Saanen goats: the best dairy goat and everything about them
Saanen goats are pretty much the number one breed when it comes to dairy goats. They are highly productive, have a long lactation period and offer excellent quality milk. They are also adorbale, easy to raise goats that are a pleasure to have on a farm or homestead. But there are some other things you need to know about Saanens if you are planning on adding a few to your farm.
Saanen goats: history and origins
Saanen goats were first selected and bred in the Saanen Valley in the southwest Switzerland. From there, they spread throughout Europe and by 19th century came as far as North America where they were cross bred with many local goats breeds to improve the local breeds’ milk production. However, Saanen goats remain unmatched to this day in the amount and quality of milk they can offer, as well as many other great qualities. The farmers that first bred the Saanens in Switzerland most likely couldn’t even imagine just how popular and widespread this breed was going to become over a few centuries. Today, Saanen goats can be found everywhere on the planet, from Europe, to North and South America, to Asia and Australia, as well as New Zealand.
Saanen goats: what do they look like?
Saanens look like a goat from a childrens’ book. They are regal white, large, graceful goats with long and wide body and long legs. These goats are very well built, with strong and proportionate body parts and well-developed musculature in both male and female goats.
They have a smaller, neat-looking head with a small beard that tends to be common in both males and females. They have longish ears that tend to stand straight up. They usually don’t have horns (although sometimes they are present). Saanens have elongated necks that allow them to reach for the yummy leaves on the trees. The ladies normally have well-developed medium-sized udders with well-developed teats.
Saanen males can stand up to 80 cm and taller and weigh up to 77 kg and more. Females are slightly lighter and shorter at 75 cm and 60 kg of weight. Both males and females have short white (sometimes cream) coat with thin and short hair. If the goats are raised in colder climates, their hair may grow to be thicker and they can even develop an undercoat. Male goats normally have slightly longer coats.
Saanen goats: smell
One interesting unique characteristic of Saanen goats is that they have virtually no goat smell. Even the males tend to smell quite nicely. Same can be said about Saanen goats milk: it is very mild tasting and has no goaty smell to it.
Saanen goats milk: how much can you get and how good is it?
Saanen goats are highly valued as dairy goats, and for good reason. They are one of the most productive (if not THE most productive) dairy goat breed in the world. They also have a very long lactation period (the time of the year when you can milk the goat). A Saanen goat can lactate for 8-11 months a year, and will offer 4-6L of milk a day. Some can as much as double this number provided that they are kept in exceptional conditions and are very well fed. By the way, the taste of the milk, although always mild and attractive, may differ depending on the food and environment as well.
The fat content of Saanen goat milk is normally around 4%, which is excellent for people on low-fat diets and a wonderful option for baby food (in case a baby cannot be breast-fed). The milk has a mild, slightly sweet taste without any traces of goaty taste or smell whatsoever. It also makes fantastic cheese, cream, yogurt and whatever else you want to make!
The milk yield from your Saanen goat will go up with every freshening (every time the goat has baby goats).
One thing to remember if you are getting into Saanen goats for milk specifically is that it is quite a lot of work! You will have to milk your does twice and sometimes three times a day every day for 8 to 11 months in a year. This takes a considerable amount of effort and time. But of course, this is probably why you are interested in the Saanens in the first place.
Saanen goats fertility
Saanens are very fertile. The young does can start getting pregnant by the time they are 10 months old. The pregnancy lasts 150 days, after which the kids arrive – normally two, but sometime one or even three! Saanens are very good at passing their best qualities to their young, so you can be sure you will have an excellent herd providing you picked your “starting” goats right. And of course you are likely to have plenty of milk, even from the does that have twins and triplets.
The newborn Saanen kids usually weigh around 4.5 kg at birth and steadily gain up to 5 kg each month until they are full grown. Saanens tend to be pretty good mothers. Even when they have triplets, they tend to feed their babies very well and otherwise take care of them diligently as long as it’s required.
Saanen goats climate and food requirements
One of the downsides to this otherwise wonderful breed is that Saanen goats do require certain conditions in which they can thrive best and produce the most milk for you. They love dry and moderately warm climates. What they really don’t like is dampness and cold. They just love being dry! Cold is also not for them. Anything lower than 7C (44F) is too cold. Anything higher than 19C (66 F) is a bit too warm. They also don’t like drafts and wind. Yes, this is a demanding goat! But it doesn’t mean that you can’t create a suitable “microclimate” for them in you barn wherever you are located geographically.
