All About Goats

The goat originated from the animal family Bovidae and the subfamily Caprinae. Known simply as goat or domestic goat (Capra aegagrus hircus), this animal is a subspecies of C. aegagrus which domesticated from the wild goat of Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. Goats are considered to be closely related to sheep. There are more than 300 identified breeds of goat. Goats are one of the oldest domesticated animal species, and they have been used for skins, fur, meat, and milk across the world. The milk from goats is often turned into goat cheese. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, there were more than 924 million goats in the world as of 2011.

In the farming community, goats are considered to be a significant contributor, alongside cows and chickens.

Intact males are referred to as billies or bucks, female goats are called nannies or does and juvenile goats (both male and female) are called kids. Castrated male goats are called wethers.

While the words hircine and caprine both refer to anything having a goat-like quality, hircine is used most often to emphasize the distinct smell of domestic goats.

In the farming community, goats are considered to be a significant contributor, alongside cows and chickens.

Goats belong to the group of earliest animals to have been domesticated by humans. In the latest genetic analysis, there is archaeological evidence that the original ancestor of all domestic goats existing today is the wild bezoar ibex of the Zagros Mountains.

The earliest evidence of the existence of domesticated goats dates back to 10,000 years before the present, found in Ganj Dareh in Iran. Meanwhile, the domestication of goats in Western Asia is dated between 8,000 to 9,000 years ago with goat remains found in archaeological sites in Djeitun, Jericho, Choga Mami, and Çayönü.

Farmers in the neolithic period began to herd wild goats primarily for easy access to meat and milk. The goat’s hair, bones, and sinew were used for building tools and clothing. During those times, the goat’s dung was used as fuel.

The goat’s hide was also used for wine and water bottles for transporting wine for sale or traveling. The hide of the goat is also known for its significant role in producing parchment.

As mentioned earlier, there are numerous goat species and each recognized breed belongs to specific weight ranges that vary from 20kg to over 140kg. There are different bloodlines or strains found in goats of different sizes. The African Pygmy is found at the bottom of the size range of the miniature breeds. Hircine and caprine are both used to refer to anything having a goat-like quality. However, hircine is most often used to emphasize the distinct smell of domestic goats.

Farmyards and parks are usually the sanctuaries of African Pygmy goats. Because of the cuteness of the African Pygmy goats, they are usually popular with kids and generally people of all ages; some even have miniature goats as family pets. Unlike other pet goats, this breed doesn’t scratch, bite or kick. Some farm-themed community tours and field trips usually feature African Pygmy goats or miniature goats.

Goats are known for their horns which come in various shapes and sizes, depending on the breed. While most goats are born with 2 horns, there have been noted incidents of polycerate goats (having as many as eight horns). However, polycerate goats are considered to be a genetic rarity, but can definitely be inherited. The horns of the goats are made up of living bone wrapped in keratin and other proteins. These are used mainly for territoriality, defense, and dominance.

Goats are known for their horizontal, slit-shaped pupils. The irises of the goats are usually pale, making their contrasting pupils much more noticeable compared to sheep, cattle, deer and most horses, who also share the same similar horizontal pupils with a sclera and a dark iris.

Many types of goats, such as pygmy goats, dairy goats, and dairy-cross Boers, may have wattles dangling from each side of their neck. Typically, both female and make have beards.

Goats belong to the animal species that have a four-chambered stomach consisting of the abomasum, rumen, omasum, and reticulum. In short, goats are considered to be mammal ruminants which also gives them the characteristics of being even-toed ungulates.

Unlike female cattle, which have four teats, female goats have an udder with two teats. However, there is an exception with this characteristic in the form of the Boer goat, which may sometimes have up to eight teats. On rare occasions, male goats can also go into lactation.

Most goats have coats that are completely pigmented with phaeomelanin, a brown/tan pigment. The allele responsible for this pattern is found at the agouti locus of the goat genome. This allele is completely dominant to all other alleles at the said locus. Additionally, there are also multiple modifier genes that control how much tan pigment is expressed. Therefore, the color of tan-patterned goats can vary from deep red to pure white.

The reproduction of the goat species depends on the breed and nutritional status. Goats hit puberty anytime between three and 15 months of age but most breeders postpone breeding until the doe has reached about 70% of the expected adult weight.

