The study of goat behavior, like so many aspects of the recorded
knowledge of the genus Capra, is sketchy at best. Many inferences to
the behavioral patterns of goats have been drawn from the more
abundant and detailed information available on the closely related
genera of sheep, deer and antelopes. While many behavioral
characteristics of these genera are indeed similiar, it is important
to realize that several basic behavioral differences occur. It is these
unique aspects of goat behavior that must be understood by the goatsman
so that his management system is not at odds with the natural ways of
the herd. An understanding of the caprine way is sure to present a
twofold benefit to the goatsman. First, it will enable him to provide a
more thorough and efficient management system, thereby deriving an
economic benefit. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a greater
knowledge of goat behavior will help cultivate an enhanced appreciation
and enjoyment for the species.
Nine basic behavioral systems are generally recognized but the two
most interesting in regards to goats are their ingestive and
allelomimetic behavior. Sexual, agonistic, epimeletic (care-giving) and
etepimeletic (care-seeking) behavior, while also important, are
predominantly of a seasonal nature. A real significance to the specific
eliminative behavior of the goat has not been described sufficiently.
Grazing -- Goats are differentiated from most other domestic
ruminants by the fact they are browsers as opposed to being grazers.
Under natural conditions, goats are not the great destroyers of
vegetation that they are often indicated to be, as they will range over
a large area, grazing and browsing selectively. Under confined
conditions however, goats will become heavy browsers of trees and
shrubs, and less discriminating in their grazing habits, due to the
reduced supply of available herbage.
Goats exhibit a definite preference for a varied diet, often
consuming no less than 25 different plant species. This penchant for
variety serves the goat well, for many of the 'weed' species that are
so eagerly consumed by goats have a higher mineral and protein content
than grasses, owing to the greater root depth of the weeds. This
grazing behavior can also work as a bonus for the livestock manager,
as goats can graze quite productively on land that has been grazed over
by cattle and other livestock, thus providing the manager with extra
income from inter-species grazing of an otherwise 'depleted' field.
It also may help to explain why goats are less likely to bloat than
almost any other ruminant. They will not overgraze succulent legumes.
They do provide roughage for normal rumen activity through browsing of
pasture grasses and brushes.
In an unconfined grazing system, goats will almost uniformly reject
any plants contaminated with the scent of their own species' urine or
feces. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is significant in that it
limits parasite infestation. However, in confined, highly contaminated
areas goats may be forced to consume such plant material with the
obvious bad consequences.
Grazing intake is related to the metabolic rate and body size of
the goat, varying with the breed and age of the animal. The species and
stage of growth of the plants being eaten also have an effect on the
amount of herbage intake. Feed intake of goats fluctuates in accordance
with environmental temperature, and appetite is subject to a
thermoregulatory brain control. The amount of time spent eating and the
rate of mastication both tend to increase as the temperature goes down.
However, once the surrounding temperature drops below 10C (50F), eating
activity decreases again. There is a correlation between lower
temperatures and reduced water intake, and restriction in the amount
of water consumed will cause reduction in dry matter consumption. The
digestibility of dry matter may actually be increased especially the
digestibility of the crude fiber portion of feeds.
Goats are known to be able to distinguish be tween bitter, salt,
sweet and sour tastes. The fact that they have a higher tolerance for
bitter tasting feeds than most other ruminants can be attributed to
the browsing propensity for bark, leaves, shoots, shrubs and branches
which may have a more bitter taste than grasses, forbs and general
pasture. Goats also have a well developed ability to discriminate
sweets. Although proper amounts of salt are very important, amounts of
more than 5 gm/100 cc are generally refused.
Goats tend to spend more time eating each day than other ruminants,
often eating for as long as 11 hours. This may be misleading though,
for they spend more time and distance moving from one plant to another
than sheep or cattle.
The length and regularity of rumination is inversely related to the
alert state of the goat, with long regular periods of rumination
occurring during a semi-somnolent state. If subjected to random noises,
rumination may become irregular. Fully aroused goats will generally not
Water Intake -- Goats are well adapted to limited water intake and
short term shortages, as their water turnover rate is only 188 cc/kg/24
hrs. This compares to a rate of 185 cc/kg/24 hrs for the camel, an
animal that is known for its ability to go without water for long
periods of time. Rates in comparison for sheep and cattle are 197
cc/kg/24 hrs and 347 cc/kg/24 hrs, respectively.
During some seasons when sweating or respiratory cooling is not
necessary for the maintenance of body temperature, goats can often
sustain an adequate intake of water from their grazed feeds alone, if
it has a moisture content of 600r more.
During environmental temperatures of about 38C (100.4 F), the
panting rate (respiratory cooling) of goats is only about half that of
sheep. Their sweating is limited, and the loss of water through feces
and urine is much reduced. Reduced water intake over a period of several
days will result in a corresponding decrease in the excretion of urine,
with the concentration of urea being increased.
Water intake will be much greater for lactating goats, since milk
is approximately 85% water. The greater the production of the goat, the
more water will be required. A goat producing 8 lbs of milk per day
will require more than an equal amount of water merely for milk
Suckling Kids -- Within a short time after birth, the kid will
begin a tentative search of the doe's body, trying to suck at numerous
locations along the doe that can be grasped in the kid's mouth. Often,
nursing will be attempted between the doe's front legs. Eventually, the
nipples are found and true nursing begins. After the first day or two, a
normal kid will have no difficulty in promptly locating a teat when
hungry. While nursing, the kid may often be observed to 'butt' at
the doe's udder, which serves to facilitate milk letdown, thus
increasing the amount of milk available to the kid. The sucking reflex
of the kids enables them to be easily transferred to a 'lambar' or
bottle, allowing the doe to return to the milking herd soon after the
kids have received an adequate intake of colostrum.
