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 A Pygmy Primer

Did You Know That...

Pygmy Goats are fine pets and useful homestead livestock.

 

Pygmy Goats are a dual-purpose (milk and meat) goat, ideally sized for smaller farms.  Pygmy Goat milk is very rich, perfect for home cheese making.  Pygmies are heavily muscled, and perfectly sized for the family freezer.

Did You Know That…

Pygmy Goat gestation is about 5 months.

   

Does can produce as many as 3 litters in 2 years.  The average number in a litter is two, but three, four or even five kids are not uncommon.  Many does can happily produce a litter a year from the time they are two years old until they are 10 to 12 years old.  Kids are typically 2 to 4 pounds at birth.  They are weaned at 12 weeks.

Did You Know That…

Pygmy Goats can live well into their teens. 

    

The leader of the herd is most often an older experienced doe.  Pygmy Goats thrive best in a herd, they do not like to be without the company of their own kind.   Buffy, above left, lived to her 16th birthday.

Did You Know That…

Male goats are Bucks.  Female goats are Does, baby goats are Kids, and castrated male goats are Wethers.

   

Wethers make outstanding pets and are often the least expensive.  Does make good pets.  Bucks should be considered breeding stock only, they often have an odor and habits people find objectionable.  Does and wethers do not have a buck’s odor or breeding habits.

Did You Know That…

Goats are browsers rather than grazers.

Goats prefer to eat brush, weeds, leaves, bark and tall grass no closer than 6 to 8 inches from the ground.  They do not make good lawn mowers but can help control the brush in woodlots and woody plants in pastures.

Did You Know That…

Pygmy Goats originated in West Africa.


A West African Dwarf Buck

Pygmy Goats are called West African Dwarf Goats or Cameroon Dwarf Goats in their native Africa.  They were imported through Sweden to the United States in 1959 as stock for petting zoos and research labs.  Through selective breeding they have become the Pygmy Goat seen today.

Did You Know That…

The National Pygmy Goat Association is the registry and club for purebred pygmy goats and their enthusiasts in the United States.    It has many regional affiliated clubs.

 

Exhibitors are happy to talk to you about joining the NPGA or the local affiliated club.  Use the links above or on our homepage to visit the NC Pygmy Goat Club's website or the NPGA website.

Did You Know That…

Pygmy Goats come in two color patterns.

The NPGA recognizes three color patterns for Pygmy Goats, Caramel, Agouti, and Black with 7 choices for registration, Caramel with black markings, Caramel with brown markings, Gray agouti, Brown agouti, Black agouti, Black and Solid Black.  

Caramel Pygmy Goats are white to deep brown with a darker facemask, dorsal stripe and leg stockings with a light stripe on the front.  

Agouti Pygmy Goats are shades of grizzled gray or brown with a darker facemask, dorsal stripe and solid leg stockings.  

Black Pygmy Goats are Black or Solid Black, a variation of the agouti pattern.  Most Pygmy Goats have frosted ears, muzzles, foreheads and tails the Solid Black does not.  

Pictured below from left to right are Caramel, Gray Agouti, Brown Agouti, and Black Pygmy Goats.  Visit the NPGA Color Chart page page for more details and examples.

       

Did You Know That…

All Pygmy Goats can grow horns and both sexes can have beards.

   

All registered pygmy goats are required to be genetically horned.  Horned goats are less likely to produce hermaphroditic (a form of sterility) kids.  Most kids are disbudded to prevent the horns from growing.  Of course the bucks have beards but so do many does.  We trim the beards off the does for the show ring to make them look more feminine. Pictured above from left to right, is a magnificent buck, a doe with erh kids, and Hebe who had a spectacular beard.

Did You Know That…

Pygmy Goats have "four stomachs".

Actually they have 4 stomach chambers, the reticulum, the rumen, the omasum, and the abomasum.  Goats digest their food by fermentation in the rumen that is populated with millions of bacteria.  They also ruminate or chew their cud, bringing partially digested food back from the rumen into their mouths for further chewing.  After the food leaves the rumen it goes through the omasum and abomasum for further digestion.  This type of digestive system allows goats to thrive on hard to digest plant material.

Pygmy Goats 101

Introducing the Pygmy Goat

Modern pygmy goats in America can trace their roots back to the Cameroon Dwarf Goat of West Africa. That is why some people call them African Pygmy Goats. The Cameroon Dwarf goat is a short, heavily muscled animal with a dark colored coat. But the pygmy goat seen in America only faintly resembles their ancestors in Africa. Along the way they were probably crossed with Swedish Lapp goats who contributed improved milking ability and the possibility of a light colored coat. Then, once they were imported to the United States, breeders here bred selectively for traits they found desirable and produced a unique little goat called the American Pygmy Goat or just the Pygmy Goat.

