If you’re thinking about raising goats, one of the first decisions you’ll want to make is whether or not you want goats with horns. The decision of horns or not is a very emotionally charged decision for many people. If you‘ve decided on having goats without horns, you have a few choices I will cover in this article.
Do goats have horns? Most goats have horns, but some goats are born without the genes to grow horns. Naturally, hornless goats are called polled goats. All breeds of goats can produce a polled goat, but certain breeds produce either almost exclusively polled goats or a high percentage of polled offspring.
A few breeds have been developed that usually produce polled (naturally hornless) offspring. Three of these include the Maltese, Miniature Oberhasli, and Toggenburg. These are all great options for any farm and are especially suited to dairy production.
Let’s explore these three breeds a bit deeper and then cover the genetics and disbudding.
Nigerian Dwarf: Creamiest Milk
Nigerian Dwarf Goats were originally imported into the United States from West Africa as a curiosity for zoos. They are widespread as both a pet and dairy goat today.
Nigerian Dwarf goats are adorably small, making them easy to handle and maintain, and their milk production is perfect for a goat their size. They are renowned for having the highest butterfat content found in dairy goats, making their milk extremely rich in flavor.
The polled gene is extremely easy to find within the Nigerian Dwarf breed, with most farms focusing on both polled and blue-eyed genetics.
This breed is also prevalent for exhibition purposes, and show animals are required to be hornless. As a result, breeding show quality polled stock is both necessary and common within Nigerian Dwarf goats. In my experience, Nigerian Dwarf goats are hardy and easily bond to their handlers.
My twin Nigerian Dwarf goats, Wilson (left) and Picket (right).
Nubian Goats: Strong Milk Goats
Nubian goats are quite possibly the most common dairy goat in the world. The Nubian goat breed is easily recognizable by its massively long ears. Historically originating in Sudan, selective breeding programs of Nubian goats took hold in the United Kingdom in the mid-1800s.
After breeders imported them into the United States around 1900, Nubian goats became one of the most valuable multi-purpose goats available. Nubian can carry the polled gene, but most hornless individuals within this breed had their horns removed as kids.
A growing number of Nubian owners are attempting to get the polled gene within their breeding programs. Many others are opting to use only polled bucks when breeding their does each year as well. Over time, naturally hornless Nubian will be much more common within the breed.
LaMancha: Polled from the Onset
Despite being called LaMancha, this goat breed does not have ties to the Spanish region of the same name. They were bred in the United States using various other breeds, including Murciana and Criollo. Polled LaMancha are popular, and hornlessness has been selectively bred for since 1958 when they were identified as a breed.
While they can be horned, LaMancha goats have been consistently observed with the polled gene more than other breeds, and many lines selectively breed for this quality.
Large in size, LaMancha goats don’t have a specific color requirement, but they generally have symmetrical markings. They famously have extremely short ears. In fact, it’s a disqualifier for the breed to exhibit any ear length over two-inch.
They are also known for being excellent dairy animals, producing a high amount of butterfat content. Additionally, LaMancha goats are very friendly and curious, making them an excellent choice for anyone wanting an easy-to-handle dairy goat.
Maltese: Popular for Ricotta Cheese
Originating from the Mediterranean and drawing their name from the island of Malta, Maltese goats are primarily prized for their milk production of 130-156 gallons per lactation. The milk is said to have a pleasing taste and is frequently used in Sicily for traditional Caprino and Ricotta cheeses.
Maltese goats are generally polled, medium-sized, and long-haired. They are extremely distinctive, with rich black coloring on the top and sides of their heads, shiny white coats, long ears, and pink skin.
Maltese goats are popular in all parts of the world, and many breeders regard them as a superior breed because of their tasty milk and easy breeding. Unfortunately, for such a superior animal, the Maltese population has been declining since the Second World War.
Alpine Goats: Fun Personalities
My sweet Alpine doe, Callie
Alpines were first bred in the Swiss Alps in the early 1900s from the Toggenburg and Nubian. The Alpine is noteworthy not only for superior milk production but also for their great personalities.
British Alpines have often been noted to carry the polled gene, but it’s less common in French Alpines.
If our doe, Callie, is at all representative of her breed, then Alpines are truly affectionate, easy to handle, highly inquisitive and intelligent, and agile for their medium to large size.
