Come on, admit it! All the goat breeds are confusing, right? You want some goats. But there are so many different types. How do you choose?
The process of selecting a breed of goat may seem like a daunting task, and that is not a surprise because there are over 200 unique breeds of goats around the globe!
Some goat breeds are not so common, and some are.
For simplicity, I’ll walk you through the different breeds of goats and typical functions of goats that are most popular with today’s goat farmer and hobbyist. After we get done here, you should have a clear understanding of the best breeds for different purposes, and which breed may be ideal for you.
In this article I'm going to show you the 15 Best Breeds of Goats for Milk, Meat, Pets and More.
Let’s talk about the "why" - why you want to purchase goats.
Now, you may have noticed that I said "goats" – in plural, not “a” goat. Goats are social animals, referred to as "herd" animals. They typically don't flourish in a solitary environment.
When you are in the first stages of choosing your own goats, be sure to plan on buying two or more. Keep ‘em happy and healthy. You don’t want a lonely goat on your hands, one that might grieve itself into poor health.
So, now you know you should buy at least two goats. Next, let’s look at the most common functions of the various goat breeds, which are:
As we talk about the breeds, consider the space, facilities, and time you will be allotting to your goats. This helps to break your selection process down into smaller, easier-to-digest pieces.
Goats are social animals. They typically don't flourish in a solitary environment
My suggestion, which is what helped us when we were beginners, is to sit down with pen and paper and list the pros and cons of each goat breed and their specific functions.
I'm going to show you the 15 best breeds, sorted by category.
Let's get started with the first category, and one of the most popular...
Do you have a need, or a desire, for fresh goat milk? Goat milk is known for its incredible health benefits, and it can also become a part of a business through the sale of milk, cheese and even soap.
Dairy goats are prominent in the show ring. In fairgrounds and goat shows, you’ll see barns and show schedules specific to both dairy and meat goats.
When purchasing dairy goats, consider the facilities that you have for milking goats. Do you have a relatively dust free area where you will milk the goats? Do you have time available, many months each year, to milk goats on a set schedule twice a day (optimally)?
As with any breed of goat that will serve a specific purpose, genetics are important. If you want the finest milk goats, or animals that are hardy, animals that produce healthy kids, or good meat production, pay attention to the genetics – consider registered goats that have proven records in production, or in the show ring.
Or if you prefer not to pay the higher cost of registered goats, then at least look closely at your new goat's dam (mother) or sire (father). This gives you a deeper look into the genetics and attributes that might have passed down.
As we dive into each goat breed, keep in mind that genetics, health, and proper feeding and care play directly into hardiness and production of any goat.
(Photo Credit: Jean)
(Photo Credit: Jean)
Medium size goat
(Photo Credit: Kersti Nebelsiek)
(Photo Credit: Efras)
(Photo Credit: Dmitrij Rodionov)
(Photo Credit: Silverije)
(Photo Credit: CapriNew Farm)
Meat goats originated as a breed specifically raised for the supply of meat, which is called chevon, cabrito, or capretto. The focus when raising meat goats is placed on kids and young goats that grow at a rapid rate and swiftly bulk up as they mature. Meat goats are popular due to their hardiness, their income-providing prospects, and they don't require milking to make money. They have also gained popularity as show goats and are known to be a great project for children and clubs like 4-H and FFA. Meat goats are generally docile and quiet, but buyer beware, a full-grown buck (adult male goat) can be a powerful animal – especially when one is in “rut” (breeding season). Let's look at some of the most popular meat goat breeds.
(Photo Credit: Sunnraezplace)
(Photo Credit: LiveStockPedia.com)
(Photo Credit: Redleg)
(Photo Credit: Griffin Sport Horses)
(Photo Credit: Extension.org)
Through the years, people have questioned whether the Spanish meat goat is a “true” non-crossed breed. We don’t have that answer, but we have some breed characteristics to share with you.
Fiber goats are any breed of goat that produces cashmere wool or mohair from their coat. Cashmere and mohair are primarily used in sweaters, scarves, coats and clothing. Mohair is used in floor rugs, carpets, and sometimes doll hair. When you talk about goat breeds, there is not one single breed called the "Cashmere" breed. Instead, cashmere is produced from a number of different breeds around the world which together are referred to as cashmere goats. With mohair, on the other hand, it is primarily produced from Angora goats, as well as Pygora goats (a cross between Angora and Pygmy goats) and Nigora goats (cross between Angora and Nigerian Dwarf). Let's take a look at the key characteristics of the Angora breed.
(Photo Credit: Elena Tartaglione)
Today, we’re ending our list of goat breeds with the Pygmy goat. This breed is classified as a meat goat, but a breed that is typically raised as pets, or show goats, due to their small size.
(Photo Credit: Kevin Payravi)
Now that we’ve covered the characteristics of various dairy and meat goat breeds, lets briefly talk about show goat requirements. Many people ask which breeds are required if you want to show goats. Most officially sanctioned shows require pure-bred goats, but there are shows available for just about every breed. The requirements for shows and show goats vary by breed, dairy or meat, location and type of show (example: 4H or sanctioned goat show).
