Nigerian Dwarf Goats
HISTORY OF THE NIGERIAN DWARF GOAT
The earliest record of Nigerian Dwarf goats is from West Africa. They came to the United States in the 1930’s and 1950’s as food for larger cats like lions. Now they are dual purpose animals, able to used for both meat and milk. Many people keep them as pets because of their docile nature and they are easily managed by children.
A herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats is call a tribe or a trip. An adult male is called a buck, a young male is a buckling and a male that has been fixed or sterilized is a wether. Wethers are ideal for pets. They do not take any special food and can live off of graze or prairie hay during all seasons, winter included. Adult females are called does and young females are called doelings. When the doe gives birth it is called freshening or kidding. The babies are called kids. Nigerian dwarf goats are good mothers and typically deliver easily and unassisted. They commonly have 1 to 4 kids at one freshening, even up to 5, 6 or 7 kids. However, not all the kids typically survive with higher multiple births. A doe can support up to 4 kids in good living conditions without supplementing the kids. However, if she develops mastitis or is mineral deficient she may have more difficulty and need help to support her babies. A newborn Nigerian dwarf goat weighs around 2 pounds at birth. However, the more kids in a freshening the more varied the weight of the kids can be. They can be as little as 10 ounces and still survive with a little assistance.
BREEDING THE NIGERIAN DWARF GOAT
Nigerian dwarf goats are a traditional livestock breed that farmers raised in the past. But a drastic reduction of the breed variety was caused by the rise of industrial agriculture and threatened their survival. As of 2012, The Livestock Conservancy Board ranked Nigerian dwarf goats as a recovering breed. A movement toward self sustaining lifestyles has helped increase interest in this breed. Nigerian dwarf goats can breed all year round. This flexibility has helped to develop interest in this breed with hobby farmers and modern day homesteaders. Because they can breed off season - different than other goats, it is easy to keep a year round milk supply. The does gestation period is 145 to 156 days or about 5 months. This is a good thing as you can breed your doe yearly and milk for the rest of the year. Some breeders even breed 3 times in two years to maximize the does potential. However, being a mother myself who “kidded and nursed” my children, I know that it takes a lot out of your body. I prefer to give my girls a few months to rest and recuperate before they are bred again. These mothers are very protective of their kids. Alert and defending them from dogs and any other animals they think could hurt their babies. This can be stressful. And goats and stress do not go well together. We want them to restore their vitamins and minerals before breeding again. We have had good success with our does and they have always been healthy and ready to visit the bucks again.
Not only are these goats great reproducers but they are also great producers. The compact size makes keeping them easy keepers on smaller properties. The bucks are ideally between 19 and 21 inches (but up to 23.5 inches). And the does are between 17 and 19 inches (up to 22.5 inches). Adult Nigerian dwarf goats weigh approximately 75 pounds when full grown. They eat less and they convert the food they eat to milk efficiently. They live up to 12 years and in ideal situations they have lived as long as 20 years.
We wean our kids around 8 weeks unless sold as bottle babies. This is a good time to move the bucklings away from the does. Bucklings can be fertile as early as 8 weeks. If planning to wether a buckling, they can be banded before they leave. However, if possible, wait until they are about 4 months old. This is reported to help their urinary system develop and should not cause as many issues with urinary calculi when they are older.
POLLED: HORNS: DISBUDDING: or DEHORNING
We have many kids that are polled at birth. Meaning that they will not grow horns. However, we do not breed polled to polled goats because of genetic concerns. Because of this, we do also have some kids with horns. Many breeders keep their goats naturally horned. And if you have space and a safe environment - goats with horns are fine. However, we have decided to keep our herd free from horns for a few reasons (which can be discussed at a later time). If planning to disbud, best practice is to do this when the kids are 2 – 10 days old. We give them a pain med and disbud the kids that have erupted horns. Some kids horn buds do not break through the skin until later. Disbudding at this stage is not very effective and can be more painful to the kid. It is better to have a veterinarian surgically dehorn them at this point.
