The Saanen goat was originally developed in the Saanen Valley in Switzerland. The high elevation meant the goats had to be kept inside during the winter months, but were sent to graze on the mountains in the summer. In 1893 several thousand Saanen goats were dispersed throughout Europe. This movement helped bring international attention to the breed.
The Saanens were white or cream colored, mostly hornless and the bucks typically had a distinguishing tuft of hair on their heads. They were the largest of the Swiss breeds and were excellent milkers. Average production for a Saanen doe at this time was between 1,250-1,500 lbs. A 2,000 lb milker was not uncommon.
In 1904 the first Saanens were imported to the United States. There were 19 importations that occurred between 1904 and 1922 and it is believed that about 160 goats were brought in during this time. These first animals formed the foundation for the present day Saanen, although only 30 of the first importations had a lasting impact on the breed. Although the Saanens were white, they were not albino and colored goats would be produced from two white parents. One of the more influential importers was afraid of albinoism and purposely imported several colored animals.
When the Great Depression hit the country in 1929 many Saanen breeders were forced to sell out or were only able to care for a very small herd. It was nearly impossible to purchase new animals during this time, and those who did were typically stuck with the animal whether it was good or not. A lack of culling during this time did prove to be detrimental to the breed, especially in herds where inbreeding was prominent.
A few herds did persevere through the Depression and these herds all had a lasting impact on the breed. These herds included Rio Linda, Echo, Darst, Perfection, La Suise and Mile High.
In the early 1930’s the American Milk Goat Record Association (now the American Dairy Goat Association) opened their herd books to allow goats with ten generations of purebred sires to be registered as purebreds. This was known as the Tenth Cross Rule and was bitterly fought by those who felt that only true “purebreds” should be registered as purebred. It was from this divide that the American Goat Society was formed. The breeders who did not agree with the Tenth Cross Rule formed the AGS and started their own registry. Members of either club were very careful to not purchase animals registered with the “other” club and most would not even allow stud services to does registered with the “wrong” association.
After the Great Depression, many breeders were subscribed to the British Goat Journal and were entranced by pictures of British Saanens. The USDA made it nearly impossible to import animals from Europe, but they did allow importations if the goat resided in Canada for a certain length of time. This was allowed because after a certain amount of time the goat would then be considered Canadian. English Saanens played a big role in improving the breed and bringing the Saanens back to life. English bucks would increase size, widen and deepen bodies, improve udder shape and increase production. There were some downsides to the English Saanens which included adding more color genes, double teats and many of the goats were coarse shouldered.
Throughout the 1940’s and ‘60’s the Saanen breed flourished. Several notable herds were born that still have an impact on the breed today. Some of these herds include Cheba, White Acres, Diamond, Lactation, Caprice, Selah, Chickaming, Snowflake and Laurelwood Acres.
The Cheba herd was owned by Eileen Diercks of Iowa and was started after the purchase of her first purebred doe in 1945. Her herd was nearly wiped out by two barn fires, but she was left with a doe named Ira Della Susie and a few doe kids. Susie was reportedly a 21 lb a day producer and was the dam of Cheba Lillie II and Cheba Sissie II.
The White Acres herd was owned by Stanley Sydnis and got its start with a grandson of Imported Foxley’s Flair named Lactation Beth’s Pride. He was purchased along with a doe who was bred to him named Jubilee Susie. A daughter of these two, Jubliee Barbie, produced 25,451 lbs over 9 lactations. Herd sires for the herd included Selah June’s Pride’s Anthony and a Spotlight Sale purchase, Capric Randy Beacon who was a son of Gold Crown Beacon Light. This strong buck was the sire of a number of high producing does including White Acres Barbies Nancy who had a lifetime production of 23,400 lbs over 7 lactations!
The Selah herd was owned by Francis and Lavonne Beguelin and started in the late 1950’s. It’s start came from the purchase of four very heavy milking does out of the Cheba herd named Cheba Eloise, Cheba Elsie, Cheba Dorothy and Cheba Ruby. These does were all sired by Strasser’s Toni Tom and three had records over 3000 lbs.
The Diamond herd was owned by Harvey Considine and while his Saanens were not as well known as his Alpines and Toggenburgs he had several very good ones. This herd was a dairy and was shown extensively. Considine had always been very type and udder conscious. One result of this herd was the premier production sire Diamond Messenger. His daughters averaged 4-00 305 2958 104. Other sires who made a mark in the Diamond herd were Laurelwood Acres Reporter and Snowflake Mynas Charles.
The Lactation herd was purchased by Wales Aughenbaugh who took the old herd and rejuvenated it by adding animals from Wasatch and Madgthorn. His most influential sire was Lactation Messenger sired by the English Imported buck Mostyn Messenger. Aughenbaugh was a car dealer and advertised he would personally deliver every goat he sold which helped to disperse the Lactation animals all over the country.
The Caprice herd was owned by Allan and Dot Rogers of Massachusetts. The herd was started in 1934 with animals from Milkyway, Carey and Sparks. The herd greatly improved after the purchase of Imported Etherly Mynas and Chikaming Manly’s Pride. After moving to Oregon the Rogers’ extensively utilized Gold Crown bloodlines including Gold Crown Beacon Light and Gold Cown King Frisky.
The Chikaming herd was owned by Carl Sandburg of North Carolina. Mrs. Sandburg had the ability to see important attributes in an animal while ignoring inconsequential faults. The herd improved greatly with the purchase of Chevonshire Petrol’s Manly at the Texas Spotlight Sale. Manly improved type, produced strong udders and production. Descendents of the Chikaming herd can still be seen today at the Carl Sandburg Historical Foundation in North Carolina. The herd is still producing registered Purebred Saanens under the herd name Connemara.
The Snowflake herd was owned by Julia Ernst and was started in the 1940’s. The herd later became part of the VitaMilk Dairy in Massachusetts and animals within the herd all had to pay their way commercially with no pampering and no excuses. A disastrous fire wiped out several hundred animals and was a huge loss to the breed. Snowflake was started anew with the purchase of twin daughters of Delta General Lee from California.
The Laurelwood Acres herd was owned by Wes and Betty Nordfelt of California. This was probably the largest herd of Saanens found during this period and was the continuation of the Garman family project started in the 1940’s. The most important addition to this herd was three sons and two daughters of La Suise Ida Bee. Laurelwood goats were heavily advertised and kids were sold nationwide.
References: Saanen Roots by Allen L Rogers
Page last updated on 02/08//2016
Website hosting provided by Khimaira
All information on this website is copy write protected, National Saanen Breeders Association, 1999 - 2016
NSBA would like to thank Joyce Lazzaro for starting, managing and working so hard on the NSBA website from 1999 - 2011
This site is maintained by Capriella