Most people express disbelief (or worse) when they find out we have Nigerian Dwarf (ND) goats. Apparently, “normal” folks don’t have goats in their backyards. So, why would we? Well, it turns out that ND goat ownership is growing faster than any other dairy breed in the US, for the following very good reasons:
Nigerian Dwarf goats tend to appeal to those wanting to take responsibility for their food supply, so the ability to produce high quality milk is of primary importance. On average, a ND doe will produce 800 lbs. (6% butterfat) of creamy milk a year. That means that 2 or 3 ND does can supply enough milk for an average family for a year, and because of their size, keeping 2 or 3 ND does is possible. For many families, it’s more practical to own a couple of small goats that produce a reasonable amount of milk, rather than one large cow that produces a lot of milk.
ND’s are similar in size to a medium size dog, and are fine-boned proportionately small dairy goats (not the stockier Pygmy goats). They stand approximately 21” in height (does) and weigh about 75 lbs. when fully grown. Given their small size, two can live in about 20 sq. ft. of space (if they have outside pasture space), making them feasible in both rural and suburban environments. Some cities have even begun to allow ND goat does. Their size also makes them easier to handle, and they make excellent 4H projects for children.
They are very affectionate, enjoy attention, and form bonds with both their herd and people. Each animal has a distinct personality, and when handled frequently from birth on, they are quite easy to manage. Ours tend to follow us around and want to play or sit in our lap, more like dogs than livestock. Many ND’s do tend to think they are escape artists (see Honey practicing while Tinkerbell poses nicely, so I have some pictures for this post) and many are quite good at it.
ND’s can be bred year round (most goats can only be bred during one season), allowing kidding and the milk supply to be spread over the year – rather than having an overabundance in spring and shortages later on. They’re prolific too; doe’s usually deliver twins or triplets.
From an efficiency standpoint, goats convert their food into milk more efficiently than cows or sheep, and among the dairy goat types, ND’s convert their food more efficiently than any other dairy breed. And goats like to browse rather than graze so a traditional pasture isn’t required like it is for cows or sheep. They can be turned loose in “wooded” pasture areas where they’ll help control poison ivy, blackberries, multiflora rose, etc. – all those things we tend to consider nasty weeds, they think are tasty.
For us, we wanted our own milk supply (without antibiotics, growth hormones, or other chemicals), I wanted something small enough to handle easily, the year-round milk supply was important, and we need help controlling the backyard brambles. They seem to fit perfectly, and so far we love them. We didn’t realize how affectionate they are or how much fun it is to watch them play, those are extra benefits.
The popularity of backyard chickens has skyrocketed in the past few years – so maybe Nigerian Dwarf goats are next. In many ways, the benefits of keeping them are similar. That’s it, we’re not abnormal because we have goats – we’re on the leading edge of a trend!