Best Dairy Goats for Beginners
The best dairy goats – dairy goats are a wonderful addition to any homestead, small or large. They provide so many opportunities for everything from fresh milk for drinking to soap making, cultured dairy products like kefir and yogurt, and homemade cheese! But with so many different breeds of dairy goats to choose from, how does one decide which breed is right for their homestead?
Finding healthy, disease-tested goats from a reputable breeder is the most important step in securing success with goats. Unhealthy animals cannot produce healthy food for you and your family. It’s also important to find a breeder whose goals are similar to your own. If your ultimate goal is for milk production, be sure to buy from someone who milks their goats. This will help you find goats that will meet your personal needs. Unhealthy or unproductive goats will eat just as much as healthy goats bred for production, functionality, and longevity — but they will not be as beneficial to your homestead. Sometimes it pays to invest more upfront in order to save in the long run.
Once you know what you’re looking for in regards to health and production, it’s time to start thinking about breeds. At the end of the day, the perfect breed for your homestead is the breed that clicks with you. Each breed of dairy goat has something unique to offer that makes them the favorite of those who choose them. However, there is one breed rapidly gaining momentum among new goat breeders — and for good reason. That breed is the Nigerian Dwarf.
Why Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats?
Nigerians are one of the most popular dairy goat breeds. Once a rare breed, the Nigerian Dwarf was listed on the Livestock Conservancy until 2013 when the population reached sufficient numbers to be considered recovered. Their change of status is an incredible testimony to the breed!
There are so many reasons that Nigerians are one of the best breeds for beginners. Here are just five of the top reasons Nigerians make a wonderful choice for a homesteader new to goats:
They are a miniature breed of dairy goats.
The smaller size of the Nigerian breeds make them well suited to homesteads with smaller acreages and those new to livestock. Mature adult bucks (unaltered males) of standard breeds can weigh in the vicinity of 200 pounds and stand over 30” tall at the withers — that is a large and powerful animal. Mature Nigerian bucks typically weigh only 80 pounds or less and should be no more than 23.5 inches at the withers. It is not unheard of for bucks to become aggressive, especially during the rut (mating season), and for that reason larger bucks can be more of a challenge.
Due to their smaller size, Nigerians need comparatively less space and feed than their standard counterparts. They are also less intimidating and easier to handle for those who are new to handling livestock, the elderly, and children.
Nigerians Produce a moderate amount of milk.
The general average production of a Nigerian doe (female) in milk is 1 – 2 quarts a day, though there are does who exceed that amount (and poor producers who give less). This seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the gallon or more many standard goats can produce, but it is a significant amount for their smaller size. In addition, many homesteaders may not need as much milk as the standard dairy does can provide. A small family homestead may struggle to go through 7+ gallons of milk a week depending on their preferences.
It’s important to remember that breed averages do not determine final production when choosing your animals. Many factors including genetics, individual variances, and management all impact milk production.
Their popularity makes it easier to sell the excess kids.
In order for a doe to produce milk she must first be bred and have kids. For a homesteader who only wants a couple of goats, those kids will need to be sold every year. Dairy does are typically not hard to sell, but excess males can be a challenge. Only so many male goats are needed as bucks, and pet homes for wethers (castrated males) can be hard to find.
While excess males can be processed for cabrito or chevon (goat meat), there is a much higher demand for pet Nigerian wethers than standard breed wethers. Their smaller size and flashy colors make them popular for those wanting a couple of backyard pets.
Nigerians are year-round breeders.
Most standard breeds of dairy goats are seasonal breeders, which means that they can only be bred during the fall rut to kid in late winter or spring. This can present a challenge for homesteaders who want a constant supply of milk through all seasons of the year. Some does are able to milk through for two years before being bred again, but not every doe can sustain a longer lactation without kidding each year.
Because Nigerians usually cycle every 21-28 days regardless of the season, they can be bred to kid at any time of year. This allows homesteaders to plan their kiddings so that there is always a doe or two in milk winter, spring, summer, or fall.
Their milk has the highest average butterfat.
The average butterfat percentage for Nigerian milk is around 6%, whereas most standard breeds hang out around 3-4% butterfat. Nigerian milk is known to be rich, creamy, and sweet.
Why is butterfat important? Higher butterfat levels are perfect for making dairy products such as cheese. A higher fat percentage in the milk results not only in a richer product, but also higher cheese yields. The butterfat percentages will vary between individuals, but the typically higher content in Nigerian milk makes them perfect for the home cheesemaker.
Nigerian Dwarf goats make an excellent choice for beginners or seasoned goatherds alike… but they’re not without their flaws, just like any breed. Their popularity has resulted in a lot of indiscriminate breeding, which makes it even more important to source them from reputable breeders who breed for production, correct conformation that will lead to longevity, and health. They can also be prolific breeders, usually producing twins or triplets but sometimes having as many as four or five kids in a single litter — that can certainly be overwhelming for a herd only wanting a few does to provide milk.
If Nigerians still sound like they’re the right choice for you, invest in an excellent goat husbandry book and start preparing your homestead for the new additions. You’ll need at least two goats to have a happy herd; goats are very lonely on their own. Once you find your breeder and bring home your kids — your journey has officially begun!
Rachel Payne is the owner of Tiramar Farms, a small farm in rural west Tennessee. We primarily raise Nigerian Dwarf and MiniMancha dairy goats whose rich milk go into our handcrafted goat milk soaps.