Nigerian Dwarf Goats
Are you interested in raising pint-sized goats that are productive and friendly? Then Nigerian dwarf goats just might be the goat that you’re looking for!
Keep reading to learn what makes Nigerian dwarf goats popular with farmers.
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History of the Nigerian Dwarf Goat Breed
According to the American Dairy Goat Association, the Nigerian dwarf goat was imported from West Africa in the mid-1970’s. The Livestock Conservancy reports that dwarf goats from west Africa were imported into zoos between the 1930s-1950’s. The small, dwarf goats were used mainly as exhibition animals and were later used to develop the Pygmy goat breed and the Nigerian dwarf breed.
The Nigerian dwarf goat was originally sought after a companion animal and one used for show. Over time, breeders leaned towards a more refined dairy appearance. The breed herd book was established in the 1980s.
Nigerian dwarf goats were recognized by the ADGA in 2005.
Nigerian dwarf goats are known for their short stature. To measure any goat, including Nigerian goats, you’ll take a measurement of height at the withers. The withers is the top-most point of the shoulder.
You can use a measuring stick designed to measure goat height or you can use a tape measure or yardstick.
Nigerian dwarf goats can vary slightly in size depending on the organization. Generally, does will measure up to 22 1/4″ and bucks up to 23 1/2″. Remember, this is the height at the point of the withers, not the head.
Characteristics of the Nigerian Dwarf Goat Breed
Nigerian dwarf goats are much more refined in appearance than Pygmy goats. Pygmy goats tend to look disproportionate with short, stubby legs and long bodies.
Dwarf goats are proportionate and look like larger dairy goat breeds, only smaller. A Nigerian dwarf goat should be slender-bodied and have a graceful appearance. The ears should be erect. Nigerian dwarf goats can be either polled or horned.
You can also expect an endless range of colors and patterns in Nigerian Dwarf goats.
Nigerian dwarf goats are classified as dairy goats and can produce ample amounts of milk, despite their small body size. A strong dairy appearance is a must in this miniature dairy breed.
Caring for Nigerian Dwarf Goats
One of the most appealing aspects of the breed is that it is easy to care for. Nigerian goats are hardy, making them easier for novice goat farmers to raise. Some dairy breeds aren’t as hardy and require more care than Nigerian goats.
Like other goat breeds, they will need access to dry shelter, clean water and fresh food. The shelter for Nigerian goats doesn’t have to be elaborate. As long as it is dry, well-ventilated and free of drafts, it will suffice. Goats that don’t have access to dry shelter are more susceptible to developing hoof rot.
The small size of Nigerian goats can pose a problem when it comes to enclosing them. They can slip through small gaps in fence easier than larger breeds. They are also much more likely to get their heads caught in field fencing if they are horned. Their small faces can fit through gaps easily and then their horns prevent them from pulling their heads back out.
This can become an annoying problem that is dangerous for the goat. Goats that get their heads caught will make a huge fuss, which can quickly draw in predators. Since they can’t free themselves, they become easy prey. Many goats that die of predation died with their heads caught in fencing.
The best type of fencing to put Nigerian dwarf goats behind is V-mesh fencing. The holes in this type of fence are too small for goats to get their heads through. You can also add a strand or two of electric fencing to prevent goats or predators from testing the fence.
One Nigerian dwarf goat needs at least 25 square feet of space to move around in. Nigerian dwarf goats are playful and energetic. They can benefit from having toys in their enclosure. Simple structures like tires or platforms can meet the climbing needs of these small goats.
Feeding Nigerian Dwarf Goats
Nigerian dwarf goats aren’t much different than other goat breeds when it comes to feeding them, with the exception that they will consume less feed. Their small size means that they will consume about half as much feed as other breeds that are over twice their size.
Goats are browsers. This means that they prefer to eat shrubby plants rather than pasture grasses. They are often found eating the leaves off of small shrubby plants. Goats will eat grasses, but when given the choice, most will browse on leaves before they will eat grasses.
Because they prefer leafy plants, you can put goats and other species of livestock into the same enclosure without overwhelming your pastures. In fact, co-grazing goats with other species is beneficial. This can help to reduce parasite loads of both species and can increase the amount of profit that you can make from the same stretch of pasture. Goats can be co-grazed with sheep, cattle or horses.
If you don’t have access to ample pasture, you’ll need to provide your goats with plenty of roughage. The majority of your goat’s diet should consist of roughage in the form of hay. Don’t attempt to feed your goats grain only. Their bodies are designed to thrive on roughage and too much grain can make them sick.
