Nigerian Dwarf Breed History
by Tom Rucker
Like many breeds of domesticated livestock, the complete history of the Nigerian Dwarfis
incomplete. Through the years and stages of development, record were not always kept, or if
they were, they are sketchy at best. Developing the history of the breed is much like putting a
jigsaw puzzle together that is missing many of its pieces. To reach the present day Nigerian
Dwarf, one has to use a combination of documented facts, speculation, deductive reasoning and a
What is known is the throughout tropical Western Africa, there is a type of goat referred to as
the West African Dwarf )WAD). These goats are used as a food source, both meat and milk, for
the local population. Due to economic hardships, keeping "pets" is not an option. It appears that
little thought is used in breeding and it is truly a survival of the fittest phenomenon taking place.
The writings about Albert Schweitzer and his work at his hospital in Lamberne in the country
now known as Gabone, the local goat is often times referred to, and in fact is credited with
supplying the milk for the hospital. The imported breeds typically known as dairy breeds weren't
able to withstand the tse - Tse fly, and there fore were not productive. The WAD goats continued
to survive and thrive. Throughout books on Dr. Schweitzer, pictures of goats similar in type to
what are referred to as a Nigerian Dwarves in the U.S. can be found.
Exactly how the WAD goats came to American soil is one of the missing pieces in the puzzle.
One theory is that as the big cats were shipped to zoos, goats were loaded on the zoos. AS
early as 1918, Joseph Crepin reported the second edition of la Chevre that WAD goats had
been imported to the United States. Additionally, there were a number of documented
importations from the 1930s to the 1960s.
The beginning of the breed in this country lies in zoos. The first miniature goats to appear in this
country were part of zoo exhibits, and occasionally research instructions. As the population began
to grow, it became necessary to reduce the number of animals and individuals had their first
opportunity to own these unique goats. Originally, all small goats of WAD origin were
indiscriminately referred to as pygmies. In the beginning, "pygmy" was used more to describe a
size of goat rather than a specific breed, much like " Swiss" is often times used to refer to the
various erect eared breed hailing from Europe.
As time went on, breeders began to notice differences in type within what had become the
Pygmy breed. It became apparent that there were two distinct types: the shorter legged, heavier
bodied, round bone animals more typical of what is know today as a Pygmy, and the more
refined. angular animal that has become today's Nigerian Dwarf As breeders began to
communicate, they discovered there were others in the United States and Canada that had similar
observances. Mrs. Bonnie Abrahamson of North Ogden, Utah, while working in a zoo in
California was one of the fist to notice the distinctive deference.
Mrs. Abrahamson brought several black and white animals that she referred to as "Nigerian
Dwarves" to an AGS Pygmy certification committee. Despite their more refined type and dairy
appearance, these animals were accepted into the AGS Pygmy herdbood. At about the same
tie, Mr Heabert Woods of Alexandria, Indiana, had animals similar in type to Mrs.
Abrahamson's, but brown in color, refused entry into the National Pygmy Goat Association's
herdbooks because of their color.
These two breeders petitioned the Intimation Dairy Goat Registry (IDGR) to open a herdbook
for Nigerian Dwarves. IDGR opened a separate herd book for the breed, complete with a standard
emphasizing dairy characteristics, and on July 24, 1918 Mr Robert Johnson's Bullfrog Alley's
Johnny Jump - Up #2 a buck bred by Mrs Abrahamson, became the first Nigerian Dwarf
registered by any registry. By January 1987, there were 384 animals registered tin the herdbooks
of IDGR as Nigerian Dwarves, with 93 of those registered the previous year alone. In part,
largely due to the fact that
IDGR does not sanction show, the popularity of the registry has waned over the years.
The early Nigerian Dwarves were seen most often in three distinct color lines, all of similar type,
even though many of the early breeders attempted to keep each color line separate from the
others. A majority. Possibly because of the limited number of representatives of the breed, breeders
did begin to mix the color lines fairly early on, although references to specific color lines could
still be found as late as 1988.
In 1984, the American Goat Society (AGS) opened a herdbook for Nigerian Dwarves, and by
September of the following year, 82 animals, representing breeders from 8 states and Canada had
been registered. The first AGS registered Nigerian. Mr. Woods was instrumental in getting a
separate herdbook for the breed with AGS, and was made chairman of the Nigerian Dwarf
committee. Mr. Wright and Pat Freemman of Dutton, Ontario completed the original Nigerian
Dwarf committee for AGS.
To form the foundation of the breed, applications were submitted to the committee, along with a
clear photo graph of the animal and a measurement of the animal at the withers. If the committee
unanimously agreed that the animal, that had to be at least one year of age, met the breed
standard, the animal was then eligible to be registered as a purebred Nigerian Dwarf. Animals
that were a accepted for registration using this process are often times referred to as a "committee
animal." Some of the animals submitted,
such as Mrs. Abrahamson's, were previously registered as Pygmies. It also would include
animals with unknown backgrounds that showed true Nigerian Dwarf characteristics, and as time
went on, animals that were of registered ancestry but which did not have the paperwork kept up.
Many times, it was
easier to submit the animal for certification than to retrace paperwork for several generations.
