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. Read More
The Oberhasli of Switzerland has long been known for three things—its distinctive color pattern, its milk production, and its antiquity. This latter trait, in fact, has largely obscured its history. By the time it was first registered in Switzerland, it was already an old breed. Read More
The Nubian goat is typically thought of as an African breed. In reality, it traces back to late 1800s England. As the British Empire expanded to new regions, ships brought back native bucks from many environments. Many of these bucks were large, hardy animals that promised to improve British dairy goats. In particular, bucks from Egypt, Arabia, and India were favored. Read More
Goats of dwarfish proportions were once widespread across much of Africa, their historic home being a large swath stretching from the Atlantic coast inland as far as modern Sudan and almost spanning from 20°N to 20°S latitude. These miniature goats varied by region, some being stocky, cobby little animals and others proportioned like true dairy goats. Read More
As its name suggests, the LaMancha does have ancestors from Spain, but it was developed entirely in the United States. Its story begins with the arrival of the conquistadors. The conquistadors and the missionaries who accompanied them always brought along livestock for food. Goats were usually among the herds and flocks, thanks to their versatility; they could provide both milk and meat on long journeys or at isolated missions. Read More
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.
Cashmere—a word that has denoted luxury and comfort since the most ancient times. Perhaps the oldest reference to this fine fiber is in Exodus 25:4, where God requests offerings of goats’ hair (also known as cashmere) to build the tabernacle. The cashmere was subsequently used to make curtains (Exodus 36:14).
While any goat except the fleecy Angora can technically produce cashmere, some goats have been bred specifically for the purpose and excel in both the quantity and the quality of their fiber. Goats raised for cashmere originally came from Tibet, not from their namesake region of Kashmir in northern India. Kashmir was where cashmere was woven into fabric until the late 1800s, when Scottish manufacturer Joseph Dawson perfected a machine to separate the soft undercoat from the undesirably coarse guard hairs. This shifted the center of cashmere manufacture to Scotland and began a rage for all things cashmere.
In America, Cashmere and Angora goats were frequently confused at first. In fact, a Tibetan Cashmere doe may have been part of Dr. James B. Davis’s purebred Angora flock, imported in 1849. The modern-day Cashmere population of America is of more recent origins, however.
In the 1970s, scientists in Australia established a breeding program to develop the perfect cashmere-producing goat based on feral goats roaming the continent. Their results were outstanding, and it was not long before Americans were inspired to enter the cashmere industry. Cashmere goats were subsequently imported from Australia and New Zealand in the late 1980s. This foundation was expanded with the influence of the Spanish meat goats common in the Desert Southwest and carefully selected for quality fiber.
Because of this mixed background, the American Cashmere population is not typically considered a true breed. However, it is a distinct type from the other goats found in North America, being uniquely suited to the production of soft, fine fiber. Both the Cashmere goat and the cashmere industry are new to the United States with a future yet to be determined, but they show great promise for niche marketers.
The primary use of the Cashmere goat is the production of the prized cashmere fiber. This comes from the goat’s soft undercoat and can be obtained either by shearing or by combing as the goat sheds. White fiber is preferred commercially, but there is a growing niche market for colored fiber for hand spinning.
Thanks to their relation to Spanish meat goats, Cashmere goats in America can also be raised for meat. This option is primarily pursued as a way of adding value to animals culled for low-quality fiber.
And, of course, the weed-eating abilities of these goats should not be overlooked, either.
The Cashmere goat, being a close relative of feral goats, tends to be keen and wary and may resist human handling. However, it is otherwise quite calm and manageable, not displaying the fence-jumping tendencies seen in many other breeds. Practically speaking, this means that any fence sufficient for sheep will contain a Cashmere goat.
Also in keeping with its feral background, the Cashmere doe bonds with her kids quite readily and makes a good mother.
The Cashmere goat is very healthy and requires only basic common-sense care to stay in good condition. As a matter of fact, the more naturally this type of goat is raised, the better the quality of its fleece. So let it browse to its heart’s content—it doesn’t need special feed, it just needs to be allowed to be a goat.
Likewise, the Cashmere goat does not need to live in a tight barn. A simple field shelter is quite sufficient. Note, however, that some shelter is definitely required. Cashmere goats need to be able to get out of the rain to stay healthy, avoiding hoof problems and internal parasites. A shelter will also protect very young kids from cold winds.
Cashmere goats are traditionally not dehorned. Not only do their horns provide a good grip for ease of handling, they may play a role in heat dissipation in the summer.
- Respect of good fences.
- Ability to survive with minimal shelter.
- Ability to thrive entirely on natural forage.
- Adaptability to most climates.
- Exceptional kidding ease.
- Good mothering ability.
- High-value fiber.
- Warmth, comfort, and durability of fiber.