Among the Swiss breeds and in temperate climates, the breeding season of goats starts as the day length shortens and ends before or early in spring. However, in equatorial places, goats can breed any time of the year. Successful goat breeding depends more on available forage rather than on day length.

Does from any region or of any breed are in estrus (heat) every 21 days for two to 28 hours. Does in heat usually wags their tail often, becomes more vocal, stays near the buck if one is present, may show a decrease in milk production and exhibits low appetite for the duration of the estrus. Aside from traditional, natural goat mating, artificial insemination has been gaining popularity among goat breeders mainly because it allows easy access to a wide variety of bloodlines.

The gestation length of goats runs for approximately 150 days. The usual offsprings of goats are twins, but single and triple births are also common. There are also instances of quadruplets, quintuplets and sextuplets but not as common as twins.

The birthing of a doe, also referred to as kidding, typically occurs uneventfully. Just before birthing takes place, the does will have a sunken area around her hip and tail and will exhibit heavy breathing. The doe will also have a worried look and may become restless as she displays an increased affection for her keeper.

After birth, the mother often eats the placenta which will give her the much-needed nutrients and help stop her bleeding. This placenta-eating phenomenon parallels the behavior of wild herbivores to decrease the lure of the birth scent from predators.

The process of goat milk production, known as freshening, occurs at the kidding phase. Goat milk production varies depending on the diet of the doe, the breed, quality and age. Dairy goats can usually produce between 1,500 to 4,000 lbs of milk for a 305-day lactation.

A good quality dairy goat can produce at least 6 lbs of milk per day while she is at her lactating peak. A first-time dairy goat can produce more or less milk of up to 7 lbs. After the lactation stage, the female goat is expected to dry off. However, goats that have not been bred but are continuously milked can continue lactation beyond the usual 305 days.
Fiber, meat and pet breeds are usually not milked so they can produce enough kids until weaning.

Goats are known to be willing to eat almost anything, including cardboard boxes and tin cans. However, goats will not actually swallow inedible materials, they are just simply browsing animals, who will chew on and taste just about anything resembling plant matter. The distinct, unusual smell of leftover food also stimulates the curiosity of goats.

While goats are considered to be curious animals, they are quite picky and particular with what they actually eat, preferring to browse on occasional broad-leaved plants and tips of woody shrubs and trees. The plant diet of goats is extremely varied and may include species which are known to be toxic. Goats are also wise enough not to consume contaminated water or soiled food, unless they are on the brink of starvation. This is the reason why goat-rearing is usually free-ranging, because maintaining a stall-fed goat can lead to extensive upkeep and is not usually commercially viable.

Unlike the popular notion that goats like to eat grasses, goats actually like to browse through vines, weeds, shrubbery, and kudzu. Goats are sensitive to Listeria bacteria, known to thrive in fermented feeds. The high protein alfalfa plant is widely fed as hay, while fescue is known to be the least nutritious and palatable hay. Mold found in a goat’s feed can make it sick and end up killing it, so goat rearers must be very careful in what they feed their goats.

In many places in China, goats play a big role in the tea production industry. The goats are released in the tea terraces where they eat the weeds instead of the bitter green tea leaves. The goat’s droppings also fertilize the tea plants.

The digestive system of a very young goat is quite similar to other young ruminants, which is essentially the same as that of a monogastric animal. The rumen is undeveloped at birth but as the kid continues to eat solids, the rumen gradually increases in size and so does its capacity to absorb nutrients.

As a species, goats are considered to be healthy animals that require little medical care. However, they can still remain susceptible to a number of diseases such as pneumonia, feed toxicity, foot rot, pregnancy toxosis, and internal parasites. Certain foreign fruits and vegetables may also not be friendly to the gut of the goats.

Goats can also be infected with various bacterial and viral diseases, such as pseudorabies, foot-and-mouth disease, mastitis, caprine arthritis encephalitis, pinkeye, and caseous lymphadenitis. Goats can also be considered as a transmitter of zoonotic diseases to people such as rabies, tuberculosis, Q-fever, and brucellosis.

Goats are expected to live between 15 and 18 years but there was already an instance of a goat reaching the age of 24. Factors that can reduce the average expectancy of goats include problems during kidding (for does) and stresses going into the rut of a buck.

