Parents: You can choose which information to present to your children.
The scientific name for a goat is caprine.
Adult male goats are called bucks or billies.
Adult female goats are called does or nannies.
Young goats are called kids.
Goats have been domesticated for thousands of years, and probably were domesticated after the dog and sheep. The Bible mentions goats frequently.
Goats were used for food and sacrifice; Samson even took a â€œyoung goatâ€� as a present to his wife. (What a romantic gift!) Goatskin was used to
make bottles. Goatsâ€™ milk was a common drink, and goat-hair was used to weave a rough fabric. Goats werenâ€™t the second-class citizens that we
may assume from some Biblical passages: goats were among the "clean" animals and the â€œPassover Lambâ€� could have been either a lamb or a goat
Research or writing project: How were goats and sheep important to people during Biblical times?
Goats come in all colors and may have either blue or brown eyes. Both sexes may have horns or may be polled (naturally hornless). Polled goats are handy
because they do not have to be dehorned, but genetic problems (hermaphroditism) can occur if a polled goat is bred to another polled goat. Dairy goats
are often disbudded (horn buds removed) as kids, so that they will be less of a danger to themselves and to humans.
Goats have cloven hooves like cows or sheep. The outer edges of their hooves are hard, like a hard fingernail, and must be trimmed occasionally. This
doesnâ€™t hurt the goat, although most goats donâ€™t like it.
Goats have horizontally-shaped pupils, which gives them an unusual appearance.
Goats' ears are usually either erect or hang down. Alpines, Nigerian Dwarfs, Pygmys, and Angoras have erect ears. Nubians and Boer goats have long,
LaMancha goats often have tiny elf or "gopher" ears or no ears at all! Although this makes LaManchas look rather odd at times, LaMancha breeders are
fond of saying, "You don't milk the ears!"
Raspberry (below left) has long droopy ears. Clara (middle) has erect ears. Sprite, a LaMancha mix, has tiny ears.
Goats and Goat Husbandry Lesson Materials
Goats communicate using various types of bleats. A mother goat may also talk to her kids with deep grunts. A snort means beware of danger. A
male goat may also â€œtalkâ€� to a female by sneezing, snorting or by making very human-like sounds. We once had two young buckling brothers
who said, â€œBut, but, butâ€¦..whuuut?â€� Goatâ€™s cries of pain can also sound disturbingly human. It is no wonder some ancient pagan gods
were pictured as half goat and half man!
Teeth, Digestive System and Diet
Like similar animals, they donâ€™t have upper front teeth, but instead have a hard dental pad. Don't be fooled, though. Goats' back molars are
sharp. That cute kid nursing on your finger can bite really hard if your finger gets into the back of his mouth!
Goats are browsers by nature, meaning that they prefer to eat leaves and bushes. Favorite goat foods include blackberry bushes, vines, rose bushes
(!) small trees and your prize flowers. Goats will graze (eat grass) as well, and occasionally they eat bark.
Goatsâ€™ stomachs are well adapted to digesting such a varied and hard diet. Like cows and sheep, goats are ruminants, meaning that they have
four stomachs (some times this is described as a four-chambered stomach). When a goat eats, it does not chew its food well, but quickly swallows it
into the rumen where bacteria help break the food down. After digesting the food for a while, the goat chews the food again. This is called chewing
its cud. The goat then swallows the food again and the food passes into the regular stomach.
Goats' digestive systems are really amazing in how everything works together. Nursing kids, for instance, stretch out their necks when drinking milk
from mom. This helps the milk go straight into their stomach rather than into their rumens, where it could not be properly digested. As the kid grows,
the mother goat begins to limit how much milk the kids drink. The hungry kids begin to nibble grass, hay, feed and leaves, slowly developing their
rumens. By the time the kids are weaned, the rumen has to be functioning so that the young goats will receive enough nutrition.
Kids & Kidding
Does usually kid after a 145-150 day gestation period. Mother goats often have one kid the
first kidding, and then twins or triplets (or even more!) thereafter. Baby goats stand up within a
few moments after birth and try to nurse. By the next day, many kids are trying to bounce and
The first milk that kids drink from their mothers is called colostrum. Colostrum is thick,
yellowish milk that contains special antibodies to help keep the kid stay healthy. After 24 hours
or so, the kidâ€™s body can no longer absorb the antibodies, so itâ€™s critical that the kid
nurse during the first day of its life. A kid that does not receive any colostrum has a very poor
chance of being healthy, or even of surviving very long.
Kids love to play. They instinctively try to climb and they love to play king-of-the-mountain!
They bounce, jump, twist and cavort just for the fun of it. Goat kids love "extreme" sports-
running up and jumping off of vertical surfaces.
When kids are tired, they cuddle up together in a pile to sleep. Some kids seem to prefer
sleeping in a hidden, cave-like area. When the mother goat is ready for the kids to nurse, she
bleats for them. If they get into trouble, they bleat for her. Mother goats, like human mothers,
seem to know when their kids are whining or when they really need help! Siblings bonds are
very strong, and siblings often bleat for each other.
