Nigerian Dwarf Goat Genetics: Colors and Patterns

Simplified so we can understand it

There’s a lot to be said and read about animal genetics. A lot of it may be known, researched and proven, but as much remains undocumented or hearsay. It’s safe to say, we are all in this together and the only way to learn and educate, is to share our knowledge and accept feedback. We only know the things we took time (often many years) to observe, read about and research on. More importantly is the logging and contemplation, follow up and fact checking on the notes we keep. We are not experts, by any means. Information is knowledge, which is power to know what we buy and sell. This is what we know about our Nigerian Dwarf Goat’s colors and patterns. The rest will reveal itself in time, hopefully.

While breeding for conformation is crucial to preserve and enhance the desirable traits of the Nigerian Dwarf Goat, it’s important to note that coloration does not influence temperament or other physical characteristics. We aim to breed with the goal of keeping the NDG line as true to itself as possible. Humans often disturb the process of improvement, and sometimes even risk the continual existence of a breed complete (example: indegnous veld goats almost went extinct because of continuous human ‘improvement’). This form of preservation can seem confusing at times, especially when history isn’t clearly known (or animal sellers blatantly hide truths about inbreeding/line-breeding etc that may be important). We do our best, identify, filter, rinse and repeat. Our goats are special to us, and whoever they may be, they are entitled to a great life at Windhelm farm, nevertheless.

Hopefully this page will shed some light on a small part of the big genetic engine, and that you will jump in where you find our wording incorrect or misleading.
Let’s get into some of it…


You can't wear these, though.

It is easier to refer to the colors and patterns later, by knowing what some of the things mean. Genes control a whole lot more than the colors and patterns, in fact, everything is blueprinted in the genetics. It’s important then, to keep it simple.

Here are some of the parts:

Goats are mammals, and as such their genes are packed into strings called chromosomes.
Chromosomes exist in pairs, of which one comes from the sire and another from the dam.
That means, a goat’s chromosome pair, is made up of one chromosome, randomly received from the dam, and one randomly picked from the sire during reproduction.
On these chromosome strings, there are genes, and they have addresses called loci. A gene is referred to by its locus and each of the two chromosomes in that pair, has the same locus.
In this pair, two genes at the same locus may be different and this will be called the allele. I say two, because there can only be two different alleles (one in each of the two strings, at the same location/locus).

For dominant and recessive genes, there’s a bit of AND/OR type logic here:

  • If both alleles have to be the same, to be expressed, these are recessive alleles. If both of the same ones are present, they are homozygous.
  • If either one of the two alleles contains a dominant allele, it will be expressed whether (homozygous) or not (heterozygous) there is a matching one on the other chromosome.
  • Dominant alleles hides the expression of a recessive allele, if they are paired. They are always present in each generation and cannot be hidden.
  • Recessive alleles can be carried and can remain hidden if transmitted by both mates, and will show up as draw-from-a-hat type scenario.

    With that logic, each locus thus carries a trait/feature/something, and it’s either enabled or disabled by its matching locus on the other chromosome in the pair.



... and pigmentation

Melanin occurs in humans as well, so there’s some resemblances here. Melanin controls pigmentation in hair, skin and eyes and the more of it you have, the darker your pigmentation will be. This is a nice example of ‘we are all just human’, as the level of melanin is controlled by exposure to sun (by our ancestors) and genetics. An interesting thing to note here is that melanin protects your cells and genetic material by absorbing UV rays and redirecting them elsewhere.  This is why the more time you spend in the sun, the more melanin you will produce. Tanning is not so cool when you realise its a defense mechanism kicking into action. We digress…Goats are not that different, and they have two types of melanin (humans have three, I think?).



  • Eumelanin, which produces black/blue-grey/chocolate-brown pigments &
  • Pheomelanin, which produces the creams & almost whites/reds and tan pigments which can vary wildly to appear dark enough to be misread as eumelanin colors.


