Goats in general...

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A little about goats

Goats have been around a long time.  Some historians think that goats were domesticated before dogs.  As man moved from place to place he took his goats with him.

Goats can be classified by their original habitat, to some extent.  Goats with short ears and horns that spread away from their bodies are generally from colder climates.  They tend to have longer hair and grow more cashmere (winter hair growth) during the winter.  They tend to have flat foreheads and usually lack the "Roman Noses" of the desert goats, although, I have seen photos of goats in very cold climates that have Roman noses.  Roman noses allow the air breathed in by the goats to be warmed a little in the cold weather and cooled a little in the desert before it goes into their lungs.  The photos at the bottom of this page show the desert goat ( a Nubian) on the left and a cashmere type goat on the right.  Note the difference between the ears and the forehead.  The Nubian has been dehorned because it is from a milk goat herd.

 Goats from desert areas tend to have larger ears and smoother horns that tend to hug closer to their necks.  Also they tend to have more prominant noses.  They usually have shorter hair and usually grow less cashmere during the winter months. 

Goats tend to come from areas that have little available water.  They are usually afraid of water and absolutely will not wade in water (unless you train them out of this fear as young goats).  They are able to go without water for longer than most other animals, excepting camels and giraffes.  Some goats go into a water conservation mode if they fear water is slow in coming.  They will stop urination and recycle the moisture for a period of time.  They have the ability to pant (like a dog) as well as sweat like a horse.  If they are overheated they will pant first and sweat as a last resort to keep their body temperature in control.  Some goats are known to raise their body temperature 5 or 6 degrees during the summer to reduce the amount of sweat or panting required and conserve moisture.

Another trait of goats for water conservation in warm areas is those large pendulant ears.  They have a large number of blood vessels in them and they radiate heat to help keep the animal cooler and reduce the need for panting or sweating.  Likewise, the horns on goats are full of blood vessels and when they have been working, running or fighting they will radiate a large amount of heat through their horns.  The horns can be quite warm to the touch.

Goats are agile and very coordinated.  They have split hooves and their hooves grow rather fast, allowing for softer bottom surfaces that will cling to rocks and other surfaces.  If they are not able to walk and climb they often have hooves that out grow their climate and need to be trimmed.  They are good climbers and will climb objects to access more food and escape predators.  That includes your fence, your trees, your dog house and your new car.

They are very inquisitive and will get into anything, just to see what's there.  Yes, that does include your new car.

What do goats really eat?

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, goats will not eat anything.  They are primarily browsers as opposed to grazers.  They eat more woody type plants than grass.  Weeds and tree leaves are much more desirable to their taste.  They will try out all the items in the pasture or location where they are eating and determine what they like best.  They have "prehensile" lips and can isolate their favorite plants very well.  They will predominately eat what they like best until it is all gone.  Goats consider poison ivy, milkweeds, small brush, green briars and many other plants like that as candy.  They will be eaten to extinction if you have enough goats in the pasture.

Goats digestive tracts and the bacteria that inhabits them are geared to digest more cellulose than most other animals.  While it only takes a few hours for the food to make it all the way through a cow, it takes about 4 days for the food to make it through a goat.  They digest almost all of the seeds that they eat and virtually all of the weed seeds.  One of the few seeds that goats fail to digest is Bermuda grass seeds.  When goats eat (unhulled) Bermuda grass seeds the end result is a hulled Bermuda grass seed in a pellet of fertilizer, ready to make a lawn.

 One drawback to spreading Bermuda grass seed by goat is that most goats just don't like Bermuda grass very much and it will be about the last thing that they will eat.  They will, however, eat all of the flowers and garden plants that you have if they get just the slightest opening.

They do have a quite enviable dining habit.  They get up late, go scarf up all they can in a couple of hours and then find a shade to chew their cuds through the hot part of the day.  They will get up and follow the shade around the tree.  Unlike sheep, they come home to bed each night, normally.

Goat Society (a herd profile)

The "Billy Goat", more properly considered as the alpha male or buck of the herd, is actually not the leader of the herd.  The herd (family) is a lot like my family.  The alpha female is the boss and the buck watches her to see what she wants to do.  Then he jumps in front, if he can, and acts like it was his idea.  The alpha female is usually the oldest female and the goat with the most ofspring in the herd.  All of the breeding in the herd is done by the alpha male.  The other males in the herd are so intimadated by the alpha males to be considered as "social castrates".  When the alpha male dies the other males will fight for alpha spot.

 When the herd is threatened by a predator, the alpha female will lead the herd away and the alpha male will stay to the back of the herd and fight the intruder if possible.  Some researchers feel that the musk and the other smelly and obnoxious things that the "Billy Goat" does is a defensive means to protect the herd.  Some have said that if the predator gets a taste of the buck he will find that he smells so bad and tastes so bad that maybe he won't think the goat herd is worth the trouble.

Of course, when a smelly male goat is introduced to a herd of females they will almost all be in heat in about 11 days.  That makes me think that its not all a defensive weapon.

 The mother goats take turns babysitting the kids while the other mothers are out browsing.  There is also a "social director" in the herd, usually an older female, that keeps up with the whole herd.  If the herd moves she will check the roll and if someone is left behind she will find them and get them with the program.  I've seen a older doe stand where the herd was and scream until the last of the young ones noticed they were being left behind.

What is the story about head butting?

Head butting between goats is just that, something between goats.  Unless trained to do so, goats just don't head butt people.  They usually don't even try to head butt a predator.  They will butt at a predator but I think they know that stabbing him with a horn does so much more damage.

Goats butt heads to determine who is the alpha male, when the old alpha male dies.  They will butt heads to determine the pecking order of the herd as well.  This also pretty much happens in cows, especially in milking herds.  The head butting between goats is most often practice.  If you spend some time watching them you will see that they come together, touch heads together, back off the prescribed number of steps and do their best to make a clean head butt.  If one of the participants gets distracted, there is no "cold cock" hit on the distracted animal.  Instead the other goat will wait until the distracted goat is back into the program.  Then they start the ritual all over again.

Once, outside Fredricksburg, Texas, I observed an antelope buck that apparently trying to take over a herd of goats.  The alpha male and the antelope were using the same tactics and this was a fight in ernest.  I don't know how long they had been at this battle before I stopped to watch but after 10 more minutes or more the antelope decided that he had enough.  He wandered off with his tail hanging low.  Then the goats noticed me standing by the fence and they took off in another direction, with the proud but successful alpha male at the back of the herd.

To be sure that the goats that you own do not learn to butt people, don't let people wrestle them by the horns.  I think that a goat will not consider butting a person unless they have been wrestled by people in play.  When we show goats in the show ring we often handle them by the horns but it is not a play situation and I consider it unlikely that any of animals will intentionally butt someone.

Don't get me wrong, though, you can be injured by a goat's horns.  I've been bloodied in the show ring by a scared young doe goat.  I reached down to calm her, if I could, and she reacted to something.  She jumped up and I got a horn through the lip.  It wasn't an attack, it was a scared baby goat.  Most goat shows require goat horns to be blunted or tipped before the show.

 Some shows require goats to be dehorned.  I don't believe in that torture and that's a soap box that I will not get on at this point.