After seeing how popular some of our social media posts about goats have been, we have decided to start writing monthly ‘goat posts’ here on our blog! If you raise goats, are thinking about starting your own herd, or simply love these fun and inquisitive animals, check here each month for what we’re saying about everything goat-y!
A little history
Goats are one of the oldest domesticated species of animals in the world. Some records indicate that the domestication of goats occurred as far back as 10,000 years ago. Many of the earliest herds originated in the Middle East, thriving in environments from high mountains to deserts. Their hardy nature made them an ideal choice for farmers who were constantly moving from place to place in order to survive. There are over 100 breeds of goats worldwide and they are generally bred for milk, meat or fiber production. In recent years goats have gained popularity as pets, as well as an alternative dairy and meat producer.
Some general goat facts
Goats are ruminants, which means their digestive system is specially designed for digesting roughage such as hay and grasses. Goats actually have four stomachs, each of which have a specific digestive function. Goats are extremely efficient when it comes to digesting their food, which is good news for people who are looking to raise low-maintenance animals. Goats that are kept simply as pets can thrive on hay and other roughage, with minimal or no grain supplementing their diet.
Many people have heard the terms “billy” or “nanny” goat. These are usually terms of endearment used in children’s books and old stories, but there is some distinction between male and female, adult and baby goats. A male goat that is able to breed is called a buck. Bucks can be very impressive-looking animals, with their large size and often, a mane of hair around their necks and chests. Get too close to one, however, and you will discover the reason why many people opt not to keep a buck as a pet—they stink! Bucks secrete oils that attract females during mating season, and while it doesn’t last all year, they generally have a very strong scent that most, if not all, people find unpleasant.
Male goats who are not able to breed (have been castrated) are called wethers. These guys are kept mostly as pets and as companions for other animals around the farm. They grow quite large and many people can train them for purposes such as packing and harness activities. Wethers have been known to be trained to pull small carts, which you may see if you check out your county 4-H fair. They are very strong and unlike the bucks, they don’t smell, so they are a great choice for people looking to raise goats as pets.
Female goats are called does. These are generally what you see when you pass a field or pasture full of goats. People who are interested in dairy production will keep a doe in milk from the time she has her kids (baby goats), which is usually in the spring sometime, until mid or late fall. It is healthy to give a doe some time off from milking before she is bred again, and by that time your hands may be tired from all that milking anyway! Some does can produce up to 2 gallons of milk a day at the peak of their production. For people who milk by hand (which I did for years!), that is a lot of milking time!
Things you (maybe) didn’t know
Many people have heard about the story of goats eating tin cans, or picking through garbage, or basically eating anything that comes across their path. While they do have pretty healthy appetites, goats are surprisingly picky about their food and food source. Goats are extremely clean animals and produce a minimal amount of waste for their size compared to other livestock species. The stories about tin cans and garbage are totally untrue—I’ve never met a goat who will touch his or her food once it’s fallen on the ground, even if it’s still clean, so nibbling on garbage is definitely something goats do not do. They will not touch their water if hay or dirt somehow falls into the bucket, and if they decide that your hands aren’t clean enough when you offer them a snack, they will turn up their nose at your offer. It is important for goat owners to keep a clean source of water for their animals, as well as clean bedding and hay sources.
However, one rumor that is true about goats is that they love to escape, climb and get into as much mischief as they can. Goats are extremely smart and develop real personalities over time, especially if they are bottle-fed as kids. Goats are very agile and love to climb, so it’s nice to include climbing features in their pasture if possible. Just make sure any rock or wooden table is far enough away from their fence because if they can, they will hop over! A favorite climbing feature that I have kept in with my goats over the years is an empty electric wire or cable spool. These wooden spools are very sturdy, last a long time and are ideal for playing “king of the hill” inside the pasture.
Come back next month!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this very generalized overview about goats and maybe learned something new about this fun and versatile species. There is so much to know and learn, so I hope you will check back next month for the next goat post! Let us know if there are any topics (goat-related, of course!) that you would like us to cover!
What else would you like to learn about goats? Share your ideas with us and we will use them for future posts!