The domestic goat is a subspecies of the wild goat of southwest Asia and eastern Europe. It is a member of the bovine family, and is closely related to the sheep, both being in the "goat antelope" group. Domestic goats are one of the oldest domesticated species. For thousands of years, they have been used for their milk, meat, hair, and skins all over the world. In the last century they have also gained some popularity as pets.
Female goats are referred to as does or nannies, intact males as bucks or billies; their offspring are kids. Castrated males are wethers. Goat meat is sometimes called chevon.
Goats seem to have been first domesticated roughly 10,000 years ago in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Ancient cultures and tribes began to keep them for easy access to milk, hair, meat, and skins. Domestic goats were generally kept in herds that wandered on hills or other grazing areas, often tended by goatherds who were frequently children or adolescents, similar to the more widely known shepherd. These methods of herding are still used today.
Historically, goathide has been used for water and wine bottles in both traveling and transporting wine for sale. It has also been used to produce parchment, which was the most common material used for writing in Europe until the invention of paper.
In some climates goats, like humans, are able to breed at any time of the year. In northern climates and among the Swiss breeds, the breeding season commences as the day length shortens, and ends in early spring. Does of any breed come into heat every 21 days for 2–48 hours. A doe in heat typically flags her tail often, stays near the buck if one is present, becomes more vocal, and may also show a decrease in appetite and milk production for the duration of the heat.
Bucks of Swiss and northern breeds come into rut in the fall as with the doe's heat cycles. Rut is characterized by a decrease in appetite, obsessive interest in the does, fighting between bucks, display behavior, and, most notably, a strong, musky odor. This odor is singular to bucks in rut and is caused not only by the glands on their heads but by their habit of urinating on their beards and front legs — the doe does not have it unless a buck has rubbed his scent onto her or she is in actuality a hermaphrodite — and is instrumental in bringing the does into a strong heat.
In addition to live breeding, artificial insemination has gained popularity among goat breeders, as it allows for rapid improvement because of breeder access to a wide variety of bloodlines.
The gestation period is approximately 150 days. Twins are the usual result, with single and triplet births also common. Less frequent are litters of four, five or more kids. Birthing, known as kidding, generally occurs uneventfully with few complications. The mother often eats the placenta, which, with its oxytocin, gives her much needed nutrients, helps staunch her bleeding, and is believed by some to reduce the lure of the birth scent to predators.
Freshening (coming into milk production) occurs at kidding. Milk production varies with the breed, age, quality, and diet of the doe; dairy goats generally produce between 660 to 1,800 L (1,500 and 4,000 lb) of milk per 305 day lactation. On average, a good quality dairy doe will give at least 6 lb (2.7 L) of milk per day while she is in milk, although a first time milker may produce less, or as much as 16 lb (7.3 L) or more of milk in exceptional cases. Meat, fiber, and pet breeds are not usually milked and simply produce enough for the kids until weaning.
Goats are reputed to be willing to eat almost anything. Many farmers use inexpensive (i.e. not purebred) goats for brush control, leading to the use of the term "brush goats." (Brush goats are not a variety of goat, but rather a function they perform.) Because they prefer weeds (e.g. multiflora rose, thorns, small trees) to clover and grass, they are often used to keep fields clear for other animals. The digestive systems of a goat allow nearly any organic substance to be broken down and used as nutrients.
Contrary to this reputation, they are quite fastidious in their habits, preferring to browse on the tips of woody shrubs and trees, as well as the occasional broad leaved plant. It can fairly be said that goats will eat almost anything in the botanical world. Their plant diet is extremely varied and includes some species which are toxic or detrimental to cattle and sheep. This makes them valuable for controlling noxious weeds and clearing brush and undergrowth. They will seldom eat soiled food or water unless facing starvation.
Goats do not actually consume garbage, tin cans, or clothing, although they will occasionally eat items made primarily of plant material, which can include wood. Their reputation for doing so is most likely due to their intensely inquisitive and intelligent nature: they will explore anything new or unfamiliar in their surroundings. They do so primarily with their prehensile upper lip and tongue. This is why they investigate clothes and sometimes washing powder boxes by nibbling at them.
