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About Nigerian Dwarf Goats
The Nigerian Dwarf goat is a miniature dairy goat breed of West African ancestry. These goats are popular as hobby goats due to their easy maintenance and small stature. Their small stature means they do not require as much space as their larger dairy goat counterparts and their gentle and friendly personalities make them good companion pets. They are easy to handle; even small children can be at ease with these little goats.
The Nigerian Dwarf is a Miniature Dairy Goat
A healthy Nigerian Dwarf doe can produce a surprising amount of sweet milk for her small size - up to two quarts per day. In addition, Nigerian Dwarf milk is higher in butterfat (6-10%) and higher in protein than milk from most dairy goat breeds, making Nigerian Dwarf goat milk excellent for cheese and soap making. However, many Nigerian Dwarf owners do not raise their goats for milk but for the pleasure and companionship these little caprines bring to their lives. Females are called does; males are called bucks and offspring are called kids. Neutered males make great pets and are called wethers. A large group of goats is called a herd. We say they are called a herd because when they "herd" something that spooks them, they all run! Another common term is kidding meaning giving birth.
What's the difference between a Nigerian Dwarf and a Pygmy goat?
Although they have similar origins, Nigerian Dwarfs and African Pygmies are separate and distinct breeds, with recognized differences. Pygmies are bred to be "cobby" and heavy boned, recognized as both a meat and dairy goat. Dwarfs are bred to have the length of body and more elegant structure that's similar to their larger dairy goat counterparts. Pygmies are also primarily "agouti" patterned, with black, silver and caramel being the most common colors.
Nigerian Dwarf Conformation
A Nigerian Dwarf goat's conformation is similar to that of the larger dairy goat breeds. The parts of the body are in balanced proportion. The nose is straight, although there may be a small break or stop at the level of the eyes. The ears are upright. The coat is soft with short to medium hair. Any color or combination of colors is acceptable. Fully-grown animals range from 16-21 inches tall at the withers for does and 23.5 inches tall at the withers for bucks, and weigh 60-80 pounds, about the size of a Labrador retriever.
It is important to understand the breed standards that are ideal for the breed for conformation. It is important to strive for these standards when breeding, so that the breed is improved over time and faults are eliminated. A dairy goat needs to be able to withstand the years of breeding, pregnancy, milking or nursing. The ideal bone structure will give her a longer, healthier life.
Nigerian Dwarf Temperament
Dwarfs goats are very social creatures. They are gentle, loveable, playful, easily trainable and are wonderfully curious animals. This, along with their small size and colorful appearance, their calm, even temperaments and engaging personalities makes them popular as pets and suitable companions for all, including children, the disabled and the elderly. Even breeding bucks are handled easily. They make wonderful pets and great animal projects for young children in 4H or FFA. Breeders of other types of goats find their Dwarfs blend in with the rest of their herd and do not need special quarters other than adequate fencing to contain their small size. Many Nigerian Dwarf goats share pastures peacefully with other livestock such as cattle, horses, llamas and donkeys. In fact, they will often improve a pasture by removing brambles, undergrowth (including weeds) and ivy (even poison ivy) that other livestock won't eat. They are always looking or tasting to see if something is worthy of their palette. Many times they will nibble on a plant or your clothing to find that it is not what they were looking for, and spit it out. This dispels the myth of goats eating tin cans and rubber tires!
They also like and need lots of love and attention. Due to their gentle, lovable personalities, most Nigerian Dwarf owners breed their goats for the companionship and pleasure these little guys offer.
Goats are herd animals, and cannot thrive alone. They must always have another goat as a companion. They form a life long friendship with their companions, and will mourn for their companion if separated. A wether can be used as a companion for a doe or a buck. Other herd animals can be substituted such as a calf, horse, or lamb, but two goats are always better than one.
Goats are intelligent and can be trained. Examples of treats that can be fed are apple slices, peanut shells, pumpkin slices, raisins, carrot slices, cabbage slices, and greens such as kale. Sometimes goats can be overly friendly. They can be trained to stop chewing on clothes or hair by blowing in their face. However when taming a shy goat, it is necessary to allow them to interact this way in the beginning.
Goats are sensitive, intelligent animals. They love attention, especially from young children. Goats are born wild, not tame. To tame a goat, it helps to be present at the birth, so that the goats can imprint on humans. If the kids are not bottle-raised, and tame goats are preferred, then they need to be handled frequently each day until they are tame. Taming a goat makes a life-long friend.
