The dairy goat is a major agricultural commodity these days, but it hasn’t always been that way in the United States. Only recently has a market existed that warranted large-scale production of goat dairy products. More than half of domestic dairy goat operations are primarily for personal consumption and not as a source of production income.

Early History

Goats were introduced to North America in the 16th century by Spanish colonists. For hundreds of years the humble Spanish goat was a source of milk and meat, but goats did not become an agricultural commodity the way sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens did. Many of the original Spanish goats became feral and populating parts of what would become the United States. For most of United States history, dairy goats were utilized by small family farms as a personal source of milk cheese. During World War II, dairy goat production picked up as a component to Victory Gardens.

Different Breeds

Dairy goats operations in the United States favor six major breeds. The LaMancha breed is one of the most popular breeds for dairy production and also has the longest history in America, being descendants of the original Spanish goats. They are easily recognizable by their short ears, which lack external cartilage seen on other goat breeds. Other breeds were introduced to the United States beginning with the Saanen, a breed from Switzerland, which was introduced in 1904. The other common dairy breeds in the United States are Nubian, Alpine, Toggenburg and Oberhasli.

An Industry Emerges

In the early 1930s goat milk started to find a market as an alternative dairy product for those who had allergies to cows’ milk. The Jackson-Mitchell company became one of the first operations to produce goat milk on a commercial scale, stocking drugstores across the country. The next step in the evolution of the dairy goat industry came in the 1970s, as a back-to-earth movement began to take hold. The goat became a perfect farm animal for homesteaders who embraced sustainable agricultural practices: Goats do not take take up as space or require as much feed as cattle. Along with the primitive-living movement came an increased demand for healthy and natural foods, which goat milk products are frequently marketed as. By the 1980s, goat milk and goat cheeses were sought by connoisseurs as gourmet items.

Modern Day

The dairy goat industry has continued steady growth since the 1980s. Goat milk and soft goat cheese, commonly known as chevre, is available in most supermarkets today. As of 2013, 360,000 head of dairy goats were counted in the United States. More than 30,000 farms in the country raise milk goats. In addition to a variety of different cheeses, goat milk is used to make yogurt and even ice cream. It often serves as feed for other animals.


Sheep are highly social animals prized for their wool, milk and meat. Archeological finds indicate they may have been domesticated as early as 10,000 B.C. Today, there are over 1,000 breeds of sheep and many hybrid crossbreeds. Determining the gender of a sheep requires only a visual examination.

Examine the horns. Male and female wild sheep have horns. Some domesticated breeds also have horns. The horns of a male are significantly longer and thicker than that of a female sheep.

Look for teats. Female sheep are born with two teats. Males are not.

Look for a fist-sized udder in the abdominal area. A breeding female sheep will develop an udder just before birthing.

Look for a scrotum sack hanging between the hind legs. This is hard to spot at a distance on infant sheep, but can be easily spotted as they mature.


Tundra, situated at a high elevation above the tree line, occurs in mountainous regions worldwide, including parts of Canada and Alaska. Because of the tundra’s harsh climate and sparse vegetation, few animals can thrive there. Among those that can, many of the species that have traditionally lived there are now endangered. Climate change is one cause. At least 10 species living in the alpine tundra are considered endangered, including the Rocky Mountain goat, the gyrfalcon, the collared pika and the grizzly bear.

Rocky Mountain Goat

The Rocky Mountain goat, also known as a bighorn sheep, is well-adapted to living in mountainous regions including alpine tundra. The goat’s hooves are naturally elastic, which allows the creature good grip and maneuverability on the rocky and uneven terrain that it inhabits. The Rocky Mountain goat has thick skin to allow him to cope with harsh climates and occasional fights with other mountain goats. While the Rocky Mountain goat is not yet on an endangered species list, he has been described as threatened in the alpine tundra, where populations are beginning to dwindle.


The gyrfalcon is another species that traditionally thrives in harsh and desolate climates. As a bird of prey, the gryfalcon is a skilled hunter of smaller birds and small mammals like shrews, marmots, lemmings, voles and hares. The bird often travels between 100 and 600 square kilometers in the winter because of scarce resources in the alpine tundra, and he will often travel south to look for more prey. This species is at risk because the populations of prey are threatened.

Collared Pika

Although some might mistake this diminutive creature for a rodent, the collared pika is actually a small herbivorous mammal related to rabbits and hares. The collared pika has survived glacial epochs, so he is suited to the climate of the alpine tundra. He has become endangered because of recent climate change. The majority of the remaining population is situated primarily in sparsely vegetated boulder fields in the Yukon region.

