Breed Profile: Nigerian Dwarf Goat
How Long Do Nigerian Dwarf Goats Live? ... And Other Breed Facts
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BREED: The Nigerian Dwarf goat is an American breed developed for small-scale dairy production and companionship.
ORIGIN: Dwarf goats evolved in West and Central Africa, mainly in coastal countries with humid, sub-humid, or savanna climates. Known collectively as West African Dwarf goats (WAD), local types vary widely in size, body proportions, and coat colors. Their size and proportions are likely to be an adaptation to their native climate, but might also reflect local preferences. Their main virtue for African villagers is the ability to thrive and produce in tsetse-infested conditions, providing milk and meat to rural smallholders.
History and Development
How Dwarf goats first came to America is unclear, although there are records of imports during 1930s–1960s, and possibly as early as 1918. Dwarf goats were first kept in zoos and occasionally in research centers. Then, as herd sizes increased, they were sold to private enthusiasts and breeders. Zookeepers and breeders throughout the United States and Canada began to notice two different body types: one stocky, short-legged, and heavy-boned (achondroplastic dwarfism); the other slenderer with normal limb proportions (proportional miniaturization).
Whereas the first type was standardized as the Pygmy goat, recognized by the American Goat Society (AGS) in 1976, there were some goats that did not fit the agreed color patterns. Breeders of the slender type sought registry with the International Dairy Goat Registry (IDGR), whose herdbook opened in 1981. By 1987, IDGR had registered 384 Nigerian Dwarf goats.
Early on, some breeders attempted to develop lines of distinctive color and pattern, but the lines were mixed by 1988, probably to enhance diversity within the small genetic foundation.
The AGS opened a herdbook in 1984 to register goats of the agreed type as Nigerian Dwarf. The breed was first shown in Texas in 1985. By 1990, only 400 were registered, so registration was kept open until the end of 1992. The book was then closed with 2000 foundation goats. However, unregistered goats meeting the standard and breeding true were accepted until the end of 1997. From then on, the AGS accepted only offspring of registered purebred parents. Initially bred as pets and show animals, enthusiasts aimed for a graceful appearance and gentle temperament. Breeders then started to develop the breed for milk production and dairy conformation.
While the IDGR continue to register the Nigerian Dwarf in its original form, other registries have also been set up to accommodate lines according to different philosophies: for example, the Nigerian Dairy Goat Association and the National Miniature Goat Association.
Since the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) started a registry in 2005, the market for kids has soared. Those meeting dairy standards are popular as homestead and 4-H milkers, while wethers and unregistered doelings have found a market as pets.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Once listed as a rare breed by the Livestock Conservancy, the population had sufficiently grown by 2013 to be removed from the priority list. By then, there was an estimated population of 30,000. There are also breeders in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
Nigerian Dwarf Goat Size, Weight, and Characteristics
DESCRIPTION: A miniature goat of balanced proportions and dairy conformation. The facial profile is straight or slightly concave, and ears medium length and erect. The coat is short to medium length. Eyes are occasionally blue. The male has a heavy beard.
COLORING: A wide variety of colors and patterns are common.
HEIGHT TO WITHERS: Normally from 17 in. to 23.5 in. (for bucks) and 22.5 in. (for does).
WEIGHT: Around 75 lb. (34 kg).
Popularity and Productivity
POPULAR USE: Home dairy, 4-H, and pets.
PRODUCTIVITY: 1–2 quarts/liters per day for up to 10 months. The milk is sweet and exceptionally high in butterfat (over 6%) and protein (average 3.9%), making it excellent for cheese and butter. Does usually breed in any season, so are sometimes bred three times over two years, leaving at least a six-month rest. Does rarely suffer from kidding problems. They make excellent mothers and can dry off naturally if required. These traits make them ideal for a moderate, year-round milk supply.
Prolific breeders, does are normally fertile from 17–22 weeks old, and bucks from 7–17 weeks. However, breeders prefer to wait a year before breeding doelings, so they can grow and develop. Multiple kids (often three or four) are common per litter.
TEMPERAMENT: Generally gentle and calm, they are gregarious in nature and friendly when raised around people.
Health, Hardiness, and Adaptability
ADAPTABILITY: They are hardy and adapt to most climates and husbandry conditions, although they do require fencing that accounts for their small size and propensity to explore. Despite their small size, Nigerian Dwarf goats’ lifespan is comparable to that of standard-sized domestic goats. Their hardiness equips them to live for 15–20 years, if well cared for.
Two health issues have shown up in some lines that may be heritable; squamous cell carcinoma (a cancerous tumor under the tail) and carpal hyperextension (where knees bend backwards with age) are currently being studied.
