By Angela von Weber-Hahnsberg – Goats of all shapes and sizes, including miniature goats, have a wonderful way of bringing people together, of creating community between all different kinds of folks. From large-scale dairy goat owners to tiny urban backyard farmers, get two goat owners together, and they’ll soon be fast friends. Whether their interests lie primarily in goat milk, goat meat, or fiber production, or if they focus more on breeding and showing their animals, goat owners the world over have one thing in common: a deep-seated love affair with their animals. And it’s not simply a matter of practicality and production—it’s a genuine affection for the unique personalities, the ridiculous antics, and the adorable appearance of their particular breed of caprine companions. So while some may question the practicality of choosing miniature goats over full-sized ones, the community of goat owners understands … it’s a love affair with fun.
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Standard-sized goats have long held the market on usefulness, but miniature goats can be extremely practical, and for many small-scale breeders, provide the perfect starting point for a lifelong goat obsession. This kind of goat breed can be kept in a small backyard, are easy to handle, and are the perfect size for young children to interact with. Yet they can still provide a family with a steady supply of milk or fiber, or with beautiful animals to breed and show. On top of all of that, there is just something about miniature animals—from puppies to ponies—that melts everyone’s heart. The recent rise in popularity of goat breeds like the Nigerian Dwarf, Pygmy, Pygora, Kinder, Mini Silky Fainting Goat, and various miniature goats for dairy worldwide is a testament to their lovability.
The two most widely known miniature goats are the Nigerian Dwarf goat and the Pygmy. Both are descendants of goats originally imported to the U.S. from West Africa to be used as food for zoo animals. Over time, however, as their diminutive size won people over and they began to be kept as pets, two distinct breeds emerged: the Pygmy, possessing a stockier, “meat-goat” build, and the Nigerian Dwarf, which has more delicate dairy goat features. Bev Jacobs, the owner of Dragonflye Farms in Goodyear, Arizona, raises both. She explained that miniature goats are unique in that many of them cycle all year long, rather than having a set breeding and kidding season, which is handy for large- and small-scale goat breeders alike. Their smaller size also makes handling a buck in rut a much less intimidating experience. Practicality aside, there are other reasons why Jacobs loves her miniature goats.
“I just love goats! I love the personalities, the quirks, and the breed specific characteristics that come with them,” she said. “Miniature goats are awesome to work with, and have given me years of enjoyment.”
Jacobs also raises mini-Manchas, one of several miniature goats known for their excellent goat milk, produced by breeding a standard-sized doe to a Nigerian Dwarf buck. She uses these goats for milk, yogurt, and cheese production, but their smaller size allows them to double as pets, even coming indoors sometimes! Jacobs has also sold a couple of her miniature goats to be used as therapy animals. Jacobs tells of one of her favorite goats, named Weeble, who, due to health problems, ended up living in her house for much of his life, and accompanying her on errands and trips, as well. Everywhere Weeble went, from poultry seminars at Ace Hardware to the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show to restaurant drive-thrus, he touched hearts and made friends. Though he managed to win Grand Champion Wether twice, his biggest victory was the joy he brought to the lives of all who met him.
Pygora goats also offer a unique combination of cuteness and usefulness. A cross between the Pygmy and the Angora, the Pygora has all the benefits of a smaller size, while still producing large amounts of high-quality fiber. In fact, according to Lisa Roskopf, owner of Hawks Mountain Ranch in Gaston, Oregon, Pygora fiber is one of the fastest growing hand spinning fibers.
“The fiber comes in three varieties,” she said. “Type A, which is similar to mohair, very shiny and wavy; Type C, which is more like cashmere, very fine with a matte finish; and Type B, which is a combination of Types A and C.”
While she raves enthusiastically about the luxurious fiber her goats produce, when asked what her favorite thing is about her animals, Roskopf waxes poetic, describing her newborn kids bouncing around the pastures and reveling in the spring sunshine, raising baby goats every year of the miniature variety, and the companionship of her adult goats that are so tame they accompany her on walks.
The Kinder goat is also a dual-purpose breed, originating from a cross between a Nubian goat and a Pygmy goat. Possessing the heavier musculature and bone structure of a meat goat, it nevertheless also conforms to dairy characteristics. Used for both meat and milk, many breeders insist that their favorite trait of these miniature goats is the Kinder’s animated, friendly nature.
The newest breed of miniature goats to be propagated in recent years is the Mini Silky Fainting Goat. The registry for this cross between the Nigerian Dwarf and the long-haired Tennessee Fainting Goat was only created in 2004, but its numbers are quickly growing. A Google search of “mini silky fainting goats” will reveal the attraction of this breed—every single breeder’s site description begins with enthusiastic declarations of love—“great personalities,” “lots of fun,” “the best of pets,” “my new goat addiction,” and the one that sums it all up—“we fell in love.”
There is no doubt that miniature goats of all kinds are extremely useful and practical, in all the same ways that standard-sized goats are, producing milk, meat, and fiber. Their small size and unique traits attract children, newcomers to the world of goats, and veteran goat breeders alike. But the biggest benefit of all of these littlest of all goats is the affection and devotion they inspire in—and lavish upon—their owners.
Originally published in the May/June 2012 issue of Dairy Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.