goat; ewes

Small stock production: How to choose the right goat for you

You’ve decided to farm with goats, but how do you know which breed is best? Here’s a guide to selecting the right goat for your needs.

The type of goat you buy depends on whether you want to farm with goats for meat or milk production. Once you’ve established this, ensure that the goats you intend to purchase meet the required standards.


The South African Boer goat

Johan Steyn from the Patriot Boer Goat Stud explains that the South African Boer goat is a registered small-stock breed that is widely available in South Africa (SA). Steyn says that farmers who want to raise goats for meat production don’t have to buy animals that fully comply with stud standards, but the goats should have good economic potential.

“If you’re raising Boer goats for purposes of meat production, the exterior qualities of the animal are not that important. You are in the business to sell meat, not skins,” he says.

Boer goats should have high fertility, good mothering ability, be adaptable and hardy and reach maturity early. “Fertility is one of the most important characteristics to grow the herd,” he says. The ewe must be feminine, wedging slightly narrower to the front. The ram, however, should appear heavier in the head, neck and forequarters.

Also read: Small stock production: Taking care of your rams

Female goats need a strong mothering ability to raise kids, produce sufficient milk and remain interested in her young. Steyn says ewes that kid for the first time have to learn how to raise their kids. Mothering ability is also a hereditary trait in goats. Farmers must keep a close eye on goats to see if they have this quality.

“A goat must be adaptable, hardy and able to survive in any environment – from Namibia to Natal,” he says. Boer goats should also have natural resistance to parasites and diseases.

If a goat can reach maturity early, it also means that the animal will gain weight quickly. This is important in the business of meat production.

“If the goat doesn’t gain weight, it will affect the cash flow of your business because you have to wait longer for animals to reach the desired weight. You also delay the next production cycle,” he explains.

Early maturity is also an indication of early sexual maturity. Although a ewe can be bred from 6 months, it is not recommended, as this will stunt the animal’s growth. While pregnant, a great deal of growth is diverted to growing foetuses. Animals can generally be mated once they reach 60% of their adult weight.

Also read:
Managing ewes in the last six weeks of pregnancy
Part two – Managing ewes in the last six weeks of pregnancy


Swiss Saanen

Swiss Saanen goats, easily recognised by their short, white hair, are considered the most common dairy breed. Poena van Niekerk from Jersey SA says that a Saanen produces a high milk volume, but has the lowest butter fat and protein of all the breeds.

Many farmers prefer these dairy goats as they have good milking ability, are easy to keep and can tolerate environmental change. However, farmers have to provide adequate shade for Saanens as their white coats make the breed sensitive to excessive sunlight.

According to Deon van Dalen, owner of Angel Dew Farms and founder of Dairy Goat SA, the Saanen goat’s milk production should average about 900 litres a year. The “per day” average of milk produced is measured when a goat is at its top performance, usually midway through lactation.

This period of top performance only lasts about 6 weeks. A Saanen weighs between 55 kg and 65 kg and yields between 3% and 4% milk fat.


Alastair Catto, co-owner of Goat Peter Cheesery, says that the Toggenburg has higher milk solids content than other goats, which is critical for cheese production. The British Toggenburg Society promotes these goats for their excellent udder development and milk production. These goats are also easy to manage and efficient feed converters.

The hair is short or medium in length, soft, fine and lies flat. Colour ranges from solid to light- or chocolate-brown and they have distinctive white markings. Milk production of a top animal can be as much as 850 litres over a 300-day lactation period.

British Alpine

The British Alpine should have a black coat with white “Swiss” markings on its head, legs and around the tail. British Alpines are tall, rangy animals and are best suited to temperate climates. They perform poorly in regions where the humidity is high.

According to the British Alpine Breed Society, the “rangy frame” of these goats makes them well-suited to browsing and they do well on a bulky, fibrous diet.

The does are good milk producers, with an average fat yield of 4%. A good-quality animal can produce about 850 litres of milk a year.

Also read: Milk goats can work on African farms


  • Stud animals comply with breed standards in all respects. They are flagship animals that are judged by breed inspectors appointed by the South African Boer Goat Breeders’ Association.
  • Commercial or flock animals comply with many, but not all of the breed standards. However, these animals cannot be presented on national or international shows.


  • Deon van Dalen, founder of Dairy Goat SA, advises new farmers not to buy goats that are older than 6 years, as older goats could have kidding problems.
  • Alastair Catto, co-owner of Goat Peter Cheesery, says Milk goats must have the right conformation, good genetics, high milk production potential, the correct pelvic structure and good udder attachment.
  • Catto says that it costs the same to feed a poor- or good-quality goat. So always buy the best goat you can afford. You can’t improve the herd with a bad goat.
  • Milk goats shouldn’t be too skinny. They should have a healthy coat and erect ears.
  • The main aim is milk production. Therefore, the udders should be well formed, healthy and able to carry enough milk.
  • Inspect the udder for wart-like growths, which may be an indication of cancer. A badly shaped udder will make the milking process more difficult.


When buying milk goats, choose animals with high milk production potential, good genetics and good udder attachment.

Also read: Overcome nutrient deficiencies in goats and sheep

  • This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.

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