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SaanenAnother traditional dairy breed of the Swiss mountains, the Saanen (pronounced SAW-nen) takes its name from its native Saane Valley located in the canton of Bern. It was in this region that the Saanen was bred to produce milk in abundance on the summer mountain pastures of Switzerland. However, it is interesting to note that the Swiss did not select exclusively for production or for hardiness—they also bred for the hallmark white coat.

The Saanen began to spread throughout Europe in the 1890s, quickly earning for itself a good reputation as a dairy animal. Its rapidly growing international fame brought it to American attention, as well. The first Saanen set foot in the United States in 1904, and around 160 others followed over the next two decades.

Unfortunately, the early American importers were not overly particular as to quality of the goats they purchased. Out of the original 160, only about 30 were physically sound. The descendants of these 30 were largely the genetic basis of the American Saanen population, but more trouble was soon to follow.

During the Great Depression, many goat keepers were forced to drastically reduce their herds. While some managed to hold onto a few goats, this nationwide disaster hit rare breeds, such as the Saanen, the hardest. Inbreeding crept in as numbers dropped.

Once the economic hardships passed, however, Americans turned back to European genetics to revive the breed. Saanen bucks were imported via Canada and worked wonders on the breed’s productivity and physical structure. This marked improvement was probably the cause of the rapid expansion of the Saanen in numbers and popularity, across both the nation and the world.



The Saanen is frequently referred to as the Holstein of the goat world, making it well suited to commercial dairying, or perhaps an ambitious homestead with a way to use, sell, or otherwise dispose of all that milk.

Surplus wethers make satisfactory meat goats, or they can be trained to pull carts and carry packs.



Compared to other goats, the Saanen is remarkably quiet and laid-back. It takes to routine very readily, and there isn’t much that can get under its skin—even close confinement. It seems to have less capacity for boredom than many breeds, and it will not try to scale the fences looking for entertainment (although it may tunnel out if presented with an opportunity).

The Saanen loves its people and makes a truly sweet companion. Combine this with its calm, even temperament, and you have a goat that will cause little trouble when being handled.



The Saanen is typically hardy and healthy. However, it is a high-production dairy breed best suited to intensive management, and it is not immune to breakdowns when its needs are not taken into consideration. Close attention to a diet that can compensate for abundant milk production is a must.

Also, the Saanen is prone to sunburn and skin cancer if not provided with shade. This is not a problem with Saanen goats with colored hair, referred to as sables. But even sables still need shelter to avoid the rain.



  • Superb disposition.
  • Suitability for confinement.
  • Adaptability to cool climates.
  • Disease resistance.
  • Hardiness under proper management.
  • Longevity.
  • High frequency of twins.
  • High levels of milk production.
  • Quality meat.
  • Strength as a pack animal.



  • Tendency to burrow under fences.
  • Susceptibility to sunburn.
  • High nutritional requirements.
  • Low butterfat content of milk.


Complete Series

Goat BreedsGoat Breeds


Parts of a Grass Plant: A Glossary

Parts of a Grass Plant: A GlossaryHow well do you know your grass anatomy? You can probably identify a blade, a root, and maybe even an awn (ouch!), but how about a culm, a rachilla, or a panicle?

Below are some of the grass-related words that you probably don’t use in everyday conversation:


