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One of the many traits that make Nigerians so incredibly popular is the rainbow of colors and patterns the breed can display. Sometimes these colors can be a little confusing, so I wanted to show examples here to help you understand the coat patterns and colors of the Nigerian Dwarf and Mini (standard breed x Nigerian) dairy goats.
Many times people will say that there is no way to ever predict the colors that your goats will produce. While we can never be positive before the kids are born, we can make educated guesses on the possibilities based on what we know about the phenotype (physical appearance) and genotype (genetic makeup) of our goats. For example, we can be certain that two black goats bred together will only produce black or chocolate kids. For that reason I will touch on the genetics at play behind these colors and patterns as well, though I go further in depth on the subject matter in my ebook.
One of the reasons for the beautiful array of colors and patterns found in Nigerians — many of which are unheard of in several other standard breeds of dairy goats — is due to the early influence of several different breeds during the early developmental years of Nigerians in North America. As the breed was developed into the miniature dairy goat it is today, genes from other goat breeds — especially dairy breeds — were introduced. More on the history of Nigerian Dwarf goats can be viewed at this website.
One last note — always remember that flashy colors and blue eyes are fun to have, they don’t put milk in the bucket, win ribbons in a show ring, or cause an animal to lead a long and productive life. There are many non-aesthetic traits like production, conformation, mothering ability, parasite resistance, etc that are much more important factors when choosing your breeding animals. However, color can definitely be a fun side effect of having Nigerians!
Color Descriptions on Registrations
The below colors and patterns offer a basis for describing the color of your goats on registration paperwork. However, I recommend not going overboard and over-complicating registrations. Things such as a white poll or frosted ears don’t necessarily need to be described unless you just want to; I usually leave them out unless they’re unusually prominent (such as prominent frosting on an otherwise solid goat). I much prefer keeping registration paperwork simple and straightforward. I’ve described under each example picture how I would describe the color of the goat for registration. Typically I hit the major points of description and leave out minutia.
Nigerians come in several basic colors, all of which can also vary in shade within the color. All of these colors can be modified by various patterns and coat modifiers as well.
This kid is an example of a solid black goat with a white poll and frosting on the ears. Black is a recessive gene, meaning that both parents must carry and pass on the gene in order for the kid to be black. A goat must have two copies of the gene — one from each parent — in order it to be black. A goat of another color can carry a black gene and pass it on to offspring. A great way to know if one of your goats is hiding a certain pattern is to breed it to a solid black goat. If you get a solid black kid, you know that the parent has a recessive black gene and not a hidden pattern. I would register this goat as black with a white poll and frosted ears.
This is an example of solid chocolate. Chocolate is a modification on black caused by the B (brown) locus. This modifier causes all of the areas of a goat that would normally be black to instead be brown. Chocolate brown is not to be confused with shades of tan or reddish brown, which are a different gene. Black and chocolate colors are created by eumelanin. Chocolate goats genetically carry two copies of the recessive black gene along with the chocolate modifier. I would register this goat as solid chocolate.
This is an example of a reddish-brown color, being modified by the chamoise pattern. Tan or brown colors are caused by phaeomelanin. These can range in shade from light tan to dark reddish brown. These shades of brown are often found in other patterns such as buckskin and chamoise. These colors should not be confused with gold, chocolate, or red. I would register this goat as dark, red, or mahogany chamoise.
This is an example of light gold. Gold can come in several shades from very light cream to a dark red gold. The gold color, which is also produced by phaeomelanin, is a dominant gene, meaning that only one copy of the gene is needed for the goat to appear gold. If the gold gene is present in the goat’s genotype (genetic makeup) it will also be present in the phenotype (appearance); the exception would be in a goat with extreme spotting which causes the color to be hidden (see below). A single gold parent can produce gold offspring, whereas two parents who are not gold cannot have gold offspring. An interesting note on gold is that it is dominant over all other colors and patterns. If a goat possesses the gold gene, it will appear gold even if another dominant pattern gene (buckskin, chamoise, etc) is present genetically. The gold “overwrites” the other colors. A gold goat can be a carrier for any other color or pattern, and the best way to discover that hidden gene is to either look at the parentage of the goat (a gold goat with one black parent must carry recessive black as its second color gene) or to breed the goat to a black goat and look at the offspring. I would register this goat as gold with minimal white (he has a small white spot on his opposite side).
