Choosing a Dairy Goat Breed


 Nigerian Doe 

The most frequently asked question that people ask me about goats is, "What is the difference in each breed's milk taste, and how much milk do they average." And that is always one of the hardest questions to answer, simply because there really aren't any solid answers I can give! Each individual goat is going to have its own amount of milk it's going to give, and it's going to have its own taste. Think of it like a grab bag. You never know what you're going to get.

But that sounds rather discouraging. How on earth is a body supposed to choose a goat breed if they're hesitant about each one? Over the years, I've had the privilege to own almost all the dairy breeds out there, and then try the milk from countless of other goats. Through much experience (read: trial and error as we bought goats that gave horrid tasting milk!), I've gotten to know each breed's quirks and histories, and I've come to realize that it actually is possible to give people an idea of what to expect from each breed.

So I thought I would go through the breeds here and introduce them to y'all. I would like to state again though, that each goat will vary. I know people who swear that Saanens give the best tasting milk above all other goats, and other people who wouldn't touch a Saanen with a 10 foot pole. So this post is going to have a lot of blanket statements, as I try and give you an overview of the dairy breeds. Bear with me here.

First off would be the Saanen ( Saanens are one of, if not THE, top producers of the dairy breeds. 2-3 gallons per day is not uncommon, although most will average 1 1/2 gallons per day. Their downside is that their butterfat is only 2% to 3%. Now, if you are used to drinking two percent milk from the grocery store, then you would probably do alright with these big gals. But if you've tasted other raw milks like Jersey cow, or Nubian or Nigerian goat milk, you might be disappointed. In plain English, it's rather bland and watery. 

Side note: as we go along, and I'm jabbering on and on about butterfat percentages, and you have no idea how to imagine that. Compare it with store bought milk. That 1/2 and 1/2 cream you buy from there would be the equivalent of almost 10% butterfat. Two percent milk is, of course, 2% butterfat. In my mind, I imagine a cream line. If you are familiar with raw cow milk and how the cream rises then you might understand better. 

Back to the goats now.

Next up is the Alpine. (

Alpines probably vary the most when it comes to milk taste. They really do vary from breeder to breeder. The majority though, give really nice tasting milk. Alpines are no-nonsense milkers, and are very steady producers. Milk averages also vary, but a decent Alpine should give at least 1 gallon per day. Really good Alpines will give 2 to 3 gallons per day. Butterfat content is about 3.5% so sweeter than the Saanen, but not overbearingly rich. These are good gals.

And then we have the Nubians... ( Nubians vary greatly in milk averages simply because there are so many bad specimens of them out there, and so many people who don't breed for better goats. A good Nubian can keep the pace with her European cousins very well, and easily give 2 gallons a day, but that's a pretty high amount. 1 gallon is pretty average for a fairly decent doe. I like to see first fresheners (term for a 1 year old doe who has kidded for the first time) giving 3/4 gallon per day. That's my standard. If you look on Craigslist though, you'll most likely see a lot of older Nubians who are called "excellent milkers" as they give 1/2 gallon per day. Whoop dee doo. Their milk is sweet tasting, and averaging 4% to 5% in butterfat. I have yet to meet a Nubian who gave funny tasting milk. 

Toggenburgs are next up. ( These ladies are impressive milkers, pumping out 2 gallons or more each day while remaining steady in production. However, these goats originated in the Swiss Alps and were bred specifically for strong, goaty tasting milk. And many Toggs hold true to that! I've spoken with quite a few Togg breeders and they will sheepishly admit that they don't drink their milk; they keep Nubians, or some other breed to supply drinking milk. Their Toggs are just for show. But, if you like goaty flavored milk, maybe this is your breed! Butterfat content hovers around 3%. Same as the Alpines.

And the Oberhaslis... ( Oh I love the way the "Obers" look. Oberhaslis are excellent producers, just like the rest of their European cousins. Two gallons per day is considered normal for many breeders, and three gallons isn't uncommon. Butterfat is close to the Toggenburg and the Alpine as they stick close to 2.5% to 3.5%. But, just like the Toggs, Oberhaslis are a Swiss breed, and they have the trademark flavor. Strong tasting. I remember my first Oberhasli doe I had... Her name was Alexis and I loved her to pieces. But I honestly thought she had mastitis when I tried her milk for the first time. I took a small jar to the breeder and asked what was wrong. She tasted it and said nothing was wrong: that's what Ober milk tastes like! Needless to say, Alexis went back to the breeder. I've had a handful of other people ask this same question. Why does their Oberhasli's milk taste like she has mastitis?? I do have a friend in Ohio who says her Obers give normal tasting milk though, so it's possible that some breeders have been able to eliminate that gene from their herd. My advice is if you're looking at purchasing an Oberhasli, try her milk. If she's a doeling, try her mother's milk.

La Manchas: I have to say, I really like La Manchas. ( An Oregonian breed, La Manchas give large quantities of sweet tasting milk. Most does average 1-2 gallons per day, and butterfat percentage is usually 4% to 4.5%. Calm, steady does, if you don't mind the ears (or lack of them), La Manchas are a really good choice. And if you don't like their ears, buy one anyway. You'll be hooked soon after.

 Nigerians are a fun breed. ( Does can give from 2 cups, to 3/4 a gallon per day. I have a friend who has two does that each give 1/2 gallon per day, and it amazes me every time I see those does. They're only eighteen inches tall! Butterfat ranges from 6% to 10%. So there's your cream for the morning coffee! does will start at 6% in the beginning of their lactation, and by the time they hit their peak (8 weeks) the butterfat will have risen to 8% to 10%. This stuff is sooooo good. ;) But then, I'm a cream lover. No two percent for me! I would say a good average is three cups of milk per day from each doe. That's what I hear from most breeders. 

Lastly, but not leastly, is the Guernsey. ( Guernseys are still considered a rare breed here in the USA, and breeders are still trying to get good foundation lines down. But I'm hearing an average of 1 gallon per day from many does, and butterfat percentages are usually 6% to 8%. So their milk is sweeter than Nubians, but not so sweet as Nigerians. Guernseys are one of the best breeds for grass based dairies, as they are able to efficiently convert grass to milk, whereas the high producing breeds like the Alpine, Saanen, Toggenburg, and Oberhasli need grain in order to keep production up. 

So there you have it! An idea of what to expect from each breed! 

What are your favorite goat breeds, and why? 

You can read more about my goat adventures on my blog, To Sing With Goats.

 Guernsey Doe