Small Goat Breeds
Honey I Shrunk the Goat (or A Concise Catalogue of Compact Caprines)
Reading Time: 5 minutes
“I should get a goat,” my friend announced as she watched tiny bundles of adorable energy bounce across her computer screen.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “Those little baby goats grow into big adult goats. Do you really have room for that?”
“But what about goats that stay small?”
She had a good point. Whether you want a backyard pet, a manageable 4-H project for a child, or smaller livestock for a homestead or hobby farm, consider these small goat breeds.
These hardy, adaptable miniature goats arrived in Europe from Africa during the mid to late 1800s, then America in the 1950s. Although officially a meat goat, they were brought over to be used as laboratory animals, zoo exhibits, and exotic pets.
An adult Pygmy goat stands slightly smaller than a Golden Retriever. They’re stocky and heavy-boned with a barrel-shaped body and short legs. They have a full coat of straight, medium/long hair with males sporting a full beard and cape-like mane. Pygmy goats breed year-round and can bear one to four young every nine to 12 months.
The Pygmy’s short legs and small teats make milking difficult, although people who milk them swear by the flavor. This breed is commonly used as pets, 4-H projects, and show animals. Are goats good pets? Pygmy enthusiasts point to their docile, friendly, inquisitive natures and adorableness, for a resounding yes.
The Nigerian Dwarf goat came to the U.S. around the same time as the Pygmy goat. For the first ten to twenty years, people thought they were the same breed. Recognizing the distinction, breeders started formally developing the two types.
The Nigerian Dwarf stands 17-21 inches, but instead of the “keg on legs” shape of the Pygmy, they display finer bones with longer legs and a longer, elegant neck. The does have larger, easier-to-milk teats and produce between one to two quarts of milk a day. The milk is higher in protein and butterfat than that of larger dairy goat breeds. Higher butterfat percentage produces more cheese, butter, and soap per gallon. Because they breed any time of the year, you can alternate breedings between two does and have sweet, delicious milk all year round.
Nigerian Dwarf goats make great pets, 4-H projects, show goats, and milk goats for people with smaller properties and an aversion to having their foot stepped on by a 100+-pound animal.
Pygoras are a cross of Angora and Pygmy goats, while the predominant breeds in Nigoras are Angora and Nigerian Dwarf. Both dual-purpose goats provide incredibly soft, warm fiber and sweet, high-butterfat milk.
Pygoras were developed in Oregon in 1978 by Katharine Jorgenson, who wanted an animal that produced silver gray mohair fleece. Nigoras were developed in the United States in the early 1990s to fill a niche for a small, hardy, dual-purpose goat for homesteads and small hobby farms.
At 22-27 inches for Pygoras and 19-29 inches for Nigoras, these goats range in size from a Labrador Retriever to a Mastiff. They both produce three distinct types of fleece: Type A, a fine mohair that doesn’t coarsen as the goat ages; Type B, a mix between cashmere and mohair; and Type C, a cashmere with soft handle and low luster. Each goat produces six ounces to two pounds per sheering. Pygoras produce up to a quart of milk a day. Nigoras produce up to a gallon a day.
The Kinder goat, a cross between a Pygmy and a Nubian goat, is a dual-purpose milk and meat goat. In 1985, Zederkamm Farm in Snohomish, Washington lost its Nubian buck, leaving two Nubian does behind. The owners didn’t want to take the does off site for breeding, so they tried putting them in with a Pygmy buck. Using logs and sloping hills to make up for the size difference, the Little Buck That Could managed to get the job done and the first Kinder does were born in 1986.
At 20-26 inches, Kinder goats are about the size of a Rottweiler. Like Pygmies, they breed any time of year. Multiple births of three to five kids are common with seven reported sets of sextuplets.
A kinder doe can produce three to four quarts of milk per day. The kids grow quickly, reaching 60-80 pounds by 14 months. A 14-month-old Kinder, weighing 80 pounds, should dress out to about 50 pounds of meat, a dressing percentage of nearly 63%.
Some dairies interested in shorter gestations and easier kiddings for their yearling LaMancha does bred them to Nigerian Dwarf bucks, then sold the kids for meat. The value of combining high milk production with high butterfat and low feed requirements became apparent and the Miniature LaMancha (Mini Mancha) was created.
At 20-39 inches, Mini Manchas range in size from a Boxer to a Saint Bernard. They produce a half gallon to gallon per day of milk richer than that of standard dairy goats and tend to have calm manners on the milk stand. Mini Manchas carry more flesh than standard dairy goats, so wethers or cull does make excellent meat animals. Their quiet, personable temperament makes them well-suited for the urban dairy.
Other miniature milk goats created from crossing the Nigerian Dwarf with a full-sized dairy goat include the Mini Nubian, Mini Alpine, Mini Oberhasli (or Oberian), Mini Toggenburg, and Mini Saanen or Sable.
In the 1990s, a cross between a Nigerian Dwarf and longhaired Tennessee Fainting goat resulted in the Miniature Silky Fainting goat. Mini Silkies don’t need Nigerian Dwarf in their background nor do they need to faint. They’re the only goat developed to be purely decorative and breed standards are all about the look.
The ideal Mini Silky should be no bigger than a Beagle, under 23.5 inches for a buck and 22.5 inches for a doe. Their coats are long, straight, and flowing. The length of the coat should be near the ground and consistently long over the entire body. Does have less hair around the neck and head. The coats have a silky texture and high luster.
Are These Small Goat Breeds for You?
Do you have enough room for a couple of large dogs to run around freely? Do you like the idea of providing fresh milk for your family? Do you want to raise your children around livestock they can handle themselves? Would you like to meet new people and travel to shows around the country? Do you want an adorable and unusual pet? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you should consider these small goat breeds.
Originally published in the November/December 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.