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Nigerian Dwarf Coat Color Genetics


Camera looking down on seven goats, all of various colors and ages

One of the characteristics that often attracts people to Nigerian Dwarf goats are the great variety of coat colors they exhibit. It can feel like Nigerian Dwarf parents can produce babies of any coat color and pattern. The genetics behind these seemingly random patterns are fascinating and offer the ability to know what color options there are for the babies of a certain breeding pair.


Genetics in General

Talking about genetics can often feel frightening and way to science-y but luckily a discussion on goat color genetics only involves the basic principles of genetics. Goats, like humans, have two sets of chromosomes (where the genes are carried), one from their biological mother and one from their biological father. So, they have two copies of each gene, one that comes from the egg and one that comes from the sperm. Different versions of a gene are called alleles. For example, a flower could have three different color options, purple, red, and orange. Those color options are the different alleles that the petal color gene can be.

For the purposes of our discussion, alleles can either be recessive or dominant. It is a common thought that the dominant traits are the most common ones, but this is not necessarily true. The only thing that defines a dominant trait is that only one parent has to carry the dominant allele for the offspring to exhibit that trait. A recessive trait on the other hand requires that the offspring receive one copy of the allele from each parent in order to exhibit that trait. If a goat has one dominant allele and one recessive allele, it will exhibit the dominant trait and the recessive trait will be for all intensive purposes hidden. If a goat has two alleles that are equally dominant to each other, the goat will exhibit a mixture of those two patterns/colors.

Two other important terms are genotype and phenotype. The genotype is which alleles of a gene a goat has in their DNA, whereas a phenotype is what they actually look like.


Key Takeaways

  • An individual goat has two copies of the color gene, one from their sire and one from their dam

  • Even though an individual goat only has two copies of the color gene, there are many different versions (or alleles) of what each copy can be

  • A dominant trait requires only one parent to pass on the dominant allele for the baby to have that trait

  • A recessive trait requires both parents to pass on the recessive allele for the baby to have that trait.

  • Dominant traits "hide," recessive ones.

  • Equally dominant traits both show up in the coat pattern of the goat.



Coat Color Alleles (Versions of the coat color genes)

The following main coat color alleles are different versions of the gene that is referred to as the Agouti Locus.


Black

The only recessive allele in goats is the black allele. That means that for a goat to be born solid black (with the exception of any white markings, see below), they must have two copies of the black allele, one from each parent. In other words, both copies of their color gene must code for black. The black allele is hidden by every other coat pattern, so a goat with a different coat pattern could potentially carry the black allele and pass it on to their offspring without being solid black themselves.


A black baby goat standing beside a log

This little buckling is an example of the solid black coat color. As mentioned previously, white markings don't count towards the base color genetics of Nigerian Dwarfs.



Gold

The coat name gold is somewhat of a misnomer because goats that carry the gold allele have enormous variation in the actual shade of gold. Genetically gold goats can be so cream they are almost white, all the way to a dark ginger sort of color. The gold allele is the most dominant allele. If a goat has one gold allele and one allele of any other type, the animal will exhibit a gold coat color. Having a gold allele therefore hides the effect of the other allele. Gold goats can pass on either allele to their offspring, but since that gold allele will always mask the other allele, it can be hard to determine what hidden allele they carry until they have a baby that expresses the trait of that hidden allele.


A cream colored mama goat standing in a field of grass with two golden colored babies beside her

This is our goat Meadow and her babies. All three of them are genetically gold, but as you can see, the little buckling on the left is a much darker shade than his mama and sister.



Buckskin Pattern

The buckskin pattern is defined by a black cape, neck, and face, with tan stripes on the face, black stripes on the legs, and two black patches on the side of the goat's back legs. Some buckskins also have a black dorsal stripe running along their back. The rest of the body is tan, but this tan comes in a great variety of shades. The buckskin pattern is dominant over black, recessive to gold, and equally dominant to all the other patterns I am going to discuss. This means that if a goat has the buckskin allele and a black allele, the goat will have the buckskin pattern. If the goat has a gold allele and a buskskin allele they will look gold, and if the goat has a buckskin allele and the allele for another pattern, they will look like a combination of both patterns.


A brown, black, and white baby goat standing on a wooden table

This doeling is an excellent example of the buckskin pattern. The tan color on her body is a darker brown color, but some goats have a more reddish tan, some a much lighter tan, and everything in between.



Chamoisee

The chamoisee pattern is defined by a black dorsal stripe, black facial stripes, and a black underbelly and legs. The rest of the body is tan, and similar to the buckskin pattern, the tan can be one of many different shades. The chamoisee pattern follows the same genetic rules as the buckskin pattern. It is recessive to gold, dominant to black, and equally dominant to the other patterns.



