Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats

for people who love the littlest dairy goats


I am brand new to goats, and I have a lot of questions, but I will try to keep it to one topic. Mainly this is about diet. Some background: I've had my two does (4 yrs old & 5 mos old) for a couple months, and just acquired 2 bucklings (3 mos & 2 mos old).  Girls have their own pen. Boys have their own pen, good distance away from does. I am planting pasture this spring to rotate them on, but as for now, they are in their goat yards with their shelters. It's not tiny, but they can't run for acres if they wanted to. Anyway,  this whole time I feel like I am chasing my tail with trying to figure out how to balance their diets. We have hard well water (very high in iron and sulfur (stinky) and probably calcium too though we don't see a lot of build up of calcium on things around the water). This throws a wrench into everything I'm trying to do. My oldest doe I think is copper deficient. She has what I believe is a fishtail (It doesn't stick straight out and I can see the tip of her tail, the hair coming off of it is scarce and sporadic). She's supposed to be chocolate but some of her hair is so light it almost looks white where it should be brown, and her legs are real brassy colored and very rough/course looking. My younger doe is black and white and where she is black she was really red looking, now it is more on her legs but was almost everywhere she was black. My vet said it's not copper deficiency, he said our area is not copper deficient, and if I bolused he'd be worried about toxicity. He also doesn't believe that our well water would cause any problems for them. I didn't want to do anything wrong so I held off, but ended up bolusing them a small dose of COWP (1 g for the older doe, .5 g for the younger) almost a month ago. I was going to bolus again, but not sure what dose I should do at this point.

I think I need to figure out a better system for feeding the does. They get free choice timothy/orchard grass hay 24/7. I'm not sure what quality it is. It's not straw colored but it's not the darkest green either. It smells delicious to me though. The younger one gets alfalfa pellets. I feed the older one timothy pellets, but they switch bowls halfway through if I don't stand there and constantly redirect. I didn't want the older doe eating the alfalfa because it inhibits copper absorption, and does she need the calcium? Because I also worry she might be zinc deficient since her skin is dry and flaky and her coat is in such poor condition. So I have to come up with a way to separate them when they eat their pellets. 

Now, the bucklings. I believe they both were fed grain at their old homes. I was sure I didn't want to feed grain since they were boys and I wanted to avoid UC. But didn't realize they also need extra feed to grow properly? I am so so nervous about UC, I have ammonium chloride I can give them, but just learned that that has no affect on calcium stones, only stones caused by high phosphorus in the diet. (Did not realize there were two different kinds of stones). Since they get well water I'm having serious issues figuring out how to feed them so they grow properly and don't get either kind of stone. I could do a mix of timothy & alfalfa pellet, but should I add grain? How much? I considered a couple tablespoons of grain on top of 1 part timothy, 1/2 part alfalfa pellet 2x a day? But how much would 1 part to 1/2 part look like, especially if I have to do this slowly. They also get the same grass hay free choice 24/7 that the does get. But will the alfalfa pellet cause them copper deficiency? This is like a puzzle that I can't figure out for my herd. Because so many minerals and vitamins are important for health, but the most important ones all seem to hinder each other if everything isn't just right. I honestly wonder how some people are able to keep healthy goats at all. Or maybe this is just something I'm not cut out to do. I love them very much and was really wanting to be able to produce our own milk for our family. My management just seems to be all over the place and I want to bring it all together and for it to flow. 

For the water situation I looked at getting a hose filter that people have used for their horses at shows with success, but I don't know how that would work used daily on our outside hose. For our house water, we have an old water softener that has never seemed to function properly, and we put on an iron filter system, but never noticed a difference with the iron content in the water. We drink the tap water that is filtered through a reverse osmosis system through the sink, but still there is iron in it, and it's not feasible for me to fill several gallon buckets through that little faucet 2x a day.

As for worming, I'm also equally nervous and all over the place. I purchased a microscope and did my first FEC Feb 28. The older doe had 250 epg and younger one had nothing. I did them both twice and got the same result. I might have done something wrong? Before that the older doe was wormed when I brought her here per the breeders suggestion with the stress of moving. I also wormed her again about two weeks later when I checked her eyelids and they looked pale. But this isn't good because I don't want to breed resistant worms. It's possible I've done the FAMACHA wrong too. I get it when I'm learning how to do it, but then out on the field with the goat things go a lot differently, maybe I've messed that up. I've looked into lespedeza pellets and Bioworma, but cannot obtain those things right now as they're not available and they're not cheap. It's also adding more supplements to their diets. And I've invested so much money in supplements, feed, etc. in order to have everything they need, still I feel this hasn't been enough to ensure they're okay. 

