m going to show you the 15 best breeds, sorted by category. Let’s get started with the first category, and one of the most popular…

Dairy Goats

Do you have a need, or a desire, for fresh goat milk? Goat milk is known for its incredible health benefits, and it can also become a part of a business through the sale of milk, cheese and even soap.

Dairy goats are prominent in the show ring. In fairgrounds and goat shows, you’ll see barns and show schedules specific to both dairy and meat goats.

When purchasing dairy goats, consider the facilities that you have for milking goats. Do you have a relatively dust free area where you will milk the goats? Do you have time available, many months each year, to milk goats on a set schedule twice a day (optimally)?

 

nigerian dwarf breed of dairy goat with full udder

As with any breed of goat that will serve a specific purpose, genetics are important. If you want the finest milk goats, or animals that are hardy, animals that produce healthy kids, or good meat production, pay attention to the genetics – consider registered goats that have proven records in production, or in the show ring. Or if you prefer not to pay the higher cost of registered goats, then at least look closely at your new goat’s dam (mother) or sire (father). This gives you a deeper look into the genetics and attributes that might have passed down.

As we dive into each goat breed, keep in mind that genetics, health, and proper feeding and care play directly into hardiness and production of any goat.


Dairy Goat Breeds

example of Alpine goat breed eating from mineral feeder

Alpine

  • Medium to large size goat
  • Consistent milk producers – up to a gallon a day with butterfat content 3.5%
  • Long lactation cycle (Note: Great characteristic if you need a goat “in milk” for lengthy time-frames)
  • Easy to handle and loyal
  • Hardy
  • Erect ears, straight nose, coat colors vary
  • Seasonal breeder

 

 

 

(Photo Credit: Jean)

 

 

example of Lamancha goat breed with little elf ears

LaMancha

  • Medium size goat
  • High volume milk – up to 1-2 gallons a day with butterfat content 4% average
  • Energetic and friendly
  • Hardy
  • Small to no ears, straight nose, coat colors vary
  • Seasonal breeder

 

 

 

 

(Photo Credit: Jean)
goat from Nubian goat breed with large pendulous ears

 

 

Nubian

  • Medium to large size goat
  • High volume milk – up to 2 gallons a day with butterfat content 4.5% average (Note: Great butterfat content for cheese and soap making)
  • Friendly, gentle and vocal (Note: Nubians love people, but they also let you know)
  • Long pendulous ears – extend about 1” below the muzzle, convex (Roman) nose, coat colors vary
  • Seasonal breeder

 

 

 

(Photo Credit: Kersti Nebelsiek)

 

 

herd of white dairy goats with large udders from Saanen goat breed

Saanen

  • Large size goat – one of the largest of the dairy breeds
  • Produce large volumes of milk – butterfat content average 2-3% (Note: This breed is touted as the “Holsteins of the dairy goats” because can produce over 2 gallons of milk a day)
  • Easy to handle and quiet in nature
  • Straight or dished nose, erect ears, coat color is light cream or white
  • Seasonal breeder

Sable

  • A Saanen goat with any coat color combination except for pure white or light cream

 

(Photo Credit: Efras)

 

goat with horns from Toggenburg breed grazing on grass

Toggenburg

  • Medium size goat
  • Average milk production – butterfat average 3% (Note: Despite the “average” milk production, one Toggenburg holds the all-time milk production record with the American Dairy Goat Association!)
  • Spirited – not as docile as some breeds of dairy goats
  • Erect ears, straight or dished nose, coat is specific in color – light fawn or dark chocolate, white on the sides of their tail, two white stripes down their face, white ears, lower legs are white, and coat is shaggy in winter compared to other goat breeds
  • Seasonal breeder

 

(Photo Credit: Dmitrij Rodionov)

 

dairy goat from Oberhasli breed standing next to fence

Oberhasli

  • Medium size goat
  • Average milk production – butterfat content average 3.75%
  • Docile and quiet
  • Erect ears, straight nose, bay (chamoise) coat color, black dorsal stripe, black udder, belly, below the knees and nearly black head
  • Seasonal breeder

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo Credit: Silverije)