  • Auricle: An earlike appendage at the junction of the blade and the sheath, not present in many species.
  • Axil: An angle formed between any two plant parts, but particularly between the culm and the upper surface of the leaf.
  • Collar: The outer surface of the leaf at the point where the sheath and blade join.
  • Corm: A short, swollen, bulblike stem that grows vertically underground. The corm stores nutrition in case of adverse conditions such as winter or drought.
  • Crown: The growing point near the base of the grass plant, where the shoot system joins the root system.
  • Culm: The stem.
  • Decumbent: Lying flat on the ground with the tip turned upward.
  • Dioecious: A species in which male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are found on separate plants.
  • Endophyte: A plant, such as a fungus, living within the cells of another plant.
  • Floret: The flowering, seed-bearing part of a grass plant, located on the rachilla just above the glumes.
  • Glabrous: Hairless.
  • Glumes: The lowermost bracts or scales on the rachilla; the glumes contain no reproductive parts and serve a protective role.
  • Inflorescence: The flowering part of the plant; on grasses, this is what we commonly think of as the seed head.
  • Internodes: The part of the culm between two nodes.
  • Parts of a Grass Plant: A GlossaryLemma: The lowermost of the two chaff-like bracts enclosing the floret. In some species, the lemma bears the pointed appendage known as the awn.
  • Ligule: A thin membrane or row of hairs inside the leaf blade where it joins the sheath. The ligule prevents water from running into the sheath.
  • Meristem: The area of cell division and growth. On a grass plant, this area is located at the junction of the leaf blade with the sheath.
  • Monecious: A species in which male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are found on the same plant, but in different locations.
  • Node: A joint along the culm; leaves can grow at nodes.
  • Palea: The uppermost of the two chaff-like bracts enclosing the floret.
  • Panicle: An open, branching inflorescence with the lower branches longer than the upper ones and the flowers on stalks.
  • Pedicel: The stem supporting the spikelet.
  • Peduncle: The stem supporting the inflorescence.
  • Perfect: Of a flower, having both functional stamens and pistils.
  • Pubescence: A coating of hairs.
  • Raceme: A type of unbranched inflorescence in which the spikelets are connected to the stem by pedicels.
  • Rachilla: The central axis of a spikelet.
  • Rachis: The central axis of an inflorescence.
  • Rhizome: A runner or stem growing horizontally below the ground; a rhizome can produce new leaves and roots at nodes.
  • Sessile: Directly attached, versus on a stalk.
  • Sheath: The lower portion of a grass leaf; the part that wraps around the culm.
  • Spike: An unbranched inflorescence with stalkless flowers.
  • Spikelet: The unit that makes up the inflorescence, consisting of two glumes and one or more florets.
  • Stolon: A runner or stem growing horizontally along the surface of the ground; a stolon can produce new leaves and roots at nodes.
  • Tiller: A shoot. Tiller can also be used as a verb to describe the production of such shoots.


Helpful Resources

Forage and Pasture Plant Identification
Excellent resource with plenty of diagrams and illustrative photos.

Parts of Grass Spikelet
Includes a very helpful photo of a dissected spikelet.

Dear Readers and Riders

Dear Readers and RidersHave you ever wondered about the true stories behind Marguerite Henry’s books? If so, you may find the answers to your questions in Dear Readers and Riders.

In this book, Henry has answered many of the questions that her readers asked her in writing again and again. She has explained the facts, events, and characters surrounding such books as:

  • Misty of Chincoteague.
  • Stormy, Misty’s Foal.
  • Justin Morgan Had a Horse.
  • Brighty of the Grand Canyon.
  • Born to Trot.
  • Cinnabar, the One O’Clock Fox.
  • Five O’Clock Charlie.
  • Black Gold.
  • And others!

This is an excellent way to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the books, as Henry explains her extensive researches and her interviews with beloved characters. (You have to chuckle when Wesley Dennis compels the real-life Grandpa Beebe to shave his whiskers outdoors for an illustration!)

While most of the chapters are specific to Henry’s wonderful stories, a few involve her daily life and her thoughts on writing and being an author. She has also answered a few questions on keeping horses and other pets.

This book is out of print and can be pricey, so see if your library can get a copy. For dyed-in-the-wool Marguerite Henry fans, young and old, it’s a must!


PygmyThe Pygmy goat shares much of its early heritage in common with the Nigerian Dwarf breed. It originated as a landrace in Africa centuries ago, arrived in Great Britain during the days of imperial expansion, and quickly became popular in Europe as a zoo exhibit.

Miniature goats were noted to have varying types in those days. After surplus goats from zoos were dispersed to private owners, selection began to fix and enhance preferred characteristics. One version had dairy potential and proportions similar to those of standard breeds; this went on to become the Nigerian Dwarf. The other version was absurdly stocky for its size, with large bones and heavy muscling. This goat became the basis of the Pygmy breed.