- Rapid weight gain.
- Dislike of being handled.
- Tendency to shed valuable undercoat.
Boer is an Afrikaans words meaning “farmer,” which sums up the history of the Boer goat (literally, “farmer’s goat”) nicely. From the breed’s origins in South Africa in the early 1900s, the Boer has been the choice of enterprising farmers wherever it has traveled.
The Boer was bred solely for meat production right from the beginning. Its ancestors were varied, including native goats from several African tribes and possibly influenced by some genetics from Europe and India. While the origins of the foundation stock may be slightly obscure, the selection criteria were simple—profitable meat production.
After several decades of breed development, the Boer spread to new countries—illegally. A group of smugglers exported frozen goat embryos to New Zealand to be implanted into does available there. The smugglers were primarily seeking Angora embryos, valuable for their production of mohair. A few Boer embryos were in the shipment, however, and these went on to establish a Boer population in New Zealand.
The first Boer goats in America were descended from the New Zealand herds, arriving on our shores in 1993. These goats were instantly recognized as having considerable entrepreneurial potential, not just as the basis of a goat meat industry, but to supply the ever-extravagant exotic animal trade. Prices of Boer breeding stock soared to absurd and unsustainable highs within a year.
Fortunately, the prices returned to sanity fairly quickly as purebred Boer numbers boomed. Today, values for breeding Boers are comparable to those of other purebred goats, putting this breed within the reach of business-minded farmers across the country. It is now common throughout the United States, but particularly in Texas, where a large-scale goat ranching industry has arisen to supply the demand for goat meat coming from immigrants from Asian, Caribbean, Latin American, and Middle Eastern countries.
The Boer is purely a meat breed. However, because quality breeding stock can still be expensive, most purebred Boer goats are not slaughtered. Instead, they are crossed with other goat breeds to produce less valuable animals for consumption. Most goats actually used for meat are about 7/8 pure Boer.
The other common purpose of a Boer goat is to manage pasture. This breed is good at rustling a living off of scrubby land, making it a good choice for reclaiming low-quality acreage that would otherwise remain useless. The Boer can also maintain high-quality pasture when placed in a rotation with cattle. The goats will clean up the unpalatable weeds left by the cattle, preventing them from taking over.
Boer goats are known for excellent dispositions, being quite even-tempered and docile. In fact, they can become rather petlike in their affection for their people.
On the whole, the Boer is a healthy, hardy, trouble-free goat. However, this record has deteriorated slightly since the breed’s introduction to America. Those who tend to regard their goats as pets have not been rigorous in their selection and culling of breeding stock based on health, while even commercially minded goat-keepers have neglected this important step in an effort to maximize production. It is easy to understand why breeders would want to ensure that their goats have every advantage with regard to feed, vaccinations, parasite preventatives, and other aids, but the fact remains that these practices tend to conceal genetic problems lurking in breeding stock, thus perpetuating bad genes for future generations. This is precisely what has begun to happen in the Boer breed. Fortunately, the downward trend is in its earliest stages and is quite reversible. Buy breeding stock from a goat-keeper who is focused on testing and breeding for health.
Despite the white hair of the Boer goat, sunburn is not a concern. Its skin is pigmented, providing it with adequate protection in even the most unforgivingly hot climates.
One thing that the Boer goat did not develop in its native country was a strong resistance to internal parasites. However, some breeders have focused attention on selecting for this trait with encouraging results. A careful choice of breeding stock will avoid parasite problems for the most part.
Also, Boers, particularly older Boers, can be susceptible to hoof rot, but only when kept in unsanitary conditions. Any appearance of hoof rot in the herd is a sign that an improvement in pasture management is necessary.
- Easy-to-handle disposition.
- Respect of most mesh and electric fencing.
- Adaptability to both extreme heat and cold when provided with a simple shelter.
- Strong instinct to graze even during adverse weather.
- Ability to thrive on brushy pasture.
- Disease resistance.
- High fertility rate.
- Ability to breed year-round.
- High incidence of twins (note that young does usually only have one kid the first time).
- Excellent mothering ability.
- Fast growth rate.
- Heavy muscling.
- Mild flavor, often compared to veal.
- Meat tenderness.
- Premium prices paid by consumers for Boer-influenced goat meat.
- Marked ability to transmit docility, growth rate, and meat quality to crossbred offspring.
- Abundance of poor-quality specimens.
- High feed requirements of goats from show lines (not usually a problem in goats bred for commercial production).
- Susceptibility to internal parasites.
The Angora comes to us from the Himalayas of Asia Minor. Its origins are so ancient that the details have been lost altogether. It is believed to be a direct descendant of some species of wild goat, perhaps the Persian bezoar or perhaps the markhor, famous for its twisted horns. Read More