Nigerian Dwarf Goats: How to Raise Them on the Homestead

All livestock species have advantages and disadvantages for homesteaders. Looking at goats, they tend to be highly productive, require less room, and are a lot cheaper to buy and keep compared to larger livestock… but they also have a reputation for being frustrating to care for… at least by some folks.

Nigerian Dwarf Goat in front of their goat shack

Part of that reputation is earned, but in my experience, it is mostly due to a lack of knowledge when it comes to raising them.

I’m here to help you in that regard with a guide to raising Nigerian Dwarf goats, a petite but playful, friendly, and productive variety. Keep reading and we will get right into it…

What are They Typically Raised For?

Nigerian Dwarfs are a popular and versatile breed. When it comes to products, they are usually kept for their milk which is known to be very high in butterfat, and exceptionally creamy and sweet.

It’s commonly sought out for use in dairy products like cheese but also non-edibles like candles, goat milk bath products, and more. They also produce quite a lot of it and can stay in milk year-round, making them a value proposition for dairy farmers.

NIGERIAN DWARF GOATS: Why you'll fall in love with this breed!

Nigerian Dwarfs are also famously friendly, personable, and affectionate with people. This makes them wonderful pet goats, and they are also popularly used for outreach programs, tourism, and similar purposes.

Since they don’t get too big and are rarely truly mean you can trust them to behave themselves around people – most of the time!

And if breeding is your thing, these goats are one of the very best. They are excellent mothers, have large litters, and can breed year-round. That gives you a lot of control and assurance when increasing the size of your herd.

How Much Milk Do They Produce?

On average, a Nigerian Dwarf can produce anywhere from 1 to 2 quarts of milk a day, averaging about 800 pounds or nearly 100 gallons a year.

That’s hardly remarkable compared to larger breeds like Alpines, but when you consider the drastically smaller size and weight of Nigerian Dwarfs it’s pretty impressive.

Nigerian Dwarfs Can Stay in Milk All Year

Another perk of these goats is that they can stay in milk virtually all year. Their average lactation lasts about 300 days before they need freshening.

Considering that they can get pregnant at any time throughout the year this makes managing your milk output a cinch compared to some other breeds which are seasonal breeders.

They might be small, but these goats really do have legitimate advantages for milk production.

Are Nigerian Dwarf Goats Easy to Handle?

Yes, they are! These goats are tiny, standing about 2 feet tall at most in the case of males and weighing no more than 75 pounds at most. Most of them, and females particularly, tend to be significantly shorter and lighter. Your average Nigerian Dwarf is about as big as a large dog.

They are also famously friendly, personable, and docile, for goats, compared to most others. If you are a little nervous about dealing with a potentially dangerous and powerful animal, one with horns, Nigerian Dwarfs are a great way to start getting your hands dirty and gaining confidence.

As long as you are in decent shape, you shouldn’t have too many problems manhandling one of these goats for any purpose, be it administering medications, first aid, or just getting them on the milking stand.

Nigerian Dwarf Goat doe wearing bell on collar
Nigerian Dwarf Goat doe wearing bell on collar

Make Sure You Get More than One… They Get Lonely!

Nigerian Dwarfs are like all other goats in that they’re highly social and need to be with others of their own kind. Yes, it is true that they love people and are quite friendly as mentioned, but human interaction is not a substitute for being in a true herd environment.

Because of this, you should never get just a single Nigerian Dwarf, or any other goat. The bare minimum I would say is three.

This will give them plenty of company and also allow them time to themselves without neglecting the others if required. It’s also not too many goats for you to handle if you are a beginner!

This isn’t just a recommendation: goats that are lonely and yearning for their own kind tend to be less productive and less healthy.

Space Requirements

Another great perk with Nigerian Dwarfs is that they don’t need nearly as much room as other, larger breeds like Alpines, or Toggenburgs.