BIODIVERSITY: The original WAD foundation has high genetic diversity with a great variation in size, color, and other traits, including useful health traits. WAD individuals at range are often smaller than those in research centers and those exported to Europe and America. For example, adult weights of 40–75 lb. (18–34 kg) and heights of 15–22 inches (37–55 cm) have been recorded in Nigeria. The greater Nigerian Dwarf goats’ weight and size seen in America may be due to the genetic potential of the chosen foundation stock and selective breeding for production, combined with easier living conditions and more plentiful feed. On the other hand, selective breeding for cuteness could lead to increased miniaturization, which might impact health. For this reason, some registries impose a minimum size to discourage breeding to extremes.
QUOTE: “The versatility of the Nigerian Dwarf, as well as its hardiness and gentle disposition, have given it great appeal … Breed conservation will be best served by building consensus around a vision for the breed that includes its unique combination of characteristics.” ALBC, 2006.
- American Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Association
- The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC, now The Livestock Conservancy): 2006 archive.
- Nigerian Dairy Goat Association
- Sponenberg, D.P., 2019. Local Goat Breeds in the United States. In Goats (Capra)–From Ancient to Modern. IntechOpen.
- American Goat Society
- Ngere, L.O., Adu, I.F. and Okubanjo, I.O., 1984. The indigenous goats of Nigeria. Animal Genetic Resources, 3, 1–9.
- Hall, S.J.G., 1991. Body dimensions of Nigerian cattle, sheep and goats. Animal Science, 53(1), 61–69.
Lead photo by Theresa Hertling from Pixabay.
Originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.
20 thoughts on “Breed Profile: Nigerian Dwarf Goat”
I was wondering if Nigerian Dwarf Goats are talkative/noisy? We had a group of 4 full size goats pastured for a friend for a couple weeks and they were almost annoyingly loud. So if you have any thoughts about that concerning the NDG breed I’d sure appreciate it!
Hi Lori, it can depend on the goat and whether she is lonely, in heat, or needs something. But my perception is that Nigerian Dwarf goats are in the middle. They don’t scream like Nubians, thank goodness, but they certainly will let you know when they want something.
I have a concern with my girls. I would like to breed them but they turned 4 this year. What are the chances they could possibly have complications with delivery.
I was told they are a great age for breeding, then told they are to old. I’m not sure what to do?
Hi Judy, a Nigerian Dwarf in great health can live past 15 years, but I wouldn’t recommend breeding her past 10 years since she can have more complications as she reaches her senior age. But four years isn’t old at all, when it comes to breeding age. Some people say that waiting too long to breed a doe can affect her fertility, but so far that is just an anecdotal wives’ tale and I’ve seen no studies to back this up. So now sounds like a great time to breed! Nigerian Dwarf goats can have extreme complications during delivery if the buck is a larger breed like a standard-sized dairy goat, so stick with other Nigerian Dwarf bucks or maybe Pygmy goats or Kinders. The most common dystocia (labor problems) I’ve seen with Nigerian Dwarf goats is when the baby needs help coming out because it is stillborn or hasn’t turned, so I suggest knowing the exact breeding date so you can be ready on the due date. Here is a story about recognizing dystocia: https://backyardgoats.iamcountryside.com/health/damsels-in-distress-recognize-goat-labor-problems/ and here is a great due date calculator: https://backyardgoats.iamcountryside.com/ownership/the-best-goat-gestation-calculator/ Good luck!
We live in middle Tennessee, and anxiously want NDG’s for our homestead. Do you know of a reputable breeder we may look into for breeders to start our herd? Your time is Sincerely appreciated.
I am considering breeding my 8 month old Nigerian dwarf but you say they should be a mature size. What weight would that be?
Hi Lindsey, most experts on Nigerian Dwarf goats say the ideal weight is 75lbs but a range between 60 and 80 pounds is normal and healthy, depending on her frame. I would want a doeling to be 60 pounds or close to it before breeding. If she is almost 60 pounds, she will probably reach a decent size by the time she kids. One reason to wait a little longer is that, if she experiences dystocia, that may mean reaching inside her vulva to help assist in birth…and this is much easier if she is fully grown. Most owners wait until they are a year old, just to be safe. I hope this helps!
