Breed Profile: Oberhasli Goat

Swiss Alpine Dairy Goats Descended From Mountain Landrace

Breed Profile: Oberhasli Goat

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Breed: Oberhasli goat, Oberhasli-Brienzer, or Chamois-colored goat; formerly known as Swiss Alpine.

Origin: Oberhasli goats are indigenous to the mountains of northern and central Switzerland, where they have been developed for dairy and are simply referred to as chamois-colored goats. On the eastern side (Graubünden), they normally bear horns, while those around Brienz and Bern are naturally polled and are called Oberhasli-Brienzer. From the latter are descended the American line. Around Bern, the goats were traditionally used for home production, while in Graubünden they accompanied semi-nomadic farm workers as a mobile milk supply.

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Oberhasli Goat History and Gene Pool

History: In 1906 and 1920 Swiss chamois-colored goats were imported into the United States and were bred with American and French Alpine goats for hybrid vigor, firmly establishing the American Alpine breed. None of the Swiss lines were kept pure or recognized as a separate breed in Alpine herdbooks. In 1936, five chamois-colored goats from Bernese Highlands were imported. They did not yet gain their own herdbook, but remained registered with other Alpines with which they interbred. However, three enthusiasts aimed to keep their lines pure and founded the Oberhasli Breeders of America (OBA) in 1977. The ADGA recognized the Oberhasli goat breed in 1979. They set up its own herdbook, transferring correctly-typed descendants of the original imports from the Alpine goat register. Meanwhile in Europe, Switzerland set up its herdbook in 1930, and Italy in 1973.

Chamois-colored doe by Baph/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0*.

Conservation Status: At risk, according to DAD-IS (FAO Domestic Animal Diversity Information System), and recovering, according to The Livestock Conservancy. In 1990, there were only 821 registered in the United States, but this increased to 1729 by 2010. In Europe, Switzerland registered 9320 head, Italy 6237, and Austria approximately 3000 in 2012/2013.

Biodiversity: Initially poor in purebred herds in the United States, due to descendance from only five does. However, interbreeding with chamoisée Alpines has enriched the gene pool. All Alpine goats, even those of French origin, have descended from Swiss Alpine landrace goats, as have Oberhasli goats. During their early American history, Swiss Alpines were frequently interbred with Alpines of different origin. This practice injected hybrid vigor into the American Alpine goats’ gene pool. Greater genetic variety is available in the original populations in Switzerland.

Chamois-colored does in Swiss Mountains by Baph/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0*.

Characteristics of the Oberhasli Goat

Standard Description: Medium size, deep chest, straight or dished face with erect ears. In the American ideal, the face is shorter and wider than other Alpines, with smaller ears, wider body and shorter legs. Original Bernese Oberhasli goats were polled and such lines are still popular. Horned goats originate from Graubünden or French Alpine populations. Goat wattles are common. Only bucks have beards.

Coloring: Chamoisée (light to deep-red bay with black belly, boots, forehead, dorsal and facial stripes, and black/gray udder). Females may be solid black. Bucks have black faces and beards, with black markings over shoulders, lower chest, and back.

Oberhasli goat kid by Jill/flickr CC BY 2.0*.

Height to withers: Bucks 30–34 inches; (75–85 cm); does 28–32 inches (70–80 cm).

Weight: Bucks 150 pounds (65–75 kg in Europe); does 120 pounds (45–55 kg in Europe).

Temperament: Friendly, gentle, quiet, alert, bold, and often competitive with herd-mates.

Popular Use: Females are bred for dairy production. In Italy, they are popular for fresh milk, cheese, yogurt and ricotta. Wethers make good pack goats as they are strong and calm. With appropriate training, they adapt well to exploring unknown areas and crossing water.

Productivity: Average milk yield is 1650 pounds/750 kg (in Italy 880 pounds/400 kg) over 265 days. The OBA has recorded higher yields. Butterfat averages 3.4 percent and protein 2.9 percent. The milk has a fine, sweet flavor.

Adaptability: The ancestors of the Oberhasli goat were the landrace of the Swiss Alps, so they are well suited to dry mountainous areas and can withstand hot and cold temperatures. Goats of Alpine origin are less suited to damp climates, where they are prone to internal parasite infection and respiratory disease. As numbers have increased in the United States, breeders have been able to select for stronger and hardier animals and robustness has improved.

Oberhasli goat kid by Jill/flickr CC BY 2.0*.

In Switzerland, the Oberhasli goat is known for its ability to adapt milk production to the prevailing climate. When conditions are harsh in the Swiss mountains, the Oberhasli goat is able to sustain lactation while maintaining health and vigor. This is in contrast to other popular Swiss breeds, such as the Saanen goat and Toggenburg goat. These high-yield goats may be prized as the best goats for milk, but in substandard conditions they prioritize production to the detriment of health maintenance.

It isn’t really the Oberhasli goat breed if the nose is convex (Roman). However, a few white hairs in the coat are permitted.

Sources: Oberhasli Breeders of America, The Livestock Conservancy, Schweizer Ziegenzuchtverbands, Schweizer Ziegen by Urs Weiss (as referenced in Gemsfarbige Gebirgsziege on Wikipedia).

Lead photo by: Jean/flickr CC BY 2.0*.

*Creative Commons licenses: CC BY 2.0; CC BY-SA 3.0

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