Alpine goats: easy goat, awesome milk!
Alpine goats are a breed of goats that could be particularly good for beginning farmers or those just starting out onto their goat journey. This is a healthy, sturdy breed that’s relatively easy to raise. And there are so many other advantages this breed can boast. They have a mild, happy personality and and friendly with people.
Due to their excellent productivity and fertility, Alpines have been used extensively to improve other breeds too. Let’s find out more about why Alpines are so valued and why you may want to look into owning one.
Alpine goats history. Why are they called Alpine?
Alpine goats, like many other excellent dairy goat breeds, were first bred in Europe, around the place called Savoy, at the border of Switzerland and France. While French farmers have officially created the breed, the Swiss most likely contributed as well. This area is high in the mountains where only the sturdiest goats could survive and thrive. This is why Alpine goats are so tough: they are not afraid of cold climates or snow. Their coats are long and thick and offer great protection from the temperatures.
But back to the Alpine goat origins. After having been bred in Switzerland and France for many decades (all the way up to 19th century), these goats spread all over Europe: through Italy, France, UK, and then further onto North and South America. In 1930s the French created one of the first goat breed books describing every goat breed known at that point. The Alpines were one of the most well described and well-loved breeds. In the 1920s, the American breeders have contributed majorly to the development and improvement of the breed. They have created a sub-breed that became a basis for a lot of North American dairy goat breeds. The American sub-type of the Alpine goats are larger, sturdier and are very hardy. They are also just as productive as their original Alpine predecessors.
These days, Alpine goats are one of the most popular dairy breeds bred and raised successfully all over the world. France is still particularly keen on raising this goat, which apparently constitutes more than 90% of all breeds raised in France.
It looks like a goat and talks like a goat
Alpine goats are classical “goaty” goats: there is nothing particularly outstanding in the way they look. (Unlike some unusual breeds like Damascus goats). Alpines are medium-to-large-sized goats with compact bodies and thinner, shorter, but sturdy legs. As all mountain goat types, their limbs are strong but graceful. The hooves are very sensitive. The tail is very short.
Size-wise, the males grow up to 85-90 cm in height, while females usually stand at 70-80 cm. The weight of this goat can vary from 120 to 160lb. Females have large prominent udders with well-developed teats. The males have large horns bent to the back. Some of the females also have horns (in fact, most tend to grow them).
Coat colors vary: they can be white, black, brown, gray and any combinations of these colors with spots. Despite being from a colder climate originally, Alpine goats have shorter coats that aren’t valued for their yarn (in fact, they can’t be used to make yarn). Regardless, their coats keep Alpines warm as they have a short undercoat as well.
They adapt easily even to the coldest of climates and easily thrive in such conditions. In this sense, this is one of the most “independent” breeds in that you won’t have many issues trying to protect your Alpines from the weather.
Alpine goat dairy productivity
Alpine goats ave been traditionally used as dairy goats and they really are one of the best dairy goat breeds out there, on par with Saanen goats and Nubian goats. They are very productive: a doe can bring 1400-1600L of milk every year. The milk boasts a delicate taste well-loved by goat milk lovers. It doesn’t have the usual goaty taste, which is another reason for its popularity. The fat content of the Alpine goat milk is around 3.5-5.5%.
Alpine goats can also boast good fertility. A doe will have at least 2 kids in each litter, and sometimes as many as 5!
While being an excellent dairy breed, Alpines aren’t really used that much for meat production. Meat productivity doesn’t exceed 44% of the goat’s live weight. The meat tastes fairly well and, like Alpine milk, doesn’t have a goaty taste or smell.
Alpine goats aren’t very picky when it comes to their living conditions. In the warm months of the year they will benefit from from being out on a pasture if you have one. Alpines are great at procuring their own food. For centuries, they have been very successful at finding food even up in the rocky mountains of France and Switzerland. Many farmers note that the Alpine goats much prefer dry feed and concentrates to green feed. The daily diet of your goats should have hay (if you don’t have a pasture) and grain. You will want to feed up to 200g of concentrated feed a day as well. Don’t forget to add salt to their feed.
If you don’t have a pasture, regular feeding schedule consisting of hay, concentrates and vegetables will do just fine. This is what they will get in the winter as well. Despite being very adpative and not picky when it comes to food, Alpines are nonetheless very sensitive to the quality and cleanliness of their water. They won’t touch stale water so you will have to change it for them at least twice a day. Water troughs will also need to be washed at least once daily. You might want to install an automatic water system for your goats.
Even though Alpine goats are quite hardy, they still do need a barn for the cold months. The barn has to be warm and most importantly – dry. Alpines can deal with the cold, but not with dampness. They also do really badly in drafty barns. Drafts and dampness can cause the oats to get sick, especially young goats and kids. It can result in cough or even pneumonia which can be lethal.
Heating is not necessary for the barn, but insulating it would be a great idea. You will also need to make sure the barn is well-ventilated (a couple of windows will do the trick). One Alpine goat will need around 2-3 sq m of space.
They do need elevated bedding as they don’t like sleeping on resting on the floor. You may consider wooden shelving around 60 cm up from the floor for them to sleep on. They will also love climbing those: like any other goat breed, Alpines are great climbers!
Alpine goats are very active. They prefer moving around and hardly ever lie around. Due to being so active, they always look fit. Obesity is extremely rare in these goats. The Alpines prefer to live in large herds, usually following the main buck around. They are also very friendly both within their herds as well as with other animals on the farm.
Alpine goats pros and cons
Alpine goats pros
There are many reasons for Alpine goats popularity not only in their motherland Switzerland, but all over the world. After all, this is the most widespread breed of goats in France! And it’s widely raised in many other countries, even though it’s a slightly less popular breed than Saanen goats. Here is a recap of why we love Alpines so much.
- Milk! They produce delicious milk without goaty smell, with good fat content that allows you to make excellent goat cheese. They also produce quite a lot of it! The pleasant, mild taste makes Alpine goat milk an excellent basis for many other products such as cheese, butter, yogurt, etc.
- Good looks. Alpines are simply one of the best looking goat breeds out there. They are graceful, fit, boast all possible coat colors and are generally well-liked by everyone.
- Alpines are highly adapted to a variety of climate environments. Having originated from Alpine Switzerland, they can easily handle cold and snow. They also thrive in really warm climates, and anything in between apart from wet and damp climates which all breeds of goats tend to dislike.
- Alpines are pretty independent goats. They breed and birth easily and are good at raising their kids. Does hardly ever reject their babies, and rarely need assistance in labor. This makes for an easy goat to have and to breed.
- Alpines are sturdy and healthy goats. They don’t often get sick and are largely resistant to many common goat pathogens and diseases.
- Alpines are amicable and non-aggressive. This is a good goat to have on a farm, especially if you have kids or other animals in the mix. As with any goat, you need to be careful around bucks, but in general this is a safe goat to be around.
Apart from their advantages, Alpines have a few downsides that you should also know about.
- Alpines are extremely sensitive to the quality of the water they get. They will not touch dirty water even if they are very thirsty. You will have to change their water at least twice daily to keep your goats well-hydrated.
- Pure-bred Alpine goats can be expensive and hard to find. This is a valuable, highly productive breed and it’s not cheap to acquire, if you can even find an Alpine for sale in your area. It might be easier to get one if you are willing to travel.