Choosing a Goat Breed for Your Farm

Episode 58
For the Love of Goats

Choosing a Goat Breed for your Farm title graphic

It can be so challenging to choose a breed of goat to raise. But you should not choose your goats like you choose pets, which is often based on appearance, color, or size. If you want your goats to serve a purpose, such as dairy or meat, you really should choose the breed that is going to help you meet your goals.

Since we don’t drink milk, our goat milk is almost all used exclusively for making cheese, which is why we have Nigerian dwarf. Since they have the highest butterfat of any breed, we get a much higher cheese yield than we would with another breed. But if you need several gallons of milk a day, I would suggest one of the larger dairy goat breeds.

In this episode, I also discuss why you should start with only one breed, as well as the disadvantage of having breeds of different sizes.

For more information about various breeds:

Want to see a comparison of all of the goat breeds side by side in a spreadsheet, from milk production averages to appearance?


Click here for more information about my Goats 365 membership.

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Choosing a Goat Breed for Your Farm – Transcript

Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hey, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. I am really excited to be back after having off a few weeks, because I was working on creating a couple of new courses for my Goats 365 membership program—which I realized I should mention here sometimes. Goats 365 members get access to six courses where you can learn everything from the basics of raising goats, to parasites and nutrition and wellness, as well as composting the manure, and even starting a goat business. And, if you’re a premium member, you can attend twice-monthly meetings on Zoom through your computer or your phone—even an old-fashioned landline.

Deborah Niemann 0:56
So, I want to say “Thank you” to one of my newsletter subscribers, Dawn, because she sent me an email this morning, and I wound up giving her a super long response and realized, “Wow, I should do a podcast episode on this.” She told me in her email that she’d been having a really hard time choosing between Nigerian Dwarf and Kinders, and that she had decided to get both. And I wrote back and told her that I would really encourage her to just start with one breed. It’s really challenging enough to do a good job with one breed, so you’ll just make your life so much easier if you start with one breed. And, if you feel like you’ve got that one down, then in three or four years, if you still think this is fun, and you’re loving it, and you want to add a second breed, then you’re just in a much better position to do that in terms of buying better stock and knowing, like, what you like, what you don’t like, and what you really want.

Deborah Niemann 1:58
So that… Basically, you’re gonna make a lot of mistakes when you buy your first goats, in most cases. Although, it sounds like Dawn has done a ton of research—way more than I did. Like most people, when I got started, I had no idea what I was doing. I bought the first three does I found. I bought the first buck that I found. So, I wound up selling two of the three does two or three years down the road when I realized they were really not good milkers, because I had bought from somebody who didn’t even milk their goats. And so like, that’s, like, a huge mistake that is actually really common.

Deborah Niemann 2:30
So, I know it is super hard to choose a breed. And I’ve really had to hold myself back from getting Kinders or Nubians, because I love the look of those ears. I just think they’re so cute. And that’s actually one of the reasons I got Lamanchas is because I loved the no-ears look that they have. But ultimately, my goal is making cheese. And so, it just makes sense for us to have Nigerians, because butterfat is really important to us. We don’t really want a lot of fluid milk. So, I know when we think of choosing pets that we think about how they look and what is important to us there. But, when you’re buying goats, they’re probably going to have a purpose. I mean, hey, if they’re pets, go for it. Get what you think is cute in terms of the ears and the color and all that kind of stuff. But, if you want goats to serve a purpose, then you need to go with a breed that’s going to serve that purpose the best for you. Personally, my least favorite ears are the erect ears of the Nigerian Dwarfs. And, if you told me that I could have that same high butterfat, you know, with the floppy ears of the Nubians or the no-ears of the Lamanchas, then I would have gone for one of them. But the Nigerians’ butterfat is at least a couple points higher than those others, which is why I love them so much. So, you know, the ears are just secondary.

Deborah Niemann 4:05
We had Lamanchas for about 10 years, and we got rid of them after my daughters left for college, because I realized that I could never have the kind of Lamancha herd that I really wanted, because I didn’t want that many Lamancha goats. The no-ears were adorable, and their personalities were bigger than life. LaMancha goats are just crazy. Like, they have crazy personalities. They were jumpers; they jumped in and out of windows and all kinds of stuff. It was amazing to me. Like, they could find so much trouble. It was amazing to me that they weren’t extinct, because they were too smart for their own good. One of my Lamancha does would have been able to open doors if her mouth was not wet, because she would put her mouth on a doorknob, and she would turn her head, and her mouth would slide because it was wet. So, thank goodness her mouth was wet and it would slide, because otherwise she’d have been opening doors, like, all over the place; she’d have been helping herself… You know, going into the milking parlor and helping herself to all the grain—which would not have been good for her. So, they’re amazing goats. But, we didn’t need gallons of milk. We just needed enough milk to make cheese. And so, the Nigerians made more sense to us.

