I’ve had a lot of people ask me about which goat they should get. That’s something I certainly can’t answer for anyone else! But I can lay a few things out that might help someone in selecting a breed they will adore
What do you want from a goat?
Milk, meat, fiber, labor, companionship, or just a warm body out in the pasture? Before all else, it’s important the remember that most goats can be most of those things. A fiber goat can be milked, a meat goat can pack weight or haul, and any goat with a sweet disposition can be a fun friend. You can’t get fiber out of a hair goat, but other than that, nearly any breed can be multi-purpose.
Do you want a standard size or miniature sized goat?
– Small goats are easy to handle or pick up and have less potential to injure humans or other animals
– Nigerian Dwarves have the highest potential milk fat of all goat breeds, making them lucrative for cheese makers (but any individual doe’s milkfat content may vary)
– More lightweight and agile means they escape pens even easier than large goats (the famous saying is “if it will hold water, it will hold a goat)
– They don’t actually eat much less than goats 3-4 times their size (I’d reckon a 60lb goat eats 75% of what a 250lb one does)
– They usually have preciously tiny teats- people with arthritic hands appreciate this because they can/must be milked with just 2-3 fingers. Non-arthritic hands may get frustrated. Using a milking machine may negate the issue either way.
– Limited milk production from small goat with small udder. You can always make a big udder milk less, but you can’t make a small udder milk more.
– Can be much easier (less difficult) to contain older adults that have filled out and are no longer light and agile (all kids are acrobats though)
– Better double as a pack or labor animal if needed. Minis can still pack, but not very much weight by comparison, and adequately sized gear for them is not common.
– LaMancha have the highest potential milkfat content of all large breeds, and the second highest milk fat behind Nigerians (to my knowledge, at least). They’re wicked smart though, many people dislike the breed because of that.
– Big goats can potentially have amazingly big teats that are super easy to milk out of
– A good doe, even of a non-dairy breed, can produce over 1 gallon per day at her peak
– Big goats can be harder to physically maneuver / more prone to injuring you due to large size
Personally? I have sworn off miniatures. I may be a bit biased. After years of failing to contain them, I finally rehomed the last of my minis. They’re adorable goats (which spared the naughtiest of them from becoming burger meat during their worst offenses), but I simply did not get along with them and didn’t enjoy altering all of my big-goat-fencing to try (and fail) to contain the small goats, too. Many people adore minis though, there is certainly nothing inherently bad about them!
Another thing to consider is whether or not you’re going to be selling kids for profit. If so, investigate your local market. Goats that are popular currently might seem like a good thing to buy into, but chances are the market is already saturated. I’ve found it most lucrative to find a breed that has practical, desirable application and traits that no one around you seems to have. Find some quality breeding stock for you breed choice (yes, even look out of state, it will probably be worth it!) and enter into your local goat market with a completely new breed from excellent bloodlines. Chances are your goats will more than pay for themselves in kids each year this way.
Do you want goat milk?
Farm-raised milk can sometimes be tolerated by folks who can’t tolerate store-bought milk or milk products. Myself included! A single milking animal can provide hundreds of thousands of calories for you and the farm, with very little effort on your part. Milking requires some discipline as the animal must be milked once or twice a day, depending on your routine.
If at all possible, discover as much as you can about a doe you intend to milk; hopefully you get to see what her udder looks like in milk, and ideally you even get to test milk her and taste her milk. If you want to raise a doeling for future milking, find out as much as you can about her mother and father alike.
For us, there are 3 important features in a milk goat:
1. Good stanchion manners (no kicking or fussing or resistence to getting in the stanchion)
2. Good teats- large, easy to hold and squeeze. They should be long and somewhat narrow. Short/fat teats that look like cones are very difficult to milk.
3. Good milk flow- milk lets down quickly and easily and flows readily from the teat (part of this is dependent on the doe’s curent emotions, but part of it is the physical makeup of the teat)
We have two milkers at present. Tisl as short teats and somewhat poor flow. She’s harder to milk and takes much longer to milk out- it’s more work on the hands and wrists. But! She could not be more well behaved in the stanchion. She never kicks or fusses, and that makes it worthwhile. Aside from her tiny teats, she’s a dream to milk and loves the attention. If she was a fussy milker on top of having little tight teats, we might not keep her as a milker. On the other hand, Ruma has big beautiful teats with excellent milk flow, but she’s a fussy brat and sometimes decides milk time is OVER and will fight with you and try to kick the milk jar over. That’s “almost” not worth it, even though her teats and flow are great. Thankfully she isn’t so bratty that we can’t tolerate her fussiness. If she had small teats or poor milk flow we might not keep her has a milker.
A doe with 3 strikes against her isn’t worth the frustration of trying to milk every day!
Another important thing to keep in mind is a doe’s udder. For the health and happiness of the doe, you want to milk a doe with a nice tight udder that hugs her body. A saggy udder hangs low and even flops around between her back ankles. She may kick it and it may snag on things and get injured. Any udder can produce ample quantities of delicious milk. However keeping a doe with a saggy udder in milk poses an increased risk to her well being.
Choosing a herd dynamic for breeding your goats is a whole ‘nother topic! But hopefully this helps you get started in choosing which breed (or mix of!) to start with!