You may have heard that goats will eat anything. This isn’t true. In fact, goats can be quite picky when it comes to what they will eat. Hay that contains too many stems will often be overlooked and used for bedding rather than being eaten. Be picky when you choose hay for your Nigerian goats.
Choose hay that contains more leaves, is green and mold-free. If your hay is dusty, you can soak it to remove the dust before feeding it to your goats.
Goats can be quite messy when they eat hay. They like to stand in/on it if they can. When they are standing in it, they will often pee and poop in it. Once they do this, they won’t eat it. This is a frustrating problem that can lead to a lot of wasted hay.
A good hay feeder can prevent wasted hay. Ideally, the hay should be off of the ground, held in an accessible feeder. You can purchase a feeder or craft one yourself with hog panels and wood. The top of the hay feeder should be covered to prevent rain from getting in it. Also, a shelf should be under the hay feeder.
As goats pull the hay out of the feeder, they will drop some. The shelf will catch any falling hay to keep it off of the ground. Hay that falls on the ground is almost always wasted by goats.
Nigerian dwarf goats should be provided a goat mineral blend. Goats get many of the minerals that their bodies need from the soil. Depending on where you live, your soil may be lacking in minerals like copper or selenium. A goat mineral blend will make sure that your goats don’t run out of necessary minerals.
Provide loose goat minerals at all times in a mineral feeder. Goats won’t overeat this. Refill the minerals as needed so that they are always available. Make sure that you purchase goat mineral blends, not minerals for general livestock use.
Mineral blends that are created for all livestock won’t meet the needs of goats and can lead to illness.
Uses for Nigerian Dwarf Goats
Nigerian dwarf goats are becoming increasingly popular with small farmers. They are also popular as companion animals because of their small space requirements and friendly personalities. One Nigerian dwarf goat can produce enough milk to meet the needs of one family.
Don’t let their small size confuse you; these small goats are workhorses!
Nigerian dwarf goats make for excellent milking goats. They are an ideal breed for families with children. Nigerian dwarf goats are very docile and patient with small children. Nigerian dwarf goats are becoming more and more popular with both petting zoos and farms that have agritourism.
The breed is also becoming more popular in the show ring.
If you want a breed that can be raised on a small area of land, this breed is the one for you!
Milking Nigerian Dwarf Goats
Milking Nigerian dwarf goats can be more difficult than other goat breeds simply because of their small size. Don’t try to milk them at the ground level; you’ll kill your back and shoulders crouching down to reach them.
Instead, put milking Nigerian does up on a platform to milk them. You can use a milking stand or trimming stand to get them up off of the ground.
Encourage does to go up onto the stand with some feed. Most does are content to eat feed while you milk them. Many breeders breed for a larger teat size, which makes it easier to milk them.
Nigerian dwarf goats will produce between 1-2 quarts of milk each day. The milk is rich in butterfat. It can be used to make cheese, butter and soap.
Goat’s milk is an excellent alternative to cow’s milk for people that are lactose-intolerant. People that are lactose intolerant are sensitive to a protein found in cow’s milk called alpha-lactalbumin. Goat’s milk doesn’t contain this protein, making it a safe option for lactose intolerant dairy fans to consume.
Goat’s milk is gentle and nutrient-dense enough that it can be used to feed many livestock and other animals easily. Cattle, pigs, sheep, dogs and cats can all be nursed with goat’s milk in the absence of their mother’s milk.
Breeding Nigerian Dwarf Goats
Breeding Nigerian dwarf goats isn’t much different than breeding other goat breeds. However, they can breed year-round where many other breeds are short-day, seasonal breeders. Most goat breeds come into heat during fall and winter months, when the days are shorter.
Nigerian goats have heat cycles that come all year long. This creates more flexibility for your goats and your breeding season. Many Nigerian goat owners choose to breed for 3 kiddings every 2 years. That produces a larger number of kids than many other breeds and still gives your does a break of about six months.
Dwarf goats are prolific breeders. Does often give birth to multiple kids, with triplets and quadruplets being common. Some Nigerian dwarf does will even give birth to quintuplets!
It may seem like Nigerian does can’t possibly nurse all of those kids, but they’re one of the better mothering breeds when it comes to how many kids they are able to wean. Remember, they produce large amounts of milk for their little bodies, and usually produce enough to nurse multiple kids.
If your doe has more than two kids, I would recommend monitoring them to make sure that all of the kids are getting plenty of nursing time. You can always supplement with bottle feedings if you need to, but you may be surprised at your doe’s ability to feed all of those hungry mouths.