Baby goats nurse for between 2 and 3 months, sometimes more. Little bucks (boys) usually
nurse only about 2 months, while little girls nurse longer. Most mother goats will only allow
their kids to nurse; other kids will be pushed away. Does recognize their kids by smell as well
as possibly by sight.
Occasionally a mother goat will reject a kid and not allow it to nurse. Sometimes this is
because the kid is weak or because the doe had a hard labor or has too many kids.
Sometimes a doe will reject a kid for no apparent reason. These kids must be bottle-fed and
usually become pets.
Little bucks usually start wanting girlfriends when they are around 2 months old, so they have
to be separated from the girls at an early age. Little doe kids stay with their mothers and the
other does. Most breeders do not breed a doeling until she is 8 months of age or older.
Here is our doe Anastasia with my pet Prince
Alexei. Little goats stand up soon after they are
born. Mama goats lick the babies clean. They
recognize their babies by their smell.
Bucks and Wethers
Father goats are called bucks or billies. Bucks usually have longer hair and beards than does, and they are usually larger than does of their breed.
Buck goats often have a strong smell, especially during mating season. Most goats have one mating season a year, in the fall and early winter. Nigerian
dwarf goats and Pygmy goats come into season all year around.
Bucks can be very affectionate, although the larger breeds can be potentially dangerous. Even gentle bucks tussle with each other for dominence. The
strongest, biggest buck is usually the winner, although bucks sometimes seem to respect an older buck. Bucks with horns often win in the battle for status.
Bucks do NOT make good pets due to their grooming habits. A wether (neutered male) or a doe makes a better pet. A large wether can be trained to pull
a small cart for a child. Goat catalogs sell carts and harnesses to fit goats.
Does and Doelings
Does have a society all their own. The strongest, most stubborn female earns the right to be head doe. Does stand on their hind legs and butt each other, or
have pushing contests, just as bucks do. The head doe leads the herd and gets to eat as much as she wants. Her kids benefit from her special position, as
they have access to plenty of nutrition. From personal observation of my goats, it would seem that having kids raises a doe's potential standing in doe
society. A doe with kids seems to rise in status above her kidless comrades, and she sometimes begins to contend for a higher position in the pecking order.
Most does come into season during the fall and early winter months. Nigerians and Pgymys come into season every 21 days or so, so these smaller goats
may be bred year-round. A doe is often in heat for 3 days; accepting the buck primarily on the 2nd day. Lovesick does stand at the fence bleating pitifully
at the bucks, and if a buck is in the pen, the doe will often rub the buck with her head.
Types of Goats
There are three main types of domesticated goats: dairy goats, meat goats and fiber goats.
For thousands of years, when a person said â€œmilk,â€� he or she meant goat milk. Humans have selectively bred dairy goats to give large amounts of
milk. Popular dairy breeds in America include the Nubian, French Alpine, Saanen, Oberhasli (Swiss Alpine), LaMancha, Toggenburgs and the
miniature Nigerian Dwarf. These can give anywhere from a quart (Nigerian Dwarf) to over a gallon of milk a day.
Meat goats, such as the Boer and Kiko are muscular and grow quickly. Goat meat is used in a wide variety of ethnic cuisine. The Pygmy goat, although
mostly used as a pet, looks like a miniature meat goat.
Fiber goats include the Angora and the cashmere. Angora goats produce locks of long, lustrous hair that is sheared and made into luxury garments, rugs,
upholstery and also doll wigs and beards. Angoras are natives of Turkey and may be white or colored. The fiber from an Angora goat is called mohair
(not Angora. Angora fiber, confusingly enough, comes from Angora rabbits!).
Cashmere goats are a type rather than a breed, as goats of several breeds may produce cashmere. Cashmere is a soft, downy undercoat that can be
combed when the goat sheds. Cashmere is definitely a luxury fiber, as even the best goat will give only a few ounces of cashmere.
Regular goat hair was once used to make rough garments and also tents. The tabernacle in the Old Testament was made from goatsâ€™ hair cloth.
Goatsâ€™ needs include a secure pen, a shelter, food and water. Goats are extremely intelligent and require good fencing in order to keep them in their
pasture. They also need a shelter of some sort; it need not be fancy. Goats HATE to be wet and they need protection from cold drafts. Most goats eat a
mixture of goat food, natural forage, and hay along with mineral supplements. Of course, they need a source of clean water.
As goats have a reputation for being hearty and have not been a â€œbig-moneyâ€� livestock, goat medicine has lagged behind cattle and horse medicine.
Many medicines are not tested on goats, and many goat diseases have not been thoroughly identified. This sometimes makes keeping goats a challenge.
Fortunately, many long-time goat breeders readily offer advice. Some of the common goat diseases include soremouth, bloat (stomach troubles), pinkeye,
abscesses, floppy kid syndrome, and various coughs and colds. Dairy goats and nursing does may get mastitis, an infection of the udder, and all goats may
be poisoned from eating the wrong foods or too much of the right foods.
