Breed Profile: Pygmy Goats
How Big Do Pygmy Goats Get?
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Breed: Pygmy goats or African Pygmy goats
Origin: Pygmy goats have been developed by Europeans and Americans from the landrace West African Dwarf goat of Central and West Africa, particularly the Cameroon Valley. The West African dwarf is raised as dairy and meat goats by rural families and are valued for their prolific breeding potential and resistance to disease and parasites, including Haemonchus contortus (barber pole goat worms) and Trypanosoma.
Pygmy Goats’ Transition from Utility to Pet
History: The British took West African Dwarf goats to Europe during their colonization of western Africa in the nineteenth century. In Germany and Sweden, they were exhibited as exotic animals in zoos. Exports of these animals reached Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. In Europe, they were developed into the Dutch Dwarf and the Pygmy breed of Great Britain. Cameroon Dwarf goats were shipped from Europe to the US in the late fifties, and their offspring were sold to zoos, research facilities, and private individuals. Thereafter, they gained popularity as pets and show animals. In the U.S., they were developed into Pygmy goats and Nigerian Dwarf goats. Australian herds were developed from frozen sperm and embryos imported from the US.
Standard Description: Pygmy goats have short legs and head, and a well-muscled, stocky body. The barrel is broad and deep; limbs and head are short relative to body length. The head has a dished profile, with a broad forehead, erect ears, goat wattles, and horns. The nose is short, wide and flat with a rounded muzzle. The coat is straight and medium-length and varies in density with season and climate. While does have a sparse beard, bucks have a long, flowing beard and mane, and are clearly different in appearance to females, being bulkier with thicker horns.
Pygmy goats and West African Dwarfs are precocious and prolific non-seasonal breeders. Estrus can occur at any time of year. Puberty is common at four to five months, but can occur as early as two months. It is recommended to wait until a doe is 12–18 months old before breeding. She can then produce 1–4 young every 9–12 months and twin births are common. Pygmy goat lifespan is generally 10–15 years.
Coloring: All black; grizzled black, gray, or brown (colored and white hairs intermingled), with muzzle, crown, eyes and ears, and sometimes tail, frosted with white hairs; or pale to mid-caramel with dark legs, dorsal stripe and face markings. These coat patterns are sometimes broken by white belly patches or bands. In West African, Australian and UK populations, all colors are recognized, including pied and mixed colors, various markings, and random patches in West African Dwarf and Pygmy goats.
How Big Do Pygmy Goats Get?
Height to withers: Bucks max. 23 inches (58 cm); does max. 22 inches (56 cm). Height can vary between 16 and 23 inches (41–58 cm) in an adult pygmy goat.
Weight: Does 53–75 pounds (24–34 kg); bucks 60–86 pounds (27–39 kg).
Pygmy Goats Are Not Just A Pretty Face
Temperament: Docile, responsive, gregarious, friendly, good-natured, alert, animated, active, and fun-loving. The pygmy goat kid and even the adult love to play and need an enriched environment.
Popular Use: In developed countries they are mainly kept as pets and browsers, occasionally for milk. In Africa, they are mainly used for meat, while milk, manure, and skins provide additional benefits. They are also used as an economic and cultural asset, providing employment for women and income from sales in time of need.
Productivity: 1–2 quarts (1–2 liters) of milk a day over 120–180 days, with high butterfat (4.5% or more). The milk tastes sweet and is higher in calcium, potassium, and phosphorus than dairy goat milk. As prolific breeders, they are a ready source of goat meat on low budget pasture or backyard systems.
An Important Goat Breed in A Changing Climate
Adaptability: Highly adapted to the varying conditions of West Africa, including the damp tropical, subhumid, and drier, savanna climates, they readily acclimatize to new environments, including hot climates and cold weather. They are hardy and resilient, with good resistance to barber pole parasites and trypanosomiasis. The latter disease is a serious constraint to agriculture in West and Central Africa. They are great brush and weed eating goats, and efficient converters of roughage to energy, requiring an 80%-fiber, low-protein diet. Well-attached udders with small teat orifices confer resistance to mastitis.
Biodiversity: The West African dwarf goat gene pool contains a rich diversity of alternative genes (alleles). However, inbreeding in isolated populations and selection for color traits in Pygmy goats are socioeconomic factors that erode genetic variation.
Conservation Status: Not protected. The West African Dwarf is an important production animal within Africa due to its adaptability, disease-resistance and resilience. Researchers urge protection and development as part of a poverty alleviation scheme for West and Central Africa.
Owner Quote: “Pygmy goats are little bundles of joy and provide endless hours of fun and entertainment. They are easy to care for and are usually easy to handle, making them perfect pets for adults or children.” Pygmy goat owner, Normandy, France.
Originally published in the March/April 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.
- Oklahoma State University
- National Pygmy Goat Association
- Pygmy Goat Club
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