125-135 sqft per adult is plenty for them to thrive, the more room is always better especially if you have it to spare and your land is lush with lots of good things for them to eat when they are browsing. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

You can keep Nigerian Dwarfs in a smaller space, but only a significantly smaller space on a temporary basis, such as if you are sheltering them from severe weather or putting them in a temporary paddock for one reason or another.

Do Nigerian Dwarf Goats Need a Shelter?

Yes. All goats need a shelter, and Nigerian Dwarfs are no exception, for things like shade, getting out of harsh weather, and staying a bit warmer at night when it is cold outside.

Nigerian Dwarfs are famously adaptable to both hot and cold conditions, but they still need a warm place to sleep in much of the time.

Shelter space requirements are much smaller compared to their outdoor requirements, around 10 sqft per adult goat. They will really pile in there and sleep close to each other when they are cold, so don’t worry about that. As long as they can get out to stretch their legs and roam every once in a while, they’ll be okay on an intermittent basis.

Bucks Need Their Own Shelter

A caveat concerning shelter: bucks, that is males, need their own shelter. You can’t put them in there with does or they will start breeding them all and fighting with each other, and in close quarters that can result in serious injuries.

Nigerian Dwarf buck wearing anti-breeding apron

That means you’ll need a separate shelter for the boys assuming you have a mixed herd. If you have nothing but girls, one shelter will do. Bucks have the same shelter needs detailed in the previous section, but you can err on giving them a little more room if you want.

Shelters Must Be Well Ventilated and Kept Clean

All goat shelters must be kept clean and well ventilated. This, regrettably, is going to be a constant chore for you.

Goats will go to the bathroom, number one and number two, wherever they happen to be at any given time, and this includes tucked into their shelter at night.

It is going to get nasty and smelly in very short order, and ammonia emissions from urine particularly are highly problematic for goats. They can cause respiratory distress and illness if they are in a confined space with it, and that’s why ventilation is so important.

A dirt floor shelter is fine, but you are wise to put down a layer of straw for them to sleep on. This straw will need to be changed regularly, at least monthly and possibly weekly, depending on the size of your herd and shelter. A wood floor is okay, but believe it or not, it can be a hazard since it will get slick with droppings, urine, and mud.

Enclosures Must be Escape-Proof!

All goats are born as max-level escape artists, and there is seemingly no prison they can’t break out of. The good news is, since you have Nigerian Dwarfs, is that they can’t jump nearly as high as other, long-leg breeds

A 4-foot fence, maybe a 4 ½-foot one, is enough to keep them in place as long as they can’t climb it or make use of any obstacles or other vantage points to leap over it.

You’d also be smart to use woven wire fencing, often called goat fencing, since it is strong enough to resist head-butting, leaning, ramming, and other attempts at destruction that all goats are notorious for. Make sure you install it with sturdy posts that are sunk deep into the ground, whether they’re wood or metal.

For Nigerian Dwarfs in particular, make sure your fencing panels have openings small enough to prevent them from shoving their heads all the way through as this can be a serious safety hazard. Openings that are 4×4 or 5×5 inches are generally sufficient to keep your goats from poking through. If your fencing has larger openings, a layer of smaller mesh can be installed over it to prevent this occurrence. Yes, it’s funny to see your goats sticking their heads through it, but take this seriously: they could be hurt or even killed if they get entangled!

Ensure that you periodically inspect all elements of your fencing because your goats will damage it and break it down over time. Horny bucks are notorious for this, and you’ll need to step up maintenance or invest in heavy-duty fencing just for them particularly.

We’ll talk more about the eccentricities of keeping bucks a little later in this guide, just keep that in mind for now.

Predation is a Big Problem for Nigerian Dwarfs

All goats are prey animals, meaning that sufficiently large carnivores will try to kill and eat them for food.

Nigerian Dwarfs happen to be small enough to be especially vulnerable, and even if you have a buck or wether (neutered male) in the herd this is no guarantee of defense or running the predator off.

Coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, and in some cases even bobcats and domestic dogs can be a severe threat to your goats. Kids are vulnerable to foxes, too.