FEEDING NIGERIAN DWARF GOATS
Goats have a rumen like cows and sheep. However, cows and sheep are grazers and will eat everything in an area. Goats are browsers. They prefer to eat a little here and a little there. They do not eat anything as urban legend suggests. In fact, they are very particular and will not eat food that has been dropped on the ground or soiled. They do love brush, bramble, trees, poison ivies and most weeds that other livestock will not eat. Truthfully, they prefer these more than grass. Goats that have a good choice of graze, proper hay and/or grain that they need will not eat non-edible or poisonous substances. In reality, they actually have very delicate nutritional needs. A goat will seek out the minerals that they need if it is not provided to them. This is when they will try other things to eat.
When changing feed, always make changes slowly. If you change the bacteria in the rumen too quickly you can cause bloat or the rumen to shut down. This can be a life threatening situation.
When feeding our Nigerian dwarf goats we feed the bucks/wethers and does differently. Each one has specific needs that the other does not. To avoid illness we have worked with our vet to carefully to determine how to feed each one. Remember, goats do not have teeth on the upper jaw in the front, only gums. Feeding foods to them that are not in their natural diet could harm them.
WATER is the number one priority of the goat owner. Make sure they always have fresh water available to them!
Bucks and wethers are fed free choice prairie hay, graze, and minerals. ONLY occasionally, have we added buck pellets (pelleted food formulated for bucks only), kelp and black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS). This has been on an as needed basis when illness, recovery or an exceptionally long winter with poor hay quality is needed to keep them in good condition. You can add apple cider vinegar to water in the winter. When giving grain add approximately ½ teaspoon of ammonium chloride to the feed. This will help to keep their urinary system flowing. Do NOT give baking soda to bucks! Baking soda will neutralize the vinegar and ammonium chloride affects.
Open does are fed free choice brome hay, graze, minerals and baking soda. They are supplemented with a 16-18% dairy goat feed. We use Purina Goat Chow as needed to grow and stay in good condition. We do supplement the grain with kelp and BOSS at times.
Pregnant does are fed free choice Alfalfa hay, graze, minerals and baking soda. They are fed a 16-18% dairy goat feed. We use Purina Goat Chow with kelp added morning and evening – about ¼ cup per doe.
Lactating does are fed free choice Alfalfa hay, graze, minerals and baking soda. They are fed a 16-18% dairy goat feed. We use Purina Goat Chow with alfalfa pellets, BOSS and kelp added morning and evening at the milk stanchion while being milked.
Our goats are loved and some may say even spoiled. We try to make sure that the treats we give them are good for them as well. We have given: Peanuts in the shell, orange peels, banana peels, small amounts of yogurt, cut up apples and pears and a favorite is bending a branch from a nearby tree down within their reach.
We make no apologies. We love them like family – just family that live outside. Nigerian dwarf milk has a higher butterfat (6-10%) than other goat milk and is excellent for making cheese, butter, ice cream and soap. Additionally, goat milk is easier to digest making it an option for many lactose intolerant people or those that have other gastrointestinal issues. Goat milk has an alkaline pH and is naturally homogenized. Cow milk stays in the human stomach for 24 hours. Goat milk is easier to breakdown and digest. It stays in the human stomach for only 20 minutes to 4 hours. We love the milk that they produce. And our vet says that happy well cared for/loved goats produce better tasting milk. I’ll go with that.
POISONOUS OR TOXIC FOODS FOR GOATS
When researching what our goats can and can not have, we have come across many lists on the internet. This can be confusing as some things are listed as good for them and on another list as poisonous. I will give a list of plants to avoid that have been reported to be poisonous or harmful to goats somewhere on the internet. I do not claim to be an expert but I try to be safe rather than sorry. This is an attempt to provide a starting point for goat owners and definitely is not a definitive list. But do be aware that vomiting in goats is almost always due to poisonous plants. Please consult your veterinarian for verification.
Feeds containing UREA. These are toxic to goats
Anything that could cause choking: nuts, nut shells, avocado pits, fruit pits, bones, etc.