This is an example of solid red, sometimes refereed to as “red gold.” Red is most often genetically a shade of gold, as is the case in this goat. Genetically she is gold although she appears red. However, there is a rare recessive form of red that can suddenly pop up from the black gene, and it has been connected to the historical buck Gay-Mor’s RA Kingwood ++*S. It’s not fully understood and very uncommon, but it is thought that recessive red is caused by a modifier that makes black areas red (similarly to the B gene in chocolate brown goats). True recessive red is usually much darker than red gold, similar to a sorrel horse. If your red goat has a gold parent, it is most likely red gold. If it does not have gold parents, it is either the recessive red or the sire is different than you thought. I would register this goat as red gold with blue eyes.
There are two ways in which a goat can be solid white. One is when a goat is genetically white, which is actually an extremely light cream color. The second is when a goat has such extensive white spotting (see below) that the actual color of the coat is masked by the white markings. This solid white LaMancha is actually a very light cream when the hair is viewed closely.
Patterns and modifiers are dominant gene traits, meaning that a goat only needs one copy of the gene to express it physically. This means that if a goat is not displaying one of these patterns, it also cannot pass it on to offspring. This also means that one parent with the trait can pass it on to offspring and it be visibly expressed regardless of the genetics traits of the other parent. This is the opposite of recessive genes, which require each parent to pass on a copy of the gene in order for it be physically visible in the offspring.
For example, two solid black (recessive) goats bred together will only produce solid black or chocolate (with the exception of a rare recessive red). However, a solid black goat bred to a buckskin (dominant) and white goat may have buckskin and white kids. If a solid black goat and a buckskin goat have a black kid, that means that the buckskin goat also carries a single copy of the black gene.
These patterns can all come in different shades and variations. For example, any pattern that is normally black can also be chocolate.
The buckskin pattern is characterized by a black, chocolate, or red cape over the head, neck, and shoulders as well as the same color on the top of the tail and on stripes down the cannon bones on the legs. This pattern also has lighter facial stripes imposed on the darker cape color (which sometimes disappear if the cape extends and “takes over”). Unlike chamoise legs, which are solid black or chocolate, the legs of buckskin have lighter stripes over the darker color. The body color of the goat varies from light buckskin (cream or almost white) to standard buckskin (tan — most often just referred to as buckskin) to dark/mahogany (a dark bay or mahogany color). In some adult animals, especially bucks, the cape may extend from the shoulders all the way down the body. Genetically the goat is a buckskin, but it may look like a black and tan goat due to the extension of the cape. These kids are born obviously buckskin and the cape extends with age — sometimes extending fully before the goat is even six months of age, sometimes extending later in life. Chocolate buckskin bucks will extend to the point that they look completely solid chocolate in some instances.
Buckskin is one of the most variable patterns and also one of the most common. From top to bottom, left to right, I would register these goats as: broken buckskin or buckskin with random white; dark or mahogany buckskin with minimal white, or with small white belt to be more specific; light chocolate buckskin; dark or mahogany buckskin with roaning and minimal white, or small white belt; light or cream buckskin; broken buckskin or buckskin with random white.
Chamoise/Chamoisee (pronounced “shammy” or “sham-wha-zay” depending on who you ask) goats have a tan or brown body with a black or chocolate dorsal stripe, underbelly, facial stripe, and legs. The legs are solid black or chocolate with no lighter striping. The body color can range from a very light tan or brown to a dark reddish shade like the last goat pictured. Chamoise is used for male goats, chamoisee is used for female goats. Left to right and top to bottom, I would register these goats as chocolate chamoise (although it looks almost black in the picture, his darker areas were dark chocolate); dark, red, or mahogany chamoise; and broken chamoisee or chamoisee with random white (or you could add random white and small white belt to be more specific, though I would not personally just to keep things simple).
Cou Clair/Cou Blanc
Cou clair and cou blanc are the same pattern with different base colors — clair refers to a base color of tan or brown (pictured), whereas blanc refers to a base color of white or very light cream. The literal meaning of the term cou clair is “clear neck” and cou blanc is “white neck.” The cou patterns consist of black or chocolate hindquarters with white/cream or tan forequarters and black or chocolate facial stripes. It is almost a reversal of the buckskin pattern. Like other patterns, the black portion of the pattern can also be chocolate and the shades of the forequarters can vary from white (blanc) to cream, light brown, or tan (clair).