Because of this, you must take pains to ensure predators can’t get at your herd. Strong fences are part of this, but agile predators might be able to jump over the same fence that keeps your goats in.

Even if you have a taller fence, they might dig under it, necessitating you put a note of gravel around it or sink the fencing into the ground to stop it. All of this means more time, effort, and expense.

This means that many goat herders turn to livestock guardian animals in the form of trained dogs or, sometimes, donkeys and other animals that can give predators a run for their money.

The predator landscape is different everywhere around the country, so make sure you do your due diligence when assessing the threat to your goats and then react accordingly.

Provide Shade and Obstacles for Climbing

Giving your Nigerian Dwarfs enough room to run around comfortably is only half of the battle. The other half is giving them opportunities for entertainment and exercise, and also providing shade from the sun.

You can take care of both by building them jungle gym-like structures consisting of flat platforms that will provide shade beneath, or locating their enclosure near some trees that can give them protection from intense sun.

Goats love to climb, jump, and explore instinctively, and they’ll be happier and healthier if you can provide that inside their pen.

Obviously, any structure you use must be durable enough to withstand their attention and also safe so they don’t get injured on it. Old tractor tires are a perennial favorite, but you can use stacks of logs and other natural surfaces to good effect also.

No matter what you put in there for them, keep it well away from the fence or they’ll jump right out!

Food & Diet

Nigerian Dwarfs need a typical goat diet consisting of plenty of nutritious hay, plenty of forage from their environment, and some “supplements” like various fruits, veggies, grains, and if needed goat pellets and supplements.

Hay is the most important component of their diet, and as a rule, you should give them some variety of grass hay like orchard or timothy.

Alfalfa hay is highly nutritious, but might have too much protein and it often has too much calcium which can lead to problems if fed long-term; urinary calculi, basically kidney stones, can result if goats get too much calcium!

A rule of thumb is to expect your animals to eat anywhere from 3% to 4% of their body weight in roughage daily. For an average Nigerian Dwarf weighing 65 pounds, this will be anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 pounds.

All of your goats should have unlimited access to fresh, clean water at all times, and especially when it is hot out. You can use open troughs, tubs or special waterers depending on your preference and setup.

Introduce New Foods Slowly

No matter what sort of diet you have your goats on, you must introduce new foods to them slowly. This is because they are ruminant animals and their digestive tract can easily be upset by sudden dietary changes or by eating too much of something.

Gradually introducing any new food, including a new variety of hay, over the course of one and a half to two weeks is usually sufficient to give their rumen time to adjust.

Can Nigerian Dwarfs Eat Anything?

No, they cannot. This conventional wisdom is anything but.

Goats are often depicted as eating completely inedible things like boots, metal, and more, but this is always a sign of a severe nutritional imbalance or other issues like intense stress in goats.

Goats do indeed have a highly varied diet, and they can eat all kinds of things, but they can’t eat just anything.

Keep in mind that even natural, “healthy” foods might be bad for your herd if they get too much in their diet, or a large serving too quickly. Outside of hay and other natural forage, they should get fruits, veggies, and grains in strict moderation as a supplement or treat:

These Goats are Excellent Foragers

Nigerian Dwarfs are excellent foragers, even compared to other self-sufficient goat breeds. If you have a large parcel that they are allowed to free range on, or just have lots of choice plants for them to nibble, they can provide much of their own nutrition.

But be warned! They are incredibly destructive and voracious eaters. They can obliterate gardens, decorative plants, raised beds, planter boxes, and a whole lot more.

If they can get to it in any way, they’ll strip the foliage and branches right off it, and sometimes eat the plant right down to the surface of the ground.

Plan accordingly if you’re going to let them roam on your property!

Caution: Pastures Must Be Swept for Dangerous Plants!

Goats tend to be smart when it comes to the things that they can and cannot eat, but I’ll level with you: they are not the brightest creatures around.

From time to time goats will eat something that they really shouldn’t, and as their keeper, it is up to you to sweep your property for, and identify, potentially harmful or poisonous plants. They must be removed to keep your herd safe!