Grizzly Bear

Perhaps the highest-profile endangered animal of the alpine tundra, the grizzly bear is now considered a threatened species. Once an estimated 50,000 grizzly bears roamed North America, now roughly only 1,000 to 1,200 remain in the lower 48 states. Some estimates say more than 30,000 grizzly bears remain in Alaska, but the number is not known for certain. Grizzly bears are omnivorous and opportunistic when it comes to food, eating things including roots, berries, insects, salmon, elk, and caribou. As with the gyrfalcon, part of the reason the grizzly is threatened is because of a shortage of food.

Other Endangered Species

Other alpine tundra species considered endangered are the California bighorn sheep, the Dall sheep, the caribou, the red-tailed chipmunk, and the least sandpiper. Additionally, the Vancouver Island marmot and the Cascade mantled ground squirrel were being considered by the Wildlife Branch in British Columbia for designation as endangered or threatened.


Believe it or not, house-breaking a goat is very similar to house breaking a dog. Goats are traditionally viewed as farm animals, but you can keep them as pets in the house. There are more than 300 breeds of goats to choose from. The most common breeds for house pets are dwarf and pygmy. The reason is that they grow to be about the size of a dog and, of course, they are adorable. House-breaking your goat is very easy as long as the goat is willing to be house trained.

Take your goat outside the minute it wakes up. Use slow and gentle movement when approaching your goat or it will run. Say a command like “go potty” as you take the goat out. This will register in the goat’s mind every time it has to urinate.

Wait for the goat to urinate. Say “good boy,” and then give your goat a friendly scratch behind the ear. Let the goat play and graze while you’re outside; it’s not healthy to keep the goat inside constantly, plus grazing outside might help temper the goat’s desire to chew your furniture.

Take the goat back indoors. Give the goat a treat like alfalfa. Praise your goat again. Give the goat this specific treat only after going to the bathroom outside.

Place a diaper on your goat. Goats are not like dogs when it comes to going number two; they don’t have control over their feces and don’t understand the concept of holding it. Change the diaper frequently. Some goat owners allow the animals to roam freely outside after mealtimes and defecate at their natural times, thus making it less likely that the goat will poop inside the house later.


Goats often experience flaky, peeling horns. This condition is not normally due to a serious underlying medical condition, but it can be unnerving for goat owners. Left untreated, peeling horns can become uncomfortable to goats and in some cases might result in infection and injury. If your goat’s horns have suddenly begun peeling, consult your veterinarian to determine the precise cause.

Mineral Deficiencies

Goats require certain vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and salt, to maintain healthy horns. If you don’t give your goat a mineral lick or mineral supplement, its peeling horns may be caused by a deficiency. Give her a high-quality, daily mineral supplement. Goats that eat alfalfa hay should have a 1-to-1 calcium to phosphorous ratio in their supplements, while goats that eat grass hay require a 2-to-1 calcium to phosphorous ratio, according to “Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats.”

Protein Deficiency

Horns are composed of a core of bone covered in proteins including keratin. A protein deficiency can cause the protein-rich bone coverings to begin to flake and thin. Alfalfa is among the best sources of protein for goats, so ensure this is a part of your goat’s diet.

New Growth

Goats’ horns often peel when they are growing, especially around the ends of the horns. Kids are especially susceptible to peeling horns as they enter growth spurts. If the peeling is mild and does not get worse over several months, it’s not a cause for concern.

Head Butting

Goat horns serve many purposes. They are an attractive decoration and a deterrent to potential rivals and predators. Goats also use their horns during playful head butting and serious fights. If all of your goats have peeling horns, it may be due to excessive head butting. Monitor them carefully to ensure they are not fighting and that larger goats aren’t bullying smaller goats.


Dozens of different breeds of goats are used throughout the world for meat, milk and fiber to make clothing. Many of these breeds live in the United States, but only nine of them are common here. Even so, it can be difficult to distinguish the different breeds if you aren’t familiar with them. To identify these various types of goats, look to characteristics such as size, color and ear type. With a bit of practice you should soon be able to identify the most common breeds.

Nubian Goats

Nubians, also called Anglo-Nubians, are dairy goats and one of the easiest breeds to identify.

  • Large, hanging ears.
  • Females weigh at least 135 pounds and males weigh 175 pounds or more.
  • They can come in many different colors, but tan, red and black are the most common.

Saanen Goats

The Saanen is a sturdy, solid-looking dairy breed.

  • A balanced appearance with upright ears.
  • They are always pure white.
  • A sable goat is a variation on the Saanen, and is the same goat but with a colored coat.

La Mancha Goats

La Mancha goats are easy to identify because they have tiny ears.

  • In many cases a La Mancha goat looks like he has no ears at all, just holes in his skull. Close inspection will reveal a tiny ear above the opening
  • These goats can be any color.
  • The average female weighs about 130 pounds and males weigh about 150.

Toggenburg Goats

The Toggenburg is on the small side when compared to most other dairy goats, weighing an average of 120 pounds.

  • Toggenburgs have erect ears and a balanced appearance.
  • Their coloration is what makes them readily identifiable.