Deborah Niemann 5:19
And, you also… You don’t want to be bringing goats into your herd forever. I think I should probably do a whole separate episode on this, but once you start breeding goats, like, you’re gonna see like, “Oh my gosh, I love this goat. She is my favorite goat to milk. I want lots of daughters from her. I want them to have the same teats and udder and production and everything.” And then, you want to find a buck that’s going to complement her. That’s gonna also give you more of that. That’s going to be likely to give you more of a goat like that. You’re gonna have other goats that you’re like, “Well, she’s not that great in, you know, this area and this area. But, I really, really love this about her. So, I need to breed her to a buck that is going to improve on those traits that I’m not crazy about.” So you’re going to be… You need to get really picky about which bucks you bring in and make sure that they’re going to complement your does and improve on the things that need to be improved on. That’s really hard to do if you have more than one breed, unless you have unlimited space, unlimited money, and all that kind of good stuff—which I don’t have. And so that’s why, when my daughters left for college, I was saying, “Okay, I’m just going to settle on one breed so that I can concentrate on them.” And, since I had progressed so far with my Nigerians already in terms of, you know, getting them to where I wanted them to be—and because of the butterfat—it just made sense to sell the Lamanchas.

Deborah Niemann 6:57
So, I really, really encourage you to look at your goals and make your decisions based on your goals. If you want cheese, and you really don’t want any fluid milk… Like, the only thing we use fluid milk for here is cooking and putting in coffee. Like, that’s it. And it’s actually perfect; the Nigerian milk is perfect for coffee, because the butterfat is so high, it’s almost like half and half. So, it’s perfect to use as a coffee creamer. But, if your goal is fluid milk… You know, if you have a huge family, like, you know, six or eight people in your family, and you go through two or three gallons of milk a day, then one of the Swiss breeds is going to be better for you. You know, the Lamanchas would be great for you, or Alpines, or Saanens. And, make sure you get them from somebody who milks them; who doesn’t just have them, like, for brush-clearing or something like that on their farm. And ask them how much they produce, because that’s the other thing, too. There are breed averages, but there are going to be goats that exceed those averages, and there are going to be goats that fall well below those averages.

Deborah Niemann 8:08
There was somebody I knew years ago who had an Alpine doe that gave less than my Nigerians—which just completely blew me away. But, if you look on the milk tests for the American Dairy Goat Association, and you look at, like, what some of the lower numbers are on there, you will see that there are goats that are very, very poor producers for their breed. So, it’s really important to buy from somebody who milks, and who keeps milk records—even if it’s farm records—who can tell you, you know, “This is how much…” Either, “How much this goat makes”—this goat that they’re selling, or—”Her mother,” if you’re buying a kid. You know, how much did her mother produce? And how much does her sire’s mother produce? Because that should give you a fairly good idea of what you can expect from your goat. And, if you’re not getting that from your goat—well, if that’s the only goat that’s underperforming in your herd—then maybe, you know, the genetics just didn’t pan out in this case. But, if all of your goats wind up underperforming—which is actually what happened to us when we got started. We were trying to do milk test in the first few years, and we… Our does could not even earn a one-day milk test star, because they were underperforming so much. And, by the time we started milk testing, I had bought some stock that had really good genetics, and they should have been doing better. And, it was one of the things that clued us into the fact that we had some nutritional deficiencies in our herd; we had some mineral deficiencies that we needed to deal with. And, once we dealt with them, then we saw that those does were producing to their genetic potential.

Deborah Niemann 9:52
Now, if you want milk and meat both, the Kinder breed is the only breed that admits that they’re a dual-purpose breed. They’re a great homestead breed, because you get a good amount of milk and a good amount of meat. The butterfat’s a little lower than the Nigerian, but you’re definitely going to get more meat from a Kinder goat than you will from a Nigerian goat. You can absolutely butcher Nigerian Dwarf kids, but you’re not going to get a whole lot of meat from them, because they’re just not very big. If you want even more, then you might look at Nubians. They are technically a dairy breed. They’re registered by the American Dairy Goat Association. Some people consider them a dual-purpose breed, but that’s a controversial statement, because some people get offended if you say that; they’re very adamant that they’re a dairy breed. And I really feel like they are. I mean, they are definitely a dairy breed. You know, when you look at what they can put in the milk pail, they can definitely be very impressive. It’s really tough to have a dual-purpose breed in anything, because it’s never going to be as good as an animal that’s bred 100% for one thing. And so, you know, the dairy goats produce so much more milk than the meat goats do, and the meat goats produce so much more meat than the dairy goats do. So, if you really just want meat or dairy, then definitely go with one of the meat breeds if meat is your goal, or the dairy breeds if dairy is your goal.

