Goats can be classified into several groups based off their uses: fiber, pet, dairy, or meat. Some of the larger breeds of goats can also be used as pack animals.
When you think of a wool breed of goat, Angora should be the first name that comes to mind.
Dairy goats in the U.S. typically come from purebred stock or from a cross-breeding of several breeds. Dairy breeds include the Saanen, Nubian, Nigerian Dwarf, Alpine, Toggenburg, Oberhasli, and Lamancha. As mentioned, there are plenty of cross-bred animals produced between two or more of the breeds. These include Mini Manchas (Lamancha x Nigerian Dwarf). Most of these breeds originated in Europe and have been cultivated over centuries to provide high volumes of milk from hearty stock. Each breed has a set of standards that the pure breed animals must meet in order to be registered by organizations such as the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) or the American Goat Society (AGS). There are also breed specific organizations.
Why use a dairy goat? There are many reasons why people have chosen to use dairy goats, utilizing a source of milk that may be considered "non-traditional" in American culture. For a family, a small herd of dairy goats will produce an adequate amount of milk that can be utilized for a variety of dairy products. Due to their smaller size, dairy goats will eat much less than a dairy cow and can also be housed easier and may require less maintenance. Studies have shown that goat milk also possesses a different composition of fats, with most of the micro-globules being smaller and more homogenous than what is found in cow milk. In some cases, this can aid in the digestion of dairy products and help lactose-intolerant people be able to enjoy milk, cheese, and yogurt. Goat milk can also contain a significantly higher percentage of fat and protein than cow milk, which can make it a great starter for making cheese.
Meat goats often come from the Boer or Kiko breed, though any goat can be used as a meat animal. Goat meat - known as chevon - is a very lean meat.
Boers are a large framed goat that are capable of carrying a large amount of muscling, which makes them a good producer. They are a hearty breed that are able to grow quickly. Ideally, they should weigh 80-100 lbs by market time, in roughly 90 days. Adult bucks can range from 240-300 lbs and adult does from 200-220 lbs.
Kikos and Myotonic Goats (aka Tennesee Fainting Goats) are also known as meat breeds, though the Boer is still the top-producing meat breed. Myotonic goats are named for their tenancy to "freeze" and collapse when startled. This is due to a faulty chloride channel in the muscles which inhibits the cessation of muscle contraction. This is a genetic disorder and the painless episodes typically last about 10 seconds. Kiko goats are a breed that were developed fairy recently in New Zealand out of a drive to produce a multi-purpose goat. Native goats were crossed which fiber and dairy goats, resulting in this breed.
Any breed of goat can make an excellent pet or companion animal! Wethers are the typical go-to choice for pet animals, since they are often cheaper than does and cleaner than intact bucks. Goats have been used as companion animals for horses and other livestock. They also make excellent grazers and are used to tend pastures and to graze rangelands where cattle are less effective - this is due in large part to their ability to utilize woodier plant matter and their selective grazing nature.