Purchasing a goat is as rewarding as it is daunting! If you are like me, before purchasing anything you weigh the benefits against the drawbacks and conclude whether or not purchasing that item is worth its proposed value. When it came to goats I had to sit down and seriously think about what I was getting myself into, and what purpose my goats were going to fill in my life. When I finally decided that I was going to get a goat, I determined that my goats were going to be for dairy, meat, and as pack animals… and then a family member proposed their breed of choice, and having no other point of reference, I went with it. But then a few more questions popped up:
Having decided that I was going to get a goat I hadn’t really considered anything else yet. First, where was I going to put my new goat? What is suitable housing for them? How much space was I actually going to need? And, do I have to purchase two goats.. or will one goat be okay on its own?? What about feed- lots of people said they were really good weed eaters (which kind of implied that I didn’t have to provide anything.. they basically ate for free. Of course this turned out to be false).
These questions probably should have been the first questions I asked myself (but didn’t). Thankfully they all came with answers thanks to a quick internet study! And before I knew it I had craigslist on my desktop, I had found a goat that was within my price range, and I was on my way to pick her up.
However, there were a few more questions I wish I would have known to ask of the seller, as well as myself before I went about purchasing a dairy goat...
What Breed of Goat is Right for YOU? Not all breeds of goats are created equal, and with so many names flying around out there, how do you know which goat is right for you, and your needs? And is any one breed better than the rest?
How do you pick a healthy Goat? Believe it or not, goats do carry some pretty nasty diseases amongst themselves that can be detrimental to your herd. Identifying a sick goat goes a long way toward preventing disease. Also knowing the traits of your desired breed will help determine if the animals body condition is appropriate for its breed.
What do you look for in a Dairy Goat? Ever catch your self wondering: 'With all the goat lingo swirling in my head, I don't know how to apply this stuff when selecting a good dairy goat!' I will try to clarify this further, and help give you an idea of what you should look for.
Questions for the Seller: What are some basic questions to ask the seller before you buy, and is it okay to walk away from a purchase? What is a good price for a goat?
Registered vs. Unregistered: pros and cons of buying registered and unregistered goats.
Transporting your Goat: Often overlooked, but perhaps one of the most important questions you should ask yourself before purchasing; "how will I get this goat home?"
Now that you have my list of questions and considerations before you purchase your goat, here are the answers to those questions based on my first purchase experience….
What Breed of Goat is Right for YOU:
Sounds like a silly question, but you really ought to consider this question before you run off and purchase the first goat you can afford. And further-more, what do you intend to use your goat for? Will it be strictly for dairy? Will you want meat? Do you need large amounts of milk, or just a little? Here is a short list of the Dairy Goat Breeds, and a brief description of each to help you decide:
Nubian- The Nubian, also known as the "Anglo-Nubian" is a large, proud, and graceful goat with long pendulous ears and a characteristic "Roman nose". They were developed in England by crossing British goats with bucks of African and Indian origin. They are not heavy producers, but they have a good amount of butterfat in their milk. Nubians come in a variety of colors and patterns. They are very vocal, tend to be easy to manage, and while they are very popular they are not quite as hardy as some other breeds. Drawbacks you will be faced with:
G6S disorder is a genetic disorder linked to dairy goats, but more prominently found in Nubians. It is a crippling disease that leads to birth defects, and premature kid death. The disorder is spread by breeding carriers of the disorder to clear animals.
Weak Kids: Nubian kids tend to need more 'personalized' care. Breeders lovingly call their animals 'drama queens', but on a serious note: for a first-time goat owner are you up for the challenge of needing to pull a kid from a doe, revive a weak kid, or stomach tube a kid with a weak suckling response? If so, this breed will definitely keep you on your toes!
*On a Personal Note* Having started out with Nubians, they are the happy not-so bright ‘cheerleaders’ of the goat world. If you like the ditsy, or haughty, loud, proud, in your face type of people.. a Nubian will be your best friend. If you are living close to town, or are concerned about your neighbors heckling you however, you do not want a Nubian giving the neighborhood a play-by-play account of your every move on your property!
Saanen- The classic looking white Dairy goat, Saanens are a Swiss breed that have rightfully earned their place as the N0. 1 goat used in large scale dairies for their heavy milk production. Saanens have a clean refined look about them, and are well suited for any environment. They have a generally calm temperament, gentile disposition, and willingness to please that makes them an excellent choice for both commercial, and small homestead operations alike. And their large size makes them ideally suited for meat on the homestead.
*Sables are Saanens that are born any color other than white.