 

three goats of the Nigerian Dwarf breed enjoying a sunny day

Nigerian Dwarf

  • Small size goat (Note: Considered a miniature dairy goat at approximately 20” tall)
  • High milk volume for the goat size (average 2.5 pounds per day) – butterfat average 6-10% (Note: This butterfat content knocks other goat breeds out of the water, which makes the Nigerian Dwarf a popular goat breed for cheese producers)
  • Easy to handle and quiet
  • Medium sized erect ears, straight nose, coat varies in color and pattern
  • Breeds year-round unlike all other dairy goat breeds

 

 

(Photo Credit: CapriNew Farm)

 

 

Meat Goats

Meat goats originated as a breed specifically raised for the supply of meat, which is called chevon, cabrito, or capretto.

The focus when raising meat goats is placed on kids and young goats that grow at a rapid rate and swiftly bulk up as they mature.

Meat goats are popular due to their hardiness, their income-providing prospects, and they don’t require milking to make money. They have also gained popularity as show goats and are known to be a great project for children and clubs like 4-H and FFA.

Meat goats are generally docile and quiet, but buyer beware, a full-grown buck (adult male goat) can be a powerful animal – especially when one is in “rut” (breeding season). Let’s look at some of the most popular meat goat breeds.

two meat goats from the Boer goat breed with horns and ear tags

Boer

  • Most popular and most expensive meat goat breed
  • Large heavily muscled goat
  • Hardy
  • Docile and quiet
  • Kids rapidly gain weight and bulk up
  • Medium sized pendulous ears, white bodies with dark reddish-brown heads (Note: we also see black or varied colored heads, as well as solid dark coats, and less common spotted coats)
  • Can breed year-round but generally breed seasonally, especially in areas that have shorter periods of daylight in the winter months

 

(Photo Credit: Sunnraezplace)

 

 

two meat goats of the Kiko goat breed with horns standing near a fence

Kiko

  • Large framed goat
  • Hardy (Note: This breed is one of the hardiest of the meat goats)
  • Docile and quiet
  • Kids rapidly gain weight and bulk up
  • Excellent mothering and nursing (Note: This is key to the Kiko’s popularity)
  • Medium length pendulous ears, coat is white but color is acceptable. Coat is short and sleek in warm climates and longer in cold climates.
  • Breeds year-round

 

 

 

(Photo Credit: LiveStockPedia.com)

 

 

goat of the Myotonic Fainting goat breed laying on the ground

Myotonic

  • Known as the “Fainting Goat” Note: These goats do not actually faint. They have a genetic characteristic – a myotonia congenital gene, which causes their leg muscles to lock up when they are startled. This results in the goat losing balance and they flop over on their side – appearing as if they have fainted.

 

(Photo Credit: Redleg)

  • Small to medium sized goat (Note: This breed is raised for meat, but more so when they are cross bred with a larger meat goat breed. This breed is more commonly raised as pets.)
  • Active but docile in temperament
  • Ears vary in size and type (Note: A purebred Myotonic has a crimp down the middle of the ear.), coat can contain a variety of color
  • Breeds year-round.

 

meat goat of the Savanna goat breed with horns standing next to a fence

Savanna

Hardy (Note: The breed was developed to withstand adverse living conditions.)

  • Fast growing, outstanding muscles, and strong legs and bones
  • Excellent mothering and nursing characteristics
  • Medium pendulous ears with white to cream colored coat – unique black pigmented skin that provides protection from ultra-violet rays
  • Breeds year-round

 

 

(Photo Credit: Griffin Sport Horses)

 

 

meat goat from the Spanish goat breeds with long horns

Spanish Meat Goat

Through the years, people have questioned whether the Spanish meat goat is a “true” non-crossed breed. We don’t have that answer, but we have some breed characteristics to share with you.

  • Medium size goat
  • Hardy and heavily muscled despite their lack of size

(Photo Credit: Extension.org)

  • Docile, yet more active than other meat goat breeds
  • Attentive mothering and excellent nursing characteristics
  • Spanish meat goats are a medium sized breed.
  • Ears and coats vary – some are very colorful and spotted
  • Breeds year-round

People have questioned whether the Spanish meat goat is a true non-crossed breed

Fiber Goats

Fiber goats are any breed of goat that produces cashmere wool or mohair from their coat.