Each herd of goats has a Queen goat that the herd has chosen after head butting challenges. In the wild, the Queen decides when to move to new grazing area, and the herd follows. Walking the Queen goat on a leash in the beginning will help insure that the goats stay close by until they feel safe in the new territory. Goats are highly suspicious of new facilities so running them through yards before handling them is useful.
Goats vocalize (bleat or scream) when held and this can add a lot of stress to jobs like shearing and castrating kids. (Note: our goats are very particular about their schedule for grain and definitely get very vocal when we are late with feeding time!)
Nigerian Dwarf Coloring
Color is one of the factors that makes breeding Dwarfs so popular. You can never be sure what color the babies will be until they are born; even then you can't be sure because many times their color may change. Main color families are black, chocolate, and gold with virtually every color combination imaginable being produced. Dwarfs can be dalmatian-spotted, pinto-patterned, tri-colored or just classy shades of solid jet black, white, chocolate or gold. Buckskin patterns are also popular, described by contrasting facial stripes, a cape around the shoulders with a coordinating dorsal stripe and leg markings. Brown eyes are the most common; however, dwarfs with china blue eyes are becoming increasingly popular and available. Although most are naturally horned, most breeders dehorn them at a young age, usually 2 weeks of age.
Breeding Nigerian Dwarf Goats
Dwarf goats breed year round, unlike other breeds of goats. Many owners breed their does three times in two years, giving the doe at least a 6-month break. Of course, this is a personal choice for each breeder. The gestation period (or length of pregnancy) for a doe is 145 to 153 days. For the most part, Nigerian Dwarfs are a hearty breed with few kidding problems. New babies average about 2 pounds at birth but grow quickly. Watch out for those little bucks! Bucklings can be fertile at as young as 7 weeks of age. Make sure you wean does and bucks separately to help you avoid unintentional breeding.
Does can be bred at 7-8 months of age if they have reached a mature size. Some breeders prefer to wait until they are at least 1 year or older. Puberty is from 4 to 12 months (females between 7-10 months and males 4 to 8 months). The natural life expectancy for goats is around 8 to 12 years and in some cases, goats can live over 15 years. Dwarf does can have several kids at a time, 3 and 4 being common with some quintuplet births occurring. Dwarfs are generally good mothers able to take care of their babies should you leave them to do the raising of the kids. (Colostrum is produced in the first milk of the doe and it contains high levels of immunoglobulins (antibodies), vitamin A, minerals, fat and energy. Newborn kids must ingest colostrum within the first 24 hours of life to help protect them against diseases. Healthy kids can stand within minutes after birth and are able to move with the herd almost immediately.) They can also provide a surprising amount of milk for their size if you decide you want your own delicious goat milk or cheese.
Bucks are able to be used for service as young as 3 months of age and easily by the time they are 7 or 8 months old. Dwarf bucks are vigorous breeders but are gentle enough to be used for hand breeding (contained) or pasture breeding where one buck is available for several does as they come into estrus. Both methods are used successfully. Estrus (or heat) cycle is generally from 18 to 23 days, with length of each heat 12 to 36 hours.
Goat Care - General Information
Each farm has its own management techniques. This information is offered as a basic guideline that can be modified. Techniques change over time, so it is important to read current goat publications, and books in order to stay educated about the care of your goats.
A Healthy Goat
Goats are easy to care for. Signs of a of a healthy goat are:
*Eyes clear and bright. Tearing or cloudy eyes probably mean a pinkeye infection.
*Coat smooth and shiny. A dull coat could indicate parasites. Fluffed up coat means the goat is not feeling well; however, goats also fluff up in winter to keep warm.
*Appetite good. However, it is normal for a doe in labor to refuse to eat.
*Attitude alert. Hunched back and droopy tail mean something is wrong.
Goats should be kept in clean pens free of dampness, drafts and pests like flies and rodents. Nigerian Dwarf goats should have shelter that is clean, dry and draft free, but not be an airtight building; they need to have ventilation for optimum health. For one to just a few goats, many owners find that an oversized dog house or two will do the job. Pens or houses should be kept clean with fresh hay or straw for bedding. In the winter, clean frequently with a pitchfork to prevent a heavy muck build-up. Goats like to sleep off the ground. Sleeping benches can be constructed in the barn for the goats to sleep on. Goats handle the cold and heat well. Goats run for shelter with the first drop of rain - they don't like to get wet! Many owners find that providing a few "toys" for the goats provide them with hours of caprine entertainment. Tree stumps, rocks or large cable spools are great for "king of the mountain" games and jumping. Just be sure to keep them away from the fence to avoid giving herd escape artists means to roam your neighborhood! They have a good memory and know all the escape spots, so be vigilant.