Saanen goat meat
Yes, you can harvest meat from your Saanen goats if you aren’t planning to use them for milk production anymore and don’t happen to have a petting zoo. Although meat production is not Saanens’ primary use, they do offer very good-tasting meat without any goaty taste or smell. The meat is usually pretty lean and is an excellent choice for people trying to watch their weight. It tastes somewhat like lamb (except it’s quite a bit less fatty).
Saanen goats wool
This is one thing you cannot expect from your Saanen. Saanens are not and never have been used for wool production. If you have ever seen a Saanen in real life, you would see that they hardly have any wool for themselves! All they have is a fairly thin, short coat which hardly protects them from the cold which is why they are pretty needy in terms of moderate climate. So, if you are planning on raising Saanen goats but still want to wet your toes in wool production, you may want to look into Angora goats too.
Saanen goats pros
Let’s sum up some of the excellent qualities of the Saanen goats as opposed to some other breeds
Saanen goats do not smell! This is a great “feature” which you probably know very well if you have spent any time around other goat breeds 🙂
Saanen is the most famous and probably the best dairy goat breed out there. Enough said!
High milk production. Saanens offer 4-6 L of milk per day throughout their lengthy lactation period, even after their very first freshening. They tend to provide even more milk with each consequent freshening.
Saanens are one of the largest goat breeds and can offer quite a bit of meat if you choose to use it for meat production for your family (not commercially, as this is not the best breed for commercial meat production)
Saanens can boast a wonderful personality. They are friendly, mild-tempered, patient, outgoing, non-aggressive and generally happy-go-lucky goats
Saanens are very fertile and they are also great mothers for their kids. You won’t have to spend much time hand-feeding your baby goats just because their moms decided motherhood is not for them.
Saanen goat cons
One major con that some people see in Saanen goats is that they can be hard to accommodate for. They are somewhat demanding in terms of climate and environment in which they thrive. If it’s too cold, too warm, or too damp for them, they may not thrive, which will lead to smaller milk yield, lower fertility and even worsened health of your animals.
How to choose a Saanen goat right
If you are all set on bringing some Saanens to your farm/homestead, read on! Let’s see how to choose a Saanen goat correctly so that you get a good goat that you’ll happily live with for a long time.
Saanen goats are quite large at birth: they come out at 4 kg and quickly gain weight pretty much from the first day on. They are strong, well-built and energetic. They are usually white just like their moms (and dads) and don’t have horns (also just like heir moms and dads). A pure bred Saanen kid will be pure white: any spots are only allowed on its skin and udder.
A breeder will first inspect the kids health and exterior at around 14 days after birth. Of course, at this point they are far o young to be separated from their mom. The second time the young goats will be expected around 4 or 5 months old and then again at 10 months old. This is when any defects they may have will be clearly visible. This is why, if you are planning on buying a new goat, it is better to do it after they are older than 10 months old.
Sometimes you may not be able to buy the exact goat that you like the most: people don’t usually sell their best goats, for obvious reasons. It may still make sense to buy, for example, a doe that only had kids once and is perhaps not the best milk producer yet. As I’ve said before, Saanens produce more and more milk after every freshening, and you may very well get yourself a champion milk producer in a couple years or so.
One thing to definitely avoid is a goat that has or had mastitis. This often leads to loss of function of part of the udder, which will never get back to its perfect state again, and you will always have to deal with the possibility of another flare up.
Always ask the goat seller where their goats come from and why they are selling. If you don’t get a clear answer that makes sense to you, it is best to avoid buying. You don’t want to end up buying an animal with questionable genealogy and health status.
Raising your Saanen goats
As I already mentioned above, Saanen goats are somewhat demanding (although not really high-maintenance), when it comes to their living conditions. Make sure the barn you keep your goats in is dry, well heated and that the level of dampness doesn’t get higher than 75%. Saanens are also particularly “hygienic” goats are quite sensitive to cleanliness of their quarters. They don’t like living in dirty environments. Make sure the barn is cleaned regularly and is free from dirt and smells. The area needs to be regularly aired out as well.
