We have a small herd of Nigerian dwarf goats. They are a breed of dairy goats that originated in Africa and are a lot smaller than the other dairy breeds.
Their milk differs quite a lot from other goats as well. Their milk has 6 to 10% butterfat. That makes it ideal for making dairy products rather than just using it for drinking.
Despite their tiny size they produce between two and four pounds of milk per day.
Since we just started milking our goats, we pasteurize our milk on the stove using a double boiler at 160 degrees for 30 seconds. If we had a pasteurizing machine, we would set it at 145 degrees for 30 minutes. After you have pasteurized the milk, you chill it as quickly as possible to keep it from going sour. After that, the milk is safe for you to drink or make various products, such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream, soap, non-toxic paint, or use for any recipe or purpose that you would use cow’s milk. It takes approximately one gallon of milk to make two pounds of cheese.
As far as breeding and babies are concerned, Nigerian dwarf goats have year-round heat cycles, although they are typically stronger August through December. Goats have a gestation period of 145 to 151 days, so we track the doe’s heat cycle and then put her with one of our bucks a couple of days before she comes in so that he catches her right at the peak of her heat. Ahead of time we look at the doe’s registration papers as well as her conformation and size to be sure she is large enough to breed and to select the right buck. Both our bucks come from very good milk and show lines but we still choose carefully. Conformation faults can be passed down, so we look to always try to improve the lines we have.
While the does are pregnant, we watch their size and food intake so that the babies don’t get too big for their mothers to have an easy delivery. Nigerian dwarf kids weigh between one and three pounds, which is quite small. The does we breed have had completely natural births with no human interference because we were so careful and took the steps necessary to have healthy does and kids.
Nigerian dwarf goats are known for their propensity for multiple births – the record is eight live births in one kidding, but triplets and quads are very common. Of course there will be times when there can be complications, but as breeders we minimize this as much as possible.
Unless there is doeling or buckling we are going to retain, the kids are sold once they are weaned. Until that time we play with them to socialize them and love them every single day until it is time for them to go to their new homes.
But that is not all I do with my wonderfully versatile Nigerian dwarfs.
Goat Yoga: As the names implies, it is yoga with goats. The kids (baby goats) love to play, climb or jump on anything they can. As a dwarf breed, the kids are so small they are the perfect goats to do yoga with. Last year at Franklin County Fair, we had a booth in the 4-H Youth Building and it was quite successful. It was great because it gave us a way to get our goats used to new situations and people and the participants loved it. Who doesn’t love playing with baby goats?
Pack Goat: Goats, along with donkeys, horses and mules, can be used as pack animals. Pack goats have to be brave enough to go through rough terrain, typically in the woods, while carrying supplies in a pack on their backs. Wethers, the castrated males, are ideal pack goats as a doe’s udder will get scratched or cut on branches and brush. They can carry approximately 25% of their body weight when fully grown.
Nigerian dwarf goats may be smaller, but that doesn’t stop us from using them as pack goats. They make an excellent companion on the trail and they love to eat brush, which makes these hikes very enjoyable for them as well. The wether I have trained loves going on walks and has a good attitude toward carrying a pack. We both enjoy the activity and that is all that matters. Generally goats are permitted in New York State parks and this gives us access to some wonderful trails.
Mentoring: We do demonstrations with our goats because the diminutive size is great for younger children who are just starting out in 4-H or just want to learn how to do something and then applying it to their own goat.
Therapy Animals: Our goats are very socialized, so as often as we can we taken them to nursing homes or assisted-living facilities and their presence and gentleness often will make a senior’s day. Our 4-H club visited a nursing home with the rest of the group’s baby goats and we brought some of our adult goats. The seniors seemed to love it and it was a great way to expose our goats to a new environment.
4-H offers a wonderful chance for us to show off our goats, and there are many learning opportunities such as goat camp, special, activities during the Franklin County Fair, as well as the friendships we have made and group activities we enjoy through our membership in our local goat club, Kids 4 Kids 4-H club.