Protection and Fencing
They also require adequate fencing due to their small size. While browsing and looking for that newly sprouted weed or fallen leaf, a goat needs to feel safe in its surroundings. A strong fence that deters dogs and other predators from penetrating is suggested. While fencing is a must, a great livestock guardian dog is essential. There are several different breeds that do a great job. We cannot say enough on how important it is to provide protection for your goats. Stray, neighborhood and family dogs as well as coyotes and even hawks could all be a potential danger to a helpless goat. If there is a danger of predators, then the goats can be locked up at night in a shelter. They cannot defend themselves against predators.
Tethering a goat can be dangerous. If it is necessary for some reason to tether a goat, it is best to supervise the goat while it is being tethered. A goat that is tethered is helpless against predator attack, and could be strangled by the tether. The best solution for containing a goat is to build a small temporary pen.
Feeding Dwarf Goats
Goats need hay, browse, and small amounts of grain daily. Most breeders feed a 12% - 18% protein goat feed or dairy ration. It must not contain urea as this is toxic to goats. Many breeders give less grain if good pasture and browse are available. Hay or pasture should always be provided in abundant supply. Fresh grass can be used as a source of roughage. Fescue grass can cause does to dry up and should not be planted in pastures. Alfalfa, mixed grass hay is good for lactating does. Never use moldy hay with goats. Keep the hay up off the ground if possible to prevent goats from walking on it and soiling it. Take caution however, because hay racks can be a potential danger for broken necks if a goat gets butted from the side, gets hung in the hay rack, or gets caught in baling wire that hasn't been off of a bale.
Fresh water in clean containers should also be available at all times. Goats prefer clean water, and will refuse soiled water. Lactating goats need lots of fresh water. Keep the water and feed dishes clean by washing with vinegar frequently. Apple cider vinegar can be added to the water. In the winter, and after giving birth, goats like warm water with a little molasses added to it.
Like any other animal, a goat can survive without food for several days, but not without water. In some areas of the country, its important to make sure the water doesn't freeze. (Note: again, invest in heated water dishes when possible; this saves a lot of back-breaking labor!)
The main thing is to make sure they have free choice browsing and/or hay and clean fresh water. Although many goat owners feel that a twice daily feeding is best, others feed only once a day and still have perfectly healthy goats. You will have to decide what is practical for your animal and your schedule. Try to keep both food and water where they cannot be soiled by the goat. When milking, a combination mixture of feed is suggested. We let the does in milk eat their fill while on the milk stand. Also, the pregnant and young does get some feed as well. The feed mixture is debatable. Some give their goats only soaked oats or grains while on the milk stand, while others feed a mixture of alfalfa pellets, goat feed, black oil sunflower, and a 14% all natural horse feed. There are several books and web sites that have feeding suggestions. Goats are browsers, not grazers. They will browse on plants such as ivy, blackberries, honeysuckle, and they love fallen, dry leaves. Weeds, leaves from trees, underbrush, and poison ivy are also favorites. And goats love treats!! Fresh cut apples, carrots, horse treats or a stalk of Johnson grass are favorite treats. Our kids love raisins.
Cherry, rhododendron, and most landscaping plants are poisonous to goats. When planting grass pastures for grazing, contact the extension office in your area for suggestions of grass types. Rotation of pasture is the best method for insuring a healthy pasture and low parasite loads in goats. A great source for a list of poisonous plants can be found on our Links section below.
It is essential that the newborn kids drink their mother's colostrum the first 24 hours. If for some reason, it doesn't nurse within an hour after birth or if the mother rejects the kid, then the colostrum needs to be milked out, and the baby needs to be bottle-fed the colostrum. At this age, they will only drink about an ounce at a time. They need to be fed at least three times a day for the first 2 weeks. If the kid is too weak to nurse, then it will need to be tube fed. Expect them to eat around 6-8 oz. 3 times a day until they are 8-12 weeks old. A common term includes weaned (a kid that no longer nurses).