I just worry and feel that no matter what I do here, (and it's not easy messing with rations and what I'm feeding them since you cannot just abruptly change their diet), I'm afraid they're going to die. My older doe eats, drinks, and has normal stool berries, but she holds her tail down practically all the time. I feel that she is just not happy. Yesterday she was eating dirt. So, still a mineral deficiency? Sorry for such a long post, just exhausted and concerned . 

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The first picture of each goat is what they looked like the morning after I brought them to our farm. 

When I first brought them home I thought their coat color might have looked off in a few places, but not too bad. I know they had free choice mineral at the breeders farm. Not sure if they used COWP. I know they had a quality diet where they were. I've been using a goat weight tape to take their weights. The older one is 87 lbs. The younger one is 42 lbs. I was feeding the older doe timothy pellets since the younger one was getting alfalfa pellets and I wanted her to be part of the routine. When I did Deborah's copper deficiency course I thought she had said that alfalfa contained molybdenum and could inhibit copper absorption. I may have heard wrong or misunderstood. I did treat for mites/lice with Eprinex. They were very itchy. I wasn't able to see anything the first two times I checked but I found a louse the third time, and the older one had small crusty kind of scabs around her teats that looked like evidence of mites, so I treated them. Thank you for the info on feeding the bucklings. I know every farm is unique in how they manage their herd, but it does help to see what other people measure out and feed their herd for each stage. I do have Deborah's book and follow her blog posts, I appreciate all of the information she shares and try to let it sink in. I have a hard time getting things to click at this point when it comes to goats. Some days I feel like everything will be okay and they look like they're doing ok. But if I had read about a symptom of something and see one of them doing it, even if they're apparently fine, I get kind of anxious. I do fear when I go out every morning that one of them might have died, because they seem like such fragile creatures from everything I've read about them. I do see that I need to chill out. Thank you for your answers, yes they definitely did help a lot.

Thanks for sending the pictures. I do see what you are talking about in the shift of color. I have a chocolate doe and she will start to get sort of blonde coloring on her hind quarters when she needs a bolus of copper. From what I can tell in the photos, the girls look to be in good body condition. Winter coats make it a little harder to tell in photos because they start to look like poof balls. Since it is winter where you are, and you have dewormed, I wouldn't be too concerned about internal parasites right now. Sounds like you treated the lice with good results. Some people only treat once, as a safety net I tend to do it again 2 weeks after the first dose to be sure and catch any eggs that might have hatched after the dosage wore off (the treatment is not effective on unhatched eggs, but the medication SHOULD stay in the system long enough to catch eggs that hatch) If they had lice for a while, that can definitely impact the quality of their coat as well as cause anemia if they are sucking lice. Anemia does take a bit of time for recovery. I would certainly keep an eye on their FAMACHAs and pay attention to their activity levels. Anemic goats tend to conserve energy by resting a lot.

For the alfalfa- alfalfa hay is higher in calcium than grass hay- it can be high in molybdenum if high moly containing fertilizers are used to grow it. I want to say that I have read (or heard) that legumes have a higher uptake of molybdenum than grasses, but I can't readily locate research to support that.

Since you have recently introduced the SweetLix and are nervous about toxicity, you might want to wait a little longer before dosing with COWP again. Are they consuming the SweetLix? A recommended COWP dosage is 1Gm/22#, so your girls have only received about 1/4 of a dose if that makes you feel better about giving additional COWP if the SweetLix does not help.

If you haven't already, check out Deborah's latest podcast about Copper- it is EXCELLENT and was just released a couple days ago.-

Thank you so much Tammy, I will check out the new podcast. 

Weight tapes do not work on Nigerians. I have never seen anyone use one on them before, but I can definitely say that they do NOT weigh as much as the tape said, so I can see why I've heard that they don't work. An adult doe is usually around 55 to 65 pounds and your goats look very average. I usually give my does 4 grams of copper. I might give a yearling only 3 grams, if she is a little on the smaller side. 

Antagonists to copper include sulfur, molybdenum, iron, and calcium. But the ratio of the minerals is what causes the problem with absorption. Goats need sulfur, molybdenum, iron, and calcium, but they need to be in the correct proportion. There is nothing wrong with feeding alfalfa, and it's really unlikely that feeding alfalfa alone is going to be a problem. But if you also have water that has sulfur, iron, and calcium in it, and if your alfalfa pulled up a lot of molybdenum from your soil, then it could be a problem. 