Toggenburg- 'Toggs' are not as popular in the United States for family dairy, and can be rather difficult to find. This breed hails from the cool rolling mountains of Switzerland, but is equally well suited to warmer regions as well. They are characterized by their light brown to tan color and white markings. They are one of the oldest known goat breeds, and their sometimes strong 'goaty' flavored milk was primarily used for cheese making. Their sometimes 'stronger' tasting milk has earned this breed the top spot in France for cheese making, as it is not usually used raw.
Alpine- Nearly impossible to find a good reputable breeder (At least that is the case in the state of Arizona!) The Alpine, AKA ‘ French Alpine’ hails its origins from the French Alps. As a breed they are athletic, mischievous, curious, and come in a variety of colors. They are also one of the primary breeds found in large scale dairies. Able to crank-out a gallon a day on average, with good butter fat and protein levels. Alpines are finding new paths off the dairy these days, due to their large size and athletic ability are growing in demand as prized packing animals!
Oberhasli- The Oberhasli, sometimes called "Swiss Alpine". They are characterized, and easily recognized, by their strikingly unique coloring; known as "Chamoisee." Oberhasli goats are red bay in color with distinctive and specific black markings. Does may sometimes be black, but chamoisee is preferred. Oberhasli are another difficult to-find breed in Arizona, due to the fact that most do not register or breed to the standard. Often Oberhasli mixes are found of low quality.
La Mancha- Undoubtedly the most unique looking Dairy goat breed! Did you know that the La Mancha is actually the ONLY dairy goat breed that is native to the US?! This is because they were actually created in the United States, and NOT imported as all the other breeds of dairy goats.
Their name implies a more ‘exotic’ origin, a possible link to the now extinct Spanish goats in their ancestry, but they humbly draw their lineage back to a small Saanen dairy in Oregon. A somewhat rare breed, they are often found in large commercial operations alongside Saanens for their ability to produce large volumes of top quality milk. La Manchas are characterized by their lack of ear cartilage, making them ‘earless’. Like their Saanen cousins, the La Mancha is a very hardy, quiet, calm, social, willing to please breed of goat; making them most popular on small family farms and homesteads.
*Personal Note* With as little bias as possible of course.. Whether they are a standard size, or Mini; La Manchas can be handled easily by children, elderly adults, and inexperienced goat owners with little fuss. And are the most affectionate, intelligent, dog like, goat breed we have ever dealt with! But the best part, is the ease of caring for this breed… which is why we chose to focus our breeding program on them!
**This breed, due to the lack of ears (a cooling system) does best in cool climates.
Nigerian Dwarf- Originally from Africa, the Nigerian dwarf goat was originally imported into the US to be used as feeder animals for the large cats and predators in US Zoos. Now they are rapidly becoming the most popular dual purpose dairy goat in the country! The Nigerian Dwarf is a boisterous, active, confident goat with TONS of personality. Plus they are small enough for the elderly and small children alike to handle. Nigerian Dwarfs are currently being bred to produce more milk than what they were capable of historically. Modern Nigerian Dwarfs, from reputable breeding lines, are more than capable of giving a quart to a half gallon of milk a day on average; with exceptional animals producing up to a gallon a day! These little goats are easily keeping pace with larger breeds, and require far less space and feed!
Mini Dairy Goats- "The stable Hybrid". Originally considered ‘mutts’ worthy only of being an accompaniment to gravy have dairies to thank for their creation. Nigerian dwarf goat bucks were often used to breed to young/ small sized standard dairy goat does on dairy farms in order to get their does to freshen sooner, and begin putting milk in the pail. Their hybrid offspring were small enough for a young doe to pass without issue or damage, and were often sold on the cheap for use as meat goats.
Now minis are slowly becoming breeds of their own, as more and more people are finding value in owning a miniaturized dairy breed. Minis, through their generations, are bred to the same breed standards as their larger counter parts, but of course on a smaller scale. Miniature breeds are ONLY produced by breeding a registered Standard Dairy Breed Doe to a registered Dairy Nigerian Buck. Only registerable Miniature Dairy goats are able to be called a "Miniature Dairy Goat". As of today, there are only two Miniature Dairy Goat Registries (TMGR & MDGA). Purchasing registered miniatures ensures the buyer of the quality animal they are purchasing; registration is a good indicator that the breeder is breeding toward a breed standard, thus desiring to increase the quality of their animals.
Miniature Dairy goats are the successful blending of two very dairy qualified breeds, with traceable lineage to dairy animals in their pedigree. Mini-dairy goats are fast growing into a homesteaders delight! They are half the size of a standard dairy goat, require half the space, half the feed, and produce about the same amount of milk. Miniature dairy goats can easily be expected to produce between 1/2-1 gallon a day!