A brown, black, and white baby goat standing in a pasture

This is the first buck to join our herd, Thorin, when he was a baby. He is a classic example of a chamoisee.



Swiss Marked Pattern

The swiss marked pattern is defined by an overall black body with cream colored legs, facial stripes, and rump patch. This pattern follows the same genetic rules as the buckskin and chamoisee, being dominant to black, recessive to gold, and equally dominant to the other patterns.


I do not own any swiss marked goats and in an effort to avoid using pictures I do not have permission to use, I will not be including an image of the swiss marked pattern.


Cou Clair Pattern

The cou clair pattern is defined by a black cape starting at the middle of the goat and going backwards, black legs, and black facial stripes. It is very much like the opposite of the buckskin pattern. It also follows the same genetic rules as the other two patterns.


I also do not own any cou clair goats, so same as the swiss marked pattern, I will not be including an image of the cou clair pattern.


Combination Patterns

Combination patterns are the phenotype that occurs when a goat carries alleles for two different patterns. This can look many different ways depending on which two patterns the goat carries alleles for. The alleles also don't always show up in the same way for every goat. Most commonly, the light areas of one pattern will cancel out the dark areas of the other, which often results in goats with less visible patterning than either of the patterns they carry would have.


Below are images of two goats who have the same alleles. They carry both the buckskin allele and the chamoise allele, resulting in a coloring that doesn't look entirely like either pattern.


Both of these goats have a black dorsal stripe and black facial stripes from their chamoisee allele, and black leg stripes from their buckskin allele. The black cape characteristic of the buckskin pattern is absent in both of them, as is the solid black legs and black underbelly from the chamoisee pattern. Despite having the same alleles genetically, these two goats still look really different due to the different shades of brown they are


Other Factors of Coat Color


Chocolate Modifier

The chocolate modifier is caused by a different gene than the Agouti Locus, called the Brown Locus. There are only two alleles that are possible at this locus, the one that codes for chocolate and the one that doesn't code for chocolate. Chocolate is the dominant allele, so a goat only needs one copy of the chocolate allele to be chocolate colored. Having the chocolate allele will modify any of the above patterns. When the chocolate allele is present, any of the areas of the goat that would otherwise be black, become chocolate. So if a goat has two copies of the solid black gene at the Agouti Locus and would otherwise be black, they become chocolate when they have the chocolate modifier. Or, if a goat has the genetic makeup to be a buckskin, and they have the chocolate modifier, then they will have a chocolate cape, neck, face, and leg stripes rather than black.



This is an image of our goat Lyra, who has two copies of the black allele at her Agouti Locus, but also has the chocolate modifier, so she appear completely chocolate besides her white spotting.



This is an image of Lyra and her buckling Leo, who she passed down her chocolate modifier to. Leo however, is also a chamoisee, so the areas of him that would ordinarily be black, are instead chocolate.


White Spotting

White spotting is caused by a lack of pigmentation in the skin and hair where it occurs. This results in white hairs growing out of pink skin. There isn't much known about how white spotting is inherited, but it is believed that most white patterning is dominant. White spotting can be thought of as "covering up" whatever hair color would ordinarily be there. It is not physically covering it up, but rather genetically covering it up. The level of white can range from tiny amounts, to almost completely covering up the goat, which can make it challenging to decipher which pattern the goat is.



This baby goat is almost completely white besides his legs and a couple of spots on his back, making it hard to tell what coat pattern he has at his Agouti Locus.


Moonspots

Moonspots are circular patches of tan and brown that appear on the goat on top of whatever regular pattern they have. Moonspots are super common in Nubian goats, but can also be seen in Nigerian Dwarfs. Moonspots are dominant similar to the chocolate modifier, and can appear in any size and amount. They will never be truly white or truly black, but can range anywhere between those two. I do not have any moonspotted goats so I will not be providing an image of what that looks like.


Punnett Squares

I absolutely love punnettt squares! I think they are such a fun tool for predicting what color babies you might get from a given pairing, or for figuring out what the possible alleles are that a goat carries based off of their parents.


You place the genotype of one parent at the top and the genotype of the other along the side. Then you can fill in the middle squares with the various combinations of alleles from the parents. Each of the four squares in the middle represent one of the options for what the offspring of that pairing could be. Below is an example of a punnet square.



