As many people are trying to get back to a more sustainable way of life, dairy goats are a great way to find your homestead roots. Unlike dairy cows who would require more land, feed and care, dairy goats are small, easy to handle, and easy to house. In this multi-part series of homesteading backyard dairy goats, we will cover everything from dairy breeds to care and diseases.

Dairy Goat Terms for Beginners:

By understanding the terminology associated with dairy goats, you will have a great start

  • Doe (Nanny): an adult female goat
  • Buck (Billy): an adult intact male goat
  • Wether: neutered male goat
  • Kid: a baby goat
  • Dam: a mother of a goat
  • Sire: a father of a goat
  • Kidding or freshening: Giving birth
  • Colostrum: first milk after kidding
  • Gestation for Goats: 5 months or 105 days
  • Heat: When females are ready to be bred, usually every 21 days
  • ADGA: American Dairy Goat Association
  • Chevre: Cheese made from goats milk
  • Mastitis: inflammation of the mammary gland

Registered or Grade?

When choosing a breed of goat, you need to consider the overall size, personality, milk quantity and quality. You can decide if you want registered animals or not. There is a benefit to having registered animals. You can easily predict conformation and milking abilities from registered animals from an established breeder. If you are interested in having a purebred operation and selling the babies for a more premium price, then you should stick with a registered operation. Buying form a reputable breeder will ensure your animal has been properly managed and is less likely to suffer from serious illnesses.

The most important consideration for registered or grade animals is their health history. Goats must be tested for diseases and you need to ensure that they come from a disease free herd. Most registered breeders include testing for Tuberculosis (TB), Johne’s, and Brucellosis and Caprine Arthritis and Encephalitis (CAE). Goats are considered a high mortality animal and staying ahead of disease and parasites will ensure success in raising dairy goats. We will discuss these diseases and others in a later post.

Choosing a Goat

There are six major dairy goat breeds: Saanen, Nubian, Toggenburg, LaMancha, Oberhalsi and the Alpine. We will also compare Nigerian Dwarfs.

BreedDoe HeightDoe Weight (lbs)DescriptionMilk (lbs per year)% Butterfat
Alpine30″135They have erect ears and come in many colors and color combinations. The hair is medium to short and the bridge of the nose is straight.
The Alpine is known for being a hardy, adaptable animal that thrives in any climate while maintaining good health and excellent production.
LaMancha28″130LaManchas comes in any color and have tiny (elf) ears or no ears (gopher ears).22983.7
Nigerian Dwarf17-22″75These miniature goats have erect ears and come in all colors. Ideal for a small family or limited space.7956.4
Nubian30″135Nubians are easily identified by their rounded face, called a Roman nose. They have long floppy ears and come in many colors but black and bay are most common.20184.9
Oberhalsi28″120This breed is reddish brown with black markings. This breed is relatively rare in North America.19953.7
Saanen30-32″135Saanens are distinguished by solid white or light cream-colored hair. Spots may exist on the skin and a spot in the hair up to 1 ½ inches across is allowable.
Saanen ears are erect, and the bridge of the nose is either straight or dished.
Toggenburg26″120Light fawn to dark brown goat with white ears, white face strips and white stockings. Toggenburgs were among the first purebred dairy goats to be imported into the United States and registered.22373.1

Some other things to consider before purchasing dairy goats are:

  1. Local Zoning Laws
  2. Discovering local dairy goat herds in your area
  3. Learn about housing and fencing needs
  4. Utilize your local extension office to learn about goat management
  5. Locate a small ruminant vet in your area
  6. Locate feed stores that will carry what you need
  7. Learn about milk sale laws

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