From small beginnings come great things.
— Dutch Proverb
HISTORY OF THE NIGERIAN DWARF
The Nigerian Dwarf goat is of West Central African origin. There are several recognized breeds of dwarf goats in West Africa with a mingling of varieties. It is from these herds that the first dwarf goats were imported into the United States. The first documented imports arrived in the country early last century and continued through the 1960’s. Illegal imports were suspected earlier than this. They represented a broad range of body types and colors, with some carrying genes for greater stature.
Genetically, the imported population contained two types of dwarfism: 1) achondroplastic, which was characterized by a large head, wide body and short limbs; 2) pituitary, which was a true miniature and ideally would have a proportionally sized head and body for its short stature. In the 1960’s and 70’s a distinction was finally made between the breed of African Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf and selective breeding began. Although both are of African origin, they are considered American breeds.
The Nigerian Dwarves are still considered rare by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The US Department of Agriculture has approved Nigerian Dwarves as a livestock dairy goat, which makes them eligible for 4H and FFA projects.
For those goat lovers among us with physical limitations, acreage and facility limitations, or small children, the Nigerian Dwarf fills a wonderful role. Due to the fact that Jay’s spine is deteriorating and I have had low back surgery myself, we appreciate the gentle disposition and easy going character of these little charmers! We’ve spoken to other breeders with disabilities and the Nigerians have proven to be excellent choices for them also.
They don’t require a lot of space for either housing or pen size. They are personable and easy to handle for the most part, although we have had to cull animals that were hard to catch. We’ve never had a Nigerian show a tendency to bite or nail us to the wall. We do find that bottle raising makes a difference. We never have to run to catch a bottle baby! They are a hardy, naturally healthy breed, and of course their feed intake is significantly less than the larger dairy goat breeds. For those of us who have seen huge vet bills with horses or other animals, it’s a real pleasure to be able to keep the vet bills down. For their small size they produce a surprising quantity and quality of milk. Jay and I recently figured out that by milking six of our does, the return in milk and dairy products would reimburse us for the entire expense of hay and grain for the whole herd (sorry guys, hay IS cheaper here in Idaho than in most areas of the U.S.). Unlike their larger goat cousins, they are easy to transport by air or car in medium to large dog kennels, even as adults!
Nigerian Dwarves were first registered by the International Dairy Goat Registry in 1982, Canadian Goat Society in 1985, American Goat Society in 1983, and finally the Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association in 1997. AGS is the largest registry of Nigerian Dwarf Goats, listing over 15,000 in the herd book for November 2000. NDGA is a very helpful and informative registry, which is currently growing in membership. In the United States both AGS and NDGA sanction shows, with the largest number of shows in the Texas area, with Northeast and Northwest growing in show numbers, as well as numbers of registered Nigerian herds.
We now register our animals with AGS and also with NDGA, so QSF babies can be shown in both organizations if desired. The American Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Association is a breed club which promotes the Nigerian Dwarf as a dairy animal. The American Dairy Goat Association should be opening their herd books to the Nigerian Dwarf in 2005. It will be wonderful, here in the Northwest especially, to be able to show our Nigerians along with their ‘big cousin’ Nubians at ADGA shows in the near future!
There are slight differences in AGS and NDGA height standards for bucks and does. AGS standards hold bucks at 23.6″ at the withers, does at 22.4″. NDGA standards are slightly smaller, bucks 23″ and does 21″ maximum. Otherwise, both breed registry standards are similar. There is no minimum height, as long as the animal is proportional. Disqualifications are basically the same for each registry, i.e. curly coat, Roman nose, pendulous ears, myotonia (fainting), and of course over-sized individuals.
The Nigerian Dwarf goat conformation standards are similar to those of the larger dairy breeds. Most animals are horned, a few bloodlines polled. Horns are discouraged in these miniature dairy herds and disqualified in the show ring. Body parts should be balanced in proportion to small stature. General appearance is of refinement and dairy character. Loose dairy skin and soft, short to medium dairy type hair coat is desired. Facial profile straight or slightly dished. Relatively deep, wide muzzle. Upright ears, relatively long in comparison to head size, dairy type. Long, slim neck blending smoothly into tight shoulders and high, sharp withers. No dewlaps or fatty deposits on neck. Long, wide body which deepens at the heart girth. Flat ribs, well sprung. Level top line with only slight slope from hips to tail. Long rump. Legs straight, set squarely apart with short, strong pasterns. Bones preferably flat. Short feet with tight toes.
As with the larger dairy breeds, mammary system should be deep, wide and capricious in relation to the size of the doe. Strongly attached, soft and pliable with proportionally shaped and sized teats. Udder should be balanced and tightly attached as viewed from the side and rear.
All colors, patterns and variations are allowed. Eyes are either brown or blue. We’ve found in our own animals when breeding that blue eyes tend to be slightly predominant.
YES, THEY DO MILK!
Nigerians average 799 lbs of milk and 49 lbs of butterfat for a 305 day lactation. Butterfat percentage averages 6.1%. The minimum requirement for Nigerian Dwarf milk production is one third that of the standard sized breeds. It increases 2 pounds of milk for each additional month of age at time of freshening. The butterfat content is based on 5% of the minimum pounds of milk for the respective age.