I love goats
Hi, I have a dwarf die and I’m not sure how old she is, the lady I got her from said she rescued her from another family. She told me she was pregnant, I’m not sure at all how can you tell if she is
I know this may be a silly question but, I’m actually looking for information on which breed would be the smallest and best ones to make into a house pet. We live in Central Oklahoma where weather varies, 5 acres ( not all fenced but wooded) so they wouldn’t have full run. I grew up on the farm but always had cattle and horses but never goats. I’m trying to do research before I go ahead with anything. Thank you for your time. Danah
Can you tell me what is the difference between nigerian dwarf and pigmy
I need diffrence with picture
We are bringing home brother and sister in 4 weeks. They will be 12 weeks. New babies should be born this month. So about two months or so before the new ones come home. Can I leave them separate for two months in the buck and doe pen? Do I keep together ? I don’t want babies just yet. She won’t be ready for it. I don’t want to hurt her.
Hi Loretta, I’m glad you asked. Doelings can go into heat long before they’re large enough to safely carry and deliver kids, and Nigerian Dwarf goats go into heat exceptionally early! I’ve heard many people report that first heat happening at eight weeks of age. So I recommend separating them, which means you may need to find a wether for the brother. Or you could put him with a doe that is already confirmed to be pregnant, but you would need to remove him before she kids.
We are interested in getting NDG’s so we are doing a lot of research. I don’t think we will be using them for milk and was wondering if it is bad for the goat NOT to be milked. Also, was told you can’t have just one because they get depressed. Is this true?
You’re right, Chris, they need familiar companions and they’ll get stressed and depressed if all alone. They don’t adapt quickly to unknown goats, so it’s easier to get two or three who grew up together or have known each other a long time.
I have kept dairy goats and not always milked them. If they give birth, they will need to be relieved of their milk load for the first few months until they dry up naturally. Normally, it is sufficient to allow their kids to suckle, especially if they have multiple kids in a litter, as NDGs normally do. Some really milky dairy goats have trouble drying up naturally (I have an Alpine like this). After the kids were weaned my veterinary suggested I stopped milking her. I had to do this gradually, but eventually she stopped. If you do not breed your NDGs, they may not produce milk at all. Sometimes dairy goats lactate spontaneously (without being bred), but usually do not need milking and dry up naturally. You would need to monitor the udders to ensure they don’t develop inflammation from infection.
I am considering some smaller goats to have for: brushing, pets and eventually milk. We can create a nice situation for them but our primary use besides pets and milk is poison oak control. Would the Nigerian Dwarfs be able to eat poison oak safely? Safe for the goats to eat. I read in one place it was ok and another not.
I’ll refer you to NC State Extension which reports on a study on goats eating poison ivy and poison oak. The toxin in the Toxicodendron plant species seems to mainly affect humans, and goats cope with eating it. Goats balance plant toxins by consuming a variety of plants that counteract any toxic effect, so may sure your NDs have plenty of different plants to browse and hay: https://smallruminants.ces.ncsu.edu/2016/11/is-it-safe-to-consume-milk-from-dairy-goats-eating-poison-ivy/
Well, I’m a home-based Nigerian….I just stumbled on your article about Nigerian Dwarf Goats.
It was mentioned therein that Nigerian Dwarf Goats are “gentle”….though I do not know your yardstick for this notion (or supposed fact) but I can assure you that no one here in Nigeria can ever tell you that those goats are gentle…tey will always come over and over, back and fault to what where you chased them from.
“Stubborn” is the name we call them here….in fact, ‘goat’ is the common metaphor for stubborn children here in Nigeria.
In addition to the facts you stated about NDG, they are characteristically known to love high places and hate rain. They always prefer standing or sitting on a raised spot or platform to levelled ground and whenever it’s raining they are always on the run for cover.
Hi, it’s great to get a comment from someone who knows the original landrace! Thanks for your feedback.
The Nigerian Dwarf described here is a breed developed through selective breeding from those imported from West African countries (likely including Nigeria), so will very likely vary in many traits. Firstly, Nigeria has a much wider genetic base than the breed in America, so there are likely to be a wider variation in traits. Then, goats that came to the U.S. may have come from other West African countries (Cameroon is often cited). Most importantly, American breeders have purposely selected for calm and friendly temperament so that the goats could be kept as pets or taken to shows. Goat kids generally when raised as pets are more be calm when handled than those out at range with little human contact. They actually come to their owners willingly (so you don’t have to chase them!)
Like most goats, they really don’t like rain, but love finding a high spot to stand or rest, just as you’ve experienced.
This is an excellent article and a lot of good information. For people who are interested in learning more about some of the health problems of Nigerians, http://www.nigeriandwarf.org has information about some scientific studies under way involving Nigerian dwarf goats at UCDavis and Oregon State University. Unfortunately Nigerians can sometimes have health problems and it is good to learn what to be on the lookout for.