Dwarf goats, like all other breeds, need some basic care for good health and long life. Hooves should be trimmed regularly, about every 4-8 weeks or more often if needed. A properly trimmed and shaped hoof should resemble those of a kid goat's hoof. Vaccinations for tetanus and types C&D are the basic types given. Check with your local vet for other vaccinations recommended for your area. Some experienced breeders may immunize their own goats; new owners and breeders should take their goats to the local vet for vaccines. Worming should be done several times a year. Your vet can suggest any special supplements (such as selenium), additional immunizations and a recommended wormer and worming schedule for your particular herd based on your area and known preventative health measures.
Minerals, Salt and Baking Soda
We cannot stress how important it is that the goats have free choice minerals and salt - a necessary part of a goat's diet. (Note: check your mineral label; our mineral already has the salt provided.) This small thing is so important to the goats' overall health. Without these vital nutrients a weakened immune system can result causing illness and difficulty when kidding. FYI - goats and sheep are different in their mineral needs. A goat must have copper. Copper will kill a sheep. Sunflower seeds can be added to the feed. Use only loose minerals. Cattle, sheep and horse salt blocks don't work for goats. A goat can't get the proper type and amount of minerals from a salt block. Diatomaceous earth can be added to the feed as a mineral to help control parasites or rubbed on the goat to control lice. Another thing that is a prevention to bloat is having free choice baking soda. It can be set out to help neutralize the excess acidity that develops in a goat's rumen caused by eating grain.
Bucks and wethers need ammonium chloride added to their diet to prevent urinary blockage by calculi - a painful type of condition that can only be corrected by surgery. Some feed products add this to the feed. Again, be sure to check the label. Adding vinegar to the water occasionally is said to help prevent urinary blockage. Overfeeding grain causes crystals to form in the urinary tract. It is believed that waiting to wether a buck until he is 4 months old when his urinary track is mature helps prevent blockage.
Consult your veterinarian. Vaccinations need to be given on a regular schedule. If the dam had a CD/T (clostridium perfringens C and D type/tetanus) one month before giving birth, the kids will gain immunity through her colostrum to tetanus and to enterotoxaemia (a fatal disease that the clostridium perfringerns vaccine prevents). The immunity will last for the first 8 weeks of the kids' lives. If the dam didn't have a vaccination, then it is necessary to give the kids a tetanus shot before disbudding or wethering. Vaccinate the kids at 8 weeks, and 12 weeks if the dam was vaccinated. If she wasn't vaccinated, then give those kids a third vaccination at 16 weeks. Vaccinate on an annual basis after the initial shots
Consult your veterinarian on the different tests that are needed to maintain a clean animal or herd. Some diseases cannot only devastate the goats but the soil as well. The types of tests for disease that are available that can be taken by veterinarians are: CAE (Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis), CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis- abscesses), Johnes "wasting disease", TB (Tuberculosis), and Brucellosis.
Disbudding (Note: we do not disbud; however, should you choose to do so, here is information regarding disbudding.)
Disbudding is a common term for horns being removed at a young age. This can be done at 10 days to 2 weeks of age. Anesthesia can be deadly to a goat, however isoflurine (available only at a veterinarian office) is safe to use with goats. It is a gas that is administered with a mask that is placed in the goat's face. It can be used to sedate the goat, and prevent pain while disbudding. Many goat owners learn how to disbud a goat on their farm with a disbudding iron. If the goat is not disbudded at an early age, and the horn bud comes through, it is more difficult to disbud. Scurs (small growths of horn grow out of the horn area after disbudding due to improperly disbudding; scurs occur even when vets do the disbudding) can occur if the root of the horn is not completely burned out by the disbudding iron. Surgery by a veterinarian is done if the goat already has horns. The surgery is not recommended, it is traumatic and requires a long recuperation with a head wrap. Disbudding them also helps prevent the goats injuring each other in close spaces. Goats are not likely to ever butt a human, but it is advisable not to play with the goat's head when interacting with the goat so as not to form bad behavioral habits with the goat. It is difficult to keep horned goats with disbudded goats. A terms used for goats that genetically do not have horns is polled.
Fun and Facts
* Goats can be born with or without horns (polled).
* Wattles are those little tufts of hair that covers the skin that dangles from the throat of some goats. Wattles serve no function.
* Normally goats have two teats (cows have four).