The goat’s sleeping area needs to be cleaned out and dried regularly as well. This is especially important when dealing with kids and very young goats, as they are particularly sensitive to their environment. If the kids are raised in unsanitary environments, it’s very easy for them to pick up an infection or parasite or get sick. Adult goats that live in very clean environments are much more productive in terms of their fertility as well as milk yield.
Feeding your Saanen goats
Despite being quite a demanding breed, Saanens are not that different from other goats when it comes to feeding them. When they aren’t on pasture, Saanens can be fed grass hay, but they especially prefer alfalfa whether stored by yourself or in pellets (which helps reduce wasting of the feed). Every goat will need 2-2.5 kg of alfalfa a day. You can also use chaffhaye. Another good idea is to add some vegetable matter to their diet, such as apples, cabbage, squash and carrots. The more varied and well-balanced your goat’s diet is, the better and more milk it will produce.
You can also add grain to their diet to supplement with vitamins, minerals and pure calories.Feeding your goats during the off-pasture season will probably be your biggest expense when it comes to your goats. But don’t try to save money on this. It’s important to feed your goats a plentiful and nutrient dense feed. This way they will pay you back double in the excellent mill they produce and the amount of kids. Also, any good goat owner would rather save money on vet bills than feeding their herd right. Learn more on how to feed your goats right from my article on Feeding your goats.
Breeding Saanen goats
At some point, after you have owned these wonderful goats for a while, you may get an idea that you’d like to breed Saanens. Should you do it? Only if you are up for it! Breeding goats is a lot of work. Everything – from finding the right buck (if you don’t have one) to caring for the pregnant does to helping them birth the kids to hand-feeding the kids if the need arises – everything needs significant time and financial investments. It’s all worth it of course – if you are serious about growing your Saanen herd.
If you are planning to take on goat breeding, you have basically two options when it comes to the buck. (A critical piece in this puzzle!) You can “outsource” a buck (by borrowing one from someone). Or you can have your own buck. You will generally need just one buck. Even one male goat can successfully cover as many as 50 females over a very short period of time (they can manage about 3 females per day!).
Of course, you need to have an excellent buck, both in terms of their appearance, health, strength and productivity (previous experience in procreating). Although bucks mature quite early, it is not advisable to use a buck younger than 8-9 months old for breeding. Both bucks and does need to be health checked and well fed before the breeding.
Does fully mature and are ready for pregnancy at around 6 months of age. However, Saanen does are usually not bred until they are much older – at least 1.5 years old. You can easily spot a doe that’s ready for breeding by some characteristic signs. They include visible agitation and unrest, tail wagging, redness and swelling around their genitals and lack of appetite or interest to their usual activities.
Does are usually only in heat a few days a month and if they don’t “meet” a goat during that time, they will go out of heat for a few weeks, only to get back into heat again later. If, after being with the buck, your female doesn’t go into heat again, you can be pretty sure she is pregnant.
Saanen goat pregnancy lasts about 150 days (plus/minus 7 days). You will need to prepare a dry, warm, clean spot in the barn, away from other goats, specifically for your pregnant doe and her future kids. Please make sure that area is dry and there is no wind/draft.
Once the time comes, your does will most likely give birth without a problem on her own. Read more about goats giving birth and how you can assist them in my article here. You can actually milk your doe for 3 months after she gets pregnant, but then you will have to stop and wait until the kids are born, to let the doe rest and get enough energy and nutrients before she has to give birth.
If your doe has had her kids for the first time, you want to keep them with her for at least the first four months. This will stimulate proper milk production and ensure she provides as much milk as she can.
Saanen goats health issues
There are a few health issues you can encounter as a Saanen goat owner. In all case, it is best to consult a qualified veterinarian, but here is a small overview.
Saanens, like other dairy breeds, can sometimes have cracks in their udder. Always show your goat to the vet so they can prescribe you the medications to treat this issue. Meanwhile, separate the goat from others to minimize the possibility of further trauma and/ or infection.
Parasites are a common issue with Saanens, as with all other goat breeds. Read more on how to treat and prevent parasitic infections in my article here.
Listeria infection. Listeria infections tend to happen relatively often in Saanen goats. When it effects the goat’s nervous systems, symptoms can develop, such as fainting, balance issues and even paralysis. This disease can be passed on to the humans, so the goat is usually disposed of. Its meat has to be very well cooked to be safe for consumption.