A good doe can produce from one to two quarts a day of high butterfat (averaging about 6%), high protein milk.
Since they breed year round, it is very easy to freshen does when you need to, thus staggering milk production within your herd.
The American Goat Society gives milk production awards, oversees DHI rules and procedures for the Nigerian Dwarves and keeps records of production. The standard sized breeds have had the advantage of many decades of Dairy Herd Improvement testing, with accumulated official production data. The Nigerians have only been production tested for a little over a decade and their full dairy potential is just beginning to be realized. Many Nigerian does, however, produce enough pounds of butterfat in a lactation to meet AR requirements for butterfat set for the larger breeds.
We are hoping to start milk testing (one day) our does this summer. We recently purchased a milking machine from Caprine Supply and are so happy with it. It’ll milk two does at once and is so quick compared to hand milking. It’s an essential piece of equipment for those of us with low back problems!
BREEDING THE NIGERIAN DWARF
Nigerians cycle year round, making it very easy to maintain level milk production, if desired, within a herd for an entire year. Bucks are precocious and should be separated from doelings at about seven to eight weeks of age. Bucks are gentle enough for hand breeding if desired. We breed our does at about one year, depending upon maturity of the individual animal. We are breeding twice a year at this time, but may slow down to once a year when our herd base is established.
Gestation period is from 145 to 153 days with does not usually needing assistance in birthing. Kids usually average about three pounds at birth, with live healthy 1-1/2 lb babies not unheard of. Twins are most common, followed by singles and triplets. Quads, quints and more have occurred. We do choose to bottle raise our babies, due to the fact that they are much gentler later on. We have let some of our does raise babies in the past though and they’ve been excellent mothers. Weaning occurs usually at 8 to 12 weeks of age, again depending upon the individual. We offer hay from the first week of age, tiny amounts of grain with Probios granules at about a month of age.
We personally only purchase animals from breeders who consider good nutrition and health maintenance a serious issue, i.e. CAE and abscess free. Our own herd has been CAE, TB and brucellosis tested annually and is certified by our vet. We’ve never had a contagious abscess and never have had an animal with CAE or any other disease. We’ve been fortunate enough not to have experienced sore mouth either. We are on the federal scrapies program.
Immunization and worming schedules are the same as the larger goat breeds. Your local vet will be happy to set up an immunization schedule and discuss parasite issues in your locale. We feed herbal wormer weekly, from Hoegger’s, preferring to run fecal parasite analysis quarterly and thus far they’ve been entirely negative. We do treat goats that are new to our herd with Ivomec Plus injectible, giving 2 cc orally upon arrival and again in two weeks. We’ve had a problem bringing in body lice on new goats and this has really controlled that problem very well. We keep vitamin B injectible (which we give orally), Nutridrench and Probios (paste and granules) on hand for illness or stress situations, and tetanus antitoxin in case of wounds. We do not treat with antibiotics at home! Our vet is immediately summoned if we are that concerned about one of our animals.
HOUSING AND FEED
Herd management is an issue that really needs to be addressed. You know it’s ‘50% genetics and 50% feed’, so why is so little attention paid to this issue? Our vet recently lamented “No one wants to listen when I address the issue of herd management, they want me to rush in and ‘fix’ a ‘disease’ with antibiotics after the fact!” It was basically the same when Jay worked in medicine, no one wanted to listen to advice about dietary changes or supplements, but patients would spend hundreds on antibiotics and other medications repeatedly. Why not build up that immune system response through proper nutrition before a virus sets in? Why persist in over using antibiotics and then when immunity is developed to that particular bacteria or virus, a much stronger (and usually costlier!) antibiotic must be used? I will share our feed program with you as it works for our herd, in our part of the country. But the best feed program for your herd would best be developed hand in hand with an experienced breeder in your area and/or your local vet.
We feed alfalfa hay, clean and leafy, free choice. Our goats get fresh hay twice a day and as they eat the leaf and leave the stem. As goats are ‘browsers’ we make sure we feed enough hay that they never run out. In our larger pens, we feed in multiple areas so that the dominant animals do not hog the hay or grain ration. Our goats are on ‘zero graze’, i.e. they do not have access to pasture grass where they might pick up parasites (goats are browsers not grazers, remember…) We’ve found that our own goats despise goat pellets or dairy goat rations and prefer to eat the 9% molasses grain mix that our horses ate. This is fed twice a day also, averaging about one cup a day per adult goat, with added vitamin supplements as directed by our vet. We currently use Supergain horse supplement, with added brewer’s yeast for the B’s. *Please do check with your vet before using any ‘horse type’ supplement to be sure that some vitamins do not reach toxic levels. We do not alter feed programs during pregnancy, lactation or breeding season, preferring to keep the animals in top condition year round. Free choice baking soda and loose mineral salt with selenium are offered at all times. We find that the Golden Blend mineral salt available at Hoegger’s Supply works very nicely with our feed regime and our goats do prefer it. Goats do not get enough salt or minerals from a ‘lick’ so please make sure that loose mineral salt is available! Heated waterers are used during the winter so that water is available at all times. Waterers are rinsed and filled daily and cleaned with bleach as needed.