Alpine Goats

Alpine goats can come in virtually any color or color combination, and should have medium-sized ears that they carry in an erect position.

  • They are almost as large as Nubians.
  • Males weighing about 170 pounds.
  • Females weigh about 125.* Males often have a strip of upright hair on their backs and noticeable beards.
  • Females have well-balanced, even udders.

Oberhasli Goats

An Oberhasli goat is most easily recognized by her distinctive color pattern.

  • The body must be a medium reddish-brown.
  • She will have erect ears and a black stripe down the middle of her back as well as a black udder, belly and legs from the knees down.
  • The head must have black markings as well.
  • Females occasionally may be all black, but males must conform to the black and brown color pattern.
  • These goats are medium-sized, with females weighing about 120 pounds and males slightly larger.

Nigerian Dwarf Goats

The Nigerian dwarf goat can come in almost any color, but he is easy to identify because of his size.

  • These goats should weigh about 75 pounds, significantly smaller than other dairy breeds.
  • Nigerian dwarfs have erect ears and the long, light-boned build of a dairy goat;

Pygmy Goats

The pygmy goat is similar in size to a Nigerian dwarf, but has a different build.

  • Pygmy goats have a short, barrel-shaped body.
  • They are cobby, or heavy-boned, for their size.
  • These are the little goats often seen at petting zoos.


Goats are cloven-hoofed, ruminant members of the bovidae family most often found on farms and grasslands. However, the common domesticated goat has four wild goat cousins that make up the genus, Capra. These wild goats mainly inhabit mountainous Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where they are common sights to those who live in the region.

Wild Goat

The wild goat (Capra aegagrus) is not to be confused with the domesticated goat; the two are separate, distinct species. The wild goat inhabits the Middle East from Afghanistan through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. They prefer rocky plateaus and terrain where they feed on grasses, shrubs and herbaceous plants. Their coat comes in a variety of creams, grays and browns, and their horns are medium-sized and curved backward. Due to a dramatic decline in population — more than 30 percent over the last three generations as a result of exploitation and habitat destruction — the IUCN Red List of Threatened species has the wild goat listed as “vulnerable,” one category away from endangered.


The ibexes form another group of wild goats, except this group has characteristically long, thick horns that curve backward past their shoulders. Five distinct varieties of ibex exist throughout Europe, Asia and Africa: the Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica), the Alpine ibex (Capra ibex), the Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana), the Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica) and the Walia ibex (Capra walie). Of all ibexes, the Walia ibex is the only one listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. This species is the only wild goat found in Africa — less than 500 individuals inhabit Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia.


The turs consist of the west Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica) and the east Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica cylindricornis). The west Caucasian tur is endemic to the region between the eastern Caucasus mountain range in Georgia and Babadagh Mountain in Azerbaijan. The east Caucasian tur is indigenous to the western portion of the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia and Russia (see ref 5). Both varieties have stocky, thick bodies with short legs and shorter beards than their wild goat counterparts. The west Caucasian tur is listed as endangered, while east Caucasian tur populations have fared slightly better and are listed as “near threatened.”


Markhors (Capra falconeri), unlike other wild goats, sport unique vertically twisted horns. Their horns resemble corkscrews, and a male markhor’s horns can reach lengths upwards of five feet. These unique wild goats are occasionally found in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Categorized as endangered in 1996, less than 2,500 individuals live in fragmented populations throughout the region.


Goats are particularly important animals to Greece, accounting for 22 percent of the nation’s milk production and, when combined with sheep, 43 percent of the nation’s meat production. While there are numerous breeds of goat available, the most prevalent types are generally prized either for their milk production, their meat or their hardiness in the face of harsh climates.

Vlahiki Goats

The Vlahiki breed is known as the only truly indigenous goat population in Greece, descended from the Capra Prisca, or wild goats, of the island. These goats are small and hardy, with short legs that are well suited to the country’s rocky, mountainous terrain and thick hair that protects them from harsh weather. Their hardiness comes at a cost, however, as they have relatively low milk production compared to other breeds.

Skopelos Goats

The Skopelos breed is considered one of the most important goat breeds in Greece. It is the heaviest of the Grecian breeds, and even with poor quality fodder, they are high milk producers with around 5 percent milk fat, a relatively high percentage for goat milk. Goatherds and farmers often use the males of this breed to improve the genetic stock of other existing flocks. They are also used for meat, although milk farming is more common.

Karystos Goats

Another small breed, Karystos goats are both disease resistant and hardy in harsh climates. They have short, smooth hair, usually black in color. The goats produce a lower volume of milk than many other goat breeds, around 16 to 21 gallons per milking period, but the milk is of a far superior quality. Due to their low production, these goats are often used for meat rather than milk, but the high quality of their milk has led farmers to attempt breeding Karysos goats with higher production.

