Choosing the Best Goat Breed for Your Homestead's Needs

A brown Nubian dairy goat

How to choose goats that meet your homestead's and your family's needs

Goats are hard-working, productive animals on a homestead. Goats can provide milk and meat for your family, and compost for your garden. They can clear land of weeds, brush and even poison ivy.

You'll want to identify your goals so you can choose the goats that are best suited to help you meet your goals.

No matter what you want your goats to provide or do for your homestead, you will need to have at least two. "An only goat is a lonely goat" and will constantly be in trouble because she's bored and lonely. So plan on having at least two goats.

There are many breeds of goats as well as crossbreeds, so the first step you need to take is to decide why you want goats.

Why do you want goats? What is your goal?

Do you want milk, or meat, or goats that will eat brush and clear the land on your homestead? Perhaps it's a combination of these reasons, or even all three.

Black goats browsing in the woods

But it's an important question, so stop for a few minutes and think about it. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Actually, all goat breeds can produce milk, be harvested for meat, and clear brush. 

But here's the thing: some breeds are better suited to some purposes than others.

If you choose the wrong goat, you won't reach your goal in the best, most efficient manner. You may spend months or years being frustrated that "this isn't working for us."

Some facts about goats

In order to produce milk, a goat must be bred and give birth to babies, like all mammals. So if you want to have goats to provide milk for your family, you must find (or own) a buck to breed them to, and decide what you will do with the babies (goat kids). 

Will you sell the the kids or keep them? Will you let the does raise their kids to weaning age, or will you bottle feed the kids?

Unless they are raising their babies, goats must be milked every twelve hours - or as close to twelve hours apart as possible. 

(You can work around this though - I've written about milking goats once a day here.)

You can also use your milk or meat goats to clear the brush on your homestead. Just remember that the flavor of goat milk depends partly on genetics but also on their diet. 

3 goats eating brush in a field

If you use your goats to clear brush and weeds, the flavor of their milk can be strong and more "gamey" tasting. 

Feeding goats alfalfa and good grass hay and a pelleted goat feed will improve their milk's flavor. The flavor and keeping quality of goat milk will also depend on your processing and storage habits.

Goat horns

Both male and female goats of all breeds have horns, although there are "polled" goats - individuals that do lack the genes for horns.

Most dairy goats are disbudded while very young to cauterize the horn buds, preventing their horns from growing. Most meat goats are not disbudded. 

If you're not raising registered goats or showing your goats, horns and disbudding are a matter of personal preference.

By the way, you’ll find all of my posts on raising goats here.

Let's take a look at the various goat breeds and see what will fit your homestead and your family's needs.

Meat goat breeds

There are many goat breeds that are raised specifically for meat. The most popular and easy to find breed in my area (central Oklahoma) is the boer goat breed.

Usually boers are white with a red head or a black head, but some are "painted" with large patches of color or spots on their bodies as well as on their heads. 

Next in popularity here is the Kiko breed. The pygmy goat, a breed of miniature goat, was also developed as a meat breed.

I've heard many times that Nubians are a good dual-purpose breed, but having raised them myself for many years I think folks would be disappointed by the small amount of meat they'd get from a Nubian. 

However, any goat can be harvested for meat, so if you're raising Nubians for milk and use the extra bucks for meat, just know that they won't provide as much as a goat that is bred specifically to provide meat. 

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Dairy goat breeds

You can milk any breed of goat - even a meat goat - but a dairy breed will produce more milk. So if your reason for having goats is to provide milk for your family, a dairy goat might be a better choice for you.

A brown Nubian dairy goat kid

Nubians have always been my favorite dairy goats. The Nubian breed originated in Africa, and their long ears help them stay cool in hot weather. They have a "Roman nose" meaning that their face is convex.

Those long ears won me over years ago. Nubians can be drama queens though, and they tend to be noisier than other breeds. Just so you know!

Other dairy breeds include Alpine, Saanan, Oberhasli and Toggenburg. These are known as the Swiss breeds. Their ears are erect and they have a straight face.

