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Breed characteristics and personality contrasts in dairy goat breeds.

"Sylvia, please be quiet," I muttered to myself, "I know it's milking time but why can't you be quiet and wait patiently the way Edelweiss does?" Then it hit me; of course Sylvia is wailing, she can't help it, after all she is a Nubian! It must be because Edelweiss is a LaMancha that she isn't so noisy. As I brought the two of them to the barn for milking, I pondered the fact that I enjoy the temperament of the LaMancha while other breeders favor the Nubian. Dairy goat breeds have remarkably different personalities and interested breeders can always find a breed that they will enjoy the most.

The six main dairy breeds can be divided more or less into two personality groups, the gentler, more docile group, and the more willful, harder-to-handle group. However, each goat has its own personality. For example, a line of LaManachas might tend to be noisy and stubborn, while some Alpines might be gentler than Alpines tend to be in general.

Personality traits shared by all breeds

All of the different breeds share many traits in common. Goats are one of the most excitable of farm animals, and spook easily, though some breeds are more skittish than others. Because of this, movements around them must always be unhurried and gentle.

Unlike sheep, goats will seldom panic and flee if danger threatens. They will turn and face it. (Jaudas) Mother goats have been seen to form teams to protect their kids, and even a two-month-old kid drove away a gentle dog that it considered a threat.

Even the tamest goat sometimes does not want to be caught. If they see the worming appliance coming toward them, some of them will take off, and it can be extremely difficult to catch them. Goats are similar to horses in their ability to stay just out of reach.

Goats are unsurpassed when it comes to finding ways to escape from the confines of their fencing, and this makes them the most difficult of livestock to contain. Jerry Belanger puts it succinctly, "Goats will jump over, crawl under, squeeze through, stand on and lean against, and circumvent any boundary that is not strictly goat-proof in any other way they can invent." One agile goat jumped four-foot fencing from a standing start. Another managed to squeeze through amazingly small openings in a barrier to get where she wanted to go.

Goats are notorious for their finicky eating habits. They are browsing animals, and if kept on pasture they will not eat steadily. They will eat only what appeals to them, and they won't get as much nutrition as they should. However, this finicky eating style is a form of self-protection, as goats will seldom eat enough of a poisonous plant to do any harm. Some goats will explore a rack of good hay, and then refuse to touch it until they realize that it is the only hay they're getting. Others are reluctant to eat grain unless it has molasses in it, though again, they will eat it when they realize it is what they're getting to eat. I have known a few does that just refused to touch their grain, and they could be quite irritating.

As Ulrich Jaudas claims, goats are almost catlike in their insatiable curiosity; if there is something happening, they have to poke their noses into it. They are extremely intelligent, and given enough time, they can be trained to do a variety of things with little trouble, though some breeds are more willful than others. All goats can be sweet

and affectionate, but they are not reliably like that. Behind those innocent eyes is a brain ready and capable to get into any and all kinds of mischief. All goats of all breeds have to be taught who is the boss of the barn. If they aren't, they will take advantage of their owner in any way their agile minds can think of. Male goats more than does must always be reminded who is the boss. Bucks, though gentler than rams, bulls and other male animals, cannot be trusted.

The more docile breeds

The LaMancha, Oberhasli, Saanen, and Nigerian Dwarf are breeds that tend to be more docile and willing to work for people. They have agreeable temperaments, and are less likely to be aggressive than other breeds. They are goats though, and being goats, they can and will decide to take a day off and be bad. For example, in my own experience, a LaMancha wether that had always been calm and tractable tried to dominate me by butting and trying to fight. I had to prove my superiority over him, and when that was done, he behaved as he should.

The LaMancha

Of all the breeds, the LaMancha is probably the most startling for new breeders, as the ears are extremely unusual. The LaMancha's ears are not more than two inches in length. There are two types of LaMancha ears: Elf ears, which are up to two inches in length with tips turned either up or down, have some cartilage which form a fairly obvious ear, and the tiny gopher ears, which are preferably almost non-existent. The LaMancha is a medium-sized breed that can be of any color or color pattern. On average, it is not as high a producer as the Swiss breeds, but it does perfectly for a homestead. However, I have had many LaManchas that are extremely high producers, so don't be misled by averages. A few poor producers can bring down the average immensely.

The LaMancha is known for its ability to live in harsh surroundings and still produce well. It is also renowned for its easy-going temperament which makes it ideal as a working dairy goat. They are one of the calmest of the breeds, and unlikely to panic and take flight easily. They are so calm that it is possible to milk some does without restraining them, as long as they have some food in front of them. LaManchas are extremely affectionate, they like nothing better than pressing their noses against a hand or leg.

From my own experience with this breed compared to others, the wethers are the most easily trainable as cart and pack goats. I have broken them to the halter within 10 minutes, and taught them the basic commands within a week with little resistance. Most LaMancha have patient dispositions. For example, a two-year-old child came up to a LaMancha doe and began hitting her face. Instead of butting him away, she gently leaned forward and pushed him into a sitting position. The little boy was not hurt at all, and the doe had stopped the beating on her face. Another doe will go to her place at feeding time, and wait there until she is fed. Not all LaMancha are this patient, some of them just can't stand still for anything.

The Oberhasli

The beautiful Oberhasli is known for being an alert and active breed. It is light to dark bay in color, with black trim. The does may be black, but bucks may not. Any amount of white except a few white hairs is a disqualification in the show ring. They are medium size, with upright ears. Oberhasli breeders say that they have sweet and gentle personalities, but they do have quick tempers. I have stroked an Oberhasli while she was eating, and she got so mad that she attacked my hand! They tend to be extremely quiet, and they adjust well to new surroundings.

