The French Alpine originated thousands of years ago as the direct descendant of the Pashang of Persia, one of the earliest goats to be domesticated. The Pashang traveled to the Alps with the original settlers of this rugged region, and here it adapted to new conditions.
For millennia the goats of the Alps developed as a landrace, the harsh, unforgiving environment having the first choice and final say in what goats would produce the next generation. To survive in the Alps, a goat had to thrive under wild swings of temperature and had to be able to find sparse vegetation on the dry, rocky inclines—and then use it efficiently. Above all, it had to have a sure footing and well-developed sense of balance. This is not to say that human selection did not play a role. On the contrary, goatherds depended on their animals for their own living, so they selected for milk production. It is believed that they may have bred for favorite colors, as well. Ultimately, however, neither characteristic could come at the expense of survival traits.
It was not until the 1900s that the goats of the Alpines began to develop into a breed in the usual sense of the term. Early in the century, the Alpine found its way into many French dairy herds, and thus entered a new phase of development under the guidance of man. Size, uniformity, and milk production were emphasized at this time.
The French Alpine first came to the United States in late 1922, when Dr. Charles P. Delangle imported a herd. With the assistance of his friend Joseph Crepin, France’s top expert on goat husbandry in that day, Delangle picked 19 does and three bucks from the herds coming down from the Alps for the winter. These were shipped to his home in California.
Unfortunately, they were not destined to remain in Delangle’s care for long. Delangle was constantly in disputes with other goatkeepers, culminating in his expulsion from the American Milk Goat Record Association in 1923. Disgusted and in poor health, Delangle dispersed his entire herd. While a misfortune for him, this event was probably a great boon to the breed, as it began the spread of the French Alpine across the country.
Today, the French Alpine is considered an important commercial dairy breed around the world. It is also quite popular across the United States, especially in a crossbred form, known as the American Alpine.
The French Alpine is bred exclusively for dairy purposes. Although it can be kept for homestead milk production, it has been selected for high yields, making it suited for a commercial enterprise.
Excess males are typically raised for meat, but if castrated they can be trained as pack animals.
The French Alpine is both docile and strong-willed, a mixture that often delights its owners. It is friendly and affectionate, making it very rewarding to work with. However, it is also a challenge—the French Alpine has a keen mind and an insatiable curiosity, making it hard to contain. It is not suited to tight confinement, as it will quickly grow bored.
This breed is known for its complex social behavior. While it forms strong bonds with other herd members, it is also aggressive and competitive. Pecking order squabbles are frequent.
Keeping French Alpine goats healthy requires some care and consideration, but is not an insurmountable difficulty. The first thing to note is the breed’s high nutrient requirements. The French Alpine is a high-octane milk producer, which means that it will require ample feed to avoid losing body condition. A diet high in protein and complex carbohydrates is recommended.
Care is also required when breeding French Alpines. Does are technically able to conceive as early as four months of age. However, they are not finished growing by this time, so the additional strain of pregnancy and caring for kids can break down their health. Does of this breed will have much longer, healthier, more productive lives if they are not bred for the first time until their second fall.
Also, be careful with the choice of a buck for your doe. All French Alpines in America trace back to Delangle’s herd of 22, making inbreeding a constant concern with this breed. Keep tabs on the inbreeding coefficients produced by any proposed mating, and always keep track of pedigrees. This is time-consuming work, but is necessary for the genetic health of the breed.
Finally, note that French Alpines simply are not suited to wet climates. When kept in damp areas, they are prone to internal parasites, foot rot, and respiratory ailments. Those in humid regions should consider a different breed.
- Adaptability to all but wet climates.
- Early maturity.
- Well-built udders.
- Long lactations, lasting up to two years.
- Excellent milk production, the highest annual average of any goat breed.
- Personality unsuited for confinement.
- Ability as an escape artist.
- Unsuitability for wet climates.
- High feed requirements.
- Challenge of avoiding inbreeding.