Your goats do not look like they are going to die anytime soon. They look like they might be a little on the heavy side, so definitely not underweight, although the winter coats can be deceptive sometimes. The only one that looks worrisome for sure is the black and white one because a lot of the black on that one has faded to a rusty red color. When your vet said that your area is not deficient in copper, he is only thinking about primary copper deficiency -- but even then he should have gone over your feed and mineral program before making that pronouncement.

However, if you have sulfur, iron, and/or calcium in your well water, those things can inhibit the absorption of copper, which would cause secondary copper deficiency. Bottom line is the same regardless of whether it's primary or secondary -- the goat is deficient. I'm just explaining this because your vet is not looking at the whole picture. Unfortunately a lot of vets were taught that copper deficiency is impossible. I actually had four different vets tell me that before we had our first diagnosis of a liver that showed severe copper deficiency. And the only reason the liver was tested is because I insisted on it when a goat died. Her copper liver level was 4 ppm when it should have been 25 ppm to 150 ppm. Even then, the vet refused to believe that copper deficiency was a problem in my herd! He just said that goat was an anomaly. 

It sounds like you might be planning to breed the does at some point. Or, is the older one pregnant now? If no one is pregnant or milking, they don't need alfalfa. If the bucklings are still under 6 months, or close to it, you could just let them finish whatever alfalfa you have because they are growing fast and could use the calcium. Actually, the 5 month old doe could use it too if you're planning to breed her soon. I try to stress the fact that there is no reason to fear alfalfa. I feed it to my pregnant does and milkers every day. They need the calcium. Young kids that are growing fast can use the calcium too. 

Thank you for your input Deborah. I had no idea about the weight tapes. I was planning to get a small livestock scale anyway. So I will do that asap. I am planning to breed them, possibly this fall. I definitely don't want to breed them unless they are all for sure in good condition. I felt that at least the older doe was heavier than she should be. She has actually lost some weight since I brought her home. I had planned to give the younger one the alfalfa pellets until she was 6 months if she looked and felt in good condition, and that is fast approaching anyway (she'll be 6 mos on 3-29). 

You want the young doe to be at least 2/3 of her mature weight before breeding, so I shoot for 40 pounds. I want my kids to be at least 20 pounds before I sell them, which happens about 8 to 10 weeks. So from 2 months to about 8 months, they need to get up to 40 pounds. If you are going to breed her to kid at a year, it's fine to keep feeding her alfalfa because she is growing herself and her kid(s), so she can use the calcium. 

My husband just lifts up our goats and stands on our scale with them, then he subtracts his weight. If you can't do that, you can buy two bathroom scales and put the goat's front feed on one and her back feet on the other, and then add the two together. A vet professor told me that they compared that to their fancy livestock scale at the university, and the weight was the same. 

This has been very informative. Thank you again, so much.

It sounds like you've read a ton, so you might not remember, but .... if you do remember reading something I wrote that caused you to think that alfalfa causes copper deficiency so badly that you should not feed alfalfa, could you let me know where it was? I know I specifically wrote in one of my articles that you should NOT stop feeding alfalfa to pregnant does, milkers, and growing kids because they need the calcium. I really try to be concise and not confuse people with my articles. 

Your articles are very concise, and I love the way you teach. So, after reading yours & Tammy's responses about the alfalfa, I am seeing that I completely misunderstood. I believe I heard it in the Copper deficiency course. I thought you had said that alfalfa contained molybdenum and molybdenum inhibited copper absorption. I am sure you wrote about not stopping it. And I probably only remembered that one part of what you had said in the course about molybdenum and started to worry. I thought not only was I hindering their absorption of copper with our well water, but also the alfalfa pellets. I didn't ever stop feeding my young doe the alfalfa, I just worried about them getting really copper deficient really quick and kind of felt stuck, especially after my vet had said no to doing copper bolus. I really trust your guidance & experience, so I am sorry if I made you think that you said something wrong. 

No worries! Thanks for your reply. I do sometimes need to edit my articles because they don't quite get the right message out there. I think sometimes I may wind up including more info that I need to, because I want to share everything about a topic. I watched my copper video, which I haven't done in at least a year or more, and I do say in there that bucks and wethers don't need alfalfa.

Alfalfa CAN have high molybdenum in some places, IF the soil is high in molybdenum. If, however, your soil is not high in molybdenum, then the alfalfa will be fine. If you are really worried about your goats' diet, you can get the forage tested. Most people don't do this, but I do know a vet who raises meat goats who gets every single load of hay tested because she wants to be sure she is feeding certain levels of certain nutrients, and she wants to balance anything that's off. Dairy One in New York has a forage testing lab.

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