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What is a Saanen Goat?

By J.L. Drede
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A Saanen goat is a breed of dairy goat. It is known most for its very large size and mild temperament. Originally bred in the valley of Switzerland where it gets its name, today the goat can be found in dairy farms all around the world.

All Saanen goats have a short coat of fine white hair. Small areas of fringe are common over the thighs and spine as well. Some may have an off-white cream color to the coat, but it is less common. It does have horns, although sometimes these are removed at birth.

The Saanen first found its way out of the Saanen valley in Canton Berne, Switzerland in the late 1800s, when settlers took their goats with them as they moved across Europe. By the turn of the century the goat was being exported to the United States and other countries. It is one of four breeds, along with the Alpine, Toggenburg and Oberhasil, that makes up the Swiss dairy goat breeds.

The Saanen goat is the largest of dairy breeds. Most average between 31 to 32 (about 78 to 81 cm) inches in height, but some have been known to grow as tall as 35 inches (about 89 cm). The goat typically weighs about 145 pounds (65 kg). Despite its very large size, it is one of the most calm and well-behaved of the goat breeds. Their easy-going temperament lends them to be used as show goats or in petting zoos.

In addition to being the largest breed of dairy goat, it also produces more milk than any other goat breed. In a world-record-setting case, a Saanen goat on an Australian milk farm produced more than 7,000 pounds (roughly 3,175 kg) of milk in a single year. The milk produced by the Saanen goat is usually about three to four percent milk fat.

While the Saanen has been bred in a variety of locations and conditions around the world, it does have preferred living conditions. Saanen goats are able to generate the most milk when in conditions that mirror the Swiss valley from which it was originally bred. These conditions include cooler climates with shade. The goat does not do well in excessive sunlight.

Dairy breeds such as the Saanen goat are not commonly used for meat production. Its leg and udder-heavy body are not advantageous to the production of viable meat. Most goat meat eaten in the world today is either from the South African Boer Goat or the Spanish goat.

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Discussion Comments
By runner101 — On Aug 23, 2011

@geekish - You can actually find goat breeders online to find a goat for sale just like you can dog breeders. Just with saanen goat breeders you may have to travel as the sites I have looked at did not have a breeder in every state.

I am a newbie to the idea of buying goats so I would check into how you find a good breeder and a healthy goat as well, just as if you were looking for a puppy!

Which makes me wonder... I wonder how goats get along with other animals like dogs, I have a Labrador retriever who loves to lick just about anything that moves unless it is duck or squirrel (then she loves to annoy and chase).

By geekish — On Aug 22, 2011

I have never thought of having a goat for a pet but the description of this goat sounds like an attractive pet it is both pettable yet also produces food (the milk obviously not the meat - speaking of goat meat, what countries eat goat meat? I had heard it was the number one most eaten meat in the world but I have never heard of any country ever eating goat).

So where would one find a saanen goat for sale?

By Sara007 — On Aug 22, 2011

Saanen goats are a great choice if you have children as they are famous for being gentle and mild-mannered. Saanen goats are most content just relaxing in the shade and eating.

It's funny, but a lot of breeders actually refer to the Saanen goat as "living marshmallows". I suppose this is why they are such a popular choice at petting zoos and in animal shows.

I remember taking kids to a petting zoo and they absolutely loved the Saanen goats. They were soft and completely oblivious to my children petting them. Definitely a tolerant animal that would make a good pet.

By popcorn — On Aug 21, 2011

My mother always told me that Saanen goat milk was the best that you could buy. She used it for cooking and drinking. While I am not sure if Saanen goat milk is really the best, I do prefer goat milk in general. Goat milk offers a huge number of health benefits that just don't come with milk produced by cows.

For those that don't know, goat milk is actually great at soothing the stomachs of those with issues. I have struggled with ulcers in the past and goat milk was much easier on my stomach than cow milk. I actually found it to be more effective than over the counter antacids. It was also cheaper to buy.

By lluviaporos — On Aug 21, 2011

It says in the article that the horns of the Saanen are sometimes removed when they are young. Personally, I don't think that's necessary at all. They are very gentle goats, and I find them quite easy to work with. If anything, the horns give you a way to guide them around (gently!).

I have often seen children working with Saanens without any trouble at all, and they seem the most popular choice in our area when the kids have the chance to bring in a farm animal to school.

We aren't a big goat farming area, either, but quite a few families keep Saanens as pets or for the milk.

By KoiwiGal — On Aug 21, 2011

@croydon - While Saanen goats don't produce milk with the high butterfat content of some other breeds, you can still skim off the cream to make butter and things like that, which can help.

But, you're right, a Saanen goat can give you a gallon per day. If you let her nurse a kid or two, you won't be getting nearly as much though.

Unless you are trying to sell purebred kids, I would cross a Saanen with a meat goat, like a boer and in a few months you'll have goat meat for sale or for your freezer.

But I understand that people get very attached to their goats, so that option might not be for everyone.

By croydon — On Aug 20, 2011

Saanens are lovely goats and make excellent "house goats" as they aren't nearly as mischievous as some other milk goats can be.

You have to take into consideration, though, that they shouldn't be kept on their own (goats are social animals, you should keep at least two together) and that they do produce quite a bit of milk.

So, you need to have a plan in place for dealing with excess goat milk so it doesn't go to waste, if you plan on keeping a couple of Saanen goats.

But, in my experience, once people try goat milk once, they are eager to continue buying or trading for it.

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