Cou Noir is less common and means “black neck.” A cou noir goat has black or chocolate forequarters with white hindquarters. I have not been able to find an example of a true cou noir in Nigerians, though there are Nigerians with a black and white spotted pattern that closely resembles cou noir. It’s unknown if cou noir actually exists at all in Nigerians as a true pattern as it does in other breeds (mainly Alpine). This goat would be registered simply as cou clair.
Swiss marked goats have a black, or sometimes chocolate, body color with white, cream, or tan legs and facial stripes that extend from white, cream, or tan ears down to include a white, cream, or tan muzzle. On the back legs, the white, cream, or tan will extend up the back of the body to the tail where it will form two triangular patches on the goat’s rump, pointing in from either side of the tail. The muzzle will be white, cream, or tan as well. The underbelly of the swiss marked pattern is not light — it is the same color as the body.
Sundgau appears similar to swiss markings, with a few key differences. A sundgau goat has a black or chocolate body with a lighter tan or cream underbelly and legs. The underbelly color may extend up to the neck as well. The face will have tan or cream stripes and the legs will have black or chocolate stripes.
The sundgau pattern does not have lighter triangular patches, ears, or muzzle like the swiss. The swiss pattern does not have the lighter underbelly of the sundgau.
Goats can also display combination patterns, where the goat has two separate patterns (such as buckskin and chamoisee) at the same time. These are less common but not impossible. They may be more common than we realize as well, because it can sometimes be difficult to determine when a goat has two patterns.
The doe in the picture above is an example of the chamoisee and buckskin patterns mixing. The areas that would normally be black due to the buckskin pattern are instead overwritten by the chamoisee pattern and vice versa. Where the cape from buckskin would normally be, the chamoisee has replaced it with brown. On the underbelly, facial stripes, and legs where chamoisee would normally cause solid black coloring, the buckskin has modified the pattern and cause a light underbelly, light facial stripes, and light strips on the legs. The light stripes on the legs and the light underbelly on a goat that otherwise appears to be a chamoisee are dead giveaways that buckskin is lurking there as well. This goat would be correctly registered as a chamoisee buckskin.
Spotting is a gene that causes white markings superimposed on the body of the goat. This can range from a single small white spot to such a vast expanse of white that the actual color and pattern of the goat is obscured. White spotting is not an actual color but rather an absence of color — this gene causes areas of the goat that would otherwise be colored by phaeomelanin or eumelanin to not deposit color. This causes those areas to be white. Spotting acts as a modifier to the existing color genes, not a replacement — it is similar to throwing white paint on the goat. A goat may appear completely white, but a goat who is genetically a color or pattern is still that color or pattern even if it has been “painted over.” The white simply masks the color that is there but does not remove it. The above goat would be registered as broke buckskin or buckskin and white.
On registration papers there are many terms with which you may refer to spotting such as “minimal white,” “random white,” “broken [pattern/color],” “[color/patter] pinto,” “[color] and white,” or “abundant/extensive white” depending on how much white is present. It can also be described using the terms below if it follows a particular pattern such as a “white belt/belted” or “schwartzal.” You can as specific as you want to be or you can keep it simple. I personally tend to keep it simple and not include details such as a white poll or frosting in most cases. Goats that are solid colors or patterns with no white on their bodies except frosting or a white poll are not considered spotted and would not be described using any terms other than “frosted [ears, mouth]” or “white poll.”
Minimal White refers to a goat with very little white on its body.
Broken [Color/Pattern] and Random White can be used interchangeably to refer to random patches of white not covering more than about 30% of the goat. (This is not an exact science, just a guesstimate.)
[Color/Pattern] and White or [Color/Pattern] Pinto can be used interchangeably to refer to white that covers up to about 50% of the goat. (Again, not exact science.) Personally I don’t prefer the term pinto and don’t see it used much, but some people do use it.
Abundant White refers to a goat with so much white that it is covering greater than 50% of its body, sometimes so much as to nearly or completely obscure the pattern beneath.
You will sometimes see goats registered incorrectly as “tri-color.” These are usually buckskins with white spotting.
Spotting is quite random, but can follow a few common patterns. Certain types of white spotting are thought to be recessive genes, but most are thought to be dominant. Here are a few of the most common types of spotting:
Belted refers to a goat that has a white belt around the midsection of the body. This may be a full belt extending all the way around or a partial belt. Thought to be dominant. The doe above could be registered as black with a white belt or simply black and white.
