There are many reasons to love miniature dairy goats. These breeds produce about 2⁄3 as much milk as a full-size dairy doe but on half the feed. You can house three or four minis in the space you’d need for one full-size goat. Because of their size, minis are easier to handle than their larger counterparts, making them ideal for children and adults with limited agility or strength.
Does come in a variety of sizes from 17-inch Pygmies to 29-inch Mini Alpines, Mini Saanens and Mini Nubians. Many city ordinances allow people to keep miniature goats where full-size goats aren’t allowed. They’re easy to transport in the back seat of a car or van or in a roomy dog crate in the bed of a truck.
Minis typically give birth to two to four kids, although five is fairly common. There is a strong market for miniature dairy goats, as well as for pets. It’s usually easy to find those kids great homes.
Some, such as Nigerian Dwarfs and Pygmies, are seasonal breeders, meaning they can be bred any time of the year. If you have more than one doe, you can stagger breedings and have milk on the table year round.
Out of Africa
Virtually all of the mini-milker breeds are at least in part descended from West African Dwarf goats, known to the scientific community as WAD goats. Though their origin is uncertain, these small, hardy goats have thrived in sub-Saharan Africa for hundreds of years. They’re still valuable sources of milk and meat in parts of rural Africa.
To this day, they’re the most popular type of goat in 18 western and central African countries, due in part to their resistance to a disease called African Trypanosomiasis that, transmitted by tsetse flies, kills most livestock not native to sub-Saharan Africa. According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization figures, an estimated 11 million WAD goats are in Nigeria alone.
There are two types of WAD goats:
- short-legged, heavy-boned, wide-built, achondroplasic dwarfs that are ancestors of our Pygmy goats
- a more refined, more normally proportioned type from which Nigerian Dwarf goats are descended.
The first WAD goats came to America in 1909. Further importations occurred between 1930 and 1966.
At first, all of these goats were referred to as Pygmy goats. However, some early breeders noticed that not all of these animals were extra short-legged, wide types. They called these more proportionally built goats Nigerian Dwarfs.
In 1975, fanciers formed the National Pygmy Goat Association. Nigerian Dwarfs were first registered by the International Dairy Goat Association in 1981. Nowadays several organizations register Nigerian Dwarfs, including the American Dairy Goat Association.
All of the mini-milker breeds—except the Kinder—were initially developed by breeding Nigerian Dwarfs to full-size dairy goats. Kinders were created by breeding Pygmies to full-size Nubian goats.
If you like a specific breed of full-size dairy goat, scaled-down versions exist. You can also try über-popular Nigerian Dwarfs. Pygmy goats don’t produce a lot of milk, but what they do is uncommonly tasty. The Kinder, with its Pygmy and Nubian goat background, is a dual-purpose (milk and meat) goat that is slightly larger than the other breeds.
Oberhaslis were originally considered a type of Alpine goat, but they achieved status as a separate breed in the 1960s. Mini Oberhaslis are less common than most of the other mini-milker breeds.
They’re sweet and friendly and nearly always chamoisee colored: a rich, red base coat with a black dorsal stripe, belly, udder and lower legs, and a nearly black head with white stripes on its sides.
At the height of her lactation, an Oberhasli doe gives a gallon to 2 gallons of roughly 3 1/2 to 5 percent butterfat milk per day.
Most Nubians have loud, strident voices, and they “talk” a lot. This can make them less than ideal for anyone with nearby neighbors. They are very people-oriented, so if you want goats that dote on your attention, this is your breed.
Nubians have sleek, silky summer coats and long, pendulous ears. Most have arched facial profiles like full-size Nubians, though this isn’t a requisite for registration. Does produce 2⁄3 the amount of a full-size Nubian does, to the tune of about 2 quarts to a gallon per day. Their milk is sweet and tasty due to its 4 to 7 precent butterfat content.
A full-size Toggenburg doe, GCH Western-Acres Zephyr Rosemary holds the Guinness World Record for goat milk production: giving 9,110 pounds of milk, amounting to nearly 1,140 gallons, in a 305-day lactation. Mini Toggenburgs typically produce 2 or more gallons of roughly 3 1/2 percent butterfat milk per day. They can often milk through.
Miniature Toggs are hardy, low-key, friendly dairy goats ideal for hobby farm or urban and suburban situations.
