If you’ve been thinking about adding dairy goats to your farm or homestead, you’ve probably been wondering which breed is best. Like so many things with goats, the answer is, “It depends!”
I have a podcast episode on Choosing a Goat Breed For Your Farm where I talk about the various questions you should ask yourself before choosing a breed. And in this post, I niche down and talk about which dairy goat breeds are best suited to help you reach specific dairy goals.
I’ve also created a printout that provides you with all of the stats for you in an easy-to-read spreadsheet that compares sizes of different breeds, milk production, butterfat, and protein so you can figure out which dairy goat breed meets your needs best.
There are so many different dairy goat breeds because everyone is looking for something a little different. I raise Nigerian dwarf goats, and while they suit our cheesemaking needs perfectly, I have a friend with a family twice as large as mine, and Nubians are the best dairy goat breed for them.
I’ll never forget the woman who called and said that her family drank two to three gallons of milk per day and was wondering if Nigerian dwarf goats would be a good fit for her family. Probably not!
Which breed of dairy goat produces the most milk?
If you go through gallons of milk per day, then Alpines or Saanen goats are both excellent dairy goat breeds for you. Those two breeds go back and forth for the number one spot on the Top Ten list of the American Dairy Goat Association for milk production.
It may come as no surprise that if they produce the most milk, they are also two of the largest dairy goat breeds with does weighing 135 to 150 pounds. Although Saanen goats have a reputation for being gentle giants, Alpines can be bossier, so if you’re petite or have small children who want to help with goat care, I’d suggest visiting a farm with these goat breeds to be sure you feel comfortable handling them.
Which breed of dairy goat has the highest butterfat?
If you are not a big milk drinker, but instead, you are planning to make lots of cheese, the Nigerian dwarf is a great choice, especially if you prefer a smaller goat, as does are around 60 to 65 pounds and less than 2 feet tall.
Nigerian dwarf goats average 6.5% butterfat, although it can reach as high as 10% or more during the winter months. They produce an average of a quart a day, but better producers should peak at two to three quarts a day during the first two months after kidding.
The Nubian goat, which is a standard size goat like the Alpine and Saanen, has an average butterfat of 4.5%, which is higher than the 3.5% that you see with most of the standard breeds, so it also makes a great option if your main goal is cheesemaking.
Although Nubians have the lowest milk production among the larger breeds, they produce the most pounds of butterfat on average at 99 pounds for 305 days, whereas the Alpine and Saanen produce 89 pounds during the same amount of time.
Which breed of dairy goat has the lowest butterfat?
If you prefer to drink milk that has as little butterfat as possible, Toggenburg milk is a little lower than other standard size goats with an average of only 3.1%, producing only 70 pounds of butterfat in 305 days.
If you really want low butterfat, you can check with herds on milk test, and they can let you know which individual goats in their herd have the lowest butterfats.
By comparison, whole milk in the store is 3.5% butterfat. Since goat milk is mostly homogenized, meaning that it doesn’t separate quickly like cow milk, you are not going to be able to get skim milk or even 2% milk from your goats unless you purchase a cream separator.
Which breed of dairy goat is the best if you also want meat?
Of course, you can eat any breed of goat, but if you want more meat, a larger goat would be a better option. The Nubian is considered by some to be a dual-purpose goat because they are a little meatier than other standard size goats.
Although it is not recognized by ADGA, the Kinder goat is a Nubian-Pygmy hybrid that was created as a dual-purpose goat. Given the genetics involved in this hybrid, it also has higher butterfat, so it’s also great for making cheese.
The Pygmy was originally a meat goat breed. Although it was originally from Africa like the Nigerian dwarf, the body type between the two goats is very different with pygmies being stockier and Nigerian dwarf being more lean like the standard dairy goats.
How do you choose the best dairy goats?
If you are not looking for the absolute highest producers or absolute highest butterfats or smallest or meatiest goats, then you might just choose another breed, such as the LaMancha because you love the super short ears, or you choose Oberhasli goats because you love the chamoisee coat.
Choosing a good breeder is more important than choosing the “right” breed. In every breed, there are outstanding producers, average producers, and under-performers. Snagging a cheap goat off Craigslist is almost always the shortest road to disappointment.
If your goal is to milk your goats, regardless of which breed you choose, it’s important to buy from someone else who milks their goats. If they are not on official milk test, they should at least be keeping track of their goats’ production so that they can make smart breeding decisions to keep improving their herd.
A good breeder will be able to tell you about what they love about each goat’s mammary system and milk production — and what needs to be improved.
The more you know about the specific genetics of the goats you’re buying, the more likely you’ll wind up with dairy goats that can meet your home dairy goals.
For more tips on buying goats, check out my podcast episode, Buying Goats: Mistakes to Avoid.