Goats will consume, on average, 4.5 pounds of dry matter per 100 lbs of body weight per day.
A goat is said to be truly useful both when alive and dead, providing meat and milk while the skin provides hide.
The taste of goat meat, called chevon (which, like most meat names, is from the French word for the animal, in this case chèvre), is said to be similar to veal or venison, depending on the age and condition of the goat. It can be prepared in a variety of ways including stewed, baked, grilled, barbecued, minced, canned, or made into sausage. One reason for the leanness is that goats do not accumulate fat deposits or "marbling" in their muscles; chevon must ideally be cooked longer and at lower temperatures than other red meats. It is popular in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, northeastern Brazil, and the Dominican Republic.
Other parts of the goat including organs are also equally edible. Special delicacies include the brain and liver. For example, in Patagonia, Argentina, the head and legs of the Brodie goat are smoked and used to prepare unique spicy dishes.
Milk and cheese
Goats' milk is more easily digested than cows' milk and is recommended for infants and people who have difficulty with cows' milk. The curd is much smaller and more digestable. Moreover it is naturally homogenized since it lacks the protein agglutinin. Furthermore, goats' milk contains less lactose and is easier to digest, which means it will usually not trigger lactose intolerance in humans.
Contrary to popular belief, goats' milk is not naturally bad tasting. When handled properly, from clean and healthy goats, in a sanitary manner, and cooled quickly, the flavor is unremarkable and inoffensive. Also, it is necessary to separate the strong smelling buck from the dairy does, as his scent will rub off on them and will taint the milk.
Goats' milk is also used to make popular cheeses such as Rocamadour and feta, although it can be used to make any type of cheese.
Goat skin is still used today to make gloves, boots, and other products that require a soft hide. Kid gloves, popular in Victorian times, are still made today. The Black Bengal breed, native to Bangladesh, provides high-quality skin.
Cashmere goats produce a fiber, Cashmere wool which is very fine and soft, and grows beneath the guard hairs. Ideally there is a proportionally smaller amount of guard hair (which is undesirable and cannot be spun or dyed) to the cashmere fiber. Most goats produce cashmere fiber to some degree, however the Cashmere goat has been specially bred to produce a much higher amount of it with fewer guard hairs.
The Angora breed produces long, curling, lustrous locks of mohair. The entire body of the goat is covered with mohair and there are no guard hairs. The locks constantly grow and can be four inches or more in length. Goats do not have to be slaughtered to harvest the wool, which is instead sheared (cut from the body) in the case of Angora goats, or combed, in the case of Cashmere goats. However the Angora goat usually gets shorn twice a year with an average yield of about 10 pounds while the Cashmere goat grows its fiber once a year and it takes about a week to comb out by hand, yielding only about 4 ounces.
The fiber is made into products such as sweaters and dolls hair with the mohair. Both cashmere and mohair are warmer per ounce than wool and are not scratchy or itchy or as allergenic as wool sometimes is. Both fibers command a higher price than wool, compensating for the fact that there is less fiber per goat than there would be wool per sheep.
In South Asia, Cashmere is called pashmina and these goats are called pashmina goats (often mistaken as sheep). Since these goats actually belong to the upper Kashmir and Laddakh region, their wool came to be known as cashmere in the West. The pashmina shawls of Kashmir with their intricate embroidery are very famous.
Goat breeds fall into four categories, though there is some overlap among them; meaning that some are dual purpose.
- Alpine including French Alpine, British Alpine and American Alpine
- Anglo-Nubian This is the Nubian of the UK and Australia.
- Golden Guernsey
- La Mancha
- Nigerian Dwarf
- Sable Saanen
- Canarian goats
- Note that Alpine, La Mancha, Nubian, Obersli, Saanen and Toggenburg goats also exist in miniature version, as a result of breeding of the full size does to Nigerian bucks.
