New to Goats?
“Goat” is the common name for any of a number of species of ruminant, cloven-hoofed, horned animals constituting the genus Capra of the family Bovidae. They are of the sub-order Ruminant because they have a four-part stomach and chew their cud, much like a cow or deer. The female, or ” doe,” usually has smaller horns than the male and is often termed “goat” or “nanny goat.” The young are called kids. The male goat is called a “buck,” or colloquially, “billy goat.”
Goats and sheep together make up the tribe Caprini, from which we get the term caprine. The goat is closely related to the sheep, but differs from it in that the tail is shorter and the hollow horns are long and directed upward, backward, and outward while those of the sheep are spirally twisted. Goats also have beards, unlike sheep, and differ further by the characteristic strong odor bucks (males) give off in the mating season. Goats are far more lively and curious than sheep and make interesting pets.
Goats may have been the first hoofed animals that were ever tamed. In the Biblical town of Jericho, people kept tame goats as long ago as 6,000 or 7,000 years before Christ. In the days of early explorers, sailors kept goats on ships to provide milk and meat on long voyages. Dairy goats were brought to North America to supply early settlers with milk. People still raise goats in many places throughout the United States and the world. Different kinds of goats also live in the wild. The earliest goats were animals of steep hills and mountainsides in Asia. Later, they spread to North Africa and southern Europe. The lands they lived in were either hot and dry or cold and barren, with few plants.
From these wild ancestors, domestic goats have inherited two unusual traits. They are very surefooted. And they will eat almost any plant material. Goats like grass, leaves, twigs and berries. They will eat bitter desert plants and also lichens. They may nibble dry wood, rope and cotton cloth. When climbing, a wild goat can cling to the tiniest ledges of a cliff that is almost vertically straight. Tame goats will often perform barnyard antics like climbing high walls or playing on a barn roof. Goats have a very good sense of balance and enjoy jumping and climbing games with their herd mates.
In the wild state, goats are nomadic and are generally found in mountainous habitats. They are agile animals adept at making long, flying leaps from rock to rock, landing with both front feet close together. Their sure-footedness is due partly to the construction of the hoofs. The shape of the bottom of the hoof is somewhat like a suction-cup. The subunguis (inner layer of material of the hoof) is softer than the unguis (outer layer) and wears away more quickly. Acting as a shock absorber, the subunguis takes the punishment from the pounding that rocky terrain gives the hooves, wears away and keeps the hooves continuously supplied with a hard edge.
Goats are gregarious (have a strong herding instinct), except for the old buck, which tends to live by itself and which serves sometimes as sentinel or scout on the outer edges of a herd. The wild goat feeds on greens in pastures; and in the mountains, on the branches and leaves of shrubbery. Most breed in the fall, generally between October and December; although mini-breeds usually can breed year-round. Gestation period is five months or about 145 days; or in some species, a few weeks longer. Two kids are usually produced at birth. Triplet births are not uncommon. Kids stand within minutes of birth, and are able to move with the herd almost immediately. Among the most important of the wild goats is the bezoar goat, or pasang, C. aegagrus, a brownish-gray goat about 91 cm (about 36 inches) high at the shoulder, found from Asia Minor to northeastern India.
A number of breeds of goat are raised domestically throughout the world. These animals belong to the species C. hircus, and are probably descended from the bezoar goat. Several million are raised in the U.S. The goat is used for meat, as a milk producer, and as a beast of burden. Domestic goats can be trained to pull carts or serve as pack goats on outdoor adventures. Many parts of the animal are economically valuable for a variety of purposes, such as the skins for leather and the pelts for rugs and robes. One breed of domestic goat, important for its commercial value is the angora. The best angora is covered, except for the face and the legs below the knees, with long, fine, silky hair called mohair. The brilliant, transparent texture of mohair has made it a valued material. The Kashmir or “Cashmere” goat, a small animal native to Kashmir, India, is the source of the fine wool cashmere, from which famed cashmere shawls are made.
A goat that produces more milk than is needed for nursing kids is called a milk goat or dairy goat. In the United States, we have six large breeds: Alpine, LaMancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Toggenburg, and Saanen. Nigerian Dwarf goats are miniature versions of the large dairy goats and are also milked. Goat’s milk compares favorable in nutritive value with cow’s milk and is more easily digested by most people. It is used extensively in the making of cheeses.
Alpines, Oberhasli, Saanens, and Toggenburgs are closely related and look somewhat alike. They all originated in the Swiss mountain region known as the Alps, and are referred to as the Swiss Breeds. The Swiss breeds all have upright ears and straight or slightly scooped-out faces (called dished). They may or may not have wattles – two long flaps of skin dangling beneath their chins. The Swiss breeds thrive in cool climates. LaManchas and Nubians originated in warmer climates and are grouped together as tropical or desert breeds and are better suited to warm climates than the Swiss breeds.
A popular miniature breed of goat is the African Pygmy. In its country of origin, it traditionally was used as a source of milk and meat, and its skin used for leather.
The Rocky Mountain goat of the U.S. is properly a goat antelope and is closely related to the European chamois.