The Perfect Homestead Goat
The Perfect Homestead Goat
Nigerian Dwarf Goats are the ideal dairy goat, not only for the homesteader, for pets, but for commercial goat dairy operations, too. They can breed year 'round, so, when other standard dairy breeds are drying off, they can pick up the slack to keep the milk flowing.
Not only that, but their milk is of the highest butterfat content of any dairy breed. This means creamy, delicious milk, perfect for goat cheese, yogurt, ice cream and other yummy products, as well as rich, skin-nourishing goats milk soap.
Add friendly, charming personality, in a very easy-to-manage size, and you've got the perfect homestead goat for dairy or pets!
We only keep a few moms in milk at a time which gives us more than we need for our family, friends and neighbors, and gives our girls a nice long break between freshenings. In fact, our best milker gives up to half a gallon, per milking. That's a gallon per day! Most give a little over a quart or anywhere in between.
The history of the ND in the United States is a little grisly. They were originally brought over from Africa in the 1800s and early 1900s with carnivals and circuses as feeder animals for the big game. They were not kept pure and were mixed with many other breeds of goat. Many of their original desirable qualities were lost.
During the 1990s, a concerted effort was made to breed these wonderful dairy animals back to their original standard. Only animals that met the breed standard and produced offspring meeting the standard for five generations were admitted to the Foundation Herd book, until two thousand goats were finally admitted. The Herd book was closed, and many dedicated breeders have been breeding for finer and finer qualities ever since.
Care of the Nigerian Dwarf
Care of the Nigerian Dwarf
The care of Nigerian Dwarf goats is not much different than the care of any other breed of dairy goat.
FENCING. Even fencing is about the same as for other goats... even though they are smaller and shorter, doesn't mean they can't jump as high! But that's only in the first six months or so of their lives. A mature ND tends to stay put and not test fences. Because they are smaller, however, you will be amazed at the tiny spaces the babies can squeeze between or under. Checks those fencelines and gates (gaps under the gate and between gate and gate post).
HOUSING. NDs need shelter from rain, wind and cold. They hate to get wet. They originated in Africa and are not naturally cold tolerant. While many people keep pet NDs in a dog house or similar structure, this is not ideal. Because of the low height, it makes it difficult to clean, which means it most likely will not be cleaned as frequently as it should be. Remember, goats will poop in their house--dogs do not. Housing should be well ventillated and easy to maintain. Cleanliness leads to less disease and parasites, which leads to fewer vet bills and happier animals (and owners).
TIP about bedding. We have discovered that during the warmer months, putting no litter or bedding on the ground (we have dirt floors in our barn), helps tremendously to keep the fly population down. Bedding in the summertime just holds moisture and odors, and provides a perfect breeding ground. Keep the barn floor swept (those pellets are great compost), a little PDZ on wet spots, and you're good to go! We also use the fly predators to control flies, and, though they are expensive, if you start ahead of fly season and use enough of them, it makes a huge difference. The first time we tried them, I started mid-season, and I started small. I was NOT impressed and did not try them again for a few years. That time, I did it smart, and it was a huge difference! If you can't afford them--then by all means, KEEP IT CLEAN.
A WORD ABOUT BUCKS. For some reason, most people keep only one buck at a time on their premises. We used to, too, since that's the way everyone did it. Now, we keep four or more, and find that they are much happier and easier to deal with! Not that bucks ever really get mean or aggressive like a ram, but our first buck, poor boy, was so frustrated and lonely that he was a pain. He was also more aggressive and difficult when all the goats and sheep were in heat in the fall.
Because he was becoming difficult, we ended up trading him to a breeder who needed to replace his aging (also single, lonely, aggressive) buck. Lo, and behold, once the two of them broke down the barrier between them, both of them were much easier to deal with. Now they are happier since they have a companion to hang out with.
Meanwhile, we brought home two little bucklings who were raised together. The difference is amazing. Our boys are friendlier, quieter and (if they weren't so stinky), much nicer to be around! Of course, another obvious advantage is that you have more bloodlines and breeding options for your herd... what a win-win! We wish we had done it this way from the very beginning, as we'd still have Thunder, our original, beautiful herdsire. At least he's happy where he is now.