Pygmy goats were first imported into the United States in 1959 by the Ruhe Brothers in California and the Catskill Game Farm in New York. Due to federal importation regulations, pygmy goats and other livestock could not be imported directly from Africa. So, pygmy goat does were bought from German zoos, where they were available for about $15 a head. From there they were taken to Sweden to be bred to Danish owned bucks so that the offspring could be imported to the United States. With quarantine, breeding, maintenance and shipping charges, the final cost per animal was about $3500 (in today's dollars that would be more than $10,000). Both the importers felt it was worth the price as they could sell stock to American zoos for display in children's petting zoos. Apparently their instincts were correct as the pygmy goat is a mainstay of petting zoos everywhere.

The National Pygmy Goat Association's breed standard describes a pygmy goat as a genetically small goat standing from 16 to about 23 inches at the shoulder, and having a deeper, wider barrel, shorter legs, and shorter, wider face than dairy goats All colors are acceptable as long as the goat has the required breed markings. There are two patterns for these breed markings: caramel and agouti. The caramel pattern ranges from snow white to deep brown on the body, with darker "trim" on the head, legs, dorsal stripe and belly. The agouti pattern includes all shades of grizzled gray, and shades of grizzled brown with darker trim on the head, legs, and dorsal stripe. When in doubt between caramel and agouti, look at the goat's stockings. Caramels have a light stripe running up the front of the stockings. Agoutis have solid stockings with no stripe. In addition, partial or complete belly bands of white and white stars on the forehead are acceptable. All other white marks are faults

There are three sex classes in pygmy goats, bucks, does, and wethers. A buck is a male and a doe is a female, and are breeding animals. A wether is a neutered male, and is primarily a pet. All three are shown at National Pygmy Goat Association shows. Dairy goats shows never feature their wethers, and seldom have classes for their bucks

Caring For your Pygmy Goats
Housing And Fencing

Because of their small size and hardiness, pygmy goats are easy to keep. First, they require a dry, draft-free shelter. Pygmy goats need about 15 to 20 square feet of room per animal. That is a space that is 4 feet by 5 feet. So a large dog house could house a grown pygmy goat. But, pygmy goats are herd animals and do not thrive if kept alone. They are best kept in groups. Even a buck would rather be with another buck than be alone. So if you plan to keep pygmy goats, plan to have more than one and provide shelter accordingly. We use a combination of a large barn for our does and kids, and a shedrow barn for our bucks with 8 by 6 foot stalls with separate outdoor pens for our bucks. Our grown bucks often have a weanling buck kid for company. The young kid is comforted and feels safer having an older goat for company during weaning and the older buck gets a playful companion. They don’t view each other as rivals, more like mentor and protégé.

Ideally pygmy goats should have access to pasture for exercise and browsing. But many pygmy goats don't enjoy the luxury of large pastures and are instead kept in pens. The larger the better of course, but a 30 by 30 foot pen is ample for two to four goats. Fencing should be chain link or wire mesh as pygmies are smart and soon learn to squeeze out of horizontal wires such as that used for horses. Even electric fences won't hold a determined goat. Secure fences serve a more important role than just keeping your goats out of your neighbor's prize roses--they keep predators from getting in! Any dog, no matter how friendly, will chase a pygmy goat to death. Often this friendly dog will inflict terrible wounds in the process. It is not the dog's fault entirely, it is their nature to chase small animals. And, you can't always count on a dog being confined. So take heed to the old saying, "Good fences make good neighbors," and securely pen your goats.

Feeding Your Pygmy Goats Properly

Secondly, pygmy goats need to be fed properly and have access to clean water. Goats hate stale water and will sometimes go without rather than drink it. Goats need plenty of water to make their digestive system work properly and bucks in particular need water to help prevent the formation of urinary stones. Goats should also be provided with a loose mineral supplement, preferably especially made for goats. The most important food for goats is good hay or good pasture. Many pygmy goats do well on a diet of hay or pasture forage only Some pygmies, such as growing kids and yearlings, and breeding animals need to have their diets supplemented with grain. Every pygmy goat owner has his own opinion about what this grain ration should be. Maggidan's Minis uses a quality 16% pelleted goat feed for both bucks and does. Occasionally we supplement this feed with a high protein, vitamin and mineral supplement such as Calf Manna for animals in high production such as growth, lactation (milking and raising kids), or heavy breeding. They have access to a loose mineral and salt  formulated for livestock. We also feed a top quality grass hay. Our goats also have access to large woodsy pastures for browsing.