Deborah Niemann 11:32
I never understand when I meet people who say they have Boers or Kikos and they don’t eat goat meat. That seems odd to me. Because, it’s also going to be challenging to sell them—unless you’re just selling them, like, to some broker. Which, you’re not going to get a good price for them as if you sell them directly to consumers. Personally, I like to sell directly to consumers, you know, when it comes to selling farm products, because you can get a better price for them. But, if you don’t eat the meat, then you can’t tell people, like, how does it taste? Or, how do you prepare it? You know, and, like, what kind of mistakes to avoid in preparing it so that the meat is really good, and that they come back to you again and again to buy more meat from you.

Deborah Niemann 12:18
One of the things I also warn people about if you’re thinking of getting more than one breed is that it’s really scary to me when people have breeds of different sizes on their farm. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anybody that’s had goats for more than a few years who has not had unintended breedings. Bucks get out. And, it just happened to us last week. You know, it’s been a few years. And I always—this is why I have a very strict rule: We always have two fences between bucks and does. They never share a fence line. And last week, I went out there, and I found a buck in with my does. Even though he had to go over one electric fence, run a couple hundred yards, and go over another electric fence, somehow he did it. And, I saw him breeding a doe right there in front of me. So, that was an unplanned breeding. But, they’re Nigerians. So, it’s going to be a 100% Nigerian kid.

Deborah Niemann 13:25
One of the things I did not like about having the Lamanchas is that my Lamancha buck got out; he went over a combination livestock panel, which is… I think it’s around 40 inches tall. He went over that. And then, he went over another fence that was, like, almost five feet tall to get in with my does. And after the second time he did that, I was just way too freaked out and worried about my goats, because a Lamancha kid at birth is going to be, like, 7 or 8 pounds, and they can even be a little bigger. Nigerians give birth to kids that are about 3 pounds, maybe 4. I’ve had a couple of does that had kids that were 5 pounds, and one of those ended in a C-section. Although I’ve had a couple of does that could do it—I even had a doe give birth to a 6-pound kid—it’s definitely… Like, you are just keeping your fingers crossed and hoping for the best when that happens, because C-sections happen when kids start to get that big. So, if it’s half Lamancha, then the chances are pretty high that you’re gonna wind up with a C-section.

Deborah Niemann 14:40
In fact, that’s one of the reasons I don’t even like it when people buy unregistered goats from the sale barn. One of the people that I helped a few years ago had bought this buck from somebody at a sale barn who was like, “Oh yeah, he’s 99% Nigerian.” And this woman was completely new to Nigerians; she had no idea what a Nigerian buck should look like, what size he should be when he was a couple months old. And so, she brought him home, and, you know, a few months later, she bred him to her doe. And that doe wound up needing a C-section, because she was carrying a kid that was 7 pounds, while that buck just kept growing, and growing, and growing, and it became quite clear that he was not a purebred Nigerian. There was something else. He was half something else, because he was way too big to be a Nigerian buck. So she sold him, and then went and bought a registered Nigerian buck. So, Nigerian Dwarf does are really great about not having kidding problems, but you really can’t expect too much from them. Like, when they are bred to Nigerian bucks, they do fine. But, when they get bred to another buck—whether it’s accidental or intentional—it can wind up with not a great outcome.

Deborah Niemann 16:02
So, those are some of my thoughts on why you should start with only one breed. And over the coming weeks, I’m going to be talking to some breeders who have devoted years to a specific breed, so they can talk about their experience with them and give you a better idea of what they’re like. If you are interested in some of the other breeds I have already covered in previous episodes: In episode number 5, we talked about Angora goats. In episode number 7, we talked about Kinder goats. And, in episode 17, we talked about a rare breed of goat called the San Clemente Island goat. So, those are some options you can listen to if you’re still trying to decide what breed you want. And then, like I said, in the coming weeks, we will be talking to some other breeders of some other dairy goats.

Deborah Niemann 16:52
So, I hope that this has been helpful to you, and that you have a better idea of why it’s a good idea to do your best to control yourself—I know it’s hard—and just start with one breed to get your feet wet, and then decide what you want to do in two or three years in terms of, like, either expanding with that breed or branching out into a second breed.

Deborah Niemann 17:14
Have a great day! See you again soon.

Deborah Niemann 17:18
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

Nigerian Dwarf Goat on Farm

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