However, if you’re looking for an alternative, a polled breed that closely resembles the Alpine, look no further than the Mini Oberhasli.
Miniature Oberhasli: Miniature Dairy Goat
The Mini Oberhasli is the perfect goat for either urban or rural living because of its small size. The breed descends from Nigerian Dwarf and Oberhasli goats, which makes them a great dairy breed and a popular pet.
While the Mini Oberhasli is known for being usually polled, interestingly, it largely depends on which part of Switzerland the breeding line is from. Goats from the eastern side of Graubünden (called Bünder Oberhasli goats) are typically horned, but Oberhasli goats from Brienz are polled (the Brienzer-Oberhasli type).
The Miniature Oberhasli is a great breed for anyone looking for a small but highly productive dairy breed with a quiet, gentle temperament and friendly nature.
Miniature Oberhasli produces up to 1 ½ gallons of high-quality milk per day. Contrast that to the 2 quarts given by Nigerian Dwarf does and 1 gallon produced by larger Alpine goats.
Distinguished by their rich red bay coat, Miniature Oberhasli goats are beautiful goats and does are known to make excellent mothers. This breed would be especially great for families with young children.
Toggenburg: Oldest Dairy Goat Breed
Toggenburg goats are a bit more well-known than the Miniature Oberhasli or Maltese. They were first bred in the Toggenburg Valley in Switzerland, but today they are often readily available in many parts of the world and are the oldest recognized dairy goat breed.
While they’re commonly polled, sometimes Toggenburg kids may have horns that will curve back over their heads.
These goats are strictly solid brown, ranging from fawn to dark chocolate, with some white allowed in places. They’re medium-sized, sturdy, with soft, fine hair, and frequently have wattles. With lively, inquisitive personalities, Toggenburg goats will be a joy for any homestead.
Males usually weigh around 154 lb, with females at 121 lb. Although known to be adaptable, Toggenburgs are thought to be best suited to cooler conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a goat of any breed be polled? Any breed can produce polled goats, although it’s less common. It primarily depends on the specific breeding line and what the breeder values. Many breeders prefer to discontinue any line carrying the polled gene unless they are raising goats for milk.
Are female goats naturally hornless? Female goats are not naturally hornless. The females (called “does”) grow horns in goats unless they carry the polled gene.
Will one sex show the polled gene more than the other? Both bucks and does can be equally polled. Polled offspring are found evenly between males and females. Additionally, while some people mistakenly believe that the polled parent will play a role in which kids carry the polled gene or not, this isn’t significant.
How will I know if my goat carries the polled gene? You’ll know if your kid carries the polled gene because it will always show. It is genetically impossible for a horned animal to carry the polled gene. A polled kid will have a slightly more rounded head, and the hair around the area where the horns would break through should face down toward the face rather than grow in swirls, as seen in horned goats.
How did I get a polled kid from two horned or disbudded parents? Two horned parents can’t produce a polled kid because the polled gene is dominant. Usually, either a polled buck escaped a pen and impregnated the doe without the breeder’s knowledge. Or one of the parents was polled, and cauterized as a kid to disguise it as disbudded, which sometimes happens due to lingering stigma, and maybe a possibility if you didn’t raise the goat as a kid.
How do I find polled goats for sale? The best way to find a polled goat for sale is to advertise on social media and relevant online boards that you’re actively looking for polled goats. Talk to local breeders or veterinarians to discover if they know of anyone who raises polled goats, and check breeder associations. You may need to search for a while, depending on the breeders in your area.
Why do goats have horns in the first place? Horns serve multiple purposes, such as attracting a mate, self-defense, and a cooling mechanism to regulate the goat’s temperature. That’s why goat keepers in hotter climates, such as Africa, parts of Asia, and South America, typically retain the horns.
Do all goats need to be disbudded? Goats do not need to be disbudded. Sometimes breeders need a goat to be disbudded, such as for a dairy goat that has to fit into a milk stanchion. Other goat breeders and owners may prefer disbudded goats to horned goats.
Is disbudding unethical? Disbudding is the safest, most humane method available to get rid of goat horns. It’s generally considered ethical and causes the goat far less discomfort than dehorning later in life.
Check out Part 2 of this article for more information on Polled, Disbudded, Dehorned: Understanding Hornless Goats
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