- Due to a well-developed herding instinct, goats prefer to be kept in groups of 2 or more.
- In the wild, goats require grass for grazing.
- Because they are a domestic species, the veterinary care of goats is a well documented field. Please see any number of texts on the subject. For example, Sheep and Goat Medicine, 2e by D. G. Pugh DVM MS & N. (Nickie) Baird DVM MS DACVS. Regulations also exist regarding the potential transmission of zoonotic diseases from livestock and research should be done to ensure compliance with local and national regulations prior to adding goats to a program.
Notes on Enrichment & Training
Colony or Breeding Management
Tips on Presentation
Tips on Handling
- Domestic goats are excellent models for teaching operant conditioning &/or reward-based training to children and adults. They are reliably food-motivated but also enjoy scratching and brushing as non-food rewards. Memory for previously trained behaviors is generally solid and long-lasting.
- Goats are charismatic examples of introduced species and have been responsible for the loss of island biodiversity due to introducation by sailors. Interestingly many feral island goat breeds are also of conservation value now as rare livestock breeds (see http://albc-usa.org/ for more information on rare livestock breeds). So goats can be used as examples of both threats to biodiversity in the wild and the preservation of genetic diversity of domestic animals.
- Goats are excellent choices for programs focused on soil erosion and water quality since over-grazing and damage to slope areas are associate with both environmental problems.
- Naturally goats are also good choices for programs teaching children how to behave around animals, programs about mammals, predator v. prey or food web programs, programs about domestication, programs that focus on the specific breed’s country of orgin, etc.
Comments from the Rating System
- Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square: We have had several goats perform in our programming. Kids love them because they are small and can touch them. The goats also will “eat” stuff on the kids so the kids like that. Messaging is a little difficult since they are domestic but we talk a lot about adaptations. It’s nice to see city kids able to have contact with a farm-style animal since they don’t usually know what a goat looks like. They are extremely easy to care for and fine having contact with public while in their exhibit (over the fence) or out in the zoo. They are pretty easy to train and enjoy going out on walks or to shows and don’t mind being haltered.
- Henry Vilas Zoo: Ours are in a feeding situation — people LOVE them!!!
- Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: Not good for travel due to size/weight and the amount of feces they produce on program.
- Natural Science Center of Greensboro: very easily trained
- Philadelphia Zoo: Great for training, and can be a surprising animal for outreach
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Domestic goats most likely descended from Capra aegagrus, which is from central Asia. Since the domestication of this species, goats have been spread all over the world by humans. Goats can survive anywhere there is grass – even in environments with very thin deposits – so can be found anywhere except tundras, deserts, and aquatic habitats. Feral goats are usually found in rugged mountain country, rocky crags, and alpine meadows.
Because of its long history of domestication, there are many different breeds of goats, with many different physical characteristics. Domestic goats are sexually dimorphic: males have a beard, horns, and a rank odor, and they are generally larger than females.
Goats follow a polygynous reproductive system, with one male siring offspring among several females. Left to their own devices, male goats will compete for rank, and the highest-ranking male wins the ability to mate with the females. Males fight by butting heads until one competitor surrenders.
The breeding season is generally from late summer to early winter, although in tropical locations, goats can breed year round. The estrus cycle, which is natural 18 days long, can be artificially induced by manipulating the amount of light the goats are exposed to during the day.
Gestation periods differ between the various goat breeds, but is usually between 145 and 152 days. One to three young are born, with twins being extremely common. Young are born precocious, and are able to walk and follow their mother around just hours after birth. At about ten months of age, the young goats are weaned from their mothers’ milk, and they will graze independently.
Female goats become reproductively mature at around one year of age; male goats reach maturity at about 5 months of age.
Domestic goats are social animals and prefer to be in the presence of other goats. Herd sizes in the wild tend to be 5 to 20 members in size, but giant herds of up to 100 goats have been reported.
Threats and Conservation Status
This is a domestic species and has no special conservation status.
Did you know…
- Goat overgrazing can cause erosion, the spread of deserts, and the disappearance of natural wildlife. This has been documented in New Zealand, and feral goats in Hawaii have led to the extinction of many forest bird species there. Feral goats can also have negative impacts on wild goats (other species in the genus Capra). Goats are not all bad, however: in some managed grasslands, goats have been used to prevent the spread of introduced weeds.
Contributors and Citations
Top Photo: Auteur: Lionel Rich