There appears to have been little evolutionary importance in the
development of specific eliminative behavior among goats. There is no
evidence, of any form of territorial marking by urination or
defecation, as is common to many other animals. However, bucks can
determine if a doe is in estrus by sniffing her urine. Elimination
occurs at random in the field, with goats avoiding areas of defecation
or urination while grazing. This avoidance behavior is depressed in
confinement management and widespread contamination occurs.
When urinating, the doe goes into a squat position similar to the
one assumed by a female dog. Even buck kids will arch their back and
bend their legs while urinating. This behavior is not displayed in
adult bucks. All goats wag their tails back and forth while defecating,
although the significance of this act, if any, is not known.
Sexual behavior among most goats at least those derived from the
temperate zones is seasonally dependent, with the females lacking an
estrus period during the late spring and summer months. The libido, or
sex drive, of the buck is also at a low ebb during this time, but semen
volume is lowest already in early spring and motility is poorest in
the winter. The volume and motility of semen is greatest during the
late summer and fall. The return to normal sexual behavior is first
achieved by the buck, generally about 2 weeks before does return to
estrus. It is thought that the courting of the buck may accelerate the
onset of the breeding season. The length of the breeding season is
influenced by such factors as day length, temperature, and geographic
origin. Those breeds that originate from high, mountainous areas have
an abbreviated breeding season. All goats have a peak estrus cycle in
the fall of the year, thus allowing for most kids to be born during the
favorable spring time.
The doe is usually on a 21-day cycle during the breeding seasons.
This cycle is somewhat variable among individuals, as is the duration
of estrus, or standing heat. This period generally lasts 18 to 24 hrs,
although it may even last considerably longer. At the beginning and end
of each breeding season, the doe may go through a 'silent' estrus in
which ovulation is not accompanied by normal estrus behavior. In other
species, this has been attributed to a lack of circulating levels of
estrogens at the time of estrus.
The 'goat odor' of bucks is of significance in sexual behavior in
that it serves as a stimulus to the doe. Through conditioning and
previous sexual experience, the odor elicits a series of responses in
the female that serve to facilitate the courting and breeding process.
The doe will rub her neck and body against the buck, and will stand to
receive his attentions.
Behavioral patterns of the buck are more unique and complex among
the two sexes during the breeding season. He becomes aggressive as he
struggles to attain and maintain the position of lead (alpha) buck. He
is more active and verbal during the breeding season, constantly on the
lookout for does in estrus and invading bucks. He will often be
sniffing the urine of does, extend the head and neck into the air with
the upper lip curled up (the 'Flehmen' posture), searching for the
olfactory and gustatory stimuli that indicate to him that the doe is in
Upon identifying a doe in estrus, the buck will follow her, and
then move up in an attempt to herd the doe away from the rest of the
flock. Once separated the buck will begin to paw the ground around the
doe in an apparent display of masculinity. During these and subsequent
stages of precopulatory behavior, the buck emits a frequent hoarse,
'baaing' that is often termed a 'grumble'. The buck can also be
observed to run his tongue in and out of his mouth during these first
two stages and is generally very excited. Next he proceeds to sniff
and nuzzle the genital areas of the doe, while intermittently rubbing
against the side of the doe.
Copulation is achieved by the buck mounting and gaining
intromission through repeated thrusting movements of the hind quarters.
If the doe is fully receptive and experienced, she will stand
completely still to receive the male. If she is not fully receptive or
lacks previous sexual experience, she may move about or even begin to
walk away, thus making if more difficult for the buck to gain
intromision. This creates a greater expenditure of both time and energy
on the buck's part, and if many does behave in this fashion, it may
cause problems in getting the flock covered by the buck.
Epimeletic Behavior (care-giving maternal)
The doe will separate from the rest of the flock when kidding time
approaches. After the kid is born, she will lick the youngster clean of
any afterbirth and may even eat the afterbirth. The licking of the kid
has a general stimulatory effect on it, and if necessary may be done
also by the manager in the form of a brisk rubbing with a clean dry
cloth or wad of straw. The doe may give a parturient call, consisting of
a short, low pitched bleating either to her young or in response to the
call of any kid. If a strange kid should approach her, however, she
will rebuke it.
Constant contact between the doe and the kid, with much sniffing
and licking on the doe's part, is necessary for the formation of an
early close bond and imprinting. If a kid is removed at birth from its
mother and returned before 2 hours have elapsed, the doe will accept the
kid; later, it may be rejected; certainly after 3 hours. Acceptance of a
kid can be achieved through forced exposure if the doe is restrained,
tranquilized or fooled by washing the kid with the doe's scent. This
procedure is difficult and time consuming, and may take as long as 10
days before acceptance is complete. In a flock situation, subordinate
does may allow any kid to nurse after a brief bonding period of about
10 minutes. Bonding in goats is primarily based on olfactory cues.
Et-epimeletic Behavior (care-seeking)
Young kids, if captured, held, or hurt will emit a high pitched
general distress call, which is capable of conveying emotional
distress. Even the most novice goatsman has no trouble recognizing it
as a distress call.
Adults will also 'baa' rather stridently when separated from the
rest of the flock. This accounts for the fact that when several herds
are mixed, there is usually a great deal of noise as the goats mill
about, trying to locate their herd