- Nigerian Dwarf
- Black Bengal
- Himalayan Tahr
- Ibex, including the Alpine Ibex
Goat breeders' clubs frequently hold shows, where goats are judged on traits relating to conformation, udder quality, evidence of high production/ longevity, build/muscling (meat goats and pet goats) and fiber production/fiber (fiber goats). People who show their goats usually keep registered stock and the offspring of award winning animals command a higher price. Registered goats, in general, are usually higher priced if for no other reason than that records have been kept proving their ancestry and the production and other data of their sires, dams, and other ancestors. A registered doe is usually less of a gamble than buying a doe at random (as at an auction or sale barn) because of these records and the reputation of the breeder.
Children's clubs such as 4-H also allow goats to be shown. Children's shows often include a showmanship class, where the cleanliness and presentation of both the animal and the exhibitor as well as the handler's ability and skill in handling the goat are scored. In a showmanship class, conformation is irrelevant since this is not what is being judged.
Various Dairy Goat Scorecards (milking does) — are systems used for judging shows in the U.S. The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) scorecard is as follows:
General Appearance: 35 points (This includes breed characteristics, head, shoulders, legs and feet, and topline- the back and rump)
Dairy Character: 20 points (the doe should be lean and angular, not meaty, and show evidence of high production).
Body Capacity: 10 points (the doe should be large and strong with a wide, deep barrel).
Mammary System: 35 points (udder should be productive and very well attached so as to be held up high away from possible injury, teats should be of a good size and shape for easy milking).
In all the perfect dairy goat would score all 100 points, and this is the standard by which the goats are judged. Young stock and bucks are judged by different scorecards which place more emphasis on the other three categories; general appearance, body capacity, and dairy character.
- The American Goat Society (AGS) has a similar, but not identical scorecard that is used in their shows. The miniature dairy goats may be judged by either of the two scorecards.
The Angora Goat scorecard used by the Colored Angora Goat Breeder's Association or CAGBA (which covers the white and the colored goats) is as follows:
Fleece- 70 points
Completeness of cover and Uniformity: 8 points (Fineness, length, type of lock and covering, adequate covering of mohair over the entire body, neither too much nor too little on the face).
Luster and Handle of Fleece: 8 points (Good, bright type of mohair, silky feeling)
Density and Yield: 8 points (Number of fibers per unit area, determined by the amount of skin exposed when the fleece is parted).
Fineness: 14 points (Finer mohair generally is more desirable, uniformity over entire fleece).
Character and Style: 6 points (Equivalent to one inch per month or more, uniform over entire body).
Freedom from Kemp: 10 points (Kemp fibers are large, opaque, "hairy" fibers most commonly found at the withers, along the spine and around the tail and britch.
Body- 50 points
Size and weight for age: 8 points (Minimum weight for yearling bucks-800 lbs, yearling does-60 lbs).
Constitution and Vigor: 8 points (Width and depth of chest, fullness of heartgirth and spring of ribs).
Conformation: 11 points (Width and depth of body, straightness of back, width of loin, straightness of legs).
Amount of bone: 8 points (Indicated by the size of the bone below the knees and hocks. Should be clean and in proportion to the size of the animal. Strength of feet and legs).
Angora Breed Type: 15 points (Indicated by head, horns, ears and topknot. Horns should be wide set and should spiral out and back. Wattles highly discouraged).
Physical Disqualifications- Disqualify the animal Deformed mouth, broken down pasturns, deformed feet, crooked legs, abnormalities of testicles, missing testicles, more than 3 inch split in scrotum, close set distorted horns, or roached back.
The perfect Angora goat would score a 120 on the total points.
Goats have horizontal slit shaped pupils. The narrower the pupil, the more accurate the depth perception of peripheral vision is, so narrowing it in one direction would increase depth perception in that plane .Animals with pupils like goats and sheep may have evolved horizontal pupils because better vision in the vertical plane may be beneficial in mountainous environments.