Pygmy Goat Facts

Scientific Name: Capra aegagrus hircus

Pair of juvenile African Pygmy goats
Pair of juvenile African Pygmy goats.

Bernard Bialorucki / Getty Images Plus 

Pygmy goats are part of class Mammalia and are a domestic breed originating from the Cameroon region of West Africa. Similar forms are found throughout northern and southwestern Africa. Their scientific name (Capra aegagrus hircus) comes from the Latin words meaning she-goat (capra) and he-goat (hircus). Known for their small size and outgoing personalities, pygmy goats are now kept as pets in many places.

Fast Facts: Pygmy Goats

  • Scientific Name: Capra aegagrus hircus
  • Common Names: Cameroon dwarf goat
  • Order: Ariodactyla
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Outgoing personality, small size, agile climbers
  • Size: About 40 inches long and 20 inches high
  • Weight: Up to 50 pounds for females and up to 60 pounds for males
  • Life Span: 15 years
  • Diet: Grass, leaves, twigs, shrub
  • Habitat: Hillsides, plains
  • Conservation Status: Not evaluated
  • Fun Fact: Pygmy goats do not shed their horns, so their age can be determined by counting their growth rings.

Description

Pygmy goats get the nickname of dwarf goats for their compact size, only growing up to 20 inches high. Their weight ranges from 35 to 50 pounds for females and 40 to 60 pounds for males. They have a large range of colors, from white/caramel to dark red, silver to black with frosted spots, solid black, and brown. Favorable breed characteristics include nonexistent beards for females and a full and long mane across the shoulders for males.

White Pygmy Goat
celta4 / Getty Images

These goats can provide small quantities of milk but are mostly considered meat goats. They have two-toed hooves, rectangular pupils, and a four-chambered stomach. Two-toed hooves help them to be agile climbers, while their rectangular pupils allow them to see 280 degrees around their bodies. This enables them to scan the area for potential threats. They also have a four-chambered stomach that contains bacteria which breaks down cellulose in all the vegetation the goats eat. Their first stomach has a capacity of an astonishing 10 quarts, allowing them to consume large quantities food in a small amount of time.

Habitat and Distribution

Pygmy Goats Billy and Nanny
This image shows a male and female pygmy goat pair. jayneboo shropshire / Getty Images

Pygmy or dwarf goats originate from the Cameroon region of West Africa. As a domestic breed, they live on farmland but in the wild they live on hillsides and plains. There are also over 1,000 goats in zoos across the world.

The West African dwarf goat is the most common and most valuable livestock in west and central Africa. These goats have adapted well to their native environment and are highly fertile. They are also genetically resistant to nematode infections that tend to wipe out other goat breeds.

Diet and Behavior

Pgymy Goat Samples a Tablecloth
This pgymy goat is sampling a plastic tablecloth. 2windspa / Getty Images Plus

Pygmy goats are grazers that prefer leaves, plants, twigs, shrubs, and vines over grass. Occasionally, they can consume fruits, vegetables, and hay. Due to their robust digestive system, they have been known to also eat tree bark, garbage, and even tin cans. Pygmy goats are vulnerable to predators while eating, so these goats can eat large quantities of food quickly in open areas and then regurgitate a portion of it to chew again after it has evaded predators and returned to safer areas.

Being social animals, pygmy goats prefer to be in groups. In the wild, the group sizes normally range from 5 to 20 members. Males butt heads to establish hierarchical dominance, and the highest ranking male mates with the females. Young goats, called kids, form a pile for company and warmth.

Reproduction and Offspring

baby pygmy goat kid playing in straw
PeteGallop / Getty Images Plus

While some tropic goat breeds reproduce all year long, pygmy goat females begin their cycle late fall/winter after they reach sexual maturity at age one. This timing ensures the young will be born in the spring/summer, since the gestation period for females is roughly 150 days. When males reach sexual maturity at 5 months, they will produce a strong odor from scent glands on the top of their head to attract females during breeding season.

Females give birth to one to two kids that weigh 2 to 4 pounds at birth. A female averages two kids per litter but can occasionally give birth to three. Within an hour after birth, these young are able to stand, follow their mother, and nurse. They are weaned at 10 months, at which point they begin to graze independently.

Conservation Status

Pygmy goats have not been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are not considered to be endangered in any way.

Pygmy Goats and Humans

Young Boy pulling along young pygmy goat
Young boy pulling along young pygmy goat. studioimagen / Getty Images Plus

The domestication of pygmy goats dates back to 7500 B.C. They do well as pets and farm animals due to their ability to survive where cows and sheep could not. Today, they are bred as pets as well as for milk and meat. Due to their friendly attitudes, they are also kept in many zoos across the world.

Sources

  • "African Pygmy Goat". Belfast Zoological Gardens, http://www.belfastzoo.co.uk/animals/african-pygmy-goat.aspx.
  • Chiejina, Samuel N, and Jerzy M Behnke. “The Unique Resistance and Resilience of the Nigerian West African Dwarf Goat to Gastrointestinal Nematode Infections.” Parasites & Vectors, vol. 4, no. 1, Mar. 2011, doi:10.1186/1756-3305-4-12.
  • "Goat Breeds Pygmy". Extension, 2015, https://articles.extension.org/pages/19289/goat-breeds-pygmy.
  • "Pygmy Goat". Woburn Safari Park, https://www.woburnsafari.co.uk/discover/meet-the-animals/mammals/pygmy-goat/.
  • "Pygmy Goat". Oakland Zoo, https://www.oaklandzoo.org/animals/pygmy-goat.
  • "Pygmy Goat". Oregon Zoo, https://www.oregonzoo.org/discover/animals/pygmy-goat.