We use the goat's body condition as a guide for how much supplemental feeding they require Generally, pet goats are fed way too much, and frequently are fed the wrong things. Goats should never be fed dog or cat food, rabbit pellets, or poultry feed. This kind of diet can lead to severe, sometimes life threatening health problems such as bloat, rumen impaction ("stomach blockage"), and urinary stones. One of the biggest health problems with pet pygmy wethers and bucks is urinary stones. It is our opinion that the number one cause of urinary stones is improper feeding and watering. Because of a male goat's physical makeup, it is very difficult for them to pass a urinary stone. Should they develop this condition you are facing an enormous vet bill or euthanasia. Feed and water your goats properly and you will be rewarded with happy healthy frisky pets.

Your Pygmy Goat’s Health Care

Goats have relatively few health care requirements, but these are important. They are hoof trimming, regular deworming and lice control, and vaccinations. Maggidan's Minis recommends that hooves be trimmed every six to eight weeks. We deworm and delouse four to six times a year. And, we recommend that pygmy goat owners vaccinate against rabies and clostridial diseases such as tetanus. There are several clostridia and tetanus vaccines for goats. Look for one that says "C, D& T". There is no approved rabies vaccine for goats in the US. so we use the vaccine approved for sheep. All of these procedures, except the rabies vaccination, can be done by the owner with just a little training. Most vets or pygmy goat breeders are willing to help you learn. Another good place to learn about pygmy goat care is at goat seminars such as the Goat-A-Rama sponsored by the North Carolina Pygmy Goat Club, or a Small Ruminants or Goat Producer seminar sponsored by veterinary colleges or County Extension.

The last health requirement for your pet goat pertains not so much to his physical health but to his mental health. Goats are herd animals and are very uncomfortable with being alone. They absolutely require a companion. The best companion is another goat. Lacking this, cows, sheep, llamas and horses make adequate companions. But, a buck should not be included in your pet pair or herd. Pygmy goats are fertile as young as three months, and a pregnancy at this age is a disaster. Pygmy goat does should not be bred until they are about 18 months old. They need to be close to their full size when they kid (give birth) five months later to avoid problems with the kid(s) being too big to come out. Pygmy goats can also breed year round unlike most dairy goats which are fertile only for a few months in the fall. Pygmy does become fertile again in as little as ten days after kidding. The babies are cute, but unending motherhood is a terrible drain on a doe. So you can see that a buck would have to be kept separated from the does except when breeding is desired. Bucks and does should not even share a fence line as they can mate through the fence. This has happened to us more than once. So now our bucks are housed well away from the does to prevent accidental breeding. Besides, bucks don't make good pets, due to their musk odor and their incessant "need to breed" nature.

Sharing the Pygmy Goat Experience

So, you are about ready to take the plunge into pygmy goat ownership. The next question is "Where do you find help and support when you need it?" Pygmy goat owners can join several well organized and enthusiastic groups. Locally for us there is the North Carolina Pygmy Goat Club. Many states have their own pygmy goat clubs. The National Pygmy Goat Association has a list of associated clubs with contact persons. Dan and I have been members of the North Carolina Pygmy Goat Club since 1991. The help and information given to us by fellow members has been the foundation for most of our herd health procedures. The members of your region's pygmy goat club can help you find a vet, locate a hay and feed source, give tips on hoof trimming and vaccinations, and just be there when you need advice or someone to brag to when there are new kids in the barn. All pygmy goat club members are happy to help new and not so new pygmy goat owners with any concerns they have, and always welcome new members.

On a national level, there is the National Pygmy Goat Association. The National Pygmy Goat Association maintains the only registry herd book for pygmy goats in the United States and works to support and promote the pygmy goat breed as pets, show and alternative livestock. The National Pygmy Goat Association has over 2000 members world wide and over 53,000 goats in its registry. The National Pygmy Goat Association publishes it's magazine, Memo, six times a year and also has many other books and resources available especially for pygmy goat enthusiasts. The National Pygmy Goat Association sanctions about 300 pygmy goat shows a year. Shows are a great way to meet other pygmy goat owners even if you don't show your goats.

This is just a basic guideline for keeping pygmy goats happy and healthy. If you have any further questions we are just an e-mail or phone call away. Or you can go to the sites listed below for more in depth reading.


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