Dual Purpose Boer Hybrid- Often purchased with the sometimes unrewarding expense of having a proclaimed "meat goat that ‘milks.’" Honestly, many “Dual-purpose” breeds simply do not stack up to their repertoire of being perfect for both dairy and meat. Sadly for many unsuspecting buyers, they soon find out this 'breed' is more often than not only well enough suited for the latter. These ‘perfect’ Hybrids are created by breeding a dairy goat breed to a meat goat breed (Boer or Kiko), and are sold to many unwitting homesteaders who believe (or are told) they will get good to excellent quality milk... And that they will get consistent breeding results i.e. the Offspring will be just as 'good' as the parents. This however is not the case.
Breeding goats is not as simple as 1+1=2. And hybridizing animals of opposing qualities to get a 'perfect' mix is not that easy folks. The problem with these 'dual-purpose' goats is that A) They are a unstable-hybrid—not a breed of their own.
Hybridization by definition is a gamble. in this mix, you are attempting to exploit the best qualities of two very different breeds by blending them into one goat.. The trouble with this is that there are too many variables called GENES. How many years did it take science to map the human genome?? All those little CGCCGGA's ? Do not be fooled thinking you are going to get a 'perfect' animal the first time around or even the Hundreth!
Dairy goats have been selected through years or even centuries of breeding to perfect and limit the influence of other genetics to make them suitable for dairy. Meat goats were bred in the opposite direction for MEAT. Both goats have strongly opposing genetics that simply make this blending unfavorable. Because you are introducing very poor genetics into a very select set of dairy genetics. The result is that you will have a goat that is no longer suitable for dairy, and too small/ skinny to be used as a meat goat!
As you breed your hybrid goats together, you will need to develop a breeding goal in order to keep you on track. Some (and I stress this word) of the dairy traits will continue to be passed on to a much lesser extent, but honestly these genetics will be so diluted as breeding continues, that you will find yourself quickly with an animal expressing the more dominant Meat goat traits.
B) Breeding a top quality milk goat from basically scratch takes YEARS …ask any dairy goat breeder that has been around 10+ years if they have had 100% success on producing a champion milker (heck even a good milker) on a risky breeding with animals that have opposing qualities (good genetics for producing top quality dairy x poor quality dairy genetics). I can guarantee they will all say NO.
Boers are not bred for dairy. They do not have the mammary stability and structure of a dairy goat. They often have extra teats which can lead to increased risk of infection. And Boers are bred to put on muscle, not milk. Yes you can milk a Boer, Yes you can milk a boer-hybrid, you can also milk a beef cow! But you simply will not get the same quality milk, nor will you get the QUANTITY required to make many of the dairy products your household is familiar with; and quickly find yourself wishing that you had chosen to milk a dairy goat/cow instead.
If you do not have a use for large amounts of milk, or do not see yourself making yogurt, cheese, cream, butter, or anything else shy of soap-- a Boer/ Boer hybrid may be up your alley. But I would strongly advise being cautious in whom you buy from! Dairy goats from reputable breeders sell their animals for $300-$1000 because they ARE DAIRY GOATS. Not uncle Bobs backyard special! Boer goat breeders match this pricing also because their animals ARE MEAT producing machines! I would never advise purchasing a Boer-Dairy goat Hybrid, especially for any price equal to a premium quality dairy or meat goat!
~Are there other ‘Dual Purpose’ goats that are not Boers? Yes! ANY BREED OF DAIRY GOAT can be an excellent homesteading animal; that's what they were created for! But if you are in an urban environment, or just want to conserve space, the Nigerian dwarf is an amazing little breed that excels at both dairy, and producing meat.
-Kinders, pygmies, and I am sure there are others... should be researched HEAVILY as again, some of these breeds are either still in development, or are being advertised as the 'Perfect' goat simply to make money off of uninformed consumers. Simply put; what's new is not always what is best!
If you want a goat for dairy, and perhaps meat, get a Dairy Goat.
If you want lots of meat, and occasionally a cup of milk for your coffee or soap making, get a Meat Goat.
If you really don’t care to eat your goats, nor drink their milk, But love hand spinning.. get a Fiber Goat.
As you become more and more familiar with your goats, and your own needs you can then adjust your herd to suit. And perhaps even try to make a ‘hybrid’ that may bring a more rounded aspect to your needs. But as a beginner to goats, don’t over complicate the equation. And don’t assume that what is being advertised as the ‘perfect goat’ will be that perfect goat for YOU.
"Only time and experience gives the goat herder the knowledge they require. Stay to proven paths until you are able to pick out the qualities that YOU are looking for, and ultimately what breed will best benefit you and your family."
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