The breed(s) of choice will often depend if your emphasis is on the production of milk products or meat products. The American Dairy Goat Association (www.adga.org) maintains useful information on the several breeds used primarily for milk production. Some like the Nubian are ocassionally considered dual-purpose but are generally classified as dairy. There is no single breed that is perfect in all situations; so while we can provide some guidelines the final choice often comes down to personal preference. It is often recommended that some systematic crossbreed scheme be used to produce the most productive and well-adapted animal. See the Crossbreeding Systems page for some suggestions. Some breeds to consider in meat production systems include:
1) The Spanish goat is really a grouping of goats rather than a breed that are descendants of common goats brought to the United States by early Spanish settlers. They are relatively small goats that have adapted well and multiplied in the rugged conditions of the western Texas and for decades provided a source of food for ranch hands and families. Some ranchers have genetically selected Spanish goats for better meat production by keeping only the biggest or meatiest bucks for breeding to females. There can be some evidence of admixtures of other breeds as attempts to improve the Spanish have come and gone. They come in almost any color and usually have horns. In fact nearly all goats have horns unless they are disbudded at an early age as are many dairy goats. Their ears are somewhat pendulous but much shorter than those of a Nubian. Many of them produce a cashmere undercoat in winter.
2) Tennessee Meat Goat: These goats are descended from Tennessee stiff-leg or fainting goats. These goats as well as some other breeds throughout the world have a myotonic condition that causes their muscles to lock up whenever they are startled. Various ranchers in the southeastern United States and Texas have chosen goats from this population with the largest frames and heaviest muscles to keep for breeding purposes. Gradually they produced a goat that is larger and heavier than the original strain. Some of these selected goats are known as Tennessee meat goats. The myotonic trait and the constant muscle stiffening and relaxing may be why these goats are characterized by heavy rear leg muscling, tender meat, and a high meat-to-bone ratio.
3) The Boer: Boer goats were developed in South Africa and introduced into the United States in the early to mid-1990s. The do well under relatively dry environments with good nutritional conditions. The Boer has a unique color pattern that is passed along to their offspring whether purebred or crossbred. The majority have red heads and necks on a white body although there are some with black rather than red and some will be paint or dapple. The have large pendulous ears. The are known to grow rapidly if well-fed and the crossbreds produce excellent weight gains and appear to have muscular carcasses. They can become too fat and some strains may have more challenges with internal parasites.
4) The Kiko: The Kiko breed was developed in New Zealand by mating feral does that had the ability to survive under hard conditions and exhibited good meat conformation to Saanen and Nubian bucks. This mating increased milk yield and butterfat content. The resulting offspring that grew best (as measured by weight gain) under rugged conditions were chosen to produce the future generations. Kikos have similar ears to Spanish goats but are usually larger framed. They tend to be primarily solid white like their Saanen ancestors although there are a number of tan Kiko goats as well as black color.
5) Savanna. Most recently the Savanna breed of meat goat has been introduced in the USA. They originaled in South Africa in some of the similar environments as the Boer. They are solid white in color with specks of black on the ears and sometimes around the head. They have pendulous ears and have the reputation for fast growth. Other characteristics are being recorded in order to provide more evndence of their true value in various production systems in the U.S.
Additional relatively accurate information on these breeds and others are available on the Oklahoma State University directory of livestock breeds.