Nearly three hundred breeds of goats are recognizable worldwide, although nowhere near that number are registered as official breeds. In Canada, only about a dozen breeds are commonly raised.
Female goats are called does, while males are referred to as bucks, although meat goats are often referred to as nannies and billies. Baby goats are known as kids, and older weaned kids are referred to as goatlings, bucklings, and doelings. "Wethers" is the term used to describe castrated males.
All breeds of goats can be used for meat production. The Boer goat, introduced to Canada in the 1990s, is a breed developed specifically for meat production. Most meat producers are now using Boer genetics, often crossing Boers with dairy, fibre and Spanish goats to obtain superior carcasses. Spanish goats are also predominantly a meat breed but may also be used for Cashmere production. Kiko, Savannah, and Myotonic or Fainting goats are raised in Alberta meat goat herds as well.
The main dairy breeds are Alpine, Saanen, Toggenburg, Nubian, LaMancha, and Oberhasli. Each has its own attributes; for example Nubians are the "Jerseys" of goat breeds, with high butterfat content in their milk. Saanens are the "Holsteins" of the goat world, producing on average the highest volume of milk. A well-bred dairy goat will give 4 to 6 litres of milk a day at the peak of lactation or 1200 litres of milk in 10 months, if well cared for. The Toggenburg goat is the oldest registered breed of any animal in the world, with records tracing back to the 1600s in Switzerland.
In Alberta, two breeds of goats are used to produce fibre. The angora goat produces the fibre known as mohair. Healthy, well-bred angora goats have lustrous, silky, white hair, which hangs over the entire body in wavy curls five to six inches in length. In Alberta, angoras are shorn twice a year, each clip yielding an average of five pounds, depending on age, size and sex. Cashmere is the fine down undercoat produced by all goat breeds except the angora. Most breeds do not have enough cashmere to be considered fibre goats, except for the Spanish goat, which is often referred to as Spanish/Cashmere. Cashmere has a dull finish and a specific crimp form and is usually harvested by combing, although large herds may shear their goats to save time.
Goats are personable and friendly, especially when hand-raised, and make good pets in a rural setting or in a petting zoo. Although all breeds of goats have good pet potential, the miniature breeds have extra appeal due to their small size, which lessens feed and housing requirements. The Nigerian Dwarf, also known as the "small-scale dairy goat", and the smaller, cobbier Pygmy goat are miniature breeds.