Schwartzal is a pattern of spotting that causes a colored head and extremities with a mostly white body. It is thought to possibly be dominant and it may be an extreme variation of the belting gene.
Random white spotting involves patches of white in no particular location such as the kid above, who could be registered as broken buckskin or buckskin with random white.
Flowery white causes small white spots throughout colored areas (not to be confused with roan, see below). Also thought to be dominant.
Ticking is the opposite of flowery and causes small spots of color to be freckled throughout white areas. Thought to be dominant. The goat above would be registered as gold and white with moonspots, but the white patch also has ticking. Usually the minutia like ticking or flowery are not described on registration.
Dalmatian causes the goat to have a mostly colored head, extremities, and dorsal stripe with a white body with ticking spots of color. Thought to be recessive, but may be dominant in some variations.
Roaning refers to white hairs being intermingled with colored hairs. Roaning, unlike flowery spotting, consists of individual whites hairs mixing with individual colored hairs, not clumps of white hairs causing spots. Roan can result in the appearance of black areas being various shades of gray, or brown or red areas appearing to be strawberry blond. It may cover just a portion of the coat or the whole goat. Roaning is thought to be dominant. The doe above has roaning in addition to a frosted muzzle, ears, and eyes and a white poll, though I would not list all of those things on registration.
Moonspots are colored spots — usually, but not always, rounded — that are interposed on top of another color. A moonspot is not a spot of color interposed on top of white nor is it a white spot interposed on a color. A moonspot is always a colored spot occurring on top of another color on the body. Moonspots can range from a tiny speck not even visible to a huge spot or plethora of spots. Moonspots are caused by a dominant gene, therefore at least one parent must be moonspotted in order for the offspring to be moonspotted. However, because a moonspot can be minuscule, it may appear that a non-moonspotted goat has thrown a moonspotted kid.
The only instance in which a moonspot will appear in white is if the spot is appearing on top of the base color that is poking through the white. Moonspots are also not black, though they may be very dark brown. For some reason, some confusion seems to still exist around moonspots. If the moonspot is a color that is not present in the goat’s base color or pattern and is imposed on top of another color, it’s a moonspot. If it’s the same color as the base pattern or color (such as black on a buckskin, or tan on a buckskin mingling into the edges of black), neither parent has moonspots, or it is a pattern color appearing in white, it is not a moonspot.
Frosting and White Poll
Frosting refers to white ticking around the ears, tail, muzzle, or eyes. It may occur in all of those locations at once, one or two locations, or in none of them. Frosting may consist of just a few flecks of white or it may be so heavy as to make the goat’s entire muzzle, ears, tail, or area around the eyes appear solid white.
A white poll is simply a white star on the top of the head. It can range from a single small spot to a large circular area. It can be accompanied by frosting (and often is) or it can be present alone.
These can be present in goats with otherwise completely solid coats as well as in goats with white spotting. A solid colored goat with frosting or a white poll is still considered to be a solid color, not spotted. Frosting and white polls are both dominant genes.
Nigerian Dwarfs (and miniature dairy breeds) can have two different eye colors: blue or brown. This makes them unique among dairy goats, because blue eyes are not found in any other purebred standard dairy breed. This makes the trait very popular among pet owners. True blue eyes in Nigerians are a vibrant sky blue. Some brown eyed kids may be born with a duller shade of milky blue, but this will darken to brown with age. Though rare, it is possible for some goats to have one brown eye and one blue eye — usually they will have a matching set.
Blue eyes are caused a dominant gene, therefore no two brown eyed goats bred together can produce blue eyed offspring. Like all dominant genes, at least one parent must have blue eyes in order for the kids to have blue eyes.
If you’d like to see further examples of these colors, check out my ebook Nigerian Dwarf Colors: Colors, Patterns, and the Genetics Behind Them.
You might also enjoy these color charts that feature more pictures of the same patterns explained here:
TMGR Color Chart – There are some discrepancies on this one, namely that “black and tan” should be sundgau and “sundgau” should be swiss marked, but it’s still a nice chart nonetheless. Ironically the goat listed as chamoise is actually a combination patter, though TMGR’s online registry doesn’t allow dual pattern descriptions. The two-toned chamoise is also likely a combination of chamoise and cou clair, though two tone is correct verbiage to recognize this combo based on the wording used by Alpine registries.
Alpine Colors – Since Nigerians can come in various ‘swiss breed patterns,’ I though I would include this chart as well. Some of the verbiage is different than what is typically used in Nigerians.