Fescue grass- not poisonous just not recommended
African Rue, Andromeda (related to foxglove), Azalea, Brouwer’s Beauty Andromeda, Boxwood, Burning bush berries, Calotropis, Cassava (manioc), China Berry Trees, all parts, Choke cherries, Datura, Dog Hobble, Dumb Cane (diffenbachia / houseplant), Eunoumus Bush Berries, False Tansy, “Fiddleneck”, Flixweed, Fusha, Holly Trees / bushes, Ilysanthes floribunda, Japanese pieris (extremely toxic), Japanese Yew, Lantana (?), Lasiandra, Lilacs, Lily of the Valley (Pieris Japonica), Lupine, Madreselva (Spain) patologia renal, Maya – Maya, Monkhood, Milkweed, Mountain Laurel, Nightshade (?), Oleander, Red Maples, Rhododendron, Rhubarb leaves, TuTu (coriaria arborea), Wild Cherry, Yew.
NIGERIAN DWARF GOAT HEALTH
It is important to understand the diseases that goats can contract and how. We try to be careful and use good biosecurity standards however, no matter how good we are, disease can still find a way in. We try not to worm our goats routinely. We have fecals done periodically to test for parasites and treat accordingly. There are not many medications developed for goats so many treatments come from medications meant for other livestock.
The best advice I can give is to know your goat. The more you know your goat’s behavior and personality the better caretaker you will be. Our vet told me once “You will tell me when something is wrong.” And he was right. When one of our goat’s routine changes, like - they aren’t first in line to eat, or don’t come up for a scratch on the shoulders – something is wrong. One of our girls perches herself on the highest place she can and bleats out at us until we feed her in the morning and evening. One morning I came out and she wasn’t there. And she wasn’t hollering at me. She was in the shelter laying quietly. I checked her temp and it was 105 degrees F. She was sick.
Keep a log or chart of illnesses, medications, freshening, vaccinations, etc on your goat. Know his/her weight and age. This will help you answer questions for treating your goat when the vet is unavailable and over the phone consultation is necessary.
So here is a list of vital signs to know about your goat. This can save a lot of money and your goat’s life.
Rectal Temperature 101.7 – 104 degrees F
Respirations Adult 12 – 20 per minute
Kids 20 – 40 per minute
Pulse 70 – 80 beats per minute
Estrus / Heat cycle 18 - 23 days and lasts 12 - 36 hours
Gestation 145 – 156 days or about 5 months
We give CD&T vaccinations as recommended.
Adults At least once each year
Give with injury, illness and stressful events*
Pregnant does 4 – 6 weeks before due date
Kids with immunized does: 4, 6, 10 weeks ?
Kids with non- immunized does: Birth, 4 , 6 weeks ?
*It is also a good idea to give probiotics with Vitamin E during stressful situations
HANDY MEDICATIONS and TOOLS FOR GOATS
A well stocked medicine cabinet can be the difference between life and death of your goat. Over time it is a good idea to have a few commonly used medications on hand.
Vetricyn, Vitamin B 12 (BOSE), Meloxican for pain relief, Ammonium Chloride, Vinegar, CD&T, Minerals (block or loose), Baking soda, Dried kelp food grade, Probiotics, Diatimatious Earth...
A few tools that are handy to have are as follows:
Hoof trimmers, Wood file, Collar and leash, Carrier for transport, Bowls to feed, Water heater elements to prevent frozen water in the winter, Rake, Barn lime, Shelter / Large dog house, Water container, Food container, Hay manger, Leur lock syringes and 22 gauge - 1” needles, Standard syringes, Alcohol, Cotton balls and paper towels, Scissors, Nasal Aspirator, Disposable scalpel, Disposable gloves, Digital thermometer...