Cashmere and mohair are primarily used in sweaters, scarves, coats and clothing. Mohair is used in floor rugs, carpets, and sometimes doll hair.

When you talk about goat breeds, there is not one single breed called the “Cashmere” breed. Instead, cashmere is produced from a number of different breeds around the world which together are referred to as cashmere goats.

With mohair, on the other hand, it is primarily produced from Angora goats, as well as Pygora goats (a cross between Angora and Pygmy goats) and Nigora goats (cross between Angora and Nigerian Dwarf). Let’s take a look at the key characteristics of the Angora breed.

fiber goat of the Angora goat breed chewling on hay

Angora

  • Medium size goat (but can vary from medium to large)
  • Not as hardy (compared to other goat breeds) (Note: We suggest that you research Angora goat breeders in your area if you want to go the fiber goat route. Angoras are thought to be more susceptible to poor health caused by parasite infection.)
  • Docile
  • Medium sized pendulous ears, coat is curly and white to cream in color – growing to an average 6-7”, sheared twice a year (Note: Produces an average of 12 pounds of fiber per year.)
  • Seasonal breeders; produce twins less often than any other goat breeds

(Photo Credit: Elena Tartaglione)

 

Other Breeds

Today, we’re ending our list of goat breeds with the Pygmy goat. This breed is classified as a meat goat, but a breed that is typically raised as pets, or show goats, due to their small size.

pet goat of the Pygmy goat breed drinking water from a bucket

 

Pygmy

  • Small size goat
  • Hardy
  • Heavy boned but not meaty or muscular
  • Active but well-suited as show goats (Note: children handle this breed well, especially due to the small size of the goat.)
  • Ear size and type varies
  • Breeds year-round (Note: prolific breeders)

 

 

 

(Photo Credit: Kevin Payravi)

 

Show Goat Requirements

Now that we’ve covered the characteristics of various dairy and meat goat breeds, lets briefly talk about show goat requirements.

Many people ask which breeds are required if you want to show goats. Most officially sanctioned shows require pure-bred goats, but there are shows available for just about every breed.

The requirements for shows and show goats vary by breed, dairy or meat, location and type of show (example: 4H or sanctioned goat show).

The basics are:

  • Healthy goat
  • Registration papers (in some arenas)
  • Fitting – conditioning for the show (deworming, tattooing, health checking)
  • Conformity to breed standards
  • Training (handling the goat)
  • Grooming (clipping, hoof trimming, bathing)

A “sanctioned” goat show requires that the goat being shown is a recognized breed by the association and is a registered goat. This pertains to both dairy and meat goats. A sanctioned goat show is normally led by a goat association, such as the American Dairy Goat Association, or the American Boer Goat Association.

When purchasing your goats, if one of your purposes is to show them, then make sure you select a healthy goat from a solid bloodline, and make sure the goat’s registration papers are given to you at the time of sale. Study the goat association websites to help you understand how to read a pedigree. For example, CH = champion, GCH = grand champion. Know what to look for before the goat breeder shows you a pedigree.

Before you purchase any breed of goat, make sure the characteristics of the goat “conforms” to (matches) the required characteristics in the show-ring. Breed standards often include standards for ideal height, bone structure, angularity of legs, udder characteristics, etc. Check out the website for the association that sanctions each particular show and you will find written details covering the exact breed standards for that show.

One more important piece to this – buy the healthiest animals possible. Learn what the back, the legs, the stance should look like. Observe how the goat walks. Do they limp, or do they look “off” or ill? Also, you do not want to prepare for a show only to see your goat develop a CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis) lump, or later find out that your goat is CAE (Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis) positive.

A sanctioned goat show requires that the goat being shown is a recognized breed by the association and is a registered goat.

You don’t want these diseases on your farm, and you certainly don’t want them to show up when you’re heading to a show. So, ask the breeder if they have any of these diseases in the herd. Ask what preventative measures have been taken. Some breeders test for these diseases and they will show you the documented results.

brush clearing goat breeds eating forage on a hillside

Brush Clearing Goats

Some people use goats to clear brush from their property. This is another use of goats where the exact breed doesn’t really matter and cross-breeds can be used. You just need to focus on goats that will be hardy enough for free-ranging and can eat a lot.