The least common mini-milker breed, Mini Guernseys were developed using genetics from the rare Golden Guernsey goat registered by the British Goat Society and recognized by England’s Rare Breed Survival Trust.
They’re often not much smaller than full-size Golden Guernseys. Their short to quite-long coats often sport long fringes of hair along their spines and “pantaloons” on their hindquarters.
Mini Guernseys are always golden-colored, both hair and skin. They are unusually placid and friendly.
These miniature dairy goats don’t give a lot of milk, but they do so on grass alone, with no grain needed. Does typically produce 1 to 2 quarts of roughly 3 1/2 percent butterfat content per day.
Mini Alpines are hardy, alert, active and agile. These are graceful, medium-size goats that come in the six French-named color patterns seen in full-size Alpines. Mini Alpine does produce from 2 quarts to a gallon or more of roughly 4 to 6 percent butterfat content milk per day.
Like their full-size counterparts, Mini Alpines sometimes milk through, meaning they needn’t be bred and produce kids to induce lactation every year. Instead, they can be milked year round.
Mini Saanens & Mini Sables
Like their full-size counterparts, Mini Saanens produce a lot more milk than other breeds, but their butterfat content is lower. Saanens are always white or cream-colored with pink or olive-colored skin.
Mini Sables are essentially Saanens of any other color than white or cream. The Miniature Dairy Goat Association registers Mini Sables in their Mini Saanen studbook, while The Miniature Goat Registry registers them in separate studbooks.
Mini Saanens and Mini Sables are friendly, easy-going goats that give about 2 quarts to 3 gallons of 2 to 3 percent butterfat content milk per day. Both breeds often milk through.
The Nigerian Dwarf is the fastest growing dairy goat breed in North America and for good reason. It’s gentle, intelligent, colorful and productive.
At the height of their lactations, does produce 1 to 8 pounds (8 pounds equals roughly 1 gallon) of rich, 6 1/2 percent butterfat milk per day. And because breeders are selecting for larger, easily milked teats, milking dairy-quality does is a breeze.
It’s important, however, to buy from producers breeding dairy-type goats. Some Nigerian Dwarfs are bred primarily to be pets. Nigerian Dwarfs have short-to-medium length coats and come in a stunning array of colors.
Some have blue eyes, but brown is the norm. Most have horns unless they’re disbudded as kids. But polled (hornless) genetics are increasingly available, too.
These medium-size minature dairy goats are heavier bodied than most other mini breeds. They’re noted for their sweet personalities and easy-going temperaments.
Their short ears come in two types:
- Gopher ears, containing little or no cartilage and that look like rings of skin around the auditory canals
- Elf ears, which stand upright and usually have a flap of skin at the tip that turns up or down
Only gopher-eared bucks can be registered.
If you’re thinking of getting dairy goats, think small and do your homework before you buy. Chances are there is a mini-milker breed exactly right for you.
Not Quite a Mini
The Kinder isn’t technically a mini milker, but it’s still a great nonfull-size option. This goat is a stocky-built, easily-handled, dual-purpose milk and meat breed initially produced by breeding registered Pygmy bucks to registered Nubian does. After that, Kinder-to-Kinder breeding is the norm.
Does give 2 quarts to a full gallon of 5 to 7 percent butterfat content milk per day. Kinder kids grow rapidly, reaching roughly 70 percent of their adult weight by 1 year of age. Kinder carcass weight is about 60 percent live weight, making them
excellent meat goats, too.
The Pygmy Group
Few people think of Pygmy goats as milk producers. But when milked, does give from 1 quart to 1⁄2 gallon of 5 to 10 percent butterfat content milk that the National Pygmy Goat Association says is higher in calcium, phosphorus, potassium and iron than milk from full-size dairy breeds.
Pygmies are small, docile and intelligent. Besides producing milk they make great pets.
Choose Your Registry
First-generation miniature dairy goats are produced by breeding a Nigerian Dwarf buck to a full-size registered dairy doe. Does from these breedings are usually bred to registered miniature bucks of the same breed.
Most breeds, barring the Pygmy and Kinder, are registered by more than one organization. In some cases, they don’t recognize individuals registered with rival groups. Do your research before buying your minis, making sure they’re registered with the group you’d like to do business with.
Contact these organizations to find out more about miniature milkers.
- Kinder Goat Breeders Association
- Miniature Dairy Goat Association
- The Miniature Goat Registry
- National Miniature Goat Association
- National Pygmy Goat Association
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.