The basics are:
A “sanctioned” goat show requires that the goat being shown is a recognized breed by the association and is a registered goat. This pertains to both dairy and meat goats. A sanctioned goat show is normally led by a goat association, such as the American Dairy Goat Association, or the American Boer Goat Association. When purchasing your goats, if one of your purposes is to show them, then make sure you select a healthy goat from a solid bloodline, and make sure the goat’s registration papers are given to you at the time of sale. Study the goat association websites to help you understand how to read a pedigree. For example, CH = champion, GCH = grand champion. Know what to look for before the goat breeder shows you a pedigree. Before you purchase any breed of goat, make sure the characteristics of the goat "conforms" to (matches) the required characteristics in the show-ring. Breed standards often include standards for ideal height, bone structure, angularity of legs, udder characteristics, etc. Check out the website for the association that sanctions each particular show and you will find written details covering the exact breed standards for that show. One more important piece to this – buy the healthiest animals possible. Learn what the back, the legs, the stance should look like. Observe how the goat walks. Do they limp, or do they look “off” or ill? Also, you do not want to prepare for a show only to see your goat develop a CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis) lump, or later find out that your goat is CAE (Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis) positive.
A sanctioned goat show requires that the goat being shown is a recognized breed by the association and is a registered goat.
You don’t want these diseases on your farm, and you certainly don’t want them to show up when you’re heading to a show. So, ask the breeder if they have any of these diseases in the herd. Ask what preventative measures have been taken. Some breeders test for these diseases and they will show you the documented results.
Brush Clearing Goats
(Photo Credit: Michael Wagoner)
Some people use goats to clear brush from their property. This is another use of goats where the exact breed doesn't really matter and cross-breeds can be used. You just need to focus on goats that will be hardy enough for free-ranging and can eat a lot. Goats are herbivores. They thrive in conditions where weeds and browse (leaves of trees, shrubs, and vines that have woody stems) are available. Goats have gained notoriety and popularity for their ability to clear brush. Now, here’s an absolute win-win situation: goats are healthier when they browse. This is because they aren’t limited to grazing close to the ground, which subjects them to the ingestion of parasites. The health of a goat flourishes on browse, which is usually higher up on trees and plants.
A sick goat, for example, can also be nursed back to health, when they are provided a diet that contains leaves from trees. Watch a goat in the autumn when the leaves are falling, they are experts at catching leaves as they float to the ground. Watch a goat stand on their hind legs to reach up into a tree. Their body knows what is nutritionally best for them. So, back to the win-win. Place a herd of goats in a contained area of brush that needs to be cleared, and they will quickly and happily clean the area up. No chemicals involved! The goats are healthy, and fire danger is radically diminished. This is a holistic way to save land and lives. What I haven’t mentioned yet is the business aspect of rent-a-goat. Consider renting goats out, for a fee, to clear brush. What goat breed is best for brush clearing? Any breed or cross-breed of a medium to large sized goat is best. Cross bred goats have tendencies to be hardier goats. Also, you don’t want to place your show goats on this mission, and you don’t want your best milk goats out there either --- protect those udders!
(Photo Credit: Cody McComas)
Pack goats are trained to cross the country or to go on hikes with people. These goats carry packs of gear on their backs. Wethers (male goats that are castrated) are often chosen for this role. The reason being that male goats are often larger than female goats, so they withstand the weight of the cargo, yet they are not as large as a buck, and they don't go into "rut" (becoming focused on breeding). Any muscular medium-to-large breed goat can be used as a pack goat. A mixed breed goat, due to its hardiness, serves as the best pack goat.
The pack goat selection also needs to focus on an animal that is docile and easy to train. Dairy breed wethers are an excellent option, as they have longer legs and bigger frames. Also, dairy goats, especially those that were raised as bottle kids, enjoy human connection. They’ve been known to bed down with their people in campsites. You don’t want a smelly buck cuddling up with you on this type of excursion. Today, some goat breeders are geared towards the sole purpose of raising and training pack goats, so you may be able to purchase a “ready-made” trained pack goat if you're interested in this.
Goats are great entertainers. A goat that has been raised to trust humans doesn't run away when a human arrives on site; in fact, they readily buddy-up with people. Try to get a repair job done in a goat barn. Seriously, you might have a few too many helping hands (hooves) at your side. We do recommend that you consider a hardy goat breed, or even a cross-breed, if your goal is to have goats as pets. Consider purchasing a handful of wethers, or a mix of wethers and female goats. If you don't want to breed goats, don't mix bucks with does. Goats are notorious breeders, and before you know it, your new herd can double, and quickly triple in size.
Conclusion – The Final Goat Breed Decision
I've covered a lot of territory here in this mini-class. Get your pen and paper in hand, if you haven’t done so already, and answer the following questions. This should get you started in the right direction.
I have one major wish for you today, and that is for you to enjoy whichever goats you choose. Goats are wonderful animals.
They provide so many benefits for us in life, including nutrition for our families, education for children, physical exercise, and meeting new friends who also work with goats – not to mention the sheer entertainment and joy we get from raising these curious and relatable creatures.
I encourage you to jump in and get started with goats. Enjoy the process. May you have many fulfilling days ahead of you with your new goats.