Another 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.
- 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.