Does will typically come into heat for the first time when they are about 7 or 8 months of age. It’s a good idea to let them go through a heat cycle or two before breeding them, just to allow their growing bodies some time to grow and mature. Waiting until they are a year old to breed gives them time to grow and start to store nutrients for future kids.
Dwarf bucks can be fertile very soon, sometimes as early as 7 weeks. It’s a good idea to wean bucks and does separately to prevent any accidental breedings. Bucks can be used to breed as early as 3 months of age, but they won’t reach their full fertility until they are about 7 months old.
Bucks take their job of breeding very seriously, and dwarf goats are no exception. They are a gentle breed though and can be used for hand breeding if needed. If you don’t want to use hand breeding, you can put does and bucks in the same pen. The buck will breed the does as they come into heat.
Does are pregnant anywhere from 145-152 days. The kids are small when born, and usually weigh around 2 pounds a piece. A single kid will usually weigh more than multiple kids. The more kids the doe has, the less they will weigh on average. But, whether it’s a single kid or multiples, expect the babies from dwarf goats to be small compared to other goat breeds. This definitely adds to their cuteness factor!
Buying Nigerian Dwarf Goats
Nigerian dwarf goats are gaining in popularity in the U.S., which means it’s easier to find them now than it was even 10 years ago. When you’re looking for Nigerian dwarf goats, always remember to purchase the best quality that you can afford, especially if you’re planning on using them for breeding and milk production.
A good quality Nigerian goat that is registered will cost anywhere from $200-500. You can purchase unregistered pet quality goats for as little as $50.
You can always check your local feed stores for ads to find local breeders. There are a bunch of breeders out there with Facebook pages and websites. Check online to see if there are good breeders around you.
Another great place to find quality breeders is through goat associations like these:
Be wary of purchasing goats at auctions or through Craigslist ads. Although some of these goats are perfectly fine, many of them are culled animals. Cull animals usually have something wrong with them. It could be something simple or it could be a health issue that is costly to treat. If you’re planning on keeping Nigerian goats for pets, this may not matter as much to you since you won’t need a super productive animal. However, if you’re getting Nigerian dwarf goats to breed for profit or for milk, then you want to be sure that the goats you’re getting are good quality and don’t have health issues.
If you do find goats at auctions or on Craigslist, ask as many questions as you can. I recommend asking at least the following:
1. Has the goat been vaccinated? What for and when?
A reputable breeder will vaccinate their herd and can tell you when they were last vaccinated. CDT vaccines are a must for goats.
2. When was the last time that the goat had a FAMACHA score done?
FAMACHA scoring is a way of determining the level of internal parasite loads the goat has. This should be done frequently, about every three months. I also recommend that you do a quick check before purchasing a goat.
3. How often do you check and trim the feet?
Again, this should be done routinely. You can also check the feet before purchasing the goat to make sure that the hooves aren’t over grown.
4. Has this goat had a history of hoof rot?
Some goats are genetically predisposed to hoof rot. Hoof rot can be treated easily, but a bad case takes a long time to heal. Check the goat’s feet. If you notice areas of the hoof or between the toes that look wet and gummy, or a strong foul odor, the goat has hoof rot. Hoof rot can be contagious, so don’t bring a goat home with hoof rot if you have other goats.
5. Has this doe had kids yet? How many? Did she have any issues giving birth? How many did she wean?
If you’re interested in breeding, you need to know if the doe has a previous history of having kids. The best does will have multiple kids and be able to take care of those kids until they are weaned. Be wary of goats that have had trouble giving birth and needed assistance or goats that have a high birth rate with a low weaning rate (i.e. she gives birth to three kids but only weans one).
6. Has this buck been used for breeding? If so, how have his kids turned out?
This is another question that is important for animals that will be used for breeding. Bucks should be fertile and shouldn’t have trouble siring offspring. You want bucks to be good breeders but not aggressive. If he sires kids that are large, this can cause problems with the does giving birth.
7. Is the goat dehorned or naturally polled?
Obviously, if a goat has horns, it’s horned. But what if it doesn’t have horns? Some breeders (myself included) prefer that their goats don’t have horns. If a goat doesn’t have horns, ask if it has been dehorned or if it’s naturally polled (born hornless).
If you breed two polled animals together, you’re only going to get offspring that are polled. Horned animals can have either kids that are horned or polled. If you want a polled herd, choose polled breeding animals.
I’m sure there are more questions that you could ask, but these are the most important ones to me.
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Are you raising Nigerian dwarf goats? What do you like/dislike about the breed? Let me know below!