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Conservation status: Domesticated
|Capra aegagrus hircus|
The domestic goat (Capra aegagrus hircus) is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep: both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of goats.
Goats are one of the oldest domesticated species. For thousands of years, goats have been used for their [milk, meat, hair, and skins over much of 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 from younger animals is called kid, and from older animals is sometimes called chevon, or in some areas “mutton”.
Etymology[edit | edit source]
The Modern English word "goat" comes from the Old English gat which meant "she-goat", and this in turn derived from Proto-Germanic *gaitaz (compare Old Norse and Dutch geit (meaning "goat"), German Geiß ("she-goat") and Gothic gaits, ("goat") ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ghaidos meaning "young goat" but also "play" (compare Latin haedus meaning "kid"). The word for "male goat" in Old English was bucca (which survives as "buck", meaning certain male herbivores) until a shift to "he-goat" (and also "she-goat") occurred in the late 12th century. "Nanny goat" originated in the 18th century and "billy goat" in the 19th.
Anatomy[edit | edit source]
Most goats naturally have two horns, of various shapes and sizes depending on the breed. While horns are a predominantly male feature, some breeds of goats have horned females. Polled (hornless goats) are not uncommon and there have been incidents of polycerate goats (having as many as eight horns), although this is a genetic rarity thought to be inherited. Their horns are made of living bone surrounded by keratin and other proteins and are used for defense, dominance, and territoriality.
Goats have horizontal slit-shaped pupils, an adaptation which increases peripheral depth perception. Because goats' irises are usually pale, the pupils are much more visible than in animals with horizontal pupils but very dark irises, such as sheep, cattle and most horses.
Some breeds of sheep and goats appear superficially similar, but goat tails are short and point up, whereas sheep tails hang down and are usually longer (though some are short, and some long ones are docked).
Reproduction[edit | edit source]
In some climates, goats are able to breed at any time of the year. In temperate 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 to 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 (intact males) 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 and obsessive interest in the does.
Gestation length is approximately 150 days. Twins are the usual result, with single and triplet births also common. Less frequent are litters of quadruplet, quintuplet, and even sextuplet kids. Birthing, known as kidding, generally occurs uneventfully. Right before kidding the doe will have a sunken area around the tail and hip. Also she will have heavy breathing, a worried look, become restless and show great display of affection for her keeper. The mother often eats the placenta, which gives her much needed nutrients, helps stanch her bleeding, and is believed by some[attribution needed] to reduce the lure of the birth scent for 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.
Diet[edit | edit source]
Goats are reputed to be willing to eat almost anything. 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. However, 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 otherwise toxic. They will seldom consume soiled food or contaminated water unless facing starvation. This is one of the reasons why goat rearing is most often free ranging since stall-fed goat rearing involves extensive upkeep and is seldom commercially viable.
Goats do not usually consume garbage or clothing, although they will occasionally eat items made primarily of plant material, which can include wood. They have an 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 items such as buttons, camera cases or clothing (and many other things besides) by nibbling at them, occasionally even eating them. Goats prefer to graze on shrubbery and weeds for food. Goats graze more like deer than sheep, preferring woody shrubs rather than grasses. Mold in a goat's feed can make it sick and possibly kill it. Nightshade is also poisonous; wilted fruit tree leaves can also kill goats. Goats should not be fed grass with any signs of mold. Silage (corn stalks) is not good for goats, but haylage can be used if consumed immediately after opening. Alfalfa is their favorite hay, fescue the least palatable and least nutritious.
The digestive physiology of a very young kid (like the young of other ruminants) is essentially the same as that of a monogastric animal. Milk digestion begins in the abomasum, the milk having bypassed the rumen via closure of the reticular/esophageal groove during suckling. At birth the rumen is undeveloped, but as the kid begins to consume solid feed, the rumen soon increases in size and in its capacity to absorb nutrients.
Goats will consume, on average, 4.5 units of dry matter per 100 units of body-weight per day.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Behaviour[edit | edit source]
Goats are extremely curious and intelligent. They are easily housebroken and trained to pull carts and walk on leads. Ches McCartney, nicknamed "the goat man", toured the United States for over three decades in a wagon pulled by a herd of pet goats. They are also known for escaping their pens. Goats will test fences, either intentionally or simply because they are handy to climb on. If any of the fencing can be spread, pushed over or down, or otherwise be overcome, the goats will escape. Being very intelligent, once a weakness in the fence has been exploited, it will be repeatedly exploited until they determine it can no longer be overcome. Goats are very coordinated and can climb and hold their balance in the most precarious places. Goats are also widely known for their ability to climb trees, although the tree generally has to be on somewhat of an angle.
Goats in agriculture[edit | edit source]
A goat is useful to humans both alive and dead, first as a renewable provider of milk and fibre, and then as meat and hide. Some charities provide goats to impoverished people in poor countries, because goats are easier and cheaper to manage than cattle, and have multiple uses. In addition, goats are used for driving and packing purposes.
References[edit | edit source]
- Hirst, K. Kris. "The History of the Domestication of Goats". About.com. Accessed August 18, 2008.
- Coffey, Linda, Margo Hale, and Ann Wells; "Goats: Sustainable Production Overview.
- McLeod, Lianne; "Goats as Pets" at About.com.
- Watkins, Calvert, et alii; The American Heritage Dictionary (1975, edited by William Morris).
- Goat Medicine: Horns
- "Experiments On The Function Of Slit-Form Pupils", Toronto Univ. Studies in Psychology v. 2
- Frequently Asked Questions - Triple I Goats
- "War on Weeds," Rails to Trails Magazine, Spring 2004, p. 3
[edit | edit source]
- Goat breeds
- Goat care and feeding guide
- Goat resources
- The American Dairy Goat Association Home Page
- White House: Abraham Lincoln's sons kept pet goats inside the White House
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