In the above punnet square, I am using the capital letter B to represent the buckskin allele and the lowercase letter b to represent the black allele. The open squares on the top represent the alleles the sire has at the agouti locus, and the open squares on the left represent the alleles the dam has at the agouti locus. The closed squares in the center represent the different combinations of alleles their offspring could potentially have. In this example, both the sire and the dam would be phenotypically buckskin, since they each have a dominant buckskin allele and a recessive black allele. Offspring from this pairing could have any one of three different genotypes, as seen in the closed squares. They could be Bb, BB, or bb. If we were to express this in terms of percentages we would say there is a 2/4, or 50% chance of a baby being Bb, a 1/4 or 25% chance of a baby being BB, and a 1/4 or 25% chance of a baby being bb. The genotypes BB and Bb would both produce a phenotypically buckskin goat. Two copies of the buckskin allele would produce a buckskin and one copy of the buckskin allele with the recessive black allele would produce a buckskin as well. Therefore in terms of phenotype, there is a 3/4 or 75% chance of a buckskin baby. The bb genotype in this example would produce the black phenotype, meaning there is a 1/4 or 25% chance of a black baby.


I'm going to walk you through an example of how I figured out the genetics of some of our goats. Our goat Coconut is light gold. Her dam, Kisses, is a buckskin, and her sire, Frank, is a red gold. The only genotypes that would produce the buckskin pattern in her dam would be having two copies of the buckskin allele (BB), or having one copy of the buckskin allele and one copy of the black allele (Bb). Since Kisses had produced black babies before, I knew that she had to carry the black allele, since a goat can't have the black phenotype without two black alleles, one from each parent. This meant that Kisses' genotype was Bb. Frank was a red gold, so I knew that he had the dominant gold allele, which we are going to represent with a capital letter G. Since, he had also produced babies with a black phenotype, I knew that his other allele must be the recessive black allele. The punnett square for Coconut's parents would therefore look like this:




Since Coconut is gold, I knew she had to carry the dominant gold allele, or she wouldn't be phenotypically gold. Looking at this punnett square, the two possibilities given Coconut's parentage were that she either had the genotype Gb or GB. There was no way for me to know which one it was until she had her own offspring. When she did have her own offspring, she bred to a buck with a chamoisee allele and a black allele, which we are going to represent as Cb. One of their babies was a buckskin, and since I knew the buck didn't carry a buckskin allele, that meant Coconut must carry the buckskin allele, hidden by the dominant gold allele, making her genotype GB.


Punnett squares are a super fun tool for predicting offspring outcomes and figuring out the likelihood of different phenotypes appearing in the offspring of a certain pairing. I love doing them for each of our breeding pairs. Below is an example of one of our pairings for this year.



Marigold has two equal dominance alleles, making her phenotype a combination of the buckskin and chamoisee patterns. Payday is a chamoisee who carries the recessive black allele. Each of their babies will have one of the four above genotypes. That means there is a 1/4 or 25% chance for each of the genotypes to show up in a baby. However, because both CC and Cb would produce the chamoisee phenotype, the percentages for phenotypes would be different. There is a 2/4 or 50% chance of a baby being chamoisee, a 1/4 or 25% chance the baby will be a combination buckskin chamoisee pattern like Marigold, and a 1/4 or 25% chance the baby will be a buckskin.


Punnett squares can also be used for the other factors of coat color outside of the agouti locus. As long as you know what alleles both parents carry, you can fill in the inside squares to find out the genotype options and subsequently the phenotype options that offspring can be. It is also possible to work backwards as I did in my Coconut example above, to figure out which hidden allele a parent carries by looking at their offspring.


Conclusion

I find the genetics of color in Nigerian Dwarf goats to be absolutely fascinating, and I hope you all have found this post informative and interesting. If you are ever buying goats from us and are interested in learning about the color genotype or phenotype of the goats you are buying or other goats in our herd, please ask! And if you are looking for some help identifying the coat phenotype or genotype of your goats, you are welcome to email me at lavenderhillsgoats@gmail.com. I would be happy to help you in your coat color detective work! I can't guarantee I will have all the answers, but I will do my best! 😉


Additional Resources

In this blog post, I chose to cover the most common patterns and coloration in Nigerian Dwarf goats, but there are a few others I skipped over. If you are interested in learning about some other options for these widely colorful goats, or are just wanting to learn more about Nigerian Dwarf genetics from another source, I provided two resources below that I really love.


A fabulous website with lots of pictures and wonderful information.


Nigerian Dwarf Colors: Colors, Patterns, and the Genetics Behind Them by Rachel Payne

A wonderful book with a comprehensive look at the genetics of Nigerian Dwarfs an an excellent discussion on using punnett squares. Here is a link to purchase the e-book: https://www.amazon.com/Nigerian-Dwarf-Colors-Patterns-Genetics-ebook/dp/B07C1D7W5P

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