Most goat breeders learn to give their goats shots and can provide basic veterinary care, including delivering kids. Goats usually have at least a CDT
(tetanus and blackleg) shot once a year. Most goat injections are given under the skin at the goatâ€™s shoulder. Goats also must be dewormed and have
their hooves trimmed periodically.
Goat milk has long been a source of nutrition for humans. Unlike cow milk, in
which the fat is separated and the cream rises easily, the fat in goat milk is more
equally distributed throughout the milk (naturally homogenized.) This makes goat
milk easier to digest. Most Americans are used to drinking cow milk with most of
the cream removed, so goat milk tastes richer.
Some people assume that all goats' milk tastes "goaty." The individual goatherd
can influence how milk tastes to a great extent. For example, running bucks with
the does results in a more goaty tasting milk. Feed, hay and even water affect
how a does' milk will taste, as does the cleanliness of the equipment and how
quickly the milk was cooled.
The milk from different breeds of goats differs in composition and even in taste.
Nigerian Dwarf goats give milk with the highest level of butterfat, more butterfat
than a Jersey cow! Nubians are usually credited with giving the most milk and are
very popular milk goats. Toggenburgs are sometimes bred to give a very "goaty"
tasting milk, which is popular for cheeses.
Commercial goat dairies are regulated like cow dairies and have vacuum-type
milking machines. Due to the strict rules that regulate dairies, few owners find it
profitable to run a commercial goat dairy.
Even at the home dairy milk preparation is more than just putting a pail under a
goat! Most milking equipment is stainless steel, and is kept clean by a
combination of acidic and alkaline detergents. Milk is an excellent food for
bacteria, so pails, strainers and jars must be kept scrupulously clean.
Basic milking equipment includes a stainless steel bucket, strip
cup, storage jars and strainer (not shown.) Of course, having a
willing doe helps, too!
1. The Milking Process
The doe is usually standing on a stand with her head in a stanchion that has a feeder attached. The milker wipes the doeâ€™s udder to clean it, and then
squirts some milk into a strip cup to make sure the doe does not have an udder infection called mastitis. If the milk appears normal, the milker milks the
goat, carefully stripping the last drops of milk from the udder. The milker then washes the udder to prevent infection. Goats that are milked regularly jump
willingly onto the milk stand for their feed and even "line up" to go into the milking parlor. Training a goat to milk or milking an unwilling doe, however, is
2. Milk Processing
The milker covers the milk and quickly takes it into the house or processing area where it is strained, weighed (milk is more accurately measured by weight
than by volume) and chilled. Once enough milk is collected, it can be pasteurized. Home pasteurizing machines are available, or you can use a double-
boiler. Goat milk is naturally homogenized so the cream does not rise to the top as easily as it does on cows' milk. However, after about 12-24 hours or
so, some cream does rise to the top and can be skimmed. Some people invest in cream separators.
*Potential Project: What is pasteurization? What are some the arguements for and against pasteurizing milk? [Unpasteurized milk is often called "raw
milk." It can be sold only by special dairies.]
*Potential Project: What is cream? What is cream used for? What types of cheeses are made from goats' milk?
3. Milk Clean-up & Equipment Preparation
Milk is the ideal breeding-ground for bacteria, so milk has to be handled very carefully. Ideally, the milk pail and all equipment should be stainless steel,
which can be scrubbed. The pail, strainers, etc. are washed using a special basic detergent. One day a week, the equipment is soaked in an acid wash to
remove milkstone (a protein buildup). Dairies also frequently use a bleach solution to further disinfect the equipment. The jars or containers used to store
the milk must also be boiled or sterilized. All of this results in the best-tasting milk.
4. Cheese There are hundreds of cheeses, each requiring a different kind of milk, different processing temperatures or different chemicals. Many cheeses
call for rennet (originally obtained from a young calfâ€™s stomach) to coagulate the milk and separate the solid curds from the liquid whey. The curds are
usually heated, strained or compressed to form the cheese, which is then aged for a certain length of time. Of course, some cheeses require special cultures
to give them a certain taste. Cheese-making supplies can be ordered easily over the internet. Cottage cheese and soft chevre cheese are perhaps the
easiest cheeses to make.
5. Soap If the doe steps in the bucket or the milk is otherwise not drinkable, the milk can still be used to make a rich soap that is supposedly good for
eczema and dry skin. Lye is carefully added to the milk, stirring so that the milk does not burn, and then this is added to a mixture of oils or fats. This
mixture is then blended until thick (trace) and then poured into molds. After hardening in the molds, the soap is unmolded and then allowed to cure for a
month or so. During this time, the lye and fats chemically react in a process called saponification. If lye soap is used too early, it may have a â€œbite!â
€� Soapmaking can be very dangerous, although the results are wonderful and the milk is not wasted.