Goats are useful to humans while it is still living and even if it’s dead. Goats are a renewable provider of fiber, manure, milk, meat and hide. Because of the goat’s versatile role in farming and agriculture, some charities provide goats to impoverished people in poor countries. This is because goats are cheaper and easier to manage than cattle, while still having multiple uses. Goats can also be used for packing and driving purposes.

Aside from using the hide and skin of the goat when it is dead, the intestine of goats is used to make “catgut”, a material used for strings of musical instruments and for internal human surgical sutures. The horn of a goat is also used to make spoons with its cornucopia.

Husbandry is a term used to refer to animal care and use. Just like any kind of husbandry, goat husbandry varies by culture and region. The specific housing used for goats depend not only on the intended use of the goat but also on the region or location where the goats are raised.

Historically, domestic goats were kept in hers that lazily wandered on hills and grazing areas, tended by children or adolescents, quite similar to the widely known shepherd. This method of herding is still being used today, mostly in rural areas.

In North America, Europe and some other parts of the world, specific breeds of goats are used for meat and dairy milk production. Excess young goats are slaughtered for meat; the meat of older backs can still be slaughtered but it is usually not desirable for human consumption. Goat castration at a young age prevents the development of buck odor.

Dairy goats are pastured in summer and can rest during the winter. Since dairy goats are milked daily, they are usually kept close to the milking shed. Grazing of dairy goats is typically supported with hay and concentrates. Stabled goats are usually kept in stalls or in big group pens.

In the US, does or female goats are re-bred annually. In some European dairy or commercial systems, the does are bred only twice but milked continuously for several years after the second kidding phase. In Asia and much of the Indian subcontinent, goats are mainly kept for milk production, both for household or commercial usage.

In Nigeria, household goats are traditionally kept penned and fed in a “cut and carry” system; a practice of cutting down cane, corn, or grasses rather than allowing the animal to access the field. This type of husbandry is also used in other parts of Latin America.

For those who are wondering if goats can become pets, the answer is yes. Pet goats may be found in numerous parts of the world, and this is mainly because a family keeps one or more animals for emotional reasons rather than for production or livestock needs. Keeping goats as pets is becoming more common especially in Europe and North America. Some families also start keeping goats originally for milk production but the kids end up being too fond or attached to the goat, treating it as their pet or friend.

Some people also choose to have goats as pets because of this animal’s ability to form close attachments with humans. The herd mentality of goats also makes them follow their owners or guardians around.

Goats are responsible for about 2% of the world’s total annual milk supply. Some goats are specifically bred for milk production. A strong-smelling buck should be separated from the does or milking goats or else, the distinct smell of the former will surely affect the milk.

Milk from goats naturally has small, emulsified fat globules, indicating that the cream remains suspended in the milk. Unlike that of raw cow’s milk, goat milk does not need to be homogenized. Hence, if the goat milk needs to be used to make cheese, homogenization is not recommended because it changes the structure of the milk which in turn affects the culture’s ability to coagulate the milk. On average, dairy goats produce up to 6 to 8 lbs of milk daily, 2.8 to 3.8 L during a ten-month lactation period. Goat milk is said to have an average of 3.5% butterfat.

Goat milk is commonly used to process cajeta, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream and other related products. Goat cheese is popularly known as fromage de chèvre in France. Some other popular varieties of goat milk include Rocamadour and Montrachet.

Unlike the usual butters that are yellow in color, goat butter is white because the yellow beta-carotene is converted to a colorless form of Vitamin A in goat’s milk. Health buffs also prefer goat milk than cow’s milk because the former has been proven to have less cholesterol.

Some countries’ militaries use goats to train combat medics. This is because the anatomy and physiology of the goat is not too dissimilar from that of the human anatomy. In fact, in the United States, goats have been the main animal species used purposely after the Pentagon phased out dogs for medical training in the 1980s.

Modern mannequins may be quite efficient in simulating the physique of the human body in medical training, but trainees feel that using a goat in the exercise or training session provides a sense of urgency like that of a real life trauma.

Just like raising any other livestock, having a goat provides a lot of benefits – you get to enjoy their milk, turn it into cheese or yogurt, and breed them to produce more goats. Also known as chevre, goat’s cheese has a tangy flavor and makes a nice queso to share with family and friends. Goat cheese also pairs well with honey on toast.

Goats are also weed eaters so if you have a farm, they can be your ally when it comes to land clearing purposes. Goats also produce fiber and are considered to be a great source of meat. The manure of goats is also considered to be very useful