Breed Profile: Toggenburg Goat
A Swiss Goat of Worldwide Dairy Fame
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Breed: The Toggenburg goat is one of six major dairy goat breeds in the U.S. and has international recognition.
Origin: In the Toggenburg region of St. Gallen, Switzerland, in the valley of the jagged Churfirsten mountains, the local goats had shaggy dark coats, often with white patches. In the nineteenth century, interest in defining regional breeds led to selection for color and markings. Local goats are thought to have been crossed with the neighboring white Appenzell and bay/black Chamois-colored goats. By 1890, the Toggenburg breed was recognized and a herdbook opened. Color, markings, conformation, and polled traits were further selected during the twentieth century to produce the distinctive appearance we know today.
Alpine farmers keep small herds to graze with their cows for pasture maintenance, as they eat many plants ignored by cattle. Goats also spend the summer foraging in the Alps to maintain the landscape.
How a Swiss Goat from Toggenburg Became an International Standard
History: The breed became popular due to strong limbs, well-formed udder and teats, and engaging nature. It spread throughout Switzerland and to other European countries and abroad, becoming an international dairy breed. Several imports into Britain during the late nineteenth century established Toggenburg as the first breed to have its own section of the herdbook in 1905. Herdbooks have been established in several countries, such as Belgium, Austria, Australia, South Africa, and Canada. Toggenburg exports have also formed the basis of other national breeds, such as the British Toggenburg, Dutch Toggenburg, and the Thuringian Forest goat in Germany.
In the United States, selective breeding for dairy started in 1879, using the descendants of animals brought over by settlers. Breeders wishing to enter their animals into the St. Louis World’s Fair (1904) required verifiable registrations, leading to imports of already established breeds. The first improved dairy goats were imported from England in 1893 by William A. Shafor. He became the secretary, and later president, of the American Milch Goat Record Association (AMGRA, which later became the ADGA). This first import was of four purebred Toggenburgs, whose offspring became the first entry registered in the AMGRA herdbook in 1904. Then, sixteen Toggenburgs were imported from Switzerland in 1904 (together with ten Saanens) for four buyers. One was the young William J. Cohill from Maryland, who exhibited his goats at the St. Louis event as the only dairy goat entry.
A Popular and Worthy Dairy Goat Breed
Conservation Status: Swiss goats suffered a population decline during the twentieth century, resulting in endangered status. The FAO lists Toggenburgs as vulnerable in Switzerland, although not at risk worldwide. In 2020, 3120 females and 183 males were registered in Switzerland, but nationwide population estimates are up to 6500. The U.S. has at least 2000 registered.
Biodiversity: Before the establishment of herdbooks in Switzerland, neighboring landraces would frequently interbreed, leading to a wide common gene pool between Swiss breeds. However, genetic analysis has revealed a clearly defined gene pool for Toggenburg and a low rate of inbreeding within Switzerland. Exported populations are more prone to inbreeding: the U.S. average inbreeding coefficient was 12% by 2013, which is the equivalent of first cousins.
Toggenburg Goat Size and Characteristics
Description: Toggenburgs are smaller than most dairy breeds, sturdily built with strong legs and an elongated body. The forehead is wide, muzzle broad, and facial profile straight or slightly dished. Polled individuals are common; otherwise horns curve upwards and backwards. Both sexes have beards, wattles are common, and ears are erect. The udder has excellent conformation, being well-attached and compact, with correct teats. The coat is smooth, short to medium in length, with a longer, paler fringe along the back and hindquarters. Short-haired types are more common in the U.S.
Coloring: Light fawn or mouse gray to dark chocolate; white lower limbs, ears, root of wattles, and facial stripes from the base of horns to the muzzle; white triangle either side of the tail.
Height to Withers: Bucks 28–33 in. (70–85 cm); does 26–30 in. (66–75 cm).
Weight: Does from 120 lb. (55 kg); bucks 150 lb. (68 kg).
Sturdy Milker and Delightful Companion
Popular Use: Commercial and homestead dairy and pets.
Productivity: In Switzerland, yearly averages are 1713 lb. (777 kg) over 268 days with 3.5% fat and 2.5% protein. ADGA averages for 2019 are 2237 lb. (1015 kg) with 3.1% fat and 2.9% protein. Annual yield can range between 1090 lb. (495 kg) and 3840 lb. (1742 kg). The low fat percentage does not give high yields of cheese. However, some producers claim strong and distinctive flavors, which can help improve cheese character. Flavor is variable and greatly influenced by diet.
Temperament: Their bold, lively, and curious nature makes them good pets and homestead milkers. They have little fear of other animals and prefer living in small groups.
Adaptability: They are widely adaptable, but prefer cooler conditions. Milk yield and flavor is better if they can range extensively on a variety of forage.
- Porter, V., Alderson, L., Hall, S.J. and Sponenberg, D.P., 2016. Mason’s World Encyclopedia of Livestock Breeds and Breeding. CABI.
- British Goat Society
- Swiss Goat Breeding Association (SZZV)
- Glowatzki-Mullis, M.L., Muntwyler, J., Bäumle, E. and Gaillard, C., 2008. Genetic diversity measures of Swiss goat breeds as decision-making support for conservation policy. Small Ruminant Research, 74(1-3), 202-211.
- Weiss, U. 2004. Schweizer Ziegen. Birken Halde Verlag, via German Wikipedia.
- Lead photo by Angela Newman on Unsplash.
Originally published in the May/June 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.