Goats are herbivores. They thrive in conditions where weeds and browse (leaves of trees, shrubs, and vines that have woody stems) are available.

Goats have gained notoriety and popularity for their ability to clear brush. Now, here’s an absolute win-win situation: goats are healthier when they browse. This is because they aren’t limited to grazing close to the ground, which subjects them to the ingestion of parasites. The health of a goat flourishes on browse, which is usually higher up on trees and plants.

(Photo Credit: Michael Wagoner)

A sick goat, for example, can also be nursed back to health, when they are provided a diet that contains leaves from trees. Watch a goat in the autumn when the leaves are falling, they are experts at catching leaves as they float to the ground. Watch a goat stand on their hind legs to reach up into a tree. Their body knows what is nutritionally best for them.

 

So, back to the win-win. Place a herd of goats in a contained area of brush that needs to be cleared, and they will quickly and happily clean the area up. No chemicals involved! The goats are healthy, and fire danger is radically diminished. This is a holistic way to save land and lives.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is the business aspect of rent-a-goat. Consider renting goats out, for a fee, to clear brush.

What goat breed is best for brush clearing? Any breed or cross-breed of a medium to large sized goat is best. Cross bred goats have tendencies to be hardier goats. Also, you don’t want to place your show goats on this mission, and you don’t want your best milk goats out there either — protect those udders!

goat with long horns and harness from one of the pack goat breeds

Pack Goats

Pack goats are trained to cross the country or to go on hikes with people. These goats carry packs of gear on their backs.

Wethers (male goats that are castrated) are often chosen for this role. The reason being that male goats are often larger than female goats, so they withstand the weight of the cargo, yet they are not as large as a buck, and they don’t go into “rut” (becoming focused on breeding).

Any muscular medium-to-large breed goat can be used as a pack goat. A mixed breed goat, due to its hardiness, serves as the best pack goat.

 

(Photo Credit: Cody McComas)

The pack goat selection also needs to focus on an animal that is docile and easy to train. Dairy breed wethers are an excellent option, as they have longer legs and bigger frames. Also, dairy goats, especially those that were raised as bottle kids, enjoy human connection. They’ve been known to bed down with their people in campsites. You don’t want a smelly buck cuddling up with you on this type of excursion.

Today, some goat breeders are geared towards the sole purpose of raising and training pack goats, so you may be able to purchase a “ready-made” trained pack goat if you’re interested in this.

Pet Goats

Goats are great entertainers. A goat that has been raised to trust humans doesn’t run away when a human arrives on site; in fact, they readily buddy-up with people.

Try to get a repair job done in a goat barn. Seriously, you might have a few too many helping hands (hooves) at your side.

We do recommend that you consider a hardy goat breed, or even a cross-breed, if your goal is to have goats as pets. Consider purchasing a handful of wethers, or a mix of wethers and female goats.

If you don’t want to breed goats, don’t mix bucks with does. Goats are notorious breeders, and before you know it, your new herd can double, and quickly triple in size.

 

Conclusion – The Final Goat Breed Decision

I’ve covered a lot of territory here in this mini-class. Get your pen and paper in hand, if you haven’t done so already, and answer the following questions. This should get you started in the right direction.

  • First, know your goat breeds!
  • What size goat are you interested in?
  • Is goat temperament important to you?
  • Do you want to produce milk? Do you want to make goat milk cheese or soap?
  • Do you want to produce fiber?
  • Do you want to enjoy your goats as pets, and not get involved with milking, breeding, or birthing?
  • Do you want to show your goats?
  • Do you want to use your goats for brush removal?
  • Are you a hiker that would love to pair-up with a pack goat?

I have one major wish for you today, and that is for you to enjoy whichever goats you choose. Goats are wonderful animals. They provide so many benefits for us in life, including nutrition for our families, education for children, physical exercise, and meeting new friends who also work with goats – not to mention the sheer entertainment and joy we get from raising these curious and relatable creatures.

I encourage you to jump in and get started with goats. Enjoy the process. May you have many fulfilling days ahead of you with your new goats.

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