Non-Native Goat Breeds

Due to the relatively small size and lower milk production found in many native Grecian goat breeds, many farmers choose to raise non-native breeds. Zaanen and Alpin goats are particularly popular for their high milk and kid production. With a goat population of more than 5,000,000 individuals, there is a multitude of lesser-known breeds as well, such as Kefalonia and Levadia, that exist in small pockets throughout the country.


Though you won’t make millions raising a small herd of goats, raising them still is a rewarding experience. There is much for beginners to learn before purchasing goats, including breed types, housing, feed and, ultimately, the purpose of starting your own herd. As these animals will depend entirely on you, carefully consider if this is something you will be able to maintain over the long haul.


As a smaller, less expensive version of a cow, female goats can produce milk for consumption. Once a doe has kidded, or given birth, she must be milked twice a day every day. This milk then can be turned into yogurt, butter and cheese, and is a great substitute for the lactose intolerant, or those allergic to cow’s milk. Farmers often give excess milk to chickens and pigs. Male goats, or bucks, also are raised for their meat. The taste of chevon has been compared to lamb meat and is sold in ethnic food markets. If the goats were raised free-range or on an organic diet, the meat is highly desired in specialty stores. Goat fur can be used to make clothing or rugs and, as goats will eat the most stubborn brushes, they are even hired out in many areas for lawn care.

Breed Types

Depending on the reason you want to raise a herd, certain breeds will be ideal while others, less so. It also is wise to purchase at least 2 goats from nearby farms as this means the local economy already supports this breed. Saanens, Nubians, Alpines and LaManchas all produce milk, though the quantity and quality will differ between breeds. The Boer, Spanish and Kiko are used for meat, while Angora produces fur used for fabrics. Of course, some want goats simply as pets and the small Pygmy or Dwarf goat is ideal. Keep in mind that goats purchased at auctions, or those who have to be shipped to you, may have health issues from shipping stress and confined quarters. You always should look over the goat before purchase, as these will be the greatest impact on your future herd.


What many don’t realize about goats is that they can jump quite high. Therefore, the pasture must have a large fence over 4 feet high. This fence also must keep out predators, like coyotes. Alternatively, a well-trained guard dog can assist in this matter. Rotating the areas of the pasture that goats are permitted on allows the land to recover and reduces potential problems with internal parasites. As for the shelter, each adult goat needs a minimum of 16 square feet. However, you will need more room once the does give birth, as the kids must be kept in a clean, dry area until they reach 14 weeks of age. The structure should protect goats from the elements, blocking the cold wind and rain, keeping out the snow and providing shade from the sun. A thin layer of bedding comprised of wood shavings and straw can coat the floor. Add shavings throughout the winter to release more heat, and muck it out in the spring. Bedding for kids, however, must be kept clean and dry.


A goat will have her preference, but you must prevent her from becoming picky. Offer a weedy but leafy hay, with clover, dandelions and brush. Keeping the hay in a manger helps to prevent messes. The higher quality hay your goats eat, the less grain they will need. Though too much grain can cause health problems, a pregnant doe will need a pound each day. A vitamin or mineral block can supplement the goats diet. Don’t forget to provide clean, fresh water, available to the goats at all times and bottle-feed milk to kids, weaning them off at 8 weeks of age.

Additional Considerations

Adult goats in a small herd will require yearly vaccines for tetanus and enterotoxermia. They must be wormed, and given lice and tick prevention every spring and fall. Regular hoof trimmings will prevent foot injuries. While many beginners can accomplish these with a farm veterinarian, what you may not be prepared for is debudding horns, castrating males or, when the time comes, slaughtering the animal for meat. You either can sell the male kids to local farms or limit your herd only to does. Keep records of your goats, including birth dates, breeding, medications, feed and milk output to show the customers you mean business.


Training a goat to halter and lead is essential if you plan to show your animal. It is also necessary if you want to use your goat in harness or as a pack animal. Even for dairy animals, it is useful when moving or exercising the does. Start halter training as early as possible, preferably before the goat kid is weaned. Halter training an older animal can be difficult and potentially harmful to the animal.

Let the goat smell the halter and then wear it without a lead to allow it to become accustomed to the halter. Take your time, and do this over the course of a few days.

Attach the lead to the halter, and then tie it off to a post of a section of fence. Do not leave the goat unattended during this part of training. Walk away from the goat, telling it to stay. It may fight the lead. However, do not unfasten it until the animal is standing still again. Reward the goat with a handful of grain. Continue this for several days until the goat stands calmly while tied.

Attach the lead to the halter and take the end of it, but do not try to pull the goat forward, as it will instinctively resist. Instead, walk beside the goat. Lead it to a place it wants to go, at first, rewarding it with a little grain when it walks calmly with you. Slowly work up to longer walks over a period of days, and keep in practice even after the initial training period.