Common Goat Breeds

A small black and white goat rests in straw outdoors.
Arya is a Nigerian Dwarf Goat

Updated June 22, 2020

As one of the oldest domesticated species, most goats have been selectively bred for thousands of years by humans for different human desires. Some have been bred to grow quickly for their for their flesh or milk. Other goats have been bred to have fast growing fur for human textile use. Others still have intentionally been bred smaller, which can bring its own health concerns. Each breed may have their own personality traits, living space needs, and health considerations; ideally you should know exactly what kind of goats you’re taking in before making any plans or accommodations!

Here are some broad categories of goat breeds to know about in a sanctuary environment:

A Note From The Open Sanctuary Project

While the Open Sanctuary Project does not endorse the use of any animal for human desires, the following terminology is the most commonly used when referring to goat breeds.

Goats Used For Their Milk

Goats have been used by humans for their milk since the Neolithic era. Like cows, goats are commonly impregnated against their will, their babies taken away shortly after birth (and the baby male goats often slaughtered), and forced to give their milk until they are no longer considered profitable enough to keep alive, at which point they are slaughtered. Many breeds of “Dairy” goats are susceptible to serious and painful diseases of the udder, such as Mastitis. Common “Dairy” goat breeds include Alpine, LaMancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, and Toggenburg. Kinder goats are a common “dual-purpose” goat breed used for both their milk and flesh.

Goats Used For Their Flesh

In the United States alone, over 1.5 million goats are slaughtered for their flesh every year. These animals are typically slaughtered between the ages of three and five months old, a tiny fraction of their fifteen to eighteen year lifespan. Goats raised for their flesh are typically done so in crowded, unhygienic conditions that can lead to ammonia-related scalding injuries and great stress to individual goats. These animals are routinely slaughtered without effective stunning or anesthesia. Unlike other farmed animals used for their flesh, the breeds of goats raised for meat suffer fewer genetic health concerns. Common “Flesh” goat breeds include the Boer, Kiko, Spanish, and Tennessee Fainting Goat.

Goats Used For Their Fiber

Like some sheep, some goats have been bred to have long, thick coats (for the purpose of the product known as Mohair, Pashmina, or Cashmere) that are routinely shorn off and used by humans for textile purposes. Like sheep, these goats are often kept in substandard, crowded, unhygienic operations which are stressful and dangerous to the goats. Goat shearers typically tie their legs together, pin them to the ground, and cause frequent injuries and wounds with the electric clippers as speed is prioritized over treatment of the goats. Many fiber goats are shorn in the wintertime with little remaining warmth after they lose their coats, resulting in freezing-related illnesses and deaths. When they are no longer considered good producers of fiber for humans, they are typically sent to the slaughterhouse for either their meat or their skin. Breeds of goats rescued from the textile industry have to be shorn in order to not be overheated or trapped in matted, overgrown fur due to their extreme breeding. Common “Fiber” goat breeds include the Cashmere family, Angora, Nigora, and Pygora.

Goats Used As Pets

Some goat breeds have been deemed beneficial for people keeping goats as companion animals. These breeds might also be used for their milk, flesh, and fiber, but certain breeding practices have made them appealing for companion animal treatment. This includes breeding smaller, typically calmer goats, and those who are generally very friendly to humans. These goats also are unfortunately abandoned and surrendered by people who did not take into account the needs of goats when thinking they would make an appropriate replacement for a cat or dog. Common goat breeds used as pets include Nigerian Dwarf and Pygmy goats.

Wild Goats

Wild goats are so different to domesticated goats that, unlike in the case of wild and domesticated turkeys, they are considered a separate species of animal altogether. Wild goats live in populations across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Contrary to their namesake, North American mountain goats are not technically goats! They’re more closely related to antelopes, gazelle, and cattle. Some wild goats are populations of feral domesticated goats that have left or been abandoned by humans. Generally they travel and graze, and avoid human populations. It would be highly unlikely to need to create a sanctuary environment for a wild goat, with the possible exception of abandoned baby wild goats, though a conservation organization would most likely be better equipped to manage such a situation.

Though most goats have been selectively bred to satisfy various human aims, it’s important to remember that they all have the capacity to have richly unique personalities and deserve a comfortable life free from human mistreatment.


Sheep And Goats | Farm Sanctuary

Goats | Woodstock Farm Sanctuary

Goat’s Milk | Care2

The Mohair Industry | PETA

Why Aren’t Mountain Goats Really Goats? | How Stuff Works

15 Different Types Of Goats | Farm Cradle (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on November 10, 2021

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