Goats of dwarfish proportions were once widespread across much of Africa, their historic home being a large swath stretching from the Atlantic coast inland as far as modern Sudan and almost spanning from 20°N to 20°S latitude. These miniature goats varied by region, some being stocky, cobby little animals and others proportioned like true dairy goats.
How the dwarf goats ended up in Europe is somewhat unclear, but they were probably carried on board ships as provisions. Whether they were provisions for slavers or for captured lions is a matter of speculation. In any case, some clearly escaped consumption and took up residence at parks and zoos, where they enjoyed the privileged lives of exotic curiosities.
Dwarf goats were first shipped to American zoos in the early 1930s. For several decades, the only way the average American knew about dwarf goats was through the zoos. However, the miniature goats had winning personalities, so when zoos finally had enough surplus kids to disperse, buyers were readily found.
Most privately owned dwarf goats were pets at first. However, one type clearly had dairy potential, so breeders took interest. The Nigerian Dwarf breed was developed by selecting the miniature African goats with dairy qualities in the mid-1970s, and considerable progress toward breeding an efficient homestead dairy animal has been made since then.
Today, the Nigerian Dwarf is one of the more popular goat breeds among backyard homesteaders, with several thousand registered across the United States.
For the homesteader with a desire for homegrown milk, the Nigerian Dwarf is a superb choice. Its size and temperament make it suitable to many who would find a standard breed undesirable, including elderly homesteaders, families with very young children, and those with very limited land access. Nigerian Dwarf milk is good for both drinking and making cheese.
However, it is important to note that many Nigerian Dwarfs are still bred for the pet market. While these goats are irresistibly cute, they rarely produce enough milk for satisfactory homesteading. Look for a breeder who emphasizes milk production in the breeding program.
An additional use of the Nigerian Dwarf is eliminating pesky weeds around the backyard.
When handled from an early age, Nigerian Dwarfs have delightful, petlike personalities. They are docile, gentle, and extremely gregarious. While active and playful enough to be quite entertaining, they are also calm and easygoing.
However, don’t underestimate the intelligence of the Nigerian Dwarf—this breed can be downright cunning. Containing a Nigerian Dwarf is no easy task. On the bright side, that sharp mind can be put to use learning tricks, such going for a walk on a leash with the family dog.
Nigerian Dwarf bucks can appear to be fiercely competitive, but their bark is worse than their bite. Youngsters may battle for hours on end with each other. Don’t worry—they seem to view the whole affair as a game and rarely hurt each other. Toward humans, Nigerian Dwarf bucks are typically gentle and easy to handle. They are exceedingly pugnacious toward stray dogs and other potential threats, so take great care to protect your herd from predators.
The Nigerian Dwarf is a healthy, hardy breed. Common-sense goat care should keep your herd in top form.
Note that these goats are able to breed well before their bodies can handle the strain of kidding. Buck kids may be fertile as early as seven weeks of age, so wean them separately from the doe kids. Ideally, does should not be bred for the first time until they are between 8 and 12 months of age, provided they are in good condition.
- Ease of handling and transport.
- Suitability for very small acreages; three dwarf goats can typically be kept in the same amount of space as one standard breed.
- Suitability for warm climates.
- Low feed requirements.
- Few health problems.
- Early maturity.
- Ability to breed year-round.
- Ability to conceive large numbers of kids, three or four being common.
- Easy kidding.
- Good mothering abilities.
- Udder conformation easy to milk for most people.
- Milk quantities suited for family use.
- Sweet milk flavor without a “goaty” taste.
- High butterfat content of milk.
- Prevalence of goats bred as pets instead of as dairy animals.
- Exceptional ability as an escape artist.