Heritage Breeds of Goats for Milk and Meat

Updated on March 23, 2018
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.


Goats are an excellent choice for the small family farm, and have been utilized for their rich milk, meat, and even fiber for generations. Each breed brings it's own set of characteristics to the barn and it is important to understand exactly what your needs are so that you can choose the best breed for your environment, your needs, and your long term goals. A few hours of research will yield long term success and satisfaction as long as you have a clear understanding of what your ultimate goal is.

No matter which type of goat that you choose your results will only be as good as the quality of your breeding program and the care you give the goats. Be sure to invest in the best quality registered animals that you can afford. Yes, registry does matter! Especially with heritage breeds registration helps to track the growing numbers of the animals. It helps to strengthen the positive qualities of your breeding program because as you look at the bloodlines of the animals you can see what the positives and negatives were, and finally, registered animals are just more likely to sell for a better price, an important quality in itself. As you read over the descriptions of the animals think about what your needs and goals are as a future breeder.

Pecan Knoll Cheesecake, a week old Nigerian Dwarf doe from our farm
Pecan Knoll Cheesecake, a week old Nigerian Dwarf doe from our farm

Dairy Breeds

Perhaps goats, especially in the United States, are more known for milk than meat. Goat's milk is very delicate and is best when fresh and cold. If you have never had fresh milk then don't assume you dislike it. Few people that visit us have been able to tell the difference!

Nigerian Dwarf:

Admittedly I am partial to Nigerians because this is what we have chosen to raise. They are friendly, small, and easy to care for and give enough high butterfat milk for today's average family, about 2 quarts a day.

The does kid easily, and often with twins or triplets. Because of their small size(no more than 24" at the shoulder-about the size of a Golden Retriever) their nutritional needs are less costly to take care of and their feed to milk ratio is excellent. ADGA records for 2006 indicate that Nigerian does produced an average of 1062 lbs of milk with 3.9% butterfat per 29 lbs. They are a good choice for children's projects because they are easier to handle than the larger breeds.

The Nigerian was imported to the United states in the early part of the 20th century for exhibit in zoos and petting zoos but their winning personality and milk production made them a popular addition to the small family farm. Unlike the larger breeds of goats Nigerians can be bred year round for a continuous supply of milk. It is advisable to have at least two does, breeding one for early spring freshening and the other for fall. In this was you have a continuous supply of milk.

The kids can be used for meat, but the breed is really not a meat producer so there is little meat to be had. They do sell well, however, as more people become interested in an inexpensive source of organic, raw milk. Nigerians were on the endangered list but have become popular in the last 10 years and are on the recovering list. American Goat Society, and American Dairy Goat Association both recognize the Nigerian as a dairy breed. The Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association is a specialty registry that is involved with maintaining the pure qualities of the breed and sponsoring many shows on a national level.

Pecan Knoll Haddassah, a two year old doe
Pecan Knoll Haddassah, a two year old doe
An oberhasli doe
An oberhasli doe


Oberhasli goats originated in Switzerland. They are considered a medium sized goat, standing approximately 34" tall at the shoulder. They are a sable brown with black markings, a distinctive pattern that is consistent through the breed. They have a docile nature.

ADGA records indicate that Oberhasli does produced an average of 2284 lbs of milk in 2006 with the average butterfat coing in at 3.6% per 81 lbs of milk. The milk of the Oberhasli is said to be sweeter than other breeds and excellent for cheese making. This breed would be a good choice for the larger homestead desiring to produce larger amounts of milk and cheese products. The Oberhasli is also a recovering breed according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Meat Breeds

There are several meat breeds of goat listed on the ALBC. Meat goats are fuller boned than the dairy breeds, where dairy goats have flat bone types the meat goats have round bones and a more muscular body. Goat meat, or chevre is gaining in popularity amongst the population as a whole whereas it used to be more of a cultural product.

San Clemente Goats
San Clemente Goats

San Clemente Goats

The San Clemente is a feral goat that was brought to the San Clemente Island off California by the Spanish sailors and left there to breed and be food for future expeditions. In the mid 1980s the US Navy began a program to exterminate the goats because there were thousands of the goats on the 57 sq mile island and the native plants and animals were dying out. Thousands of the goats were killed until The Fund For Animals intervened and began relocating the animals and overseeing a breeding program.

At this point the breed is still on the rare list. There are only about 250 San Clemente goats worldwide. Breeders are experimenting with the goat as a dual purpose animal..meat and milk. The goats are very hardy and self sufficient, do well on pasture with some type of shelter. They are gentle and intelligent and healthy over-all.