The original closing date for the herdbook was set at December 31, 1987. A change in the
standard that year, however, would allow animals that previously were ineligible and the date
was extended to December 31, 1990, with fewer than 400 Nigerian Dwarves registered,
the AGS Board voted to extend the deadline until December 31, 1992 to allow for a sufficient
genetic base of foundation stock. The certification process did end in 1992, and all animals
registered through this point, whether by ancestry or committee approval, carry an "f" suffix to
their registration number to indicate that they are considered a foundation animal. Unfortunately,
accurate records were not kept as to exactly how many animals were a admitted via certification,
but by the end of 1992, a total of approximately 2000 Nigerian Dwarves had been registered with
the American Goat Society. There was still some concern that the breed need a broader genetic
base, and a progeny program was put into place until December 31, 1997. An unregistered
animal would still be considered for registration if, when bred to several different AGS
registered Nigerian Dwarves (3 for does, 4 for bucks), the animal and all surviving offspring meet
breed standard and received unanimous approval of the Nigerian Dwarf committee. Again,
accurate records were not kept, but one committee member recalls very few of these coming
through committee. In keeping with AGS' philosophy of closed, purebred herdbooks, since
January 1, 1998, the only way to be registered as a purebred Nigerian Dwarfis to be the
offspring of two registered purebred Nigerian Dwarves. (A breakdown of AGS registration
numbers can be found in the Pedigree section of this proposal.) While undoubtedly there have
been animals of varied background admitted to the herdbook, essentially since 1992 we have had
a closed herdbook All breeds begin somewhere, and what is more important that what we started
with, is where we are going. Using the wide genetic base created through the open herd book,
breeders are now molding the breed into a superior milk-producing animal of unmistakable dairy
goat type that also happens to be small. While the Nigerian Dwarf and the Pygmy share common
ancestry, they have clearly become two, distinct breeds through the efforts of breeders of both of
The popularity of the breed has continued to grow, in part because of AGS sanctioned shows
being held across the country. The first show that offered a separate sanction for the breed was
the 1985 AGS National Show held in Graham, Texas. Only two exhibitors of Nigerian Dwarves
were present (Shaula Parker and Kathleen Claps), and the breed wasn't official, but there has
been no looking back since. Pine Cone Valley Black Satin, a doe that is listed as an original
import, owned by Ms Claps, had the distinction of being crowned the first AGS notional
Champion Nigerian Dwarf. While the popularity of shows skyrocketed a fleer this, another AGS
National Show wouldn't be held until 1996. Through the hard work of Nigerian Dwarf breeders,
an AGS sectioned National Show has been held every year since. Please see the pictures of our
5 beautiful National show winners at the end of this section. Interestingly, the 4 does to win the
national a fleer Black Satin all trace back to her many times.
From the first show in 1985 with a few animals, it is now not uncommon for a show of Nigerian
Dwarves only to approach 200 animals. AGS sanctioned shows are being held in almost every
part of the country, and Nigerian Dwarf breeders are traveling thousand of miles a year to
promote the breed and their herds.
Looking back at the breeders that have made this all happen, we need to start with Mrs.
Abrahamson. It was her vision that the breed be classified separately from what was known as
the Pygmy. Due to her failing health, Mrs Abrahamson was force to sell her herd in 1981, and
Robert Johnson, owner of IDGR, purchased her herd. her Bulfrog Alley herd can be found in
many of today's Nigerian Dwarves, either directly, or more commonly through Mr. Johnson's
Pine Cone Valley herd. Of course, Mr Wood, working primarily with the brown line, was quite
influential, and Highland Woods animals are evident in many pedigrees. Mr Wood worked
closely with Mr Wright of Wright Acres, and those animals appear in many pedigrees as well.
Mr. Freeman's Braco herd, primarily through the popularity of one buck, can be found in many
pedigrees. Of these early breeders, unfortunately many are no longer alive no longer active.
Ms Freeman still breed goats, but her herd is known more for its Pygmies.
Moving a bit forward, we find three other prominent herds that have heavily influenced the
Nigerian Dwarf breed. Fortunately, for ANDDA and the breed, all three are still actively
breeding and are members of ANDDA. Mrs. Sandra mason, now of Medina, Ohio, but
previously from Texas and then Washington, own the Brush Creed herd. Much of her original
herd traced to the San Antorino zoo that reportedly had direct imports. Mrs. mason has been
breeding Nigerian Dwarves since 1982 and is the current AGS Nigerian Dwarf committee
chairperson and current ANDDA Director -at- Large. Also beginning in 1982 was Mrs. Shaula
Parker of Willow Park, Texas. Breeding under the herdname of Willows or Willo Creek, Mrs.
Parker's animals can be found in pedigrees throughout the country. Additionally, Mrs Parker
was the breeder of the 1996 National Best of Bred doe. Mrs. Parker and Mrs. Mason have
formed a very close relationship, and animals from each herd can be found in the other. Also
these two ladies co-edited the first breed publication, Footnotes*. The last herd to be mentioned
is that of Ms. Kathleen Claps, now of dripping Springs, Texas. Her Goodwood animals have
stamped a very distinctive type across the breed. The achievement of the Goodwood animals is
nothing less than remarkable. The first Master Champions were the Goodwood name, the 1997
National Best of Breed doe was a Goodwood doe, the first animals on test were owned by
Goodwood. Ms Claps was also the founder of one of the original breed organizations for the
breed, and following the decision to stop publishing Foot notes * Ms. Claps began the breed
magazine, Ruminations, remaining its editor until recently. These three ladies have done more
than most of us will ever know in the formation of the breed to what it has become today.
But, not to rest on our laurels, the breed can be equally proud of our "new" breeders. We now
boast a breeder of multiple ADGA National Show champions, previous owners of large
commercial dairy goat operations, and a past ADGA President. Of chouse, we also have the
beginner that has never owner a goat before and the enthusiasm that brings, and breeders of
every currently recognized ADGA breed. Through this varied mix of individuals, the breed's
future is secure.