Nigerians seem to thrive in all sorts of weather conditions, but as with all goats, need appropriate cover in severe cold and rain. We find that our goats are much more comfortable in the summer if they are properly clipped. We keep our bucks together in appropriate size and age ranges, and find that they are much happier than if left alone. We do not keep our goats on pasture, due to the parasite problems associated with that practice, but we have large play areas with six foot high fencing, protected by hotwire to keep predators out and to keep our own bucks off the fences inside.
Currently we have a large barn for our does (we converted the former owner’s horse barn), with a central cement floor area for feed, medical and birthing supply cabinets, the milking machine and the stands for milking and clipping. Currently the stalls have dirt floors, which will soon be replaced with rubber stall mats. We have the rubber stall mat system currently in use in our smaller buck barn and it really keeps down the dust and is much easier to clean and disinfect. We don’t suggest using cement floor in the stall areas, as it’s too hard on the goat’s legs. We use bagged pine shavings and the stalls are faithfully cleaned on a weekly basis, more often during rainy weather or during kiddings. Baking soda and diatomaceous earth are applied to the clean floors before rebedding with pine shavings. Both barns have exhaust fans, so that we can ‘air out’ quickly during the winter or cool things down some in the summer. Be sure that your barn or goat housing has proper ventilation or you’re going to end up with severe problems, including pneumonia. Both barns are heavily insulated, so that our goats are comfortable during the extremely cold winters we experience here in the northwest.
Our large hay barn is totally separate from our goat barns, due to biosecurity concerns. Hay is delivered to the hay barn and then carried by us as needed to the goat barns. We pick up grain and shavings ourselves. We don’t allow unauthorized ‘foot traffic’, nor take delivery of anything in our goat barns due to herd health concerns.
We’ve had many questions lately about fencing. We use six foot red topped ‘nonclimb’ horse fencing, topped with hotwire and also with one line of hotwire on the outside at predator ‘nose level’ of about eighteen inches off the ground, and a third line a few inches off the ground. These levels must work as we have heard either dogs or coyotes hit the fence and run off yelping during the night. We do use ‘nose level’ hot wire on the inside of the fence also, in order to keep our goats (especially the bucks) from rubbing on the fence or trying to knock it down. Posts are 4×4 cedar and fencing is attached with heavy staples to the posts, which are at ten foot centers. Gates are made of 2×4 cedar, of the same six foot nonclimb material.
COSTS AND AVAILABILITY
There is a high demand for show quality bucks and does nationally and strict attention is paid to individual evaluation numbers, show placings and MCH or PGCH status achievement. We’ve noticed that reservation opportunities are closed to some of the top does in the nation, just due to recent demand. Does usually sell for a bit more than bucks, the more preferable animals running $350.00 to $1,000.00, sometimes more. Although, please don’t assume that the more you pay for an animal, the nicer that animal will be. Unfortunately this usually is not the case. (This was a huge mistake we made early on in purchasing Nigerians.) We wish we’d paid more attention to pedigrees and individual conformation, and not to show wins. Also please do visit any breeding facility, if at all possible, as herd health has a lot to contribute to the quality of the animal you’ll be bringing home.
The Nigerian Dwarf sells very well over the internet, probably due to the ease of shipment of these small guys by air. We moved some of our herd from Alabama with our horses by nationwide horse carrier and had some picked up in Texas with our trailer, but most purchases have been shipped to us by air, with no ill effects to the goats. We’ve had eight week old babies shipped to us, two to a crate, and just met them at the airport with bottles of milk. We’ve personally shipped animals by air as far away as Alaska, North Carolina and Massachusetts with no problems whatsoever.
If you desire more information on the Nigerian Dwarf goat, we would suggest the following:
NDGA – If you are a member of this organization, you will receive a wonderful, informative magazine in regards to the Nigerian Dwarf. (It’s well worth joining NDGA just for the magazine, let alone for the availability of shows, judging seminars and contacts with other breeders who love this little animal as much as the rest of us!) Here’s a link to NDGA’s informative site: http://www.ndga.org/index.html
RUMINATIONS – Journal of the Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goat. Excellent articles and show results with photos. Subscription rate: $24.00 per year for six issues. Editor/publisher: Cheryl K. Smith, 22705 Hwy 36, Chelshire OR 97419. email: [email protected]
NIGERIAN DWARFS: COLORFUL MINIATURE DAIRY GOATS – by Jody Leigh. Published in 1993. You’ll need to contact Jody for an up to date price. Chapters include history, judging and showing, color genetics and herd summaries from some of the premier Nigerian Dwarf breeders in the nation. Color photos. Jody Leight, 10633 Twin Spruce Road, Golden, CO 80403.
GOAT MEDICINE by Smith/Sherman. This is a costly hard cover book, but is well worth the price in our mind. There are so many different opinions from breeders on health maintenance, feed programs, etc. that it is nice to have a vet manual to refer to. We highly suggest this publication for any new goat owner!