* Goats are hollow-horned (this is what keeps them warm in cold weather), bearded, ruminant mammals. They are raised for wool, milk, and meat in the U.S. but are also used to make gelatin, the manure is used for fertilizer, they are used for research models in biological studies, they are used to pull carts and for pack animals.
* Both male and female goats can have beards.
* Goats do not have tear ducts.
* Goats and octopus' pupils of their eyes are rectangular.
* Goats are quite agile creatures and in some cases they can jump over 5 feet.
* The average life span of a Buck is around 8 years but up to 12 years; the average for a Doe is around 11-12 years and up to 20 years.
* The normal (rectal) body temperature for goats is between 101.7 to 104.5 degrees F.
* The heart rate of goats is between 70 to 135 beats per minute.
* The normal respiration rate for goats is 12 to 20 per minute in adult goats and 20-40 per minute for kids.
* Dairy goats have little subcutaneous fat.
* Most medications that are currently used on goats were developed for use in other livestock species (i.e., cattle and swine).
* To check for dehydration, pull the skin that is over the shoulder area. If the skin snaps back quickly the animal is adequately hydrated. If the skin does not snap back quickly and remains erect the animals is dehydrated.
* Vomiting in goats is almost always due to poisonous plants.
* Goats are bovines and are closely related to cows and antelopes.
* A ruminant is any hoofed animal that digests its food in two steps. First by eating the raw materials and regurgitating a semi-digested form then eating the cud. Ruminants include goats, sheep, cattle, deer, camels, llamas, giraffes, bison, buffalos etc.
* Goats do not eat tin cans, clothing or garbage, but are selective eaters when provided with a well-balanced diet. Goats prefer browse over grass and grass to clover.
* Goats are more susceptible to parasites and other infectious diseases when they are mismanaged.
* Goats deposits less fat externally and more fat internally (around the organs) compared to sheep and cattle.
* Goats are herbivores (plant-eaters) that spend most of their day grazing.
* Goats are able to consume 3 to 5% of their body weight in dry matter (perhaps more if the forage is highly digestible). To consume this amount of forages, goats must be pastured in an area with a large quantity of available vegetative forage. Goats will eat less when they are moved to poor quality pastures.
* Goats have a four chamber stomach that contains fermenting bacteria and protozoan that aid in breaking down their food.
* Goats are one the cleanliest animals and is much more selective feeders than cows, sheep, pigs, swine and even dogs.
* Goats do not like eating food that has been soiled, contaminated or has been on the ground.
* Older animals store more body fat if nutritional conditions are favorable.
* Goats do not grow as fast as sheep nor can they utilize feed as efficiently.
* Goats do not have teeth in their upper front jaw.
* Goats have 24 molars and 8 incisors.
* Signs of heat include tail wagging, mucous discharge, swollen vulva, bleating, mounting or being mounted by other goats etc.
* A mature, healthy male buck can breed 20 to 40 does.
* The larger the scrotal circumference of the buck, the higher his libido and fertility.
Goat Milk/Meat (remember - Nigerian Dwarf goats are "milk" goats, not "meat" goats!)
* Goat's milk is easily digestible and less allergenic than cow's milk.
* Goat's milk is higher in calcium, vitamin A and niacin than cow's milk.
* Goat meat is lower in fat and cholesterol compared to beef, pork, mutton and poultry.
* Goat's milk is naturally homogenized and it can be digested in less than 20 minutes where as cow's milk can take almost all day.
* Goat milk ph is alkaline, while cow milk ph is acid.
Facts About Goats - Bulletin II. Vol. I by Angela McKenzie-Jakes (Extension Animal Science Specialist, Florida A&M University, College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture, Research and Cooperative Extension Programs); Excerpts from The Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association (NDGA) (Additional educational information is also available on their web site www.ndga.org); Excerpts from Goat Care - Goat Facts for New Owners By: Sherry Johnson, "Dwarf Digest" editor.
If you are a first time goat buyer, do your homework first: know what you want and what your expectations are. Goats are a lot of work, but rewarding and fun animals. Aden Farms helped us to get started both with goats and information, generously giving of their time and expertise. In turn, we are always ready to help someone else get started or just share information. We may not know the answers, but we know where to look for them! We've found out that everyone has an opinion on how to raise them, but mostly, you will have to take that information and see what works best for you! Below we have included links to various resources we have found helpful.
(still working on this list)