The LaMancha breed originated from Spanish goats. Their distinguishing feature is their small ears. LaManchas can be born with either "elf ears" or "gopher ears." Gopher ears can be up to one inch long, with elf ears being as long as two inches.

The Nigerian Dwarf is a miniature dairy goat breed. You may also find Kinders, a cross between Nubians and Pygmy goats, and "mini" dairy crosses such as mini LaMancha.

Miniature goats

Pygmy goats and Nigerian Dwarfs are the most common mini goat breeds. Small goats can be easier to handle, especially for children, but this will also depend on the goat's personality. 

A blond miniature goat with horns

Small goats will produce less meat and milk than standard goats.

Butterfat and goat milk

Butterfat or milk fat is the natural fat found in milk, and the main component of butter. Milk with a higher percentage of butterfat tends to taste richer and creamier.

Let's compare goat milk to grocery store milk: whole [cows'] milk from the store contains about 3.5% fat, while reduced fat milk contains 2% fat and skim milk just 1%.

Saanan goats tend to produce the largest quantities of milk, and most large goat dairies have Saanan goats. Their milk has less butterfat than other breeds.

A brown and white dairy goat kid

Nubians have the highest percentage of butterfat in their milk among standard size dairy goats, but they don't produce as much milk as a rule.

The butterfat in goat milk ranges from about 1% to 10% or more depending on the goat breed, with Nigerian Dwarf goats having the highest amount of butterfat (approximately 6 to 10%), followed by Nubians with approximately 5% fat.

The Swiss breeds produce milk with about 1-4% butterfat.

A goat's genetics, what you feed her, and her health are all factors that determine the amount of milk a doe will produce and the butterfat content of her milk.

Brush goats

Every goat will eat weeds and brush. This makes finding goats to clear your land very easy. 

A herd of goats eating brush and weeds.

But if you’re milking your goats, a diet of brush and weeds will flavor the milk, perhaps not in a tasty way. 

Goats don't generally like to eat grass. They prefer weeds and brush, bushes and small trees. They’ll even eat poison ivy and blackberry thickets.

If your primary reason for having goats is to clear your land and keep it clear, it doesn't matter as much what breed of goat you have. However, a high-producing dairy goat may need supplementary hay and grain even if she's not in milk.

So, what kind of goat should you purchase?

A meat goat breed is the best goat to buy if you want to raise meat for your family or for sale. You can sell the kids pretty easily - and wether kids (castrated males) will have a comparable cost to females.

If your goal is to produce milk for your family, a dairy goat breed will be best for your homestead. Doe kids (females) will sell at a good price, but males - unless they are of breeding quality - can be hard to sell.

Brush goats can be any breed or gender, including those male dairy goats that are often considered useless.

Registered goats vs. crossbreed goats

Should you buy registered goats, or are crossbreeds or unregistered purebreds ok?

Grade or crossbred goats can be just as efficient as purebreds on your homestead, but this too will depend on your purpose. If you plan to sell goats as an income source, you should probably have purebred or registered goats. 

A registered goat is a purebred goat, but the registry stands behind the registered goat's pedigree. In other words, a purebred goat cannot be guaranteed to be purebred without registration papers.

Registered goats have higher price tags, but you are paying for that guarantee. They will also command a higher price tag when you sell the goat.

What kind of goats we have on Oak Hill Homestead

My goal is to raise happy, healthy dairy goats to supply milk for my family. 

A woman scratching the head of a black and white spotted Nubian goat.

I started with Nubians and have had them for nearly twenty years. Those long ears won me over right away. 

Nubians produce milk that's rich in butterfat. I love making soap with their milk; the extra fat makes superfatted soap that is rich and luxurious.

So, what’s your goal?

Do you want milk goats, meat goats, brush goats or all three?

You’ll find all of my posts on raising goats here.

As a goat lover and a homestead gardener, I'm excited to also share my gardening tips with you - from planting seeds to enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor! You can find my gardening advice and insights right here, so let's dig in and cultivate some fresh, delicious produce together.

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A brown baby goat lying in the straw.

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