Bottomline: if you are planning to keep a buck on your premises, we strongly urge you to consider keeping at least two. You will already have invested in the housing and pasture for one, and the advantages are tremendous in nearly every way.
DIET. Another key to good animal health is nutrition. The more varied the diet, the healthier the goat. Be sure to keep hay and feed OFF THE GROUND. The old belief that goats will eat anything is simply not true. They are, in fact, much pickier than the sheep. For example, hay or feed that drops on the ground will likely not get eaten by a goat, unless it is still pristine. If it has been stepped on, forget it! The sheep will gladly clean up fallen or sullied hay. You WILL have wasted hay with goats. It's just a fact.
Goats do have a wide range of foods that they do eat, that at least is true. Browse (brush, bushes, small trees, leaves, vines, etc.) make up the majority, about 70%, of their natural diet, with grasses making up the rest.
So, what about hay? Hay is grass and, yes, many goats live on, even thrive on, hay and grain alone. But don't expect your goat to thrive if you buy the cheapest fescue around. Give a nice blend of grasses: orchard, timothy, a little alfalfa (especially for nursing moms for calcium and protein, but keep it low for the boys), along with the fescue. If your goats do not have access to fresh pasture and wooded areas, cut branches for them from maples, poplars, pines, hickory, oaks, dogwood, magnolia, etc. They love acorns, too, as well as any kind of nut! Acorns are not toxic to goats (you may read otherwise on the internet), and, in fact, the tannins may help with worm and parasite control.
Also, never feed fescue to pregnant does, as it can be carrying a grass virus which can cause birth defects. For all other goats, fescue is okay as a feed.
Just remember, many goats have survived just fine on hay alone, just as many people in the world survive on rice, alone. ...But, they will THRIVE on variety.
There are lists of plants that are toxic to goats, and you should familiarize yourself with them. Two of the big ones are moutain laurel and yew. Both are deadly. Others are toxic in varying amounts, so you should find out what grows in your area or yard. Generally speaking, they know the difference, but not always, and not younger ones. Yew is particularly insidious as it is the deadliest and it is also quite palatable to them.
Be certain that you never add anything new to their diet too quickly, such as going from a diet of all hay to fresh pasture, or no grain to the addition of grain. Let them have a few nibbles, frequently is okay, just not too much at a time, until they are used to the new food. AN ABRUPT CHANGE IN THEIR DIET CAN CAUSE SERIOUS PROBLEMS even DEATH from bloating. Bloat is a serious condition that means their rumen (digestive system) has become out-of balance, and dangerous gasses build up, causing the animal to bloat. It is painful and it is dangerous.
If you see signs of bloat (frothing around the mouth, enlarged, bloated rumen), immediate orally administer an antacid, such pepto bismol or other OTC (fill a syringe and squirt it into the back of the throat). Mineral oil has also been used to quel bubbles and frothing. Also, massage the rumen and belly, don't be afraid to apply pressure, to get the rumen moving as quickly as possible. DON'T PANIC. Be steady and reassuring, and keep massaging. Once the animal starts belching, you know things are moving again. Keep it up and call the vet.
VACCINES. Your goats will need an annual CD/T shot, which you can administer yourself, subcutaneously (or your vet). Kids get vaccinated at two months, with a booster at three months of age, then annually after that. Rabies will need to be administered by your vet.
You (or your vet) should periodically check fecal egg counts for parasite infestations. There are many dewormers on the market, and you should familiarize yourself with all of them. Just remember, a rule of thumb, do NOT give the "white" dewomers to pregnant does, as they can cause birth defects. Ivermectin types are safe for pregnant does. Better yet, become expert at the FAMACHA method (detecting anemia from parasite loads by the color of the inner eyelids). Herbal dewormers and prevention are also excellent ways to go, using the conventional ones as a last resort.
Our goats are exceptionally clean, and we have not had a need to deworm in over three years. We attibute this to our cleanliness standards (we sweep out every day), always provide clean fresh water, and a healthy, varied diet. We also do not overcrowd, so that everyone has plenty of pasture and fresh air. We are proud of our animals' environment!
RESOURCES. An excellent website that covers just about everything you will ever need to know about Nigerian Dwarf goats, health, care, maintenance, dairy issues, or goats in general, is FiasCo Farm. They currently practice all-natural and herbal goat care, and still maintain a wealth of information on the traditional, as well. Their website is: