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Goat Behaviour

How to Handle Goats

Goats have a reputation for being stubborn and misbehaved; but if you understand their behaviour, it can be far easier to manage their behaviours.

Goats are naturally a herd animal and a solitary goat may need company of a human or other animal.  A feral goat herd may be anything from 1 to 100 goats but on average, it will only be made up of four goats.

Herds are led by a dominant female and a dominant male. The dominant female or ‘queen’ generally leads the way when the herd is foraging. She will also get the most comfortable sleeping spot and be first in line for any food that is administered to the herd.  She will also stand up to any predators and protect the rest of the rest of the herd.  Her kids are by birth, naturally high up in the herd pecking order.  The dominant female is most likely to retain her position until she dies or until she becomes too old and infirm and another doe challenges her position and wins.

Male goats tend to be dominant according to age, up until six years old after which strength and dominance can decline. Horns and body size are as important as age in determining a dominant goat.  He will mate with the females when they come into season and he also protects the herd from predators. Again, he is most likely to retain his position until he dies or until he is challenged and beaten by another buck.

Goats are more aggressive and inquisitive than sheep and tend to demonstrate dominance within a social grouping more than sheep. Goats display their dominance by lowering the head and pointing their horns at the subordinate animal. If animals are equal or undetermined dominance they will lock horns repeatedly until dominance of one animal is established.

When a new goat is added to the herd fights may take place until the new member has established their level in the pecking order. It is impossible to stop this fighting and they need to be left to their own devices to work things out. It is also common for a doe who has just kidded to try and ‘upgrade’ her pecking order in the herd by fighting, in order to secure a higher status for her kids. Again, it is difficult to prevent this from happening and the situation should be left to run its course.

Goats groom themselves by scratching the neck and head with the rear feet, and by licking other parts of their body.  They are sociable animals and also like to be petted by humans. 

Myths about Goat Behaviour

‘Goats are dirty’

Goats are actually fastidiously clean! They keep themselves very clean and are not keen on getting wet. Again, if goats are visibly dirty then management issues may be the cause.

‘Goats eat everything’

Goats are very inquisitive creatures and as they don’t have hands, they use their mouths to investigate novel objects. They are actually quite fussy eaters and prefer to browse on trees, shrubs and weeds. They will not eat washing or tin cans and are more than likely investigating a novel object with their mouth rather than attempting to eat it!

‘Goats are destructive’

Goats are naturally a herd animal; they prefer to live with other goats and are generally unhappy if forced to live in solitude. A goat kept on it’s own may well become destructive and try to escape by breaking through fences and gates, but this is only to try and find other members of the herd and it is not just being destructive for the fun of it. A goat raised by itself may perceive it's human owners as it's herd.
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