Selecting the Best Dairy Goat Breeds
What breed produces the best tasting goat milk?
Reading Time: 4 minutes
If you’ve considered getting goats for milk production, you’ve undoubtedly asked yourself, “What are the best dairy goat breeds?” This is certainly a subjective question and depends in large part on what you are looking for. Do the best goats for milk produce the best tasting milk to drink? The most prolific milk producers? The best milk for cheesemaking? A breed that does well in small spaces or under certain climate extremes? A breed that’s compatible with children, other livestock, or neighborhood considerations? These are just a few of the factors that might influence your final choice as you decide which is the best dairy goat breed for you.
Just as taste for art is in the eye of the beholder, taste for milk is in the mouth of the taster! We don’t all experience taste the same so opinions about which breed’s milk tastes the best can vary wildly. Plus, breed is only one of the factors that influences how milk will taste. Here are some of the other factors influencing taste:
- What the goat is eating: A sweeter diet = sweeter milk (such as sweet feeds, alfalfa, etc.). Grass-fed goats will produce a more earthy, mineral-rich flavor. Onions will make milk taste…oniony!
- Where the goat is in her lactation cycle: Milk at the beginning of the season is richest in flavor, becomes more mild during the midseason, and late season milk gets much stronger in taste.
- Proximity to bucks during breeding season: Stinky boys too close = stinky milk!
And even in a herd of one breed of goats where these things are consistent, individual does may have different flavors and components to their milk. So, here are some general traits attributed to different breeds that you may wish to consider:
- Nubians and Nigerian Dwarfs typically have the mildest, sweetest and highest butterfat milk, with Nigerians being the highest in fat and sweetest of all.
- Swiss breeds such as Toggenburgs, Saanens, and Alpines typically have lower butterfat milks that tend to be a bit more “goaty” or musky.
- The milk of LaManchas and Oberhaslis may fall somewhere in between these two generalizations.
If quantity is more important to you than taste and butterfat content, the best dairy goat breed for you may hinge on this factor. If you want the highest milk production, one of the larger Swiss breeds like Alpine or Saanen may be your best bet, with Nubians coming in close behind. But if you only want a little bit of milk for a small family, you might like the other end of the spectrum and opt for the Nigerian Dwarf, or a cross between a larger breed and a dwarf. Much like taste and temperament, the production can vary widely between does of the same breed, and other factors can also affect quantity. For instance, a first freshener is not going to produce nearly as much as she will in subsequent years. A doe that has had a single kid will likely produce less than one that has had triplets (fewer mouths to feed means lower milk production). And how recently the doe kidded will also affect her production – a doe will usually be in peak production the first few months after kidding. You can boost milk production by milking more frequently (or allowing kids to nurse full time, but in this case, they are getting the milk and not you)! The quantity and quality of feed and alfalfa/hay the doe is eating will also have a big impact on production as well as the genetics of your doe.
Space and Climate Concerns
For many hobby goat farmers, space limitations may determine what the best dairy goat breed is. If you have a very small property, you may wish to consider a miniature breed such as the Nigerian Dwarf or a cross between a Nigerian and a larger breed. Many urban areas are beginning to allow families to have a few goats in their backyards and most of the time only miniature breeds are allowed in these settings.
You may also live in an area with extreme climate concerns. If it’s very cold much of the time, you’ll want a breed that is cold hardy such as the Alpine, Toggenburg or Nigerian Dwarf. If you live in an area that tends to be more on the hot side, Nubians may be a good choice for you. But no matter what breed you end up with, good housing that will provide shelter from extremes and from wind and moisture is still essential.
Kids with Kids
If you are getting goats for your kids and want them to be able to handle them safely and effectively, you might consider some of the smaller, gentler breeds. Nigerian Dwarfs are by far the most popular “pet” goat but Oberhaslis, which tend to be a bit smaller and generally very docile, might also be a good choice. If you love the long ears of the Nubian but don’t want a full-sized goat, you might consider a Mini Nubian, a cross between a Nigerian buck and a Nubian doe. (Note: it will take several generations of this cross before you will get those long ears in a smaller goat – the first generation or two will have “airplane” ears).
Figuring out what the best dairy goat breed is going to be for you may take some exploring, researching, and prioritizing. And since genetics are so important in how traits are passed down from one generation to the next, it’s helpful if you can get an idea of how the dam and her dam have performed on the factors that are most important to you.