At first, Pygmy goat prices were ridiculously high as the breed became something of a fad among owners of exotic pets. However, this very popularity ensured that in short order the supply would exceed the demand. Prices fell accordingly.

The Pygmy goat is still popular around the world, however, with pet owners and homesteaders alike.



Many Pygmy goats today are primarily kept as companion animals, either for people or for lonely horses. Likewise, they are a common choice as children’s show goats and as petting zoo exhibits.

With the rise in popularity of homesteading, it was quickly found that Pygmy goats were versatile working animals, as well. Their muscular physique makes them suitable for home meat production, and they also excel in the weed-eating department. While they are efficient milkers for their size and can make good homestead dairy animals, milking a Pygmy goat is a task that requires some patience due to their tiny udders.




The Pygmy goat fairly bursts at the seams with personality. It is always busy, playful, and eager to jump and climb. It will try to scale anything that its little legs are equal to. Some type of goat playground equipment is a must for this breed, or it will quickly grow bored.

But its intelligence, combined with its docility and desire to please, make the Pygmy goat easy to train. With plenty of positive reinforcement, it will readily pick up most standard dog tricks, such as stay, shake hands, walk on a leash, and jump through a hoop. Just one word of warning—if you feed your Pygmy goat treats, be prepared to have a perpetual (and vocal) shadow on your heels!

Since you will not be able to stay outdoors and provide for all of your Pygmy goat’s extensive social needs, give it a companion. This does not have to be another goat. Most Pygmies are quite content around sheep and horses.

Remember that Pygmy bucks are still bucks. They will fight with other bucks for dominance, although they rarely hurt each other. They typically do not attack people, but it is always best to be alert around Pygmy bucks, just in case, as their horns can inflict painful injuries.



The Pygmy is an exceptionally healthy, hardy breed. In its native home, it was naturally immune to the tse-tse fly. While that is not something most American homesteaders will have to worry about, we can readily appreciate the sound health behind that immunity. In our country, it translates into resistance to mange and mastitis, two common problems in dairy goats.

However, please be aware that your Pygmy goat will thrive best when provided with a simple shelter so that it can escape the rain. Make this structure even better by providing benches inside so that the goats can sleep out of the mud.

Note that Pygmy does are capable of conceiving as early as two months of age, before their bodies are ready for the strain of pregnancy and delivery. To avoid injuries and difficult births, wait until your doe is about eight months old—perhaps older depending on her size and physical condition. Always wean doe and buck kids separately to avoid accidents.



  • Affordability.
  • Suitability for small acreages.
  • Ease of handling and transportation.
  • Adaptability to most climates.
  • Minimal feed requirements.
  • Willingness to eat weeds and other undesirable plants.
  • Disease resistance.
  • Early maturity.
  • Longevity.
  • Ability to breed year-round.
  • Tendency to have three to four kids at a time.
  • High milk production relative to size (about half a gallon a day).
  • Very high butterfat content.
  • Milk exceptionally high in a variety of minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.
  • Long shelf life of milk.



  • Vocal tendencies.
  • Tendency to grow bored without something to play with.
  • Ability as an escape artist.
  • Short lactations (four to six months).
  • Small, hard-to-milk teats.


Complete Series

Goat BreedsGoat Breeds



WunderMapAs wet weather sets in, it’s handy to have access to tools for tracking rapidly changing weather conditions. One resource we’ve made good use of is the WunderMap from Weather Underground.

The WunderMap is an impressive compilation of data from the National Weather Service, trained spotters, law enforcement officials, and citizen scientists. With the click of a checkbox, you can view:

  • Temperature, wind, and precipitation data from weather stations.
  • Live radar and satellite images.
  • Current warnings, watches, and advisories.
  • Webcams.
  • Front types and locations.
  • Data from the GFS and ECMWF models.
  • Locations and timings of positive and negative lightning.
  • Major active fires.
  • Reports of severe weather such as ice, flooding, and hail.
  • Tornado strength.

This one is great for weather enthusiasts of all levels. If all you need to do is loop the radar, it’s easy. But if you are eager to try your hand at some amateur forecasting for your own personal benefit, you have some good tools at your disposal.