Heidi M. Sands offers some excellent advice on buying a dairy goat for the smallholding.

Choosing your first dairy goat can be a thrilling prospect. It opens up a whole new world of home milk production and possibly cheese; hard and soft, and maybe even ice-cream, yoghurt or goats milk soap, so it pays to ensure that you get the right goat for your needs and situation.

Milking goats come in many different shapes, sizes and ages; roughly translated this means that there are several different dairy breeds of goat and within those breeds will be goats of different ages and therefore at different stages of their milking life. Each will have its strengths and weaknesses and a look at these will help determine which may be best for your situation.

Generally speaking dairy goat breeds include the well known British Saanen; the large white goat that most of us will recognise, The British Toggenburg; brown with white facial markings and its forbear the pure Toggenburg, British Alpine; black with white facial markings, the lop eared Anglo Nubian and the beautiful sandy coloured and slightly smaller Golden Guernsey and it’s offshoot the British Guernsey. As well as these there are also cross-bred goats that may be a mixture of any of the already mentioned breeds, or dairy x fibre, or dairy x meat goats, and to top it off there are what is generally termed the English (or possibly British) goat.

All goats are different in their milk yields. An average milker can give around 4.5 litres a day or 1,360 litres per year. Saanen’s tend to give more milk per lactation, while Anglo Nubian’s may give less but with a higher butterfat content that tends to be more suitable for cheese production. The British Toggenburg and British Alpine are of similar size and produce a similar milk yield. Where these two breeds differ may be in temperament; the British Alpine can be rather more of a challenge and possibly suited to the more experienced goat-keeper. The Guernsey is a finer boned goat, giving less milk than the other breeds.

Consider how much milk your own family and smallholding will use each day. When you’ve calculated the household consumption, add in any milk that you’ll use for occasional cheese, ice-cream, yoghurt or soap making. Will you use any for feeding to other livestock? Rearing calves, lambs or pigs for example. Think too about any milk you’ll want to freeze for use when yield drops when your goat reaches its dry period. Doing this will give you an indication as to whether you’ll need a potentially higher yielding breed or something that will only produce a couple of pints per day.

Remember too that older goats will generally produce less per lactation than one in the peak of production and that goats will peak in milk yield several weeks after kidding, holding that yield until dropping down to virtually nil at drying off time just prior to the next kidding. Most dairy goats are capable of running through, that is milking on into a second year without needing to kid a second time. Sometimes a goatling will even come into milk without having ever kidded, but this type of loosely termed ‘milker’ is generally not considered suitable for dairy use.

Next, consider whether you want a goat that’s already in milk and that has kidded or one that’s in-kid and still has to give birth. Are you able to care for an in-kid goat, especially if it’s her first kid or do you want a goat that will give milk immediately? It’s worth remembering that the simple action of moving a goat from one home to another can sometimes cause a drop in milk yield, although that may only be temporary until your goat becomes accustomed to its new home and a new routine.

Other things to consider are conformation, especially udder attachment and position and size of teats. A goat that has a low pendulous udder and either very small or overly large teats will be more difficult to milk. She’ll also be more prone to catching her udder and causing accidental damage to her teats.

Temperament of individual goats is important especially if children are coming into contact with the goat. Ease of handling is another consideration, a gentle and tractable goat is much more pleasant to milk than one that won’t keep still or kicks when being milked. Any goat that you are considering purchasing should also be healthy, disease free and up to date with vaccinations and worming.

As well as thinking about your own needs what about the needs of the goat? A goat generally does better with company, so might you be better getting two goats rather than one? If so how will two fit into your life? Would it be better to keep your goat with livestock you already have? Goats will make friends with sheep, but do ensure that any goats that come into season are kept well away from entire rams; mating between the two has been known to happen, resulting in problems.

Also think about paperwork when considering buying your goat. Is she registered? If so see her ‘papers’ or registration documents. Is she correctly tagged and/or earmarked? Is she in any recognised health scheme; if so is it transferable? If you go ahead and buy her ensure she has a movement document and that you have a holding number before you travel her. Contact your local Defra or similar office for more information. Different areas of the UK may have different requirements that may alter depending on current recommendations.

Above all else choose a goat that you like, she may be with you for some time. There are goats that have continued to breed and milk until twelve years old. Your goat may go on to produce daughters for you, or establish your herd, it therefore pays to have a good foundation goat that you will remember for all the right reasons.


This article by Heidi M. Sands first appeared in Smallholder magazine. To read more of her work, why not subscribe to the monthly magazine.