Nigerian dwarf goats can be milked once or twice a day. We milk two times a day by hand. No one in our family grew up on a farm and learning to milk has been a process. We learned on an unexperienced but very very patient doe. She put up with a lot. Looking back, well...looking back is embarrassing. Since then we have learned a lot. We have worked to develop a good step by step milking routine so that even the those people who have never milked before can feel comfortable trying their hand at it. It may seem elementary to some of us, but I have been asked too many times "Do goats give milk all the time like cows or do they have to have a baby first?" Yes. Goats (and for that matter cows) do have to kid, calf or have a baby before they can give milk. For goats it is called freshening. The doe is freshening her milk supply. The doe can be milked immediately and the kids can be bottle fed. If this is your plan make sure the kids all get colostrum first. They will be much healthier in the long run and have the benefit from the does immunities. If your doe is Cae positive, powdered colostrum supliments are available. Do not allow a Cae positive doe to nurse her kids. Bottle feed so that the kids will not contract the Cae from the mother goat.
We have tested all our goats for Cae, CL and Johne’s disease. They are all negative and can raise their kids naturally without concern. We allow the doe to raise her kids for two tp six weeks naturally and then we remove the kids at night. The doe is then milked one time a day, until the kids are weaned. My does that have quads are not milked until they wean their kids. With four kids to support, they need all the milk they can make to support their babies. With the other does, we remove the kids at night and milk the next morning. After milking, the doe is returned to her kids. As long as the kids continue to grow and develop normally, we continue this until the kids are 8 weeks old and weaned. At that time, we begin milking twice a day about 12 hours apart.
There are many different ways to milk. The following is the routine that works for our family. We use stainless steal pans under our does. This is because our does are dwarfs. They only have 3 to 6 inches between their udder and the floor of the milk stanchion. Traditional pails (which we have tried) do not work and make milking difficult as the udder ends up in the pail. A standard stainless steal pan with a handle works well. It is also very handy to remove with the handle when an inexperienced or anxious doe begins to dance. We filter our milk through a stainless steal coffee filter that sits inside of a canning funnel. This is then set atop the half gallon mason jar. We also use commercial teat wipes and olive oil when milking. Primarily because the cost is minimal in relation to the time and effort it took to keep homemade solutions sanitary for any length of time. The teats are wiped clean and then a little olive oil is applied to our hands and the teats. This helps decrease any discomfort for the doe and speeds up the amount of time it takes.
Collect all the supplies before you head out. A stainless steal pan, funnel, screen/filter basket, strip cup and a glass milk jar. We keep teat wipes, olive oil, grain, peanuts and a grooming brush at the stanchion. When you have your supplies ready and your hands washed. You are ready to get your goat.
1) Make sure the grain is in the bucket
2) Stanchion is locked before beginning to milk
3) Check the doe for any changes in – her udder, teats, feet, mouth, bottom, etc. Is her udder red, cut, hot or does she jump when you touch her? If the answer is yes further inspection is needed. If she is found to be ok upon visual inspection, meaning no open wounds or sores and no signs of pain. Continue the milking routine. If however, you have a problem address it first. Inspect her milk in the strip cup and test for mastitis if necessary. If this is a first time milker she may need some time to get used to the routine. Make it a positive experience. If she has been doing fine and all of a sudden doesn't act right. Something may be wrong. Remember, you know your doe. Listen with your eyes to what she is telling you.
4) Clean hands and supplies are the most important part of the process. Make sure you don't contaminate that fresh goat milk.
5) Wipe down teats with teat wipe and solution
6) Olive oil hands and teats
7) Strip the first milk from the teats into the strip cup.
8) Check this milk for flakes, strings, or blood signs - act accordingly if there is a problem. If not continue milking.
9) Milk in the pan. When her stream slows bump the udder or massage softly then finish milking her out.
10) Wash off teats with your wipe. An udder cream or spray can be used but is not necessary. We use a peppermint rub to soothe our does.
11) Filter the milk into the jar / date / refrigerate your milk ASAP!
12) Feed your goat a peanut, praise her and give her a good shoulder scratch or brush down if you have time. Remember a happy goat gives the best milk.
Interesting facts: Only goats, sheep, toads, and octopi have rectangular pupils. In goats blue eyes are a dominant trait. When a goat calls out it is called bleating.
Our goats are registered through ADGA and/or AGS.
Can you see the baby on Missy's side?
Twin sisters Libbie and Lottie
Poor expecting Sadie. She had quads a few days later.