Breed: French Alpine Goats
Origin: A landrace in the Swiss Alps, this hardy, agile breed adapted well to the rocky, dry landscape, extremes of temperature, and scarcity of vegetation. In the 19th century, these mountain goats were used on steep pastures inaccessible to sheep in the alpine Savoie, France. Nineteen does and three bucks selected from the hundreds that descended from the French Alps for winter were chosen for import into the United States in 1922. The Purebred Alpine goat line in America is descended from these animals.
History: In France, the chestnut color with black extremities was favored and a herd book was set up in 1930 for Alpine chamoisée. In the 1950s, the plague of foot and mouth devastated local goat populations throughout the center and west of France. The untouched Alpine goat chamoisée stock was bred to replace them. In the 1970s, a rigorous selection program was set up for commercial production of chèvre cheese, focusing on the best goats for milk yield, protein and butterfat content. In addition, udder conformation and casein alpha S1 content are now selected for. Artificial insemination is widely used, sourcing 30-40 sires from 12-14 families. Today it is the most popular milk goat in France.
American Alpine goats developed from crossing the original French lines with common local goats that had originated from Swiss, Spanish and Austrian imports in the 17th century. These crosses were then bred with American or French Alpine goats. Hybrid vigor has produced a larger animal capable of higher yields than the purebred line.
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Conservation Status: Least concern. However, efforts to trace back genealogies are required to prevent inbreeding. American Alpine goats enjoy a greater genetic diversity due to crossbreeding with earlier imports.
Standard Description: Medium-sized, slim, fine-boned, graceful but strong, with a short coat, deep chest, straight back, wide hips, straight legs, firmly-attached voluminous udder, forward-pointing parallel teats neatly separated from udder, straight nose, horns and large, erect ears. Wattles are common. Females may have beards, although rarely in commercial herds in France.
Coloring: In France, mainly chamoisée (rich chestnut bay with black dorsal stripe and extremities, normally black belly, face, and boots). This coat is normally associated with Oberhasli in the US. Other colors combine brown, black, gray, white and cream. US breed standards reject pure white or Toggenburg coloring. Cou blanc (white neck and forequarters, black hindquarters, black/gray head markings) is a popular color in the US. Other colors are also described with names of European origin: cou clair (pale forequarters and dark hindquarters), cou noir (black forequarters and white hindquarters), sundgau (black, with a white belly, legs, and facial stripes) and pied (black or brown spots on white). These colors are still common in the original populations in the Savoie Alps.
Weight: Bucks 176-220 pounds (80-100 kg); does 135-155 pounds (50-70 kg).
Height to Withers: Bucks 32-40 in (90-100 cm); does 27-35 in (70-80 cm).
Temperament: Highly social and cohesive, yet aggressively competitive with herd members; friendly with humans; curious, explorative and quick to learn.
Adaptability: French Alpine goats thrive in dry, mountainous terrain and cope with a wide range of temperatures. They are susceptible to internal parasites, foot rot, and respiratory disease if kept in damp conditions. American Alpines are robust and highly adaptable. Kids become fertile at 4-6 months, but females are not ready to gestate until they reach 80 pounds (36 kg) at 7-10 months old. Yields and long-term health are improved by waiting until their second fall to breed.
Popular Use: Dairy; excess males are often slaughtered for meat or byproducts; wethers make great pack goat breeds if trained from early kidhood.
Productivity: French commercial production averages 1953 pounds (886 kg) over 295 days; American Alpine goats average 2266 pounds (1028 kg); butterfat 3.4-3.8%; protein 2.9-3.3%.
It isn’t really a French Alpine goat if cross-bred with other dairy types. French Alpine goats are rarely completely white or Toggenburg colors.
Owner Quote: “They milk right off their backs!” says a friend of mine, meaning that no matter how much you feed French Alpine goats, they have a tendency to stay skinny, putting all their energy into milk production. I’ve found they need plenty of slowly digestible carbs and fiber, as well as protein, to keep them in good body condition during lactation.
Sources: Capgènes, Idèle, l’Association de Sauvegarde de la Chèvre des Savoie, Alpines International Club, American Goat Society, PennState Extension.
Presented by: Tamsin Cooper www.goatwriter.com