I started by looking for four legs and an udder but with an animal that I spend a lot of time with there are other things to consider. And most of these I learned the hard way.
Each breed of goat has distinct personality traits and generalized milk fat content. Although all of them can be noisy at times, some tend to be more so and more often. I started with noisy ones and after a few years of noise pollution and frustration I traded that breed in for a quieter one. I live in a quiet place. I wanted to keep it that way.
Nubians and LaManchas tend to have the highest butterfat content of the common goat breeds but the Saanens tend to put the most milk in the bucket. I don’t have much experience with the Alpines, Toggenburgs, or Oberhausli. When we switched breeds for backpacking with them, we looked for the friendliest breeds and according to John Mionczinski in “The Pack Goat”, that was the LaMancha and Saanen. I have not regretted the switch.
We are currently trying out the Guernsey breed. According to the literature this breed puts less in the bucket but it is close to the fat content of half and half. But with these generalizations, I would suggest that you look into these more thoroughly before you choose. There are breed specific websites out there that will tell you more. What breeds suit one family may not suit another.
Another thing to think about is the mixed breed goats. These can be better because they have some hybrid vigor that some of the more specialized ones may lack. For the homestead goat, I would concentrate on personality.
Unless you are going to be showing your goats there is just a few things that are really essential in how they are built that would be good to investigate.
- Is she big chested to help her hold a lot of food for the milk you want her to produce? Yearlings (does that are only a year old) tend to be narrow, so look at the mother if you can. They can only produce what they can eat to sustain.
- How is the udder attached? Is it tight and held close to the body or loose and baggy? A loose udder can get damaged easily by a lot of things. If you have blackberries or brush for them to browse on they could get hurt because they really don’t think before going after food. I have had one goat step on her own udder when she tried to get up. Not a pretty sight. And the easily hurt ones are more prone to mastitis.
- Do her teats hang straight down? If they are all crooked it may be hard to hit the milk bucket. There are days that I wear milk when I am trying to learn which way it will squirt. And transitioning from a straight teat to a crooked one may be tricky each milking. (Now which goat was that?)
- Does she look healthy with a nice covering of fat on her ribs? Not fat fat……just not skinny. A fat goat will not be putting her energy into milk. She is either way overfed or she is putting her food to the wrong use. A skinny goat may either be sick or putting all her energy into milk. Either of these can be dealt with but really hesitate before buying a sick goat. That could be bringing home a huge problem.
We just bought some goats that have barely been handled. These are not a good choice for a beginner. A goat that you can’t catch or handle is really tough. I have learned ways to tame them and get them so they can be dealt with, but it is not easy. I put them in a small area and just walk toward them and let them run around and around until I can pet them. This can go on for days depending on the age and temperament of the goat. And how persistent I am. When I can get close to them consistently, I can let them in with the rest of the girls. But unless I keep at it, I will always have a hard time managing these.
Another trick I use is a drag chain. This is a 15 to 20 foot chain that is hooked into their collar and she drags it. Then when I want to catch her I just step on the chain and walk up it. The goat has no idea why she can’t run and I am not scaring her by chasing. And if she gets snagged on something in the pasture, I am there to help her. She then sees me as a good thing. Don’t do this with a rope. A rope can cut off the blood circulation in a leg if it gets wrapped around it. A chain is much less likely to do so.
Food is another good motivator. Once I can get close to them on a consistent basis, I bring food that there is no way for them to have except by my hand. I have found that if I try to feed them when they are in a panic, they don’t trust me enough to eat what I bring.
So it really is easier to look for ones that are gentle and friendly. I would rather have a friendly goat than one that produces tons of milk that I can’t catch.
I love my goats. That is because I also pick the personality of my goats. If they don’t fit my personality profile, I either try to train them (like with the scared ones) or I get rid of them. There is nothing worse than milking a goat that is deliberately trying to kick me. Or one that bashes me or my kids. Or breaks out of my fences. (There are differences between total disrespect and bad fencing. I don’t have bad fences.) I have one disrespectful goat on a chain. He is clearing blackberries and eating well, but he is alone. He will also be gone soon.
One of the goats is really mean to other ones. I have to mess around with her and separate her at the beginning of feeding time or she bashes all the other goats. She even keeps one goat out of the barn at the start of chores. This one is on thin ice with me. She is good to people, but a problem every day.
My favorite goats are the ones that run up to me when I show up in their pasture…..just to be scratched. Or follow me when I take them on an outing in the woods to browse. I can touch them anywhere so if something happens I can deal with it. They stand for milking without creating problems. I can lead and tie them if necessary. Whatever I have to do, they trust me to take care of them. This is what I love.
To me, that is what I really like having in my homestead herd. When I have both beautiful body AND personality…..now that is heaven. And I find it once in a while. I have a barn with some great goats in it. And it will continue to get better.