Richard Pemble helps you find the right breed of goat
Once the decision has been taken that goats have a place on your smallholding, then the question of how many and what sort has to be considered. In this article I will consider some of the merits of a range of the dairy breeds of goat, so that informed decisions can be made when selecting the right stock. There are three general reasons for keeping milking goats on a smallholding: for producing milk to use as liquid milk or for making dairy produce for the house; for selling milk or produce or for rearing calves, pigs or lambs for meat.There are seven main dairy breeds of goat in the UK: Saanen, British Saanen, Toggenburg, British Toggenburg, British Alpine, Anglo-Nubian and Golden Guernsey. Additionally the British Goat Society (BGS) recognises the British Guernsey and the British goat. The British goat is a pedigree cross breed goat, that is a goat of known pedigree parentage but not eligible for registration in a breed section.In deciding which breed is for you, I would encourage all would-be goat keepers to purchase pedigree stock, registered with the British Goat Society. A goat does not need to be a pedigree animal to milk but, if you know the parentage of any stock that you buy, you are more likely to have an idea of the milking potential. This is important as it takes as much time, effort and feed to look after a good goat as it does a bad one. Take time to consider what type of animal will suit your needs and visit local breeders or goat sections at agricultural shows and talk to owners of the different breeds about temperament, milk yield, housing requirements and possible sources of stock. Time spent at the planning stage will pay off later on as you are more likely to have goats (and as I have stressed in previous articles, it should be goats in the plural as they are herd animals and need company of the same species) that suit your needs.In a future article I will consider the important conformation points and the anatomy of a goat that relates to milk production, but for now lets consider the breeds of goat that are available to the small holder to produce milk.I have given an indication of the relative merits of each breed in the text that follows, in terms of size, temperament, conformation, milk yield and milk quality. However, as with any type of pedigree livestock, there can be wide variation in a population and therefore please take this information as a rough guide rather than a list of key features you will find in all individuals of a breed. For comparison purposes 1 gallon of milk is equivalent to 4.5kgs.British Alpine (BA)The British Alpine is a breed that was developed in the UK at the turn of the 20th century. The breed is especially striking, being black with white Swiss markings. It is widely accepted that the establishment of this breed was a product of general cross breeding to improve the milk production capabilities of the goats in the UK early in the 20th century. A female goat called Sedgemere Faith was imported into the UK from Paris Zoo in 1903. She was black with white swiss markings and a white blaze on her face. She was mated to an imported Toggenburg male, and black goats with white swiss markings became more common in subsequent years. The British Alpine was recognised with its own section in the BGS Herd Book in 1925 following much work in improving the breed. Mrs Abbey’s Didgemere Herd was influential in establishing and improving the breed. The breed is capable of high yields with good milk solids, but reasonable averages of 4.0-5.0kgs could be expected from many individuals of the breed. The BA tends to be quite an active breed and its large, rangy frame makes it well suited to situations where plenty of browsing and bulk fibre are available. This breed tends to be less well suited to stall fed situations and perhaps exhibits wider ranges of temperament that many of the other breeds mentioned.Golden Guernsey (GG)The Golden Guernsey breed originated from the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and since its importation into the UK in 1965 has established itself as a useful household goat. It is likely to be from French, Syrian and Maltese ancestry, but this remains a little uncertain. There are recordings of gold goats on Guernsey from as far back as the early 1800s.