The Saanen and Sable

The Saanen is always pure white or light cream in color. Sables are the same as Saanens in every way, except that they are colored and may not be white. Does of this breed tend to be larger than does of the other breeds, but despite this they should be refined and feminine looking. They have upright ears, and a straight or concave nose. They are extremely high milk producers, and are the second most popular breed in the United States.

Saanen breeders swear that their breed is so quiet that they make LaManchas look fussy. This breed,, though the largest of all dairy breeds, is extremely docile and easy to handle. It rarely makes any noise, and is not especially active.

The Nigerian Dwarf

The newest recognized dairy breed, the Nigerian Dwarf, is undoubtedly the breed most easily handled. The ideal height for a doe is 17-19", and 19-21" for bucks. They should not weigh more than 75 pounds. Despite its small size, the Nigerian Dwarf can produce a quart of milk per day, and they are as easily milked as the full-sized breeds. Breeders who would like to keep goats but have limited space, or do not need as much milk as a full-sized goat will give them, will be pleased with the Nigerian Dwarf. Nigerian Dwarfs come in every possible color pattern, but spots seem to predominate. The goats have gentle and affectionate temperaments. Breeders say that these goats will follow their owners like a dog. They are not cute little pets, they are feisty and able to take care of themselves.

Breeds that are harder to handle

The Alpine, Nubian, and Toggenburg are breeds that tend to be willful and independent minded. They must be handled with a firm hand, and must always know who the boss is. They are less easy to train, as they want their own way, and will try to get it. Despite their faults, the personalities of these breeds tend to be more interesting than the more mild breeds.

The Alpine

The Alpine has the distinction of being the only breed with upright ears that can be any color or pattern except for the Toggenburg markings or solid white. It tends to be tall, and to have an exceptionally long head. It has the highest average milk production of all the dairy breeds.

Many breeders agree that this breed is the most likely to be aggressive. They are not patient; one Alpine doe knocked a hole in the wall when she became tired of waiting for her food. This same doe had a reputation on two farms for breaking down doors with her head. This breed is popular, as they are quite willing to receive attention, and will readily show their appreciation for it. Because of their aggressive tendencies, these goats are the least likely to mix well with other breeds. I have seen a picture of an Alpine doe that had to wear a ram shield to keep her from injuring other goats.

The Nubian

Nubian breeders are adamant that a well-proportioned Nubian is a beautiful animal. It is tall and proud with long, bell-shaped ears setting off a strongly arched nose. It is no surprise that the Nubian is the most popular breed in the United States. (If you want to raise goats that are sure to sell well, go with the Nubian.) The Nubian can be any color or pattern. It is a good producer, with the highest percentage of butterfat in the milk. It was a Nubian that won a county milking contest with 10 pounds of milk in one day. That is over a gallon of milk.

Despite its beauty, the Nubian has the reputation as the most noisy and nervous of the dairy breeds. The sudden movement of a stable gate can send the entire herd into a panic, and any distress will result in a series of long-drawn wailing bawls. They are the most clannish of the breeds, and family groups of grandmother, mother, and all kids are quite common. This breed is the most "mouthy"; I have been. bitten many times by Nubians, and have talked to other breeders who have been bitten by their Nubians as well. Nubians are the least affectionate of the breeds, they are aloof, and will not beg for attention as other goats will. Some Nubians of my acquaintance are experts at not being caught, and geniuses at the dodge away from the stable gate.

The Toggenburg

Toggenburgs are always some shade of brown with white markings. They have upright ears, and can become extremely shaggy during winter. The active Toggenburg has the reputation of being the most independent of all the breeds. This can make them hard to train, and it is rare to see one pulling a cart. Despite their independent nature, these goats are naturally affectionate. This breed is, as a whole, an amazingly high producer, the world record for milk production is held by a Toggenburg that milked just short of a thousand pounds of milk a year. Some breeders claim that the Toggenburg's milk is off-flavored, but this probably depends on environmental factors.

Personality compatibility

As can be seen, different breeders will enjoy different breeds. A breeder who must always feel in control would be much happier with a docile breed than with a more independent breed. Breeders who enjoy matching wits against an individualistic animal's will love the Alpine or Toggenburg. I have enjoyed out-thinking escape-bent Nubians, and these goats are my favorite to simply watch. Elderly breeders and those without much room would probably prefer the Nigerian Dwarf. No matter what breed is preferred, these complex animals are a joy to work with. Those who want a gentle goat that is usually complacent will prefer one of the gentler breeds. Breeders may want to start with a few goats of different breeds to see which they like best, or to see if they want different breeds.

All this went through my mind as I sat down and milked the does. Sylvia was still acting impatient, but I wasn't irritated anymore. After all, it's not her fault that she's a Nubian!


Belanger, Jerry. Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2001.

Considine, Harvey and Trimberger, George W. Dairy Goat Judging Techniques. Dairy Goat Journal Publishing Corporation, 1985.

Jaudas, Ulrich. The New Goat Handbook. Hauppage, NY: Barron's Educational Services, 1989.

Mackenzie, David. Goat Husbandry. New York; Faber and Faber Inc., 1993


AGE 15
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Title Annotation:The goat barn
Author:Shannon, Regina
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 2006
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