There are over 700 different plant species in North America that are considered toxic or overtly poisonous to goats.

We’re not going to get into a big discussion on why they are in this guide, and I can’t list them all, but the following are some of the most common kinds that are known problems for goats:

  • wild cherries
  • mountain laurel
  • milkweed
  • rhododendrons
  • white snakeroot
  • oleander
  • horse nettle
  • hemp
  • elderberry
  • hemlock (water and poison varieties)
  • monkshood
  • boxwood
  • jimson weed
  • wild parsnip

Conduct a survey of your property to find out which of these are present, then learn to identify them at all phases of growth so you can remove them.

Pregnant or Lactating Does Need Extra Calcium and Protein

All pregnant mammals need extra calories and nutrients to help sustain them and their babies, and your goats are no different. When your does have “buns in the oven,” you must increase the amount of protein and calcium they get in their diet.

Alfalfa is a commonly-used ration for pregnant and lactating does since it contains plenty of both. Slowly introducing them to alfalfa hay, alfalfa pellets, important to prevent bloat and other rumen issues. After a 2 week “warmup”, you can feed it to your moms regularly. Just keep in mind that they won’t need that much protein or calcium forever!

Once they’re no longer pregnant or lactating, you want to put them back on the usual ration detailed above.

Breeding Considerations

Nigerian Dwarfs are remarkably prolific breeders. I mentioned above that they can have anywhere from three to five kids per litter, though three or four is most common.

Still, you don’t have to do much arithmetic to see that your herd could multiply exponentially if you aren’t carefully managing them!

newborn Nigerian Dwarf babies and doe
newborn Nigerian Dwarf babies and doe

Kids Per Litter

Nigerian dwarfs will have anywhere from 3 to 5 kids per litter on average.

However, first-time mothers tend to have fewer, maybe 2, and sometimes just 1. On subsequent pregnancies, she’ll be cranking out the average. Something else to keep in mind is that older does will once again start to have fewer kids per pregnancy as their uterus and body start to wear out.

When Can You Start Breeding Your Goats?

It’s possible for a goat to get pregnant as early as 4 months old. That’s when they are physiologically sexually mature. But that is hardly ideal.

A much better bet is to wait until your girls are at least 9 months old and preferably 12 before you breed them for the first time. This gives them enough time to completely mature, physically, and for her sexual organs to truly ready themselves for pregnancy.

You might be in a hurry to grow your herd, but you’ll have more viable pregnancies and healthier kids if you wait. Does that get pregnant too early might die from complications!

Because of this, you must also go to great lengths to prevent bucks from getting at young does.

Nigerian Dwarfs Go Into Heat Monthly and Year-Round When Bucks are Around

Nigerian dwarfs are polyestrous, meaning they go into estrus many times throughout the month and year. It’s often triggered simply by being around a sexually mature buck.

The good news is this gives you as their owner maximum flexibility for breeding. The bad news is that you must always be careful to prevent unwanted pregnancies!

Believe me, goats that are even kept near each other will find a way to mate – they can even mate straight through the fence in some cases!

Nigerian Dwarf kidding
Nigerian Dwarf kidding

Bucks Can Impregnate Females When Very Young!

How old will bucks be before they can first fertilize a female? Believe it or not, it’s possible for them to successfully mate with a female when they are just 2 months old. It’s not unheard of for bucks to impregnate their own mothers in some cases!

Bucks must be castrated early or separated from females very early on in life to prevent this.

Be Sure Your Bucks Still Have Company!

Even though bucks need to be kept by themselves to prevent them from impregnating an entire herd at once, it’s important that they still have other goats with them. As long as they are kept far enough away from females, you might be able to keep multiple bucks together, but if they are sexually intact and horny, they will usually fight.

You could also keep an intact buck with a wether, a castrated male. The loss of testosterone will produce a friendlier male goat overall that will serve as good company, but not competition, for an intact buck.

Nigerian Dwarf Goats Pinterest

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