Goats are distinct on paper, and how we define or label their colors and patterns based only on the resulting layout of the pigmented areas. White spotting, or entirely white goat does not make this a white goat. On the contrary, white areas lack pigment and as such, hides the base color of the goat (or color of the area where the white occurs). White spotting can be extensive, or occur on small areas and is like slapping white duct-tape on the goat. You cannot see what is under it, but it isn’t white. In cases like this, a give-away of the base color can be a small clue like a color elsewhere on the goat. A white goat is thus either a goat of any base color, completely obscured by white spotting (and truly not white, but appearing so) or a goat with its primary colors from the pheomelanin pool, diluted to be so light that they appear white.
It is difficult to read, but becomes easier with time.


I call the resulting colors and patterns a layout, as it is like a final render of the locations and colors of the pigments. This final render, this print that is your goat is the result of a soup of eumelanin, pheomelanin and white spotting. The amount of pigment from each of the two melanins is controlled by the agouti locus (the gene at the agouti [symbol A] location, remember?). It’s like a printer, controlling different levels of red, green and blue to produce colors; perhaps not that simple though.
From this agouti locus both black and white goats can be rendered, and an infinite amount of variations of color distribution can occur in stripes and spots and patterns, which shows itself in almost similar ways on goats (especially the face) which can be used to start identifying the base color/s of the goat. The pheomelanic tans are dominant, and thus are rendered on to this final print in a variety of shapes and ‘brightness’ levels over the goat (with its different alleles).



Striping can be completely omitted on white and black goats, which are two patterns coming from the agouti locus; this is recessive: no marking/stripes. If they are completely black, they are completely eumelanic. If they are completely white (or completely tan) they got the dominant tan allele and are totally pheomelanic. The genetic makeup that ‘prints’ a downright white or black goat, can not be determined by just judging the base color of the goat (even if it seems obvious). Summarised vehemently, the agouti locus can account for variations that can be correctly black (yielding black goats) to solid whites to variations in patterns and pigments from the two melanins.
There is, to add more confusion, the brown locus which turns blacks (and only blacks) to browns of varying degrees from light to dark browns – sometimes even on the same goat. Commonly, where the black and tans would puzzle together, the browns and tans form a new agouti pattern. I think this is where a lot of confusion stems from when it comes to the “dark tan” and “light tan”, or “dark red” descriptions we see a lot; forgivable, as the dark pheomelanins can accompany light eumelanins and look similar enough to be judged incorrectly.

Markings on Nigerian dwarf goats can vary from roaning (where white hairs diffuse the black/brown causing it to appear greyish), to ticking (smaller spots), flowering, belting, polling on the head (usually white) and moonspots (round, random tan’ish colors that appear on any color of the goat). 

I have said this earlier, but after converting all our notes, observations, memories and advice to writing, it’s hard to tell if this is useful or not. Identifying your goat colors should be taken at bite size, taking every piece of the information at hand into consideration and judging down from there. Most of the information comes from various sources, and I remember reading some PDF’s which I can’t find anymore. Other bits are from Alexia’s notes, memory, forums and more notes that formed a chaotic mess, and putting it to this page helped me piece things together. If there are any errors or misleading bits, inform me so that I can reword, rephrase and retry. One thing is for certain, the passionate breeders out there are serious about knowing what they are doing, and that’s worth tipping a hat to. If any of their information made it to my notes, I am thankful; if any of their information is incorrect, we forgive and learn.

Feelings and Disclaimers

There’s an almost exhausting list of modifiers and variations, but the genetic information for everything gets increasingly sparser. It would seem ideal to maintain thorough documentation, observation and responsible breeding strategies to maintain conformity and purity of the ND goats. Over time, data will become even clearer. The information above was gathered from our experiences, observations and those experiences, images and information from other breeders across the world. In the, some folks take creative license in wording/breeding and this probably isn’t a good approach, but there’s a lack of information in many areas which make it difficult for breeders to otherwise label and operate with. Let’s share and work responsibly. Know what you do, where you get your animals from and what you are working towards. Software like FarmOS, might be useful to you, as it is to me – for these purposes.