 A Tennessee Fainting Goat..not dead, but temporarily paralyzed
A Tennessee Fainting Goat..not dead, but temporarily paralyzed

Tennessee Fainting Goat

These goats are named because they have a genetic condition known as myotonia congenita, in which the muscle cells experience prolonged contraction when the goat is frightened. The goat stiffens and falls down. The goat can be traced back to a farmer from Nova Scotia that moved to Tennessee with four goats with this condition. They grew in popularity because the farmers noticed that these goats escaped from fences less often and bred more prolifically than other breeds and the interest in the goats spread across the state.

The goat was rediscovered in the 1980s and has been bred for more of a novelty than anything. Breeders are starting to appreciate the meat production potential of this goat, however, with it's larger than average size. The does are very prolific and sometimes give birth 2x a year. These qualities have cause many to begin breeding the Tennessee Fainting Goat with other breeds, like Boer, to gain some of the positive qualities. This, however, effectively renders the breed extinct as it is no longer purebred and assimilated into other breeds. For this reason it is considered rare by the Conservancy.

Spanish Goat
Spanish Goat

Spanish Goat

The Spanish goat is a line that was brought from Spain to the Caribbean in the 1500s. The original breed of goat no longer exists in Spain, although during the 1500s it was the most popular of breeds in the Mediterranean.

This is a hardy meat breed, doing well on scrub with little involvement from humans. It has been crossbred into other breeds (Boers for meat and Cashmeres for fiber) and is losing the unique qualities that it carries. Spanish goats are very prolific breeders, and produce a high quality meat in harsh southern conditions. They also produce a fiber which is good for spinning.

Today there are few purebred Spanish goat in the U.S. and conservation has been hindered because there are no associations or registries associated with it.

Tennessee Fainting Goats In Action

Questions & Answers


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      • LongTimeMother profile image

        LongTimeMother 5 years ago from Australia

        In Australia I kept Saanen goats. Very placid, good with children and lots of milk. They are just white though. Nowhere near as cute as these breeds. Voted up +.

      • profile image

        BunnyOlesen 5 years ago

        hahaa that little nigerian dwarf baby is SOOOO cute. Are they really dwarfs though? Because if so it seems like they could be subject to genetic anomalies just like humans can get, like double dwarfism that is fatal, etc. and health problems.

        The Swiss goat is just beautiful, but those San Clemente Goats look like billy goats gruff type bridge goats from the old story books XD XD

        The spanish goat is beautiful in it's way but looks scary too.

      • Marye Audet profile image

        Marye Audet 6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

        thank you

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

        A great hub an done for me to vote up up and away.

        Here's to many more for us both to share on here.

        I wish you a great day.


      • Turtlewoman profile image

        Kim Lam 6 years ago from California

        Hi Mary, what an interesting article! Fainting goats?!

        I recently started drinking goat milk and eating goat yogurt for its healthier benefits. If I had a small farm I would definitely considering raising one of these dwarf goats. I'm so intrigued by them!

      • RalphGreene profile image

        RalphGreene 6 years ago

        Great information about the wonderful breeds of goats for milk. Thanks for sharing.

      • profile image

        Akinbode ireoluwa 8 years ago

        Thank you for all this information. Its unfortunate that I have this Nigerian dwarf breed & have been looking for a goat milk.

      • Marye Audet profile image

        Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

        Thank you Sandi, for that updated information..if I had more room they would definintely be a consideration because of the fiber aspect..and i think they are cool

      • profile image

        Leslie Edmundson 10 years ago

        Thank you for mentioning San Clemente Island goats! The story about the Spanish dropping them off is an old rumor, new fascinating history can be found at www.scigoats.org/news.htm (San Clemente Island Goat Association) We're looking for responsible stewards to bring the numbers up from the current 2008 count of about 300 globally. They're a great goat, so please read up about them and consider becoming a responsible steward.

        Also, re: Spanish goat. . ."is losing the unique qualities that it carries.". Crossbreeding can do this, but there ae still many great purebred Spanish goats left with breeders who have kept all of the qualities intact! Find out more at www.spanishgoats.org The Spanish Goat Association began in 2007 and we're going to conserve this ultra-hardy breed.

      • Bob Ewing profile image

        Bob Ewing 10 years ago from New Brunswick

        It has been awhile but we used to eat goat roti, it was pretty good.

      • Marye Audet profile image

        Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

        We dont eat ours either, LWF, just the milk

      • cgull8m profile image

        cgull8m 10 years ago from North Carolina

        That fainting goat is amazing I haven't seen anything like it. Hope they don't get affected much with repeated fainting.

      • profile image

        Rechelle 10 years ago

        Yeah - that video is pretty funny.