Photo by E. L. Caldwell courtesy of ALBC
Heritage breed goats are a great asset to a small homestead. They don't need the amount of room that a cow does, nor do they give such a huge amount of milk that gallons of it go to waste. Heritage breeds are hardy, intelligent, and perfectly suited for sustainable living.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) has identified seven breeds of goats as being heritage breeds in need of protection. When thinking about a goat for your homestead consider these breeds first. These are the breeds that have been used on small family farms for decades. They have been largely allowed to breed normally rather than being genetically manipulated by factory farms into something that only resembles the animal they once were.
ALBC's List of Heritage Breed Goats
The ALBC lists the following breeds as being in need of protection. Some are more critical than others.
The Arapawa is a feral goat that lived on Arapawa Island in New Zealand until the 1970s. The Forestry Service decided that the goats were destroying the natural forest and they were relocated to a large sanctuary.
The goats are directly descended from animals brought by Captain Cook and early settlers to the area in the mid 1700s. They are the last known representatives of the Old English breed, popular in England for centuries. According to the ALBC as of 2008 there are approximately 300 goats in captivity with another 150-200 goats remaining in the wild. There is an increase in breeders in New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Arapawa goats are a hardy breed, with long hair. They are good foragers, give birth easily (often to twins), and are a gentle, all purpose goat. This makes them an excellent choice for a small family farm. ALBC has this breed listed as critical.
You can get more information from the Arapawa Goat Breeders USA
San Clemente No one really knows where the San Clemente came from. Genetic tests reveal that it is a unique breed, not related to the Spanish goats it resembles. The San Clemente goats are a feral breed that ran wild on the California coastal island of San Clemente until the 1980s. At the last count there were only about 400 goats of this breed left in the entire world. The goats are usually buckskin with black markings on their faces. They are slightly larger than a dwarf breed goat and are fine boned. The San Clemente can be milked, although it is not primarily a milk goat. Testing is underway to determine the exact quality of the milk as far as butterfat. The meat is described as delicate in flavor and not goaty. You can read more about this remarkable goat or find a breeder at San Clemente Island Goat Association. Tennessee Fainting Goat The Tennessee Fainting Goat goes by several names: - Myotonic - Stiff - Nervous - Texas Wooden Leg - Tennessee Meat - Scare These are the goats that fall down stiffly when startled. This is due to a genetic condition known as myotonia congenita. Basically the muscles become stiff in a prolonged contraction and cause the goat to fall down. This does not hurt them nor does it mean that they are unhealthy in any way. Tennessee Fainting goats are well muscled and tend to be a larger breed. This makes them an excellent goat for meat. They can be milked although like the San Clemente they are not known for the quality of their milk. You can find out more at either International Fainting Goat Association or Myotonic Goat Registry Spanish Goats Spanish goats were brought to the New World in the 1500s with the Spanish explorers. These goats supplied everything from meat and milk to hide for shoe leather and other goods. Over the centuries the Spanish goat was cross bred with other goats until almost any scrub goat in the South can be referred to as Spanish. In reality the Spanish goat varies in size from 50 to almost 200 pounds. They are a hardy breed, as are all heritage breeds good foragers; they thrive on brush where other goats would starve. They do well in all kinds of climates as well. One of the dangers to the purebred Spanish goat is that it is increasingly common to crossbreed the Spanish with South African Boer goats, a large meat breed imported from Africa. As there is more crossbreeding there are fewer purebred goats and the breed dwindles. The Spanish breed would be perfect on a homestead with a lot of brush where the homesteading family was looking for a hardy meat animal. They are resistant to parasites and tolerate heat well. You can find out more about this breed at the Spanish Goat Association. Nigerian Dwarf This is the type of goats that we have. I have written an article about them, Why A Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goat Might Be the Pet of Your Dreams. The Nigerian Dwarf is sweet spirited, gentle, playful, and intelligent. This is not a great goat to have if you are looking for an animal that forages well or eats scrub. Nigerians can be fussy about their grazing. They give about two quarts of milk a day on average; however one of ours does gives a little over three so this can vary. The milk has some of the highest butterfat of any breed of goat, measuring at about 6%. These are not meat animals. They stay lean and have little meat, with most of their calorie intake going to milk production. If you want milk for your family, with a little left over for cheese making then this may be the perfect goat for you. For more information check out the Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association. Oberhasli The Oberhasli developed in the mountainous areas of Switzerland. Because of their large size the males can be used as pack animals. The Oberhasli is mainly used as a milk goat and will gave approximately one gallon of milk per day for ten months. The milk has an average butterfat content of 3.5 to 4.0%. Many people feel that the Oberhasli gives milk with a superior flavor. These goats are very gentle and stable. One of the reasons they are well liked for pack animals is that they don't startle easily and handle the various conditions found on a trail very well. The Oberhasli doe will weigh a minimum of 120 pounds when she is full grown. For more information you can check out the Oberhasli Breeders of America Site. Golden Guernsey The Golden Guernsey is on watch status by the ALBC, meaning it is being studied but as yet there is no concern about extinction of this breed. This is a beautiful goat, some with long, silky hair. It is primarily a dairy breed. The milk production is somewhat less than with other dairy breeds but the higher fat content of the Golden Guernsey makes the milk an excellent ingredient in cheesemaking. The Golden Guernsey is what is often called a yard goat. It has been traditionally kept even in very small yards to provide milk for families in the UK. It is a light eater, needing less food than some other breeds to produce its rich milk. There are no more animals of this breed being imported to the United States currently but breeders are working to have the breed recognized by the American Dairy Goat Association. You can find out more about this breed at the Golden Guernsey Goat Society. Raising Heritage Breed Goats When you choose a heritage breed goat you are protecting a part of history. Be sure to learn all you can about the genetics and strengths of the goat breed you have chosen so that you can run a strong breeding program. This benefits the entire breed by introducing only strong, healthy stock that is true to breed standard and it benefits you because you can sell your animals at a higher price. Spend time talking with other breeders and learn from them. Join the breed association and become active in it. In these ways you can be a part of keeping these heritage breeds around. While choosing a heritage breed goat may mean you pay a little bit more or have to work harder to find stock for sale, it also means you are ensuring that these animals are around for generation.