The breed tends to have a gentle disposition and a steady, although not high, milk yield. As the name of the breed suggests, it is gold in colour, ranging from a pale blond to deep bronze in colour. The breed may be long or short haired and is small in stature and generally fine boned. Some animals of the breed have a high milk solids content, although there is some considerable variation seen in this breed characteristic. The Golden Guernsey Herd Book section is closed, meaning that it is not possible to upgrade to Golden Guernsey through the British section of the Herd Book. This means that any goats in the GG section must be bred from two registered GG parents.The British GuernseyThe British Guernsey has recently been recognised by the British Goat Society. It is a Golden Guernsey type goat but tends to be heavier boned and larger than its parent breed. It is produced by the crossing of a GG male onto a parent female, the progeny of which are then mated to GG males for four successive generations, resulting in a goat which is 7/8ths GG but which has inherited some desired characteristics from the initial parent female. The intention was to bring in desirable characteristics such as higher milk yield from other breeds.Saanen and British Saanen (S & BS)These goats are white in colour with the British Saanen being one of the most numerically strong breeds in the UK and the Saanen being one of the breeds that are fewest in number. The Saanen goats in the UK all descend from goats imported from Switzerland in 1922 and 1967 and more recently from Holland. Saanens tend to be a quiet and placid breed, strong boned and of a stocky type. This breed tends to be capable of moderate to good yields, typically 4-5kgs per day in the summer months, with good levels of butterfat and protein in the milk. The British Saanen is essentially the British version of the Saanen, coming about from the crossing of Saanen goats with other breeds to produce a larger, rangier animal, capable of higher yields. This breed could typically yield 6.5kgs in the summer months, with a few more remarkable examples of the breed having yielded in excess of 9.5kgs (2 gallons) at British Goat Society recognised milking competitions. The British Saanen tends to have lower levels of butterfat and protein in its milk than the Saanen, but makes up for this with generally far higher yields. The Saanen section of the BGS Herd Book is a closed section, meaning that any goat registered in this section must be bred from two registered Saanen parents and it is therefore impossible to upgrade to the Saanen section. Conversely the British Saanen section is open, meaning that it is possible to upgrade to British Saanen from other Herd Book sections, subject to meeting the criteria set out in the BGS regulations.British goatThe British goat can best be described as a pedigree cross breed, and in this respect is probably unique in pedigree livestock species. British goats can be any colour or type and are either bred from non-registered stock crossed with a registered goat or from two registered parents of different breeds, or from a breed section parent crossed with a British section parent. The British section of the Herd Book is used by many breeders as a useful way of maintaining pedigree status whilst bringing in fresh blood, and consequently hybrid vigour, into an established line or family of goats. Some of the highest yields seen in the UK in recent years have come from British section goats. This goat will exhibit the widest range of types, colours and temperaments, due to the wide range of parent stock used, however many take after their parents in terms of appearance and temperament, but sometimes interesting colour patterns are seen, such as blue roan or mottled colours.Toggenburgs and British Toggenburgs (T & BT)Much like the Saanen and British Saanen, the Toggenburg is bred directly from imported Swiss goats and the British Toggenburg resulted from crossing the Toggenburg with other breeds of goats to increase the productive capacity of the goat.
Both the Toggenburg and British Toggenburg are brown in colour with white swiss markings – white facial stripes, legs, tail and ears (see pictures). The Toggenburg is a smaller, more compact breed, tending to be long coated. The breed is numerically low in numbers in the UK, with its larger, rangier and more productive cousin being one of the more numerically strong breeds in the UK. The Toggenburg is capable of moderate yields of milk, typically 3.5-4.5kg at peak yield with moderate butterfat and protein content in the milk. The British Toggenburg is capable of much higher yields, in the region of 5 – 6kgs, although there are some individuals of this breed that have yielded in excess of 9.5kgs (2 gallons) in 24 hours. Both breeds are well known for their sound conformation, robustness and longevity when compared to the other breeds.Anglo Nubian (AN)The Anglo-Nubian is descended from Middle Eastern rather than the traditional Swiss breeding we have considered so far. The breed was established in the UK in the early part of the 20th century from the crossing of Middle Eastern and Indian goats that were transported to the UK on passenger ferries. The goats were on board to provide milk for the passengers of the ferries and were bought by the goat breeders of the day when the ships docked. Those goats were crossed with UK stock and the Anglo Nubian breed was established as a BGS Herd Book section on 1910. The breed is especially striking with its Roman nose and long, pendulous ears.The Anglo-Nubian is the largest and heaviest of the UK breeds and is renowned for the high butterfat and protein content of its milk. However, it tends to be lower yielding when compared to most of the other dairy breeds in the UK. The high levels of milk solids are much favoured by milk processors, especially cheese makers. The AN breed is less well adapted to “running through”, that is milking for beyond 365 days after kidding, unlike its Swiss bred cousins.It is also worth noting that the Anglo-Nubian is the most suited of the UK dairy breeds to meat production due to the conformation of the breed, the growth rate and the prolificacy of females.The choice of breed or cross to produce milk for the small -holding warrants time and research. I hope this article has given those readers interested in keeping goats for milk an idea of what is available and provides a starting point for further research.Further information can be found at the following websites: www.allgoats.com www.britishtoggenburgs.co.ukwww.britishalpines.co.ukwww.anglo-nubian.org.ukwww.goldenguernseygoat.org.ukwww.toggenburg-breedersociety.co.uk