Breed Profile: French Alpine Goats

France's Top Goat Breed for Milk

Breed Profile: French Alpine Goats
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Breed: French Alpine Goats

Origin: A landrace in the Swiss Alps, this hardy, agile breed adapted well to the rocky, dry landscape, extremes of temperature, and scarcity of vegetation. In the 19th century, these mountain goats were used on steep pastures inaccessible to sheep in the alpine Savoie, France. Nineteen does and three bucks selected from the hundreds that descended from the French Alps for winter were chosen for import into the United States in 1922. The Purebred Alpine goat line in America is descended from these animals.

The History of the French Alpine Goat

History: In France, the chestnut color with black extremities was favored and a herd book was set up in 1930 for Alpine chamoisée. In the 1950s, the plague of foot and mouth devastated local goat populations throughout the center and west of France. The untouched Alpine goat chamoisée stock was bred to replace them. In the 1970s, a rigorous selection program was set up for commercial production of chèvre cheese, focusing on the best goats for milk yield, protein and butterfat content. In addition, udder conformation and casein alpha S1 content are now selected for. Artificial insemination is widely used, sourcing 30-40 sires from 12-14 families. Today it is the most popular milk goat in France.

Chamoisée French Alpine herd in France. Photo credit: Eponimm/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

American Alpine goats developed from crossing the original French lines with common local goats that had originated from Swiss, Spanish and Austrian imports in the 17th century. These crosses were then bred with American or French Alpine goats. Hybrid vigor has produced a larger animal capable of higher yields than the purebred line.

Conservation Status: Least concern. However, efforts to trace back genealogies are required to prevent inbreeding. American Alpine goats enjoy a greater genetic diversity due to crossbreeding with earlier imports.

Breed Characteristics

Standard Description: Medium-sized, slim, fine-boned, graceful but strong, with a short coat, deep chest, straight back, wide hips, straight legs, firmly-attached voluminous udder, forward-pointing parallel teats neatly separated from udder, straight nose, horns and large, erect ears. Wattles are common. Females may have beards, although rarely in commercial herds in France.

Coloring: In France, mainly chamoisée (rich chestnut bay with black dorsal stripe and extremities, normally black belly, face, and boots). This coat is normally associated with Oberhasli in the U.S. Other colors combine brown, black, gray, white and cream. US breed standards reject pure white or Toggenburg coloring. Cou blanc (white neck and forequarters, black hindquarters, black/gray head markings) is a popular color in the U.S. Other colors are also described with names of European origin: cou clair (pale forequarters and dark hindquarters), cou noir (black forequarters and white hindquarters), sundgau (black, with a white belly, legs, and facial stripes) and pied (black or brown spots on white). These colors are still common in the original populations in the Savoie Alps.

Sundgau kids with dams of light and dark Chamoisée coloring.

Weight: Bucks 176-220 pounds (80-100 kg); does 135-155 pounds (50-70 kg).

Height to Withers: Bucks 32-40 in (90-100 cm); does 27-35 in (70-80 cm).

Temperament: Highly social and cohesive, yet aggressively competitive with herd members; friendly with humans; curious, explorative and quick to learn.

French Alpine goat doe in cou blanc coloring popular in America. Photo credit: Lisa of Coming Homes Acres.

Adaptability: French Alpine goats thrive in dry, mountainous terrain and cope with a wide range of temperatures. They are susceptible to internal parasites, foot rot, and respiratory disease if kept in damp conditions. American Alpines are robust and highly adaptable. Kids become fertile at 4-6 months, but females are not ready to gestate until they reach 80 pounds (36 kg) at 7-10 months old. Yields and long-term health are improved by waiting until their second fall to breed.

Popular Use: Dairy; excess males are often slaughtered for meat or byproducts; wethers make great pack goats if trained from early kidhood.

Productivity: French commercial production averages 1953 pounds (886 kg) over 295 days; American Alpine goats average 2266 pounds (1028 kg); butterfat 3.4-3.8%; protein 2.9-3.3%.

Owner Quote: “They milk right off their backs!” says a friend of mine, meaning that no matter how much you feed French Alpine goats, they have a tendency to stay skinny, putting all their energy into milk production. I’ve found they need plenty of slowly digestible carbs and fiber, as well as protein, to keep them in good body condition during lactation.

Sources: Capgènes, Idèle, l’Association de Sauvegarde de la Chèvre des Savoie, Alpines International Club, American Goat Society, PennState Extension.

French Alpine goats in the United States
4 thoughts on “Breed Profile: French Alpine Goats”
    1. Hi. It’s a good idea first to check that this breed is well adapted to your climate and the kind of farming you plan to do. These goats are great in hot and cold dry climates, but are susceptible to disease and parasites in damp regions. The high yield of milk that they produce does not come without cost – they need high inputs of good quality feed and vigilant care. They are highly social but also competitive, so they need accommodation that gives them plenty of space to avoid aggression, plus either feed racks widely spaced, or head-locks that trap them in the trough until all animals have finished eating (to avoid aggression over feed). If you have a breeder locally, that would be the best place to start. If a breed is established in an area, its herd-members are likely to be better adjusted to local conditions. Imported animals are not resistant to local diseases and may not perform as well as in their own native area (in this case, the Alps of southern France and Switzerland). If you don’t live in southern France and there is no long established herd in the area, you might find you are better off developing a local breed to enhance the traits you are looking for. In these days, health, disease-resistance, resilience, adaptability, and genetic diversity are becoming increasingly important and must moderate high yield.

  1. Hi,
    Your useful information is highly appreciated. Please advise us from where I can import around hundred heads to my country ( Kurdistan).

    Your help will be appreciated

    1. Hi Walid Ezzat. Unfortunately, I do not know of breeders who export. Perhaps one place to start enquiries would be Capgenes in France, who are in charge of the genetic program: However, I would warn that imported goats will not have the resistance to local diseases and adaptation to your local climate and management systems that your local goats possess. Therefore you may see a disappointing drop in performance in imported goats, especially long term. This breed is also high input, being developed for a European commercial system. Another reason why it may not perform well in a different environment. If you already have a dairy goat in Kurdistan, you may find that these perform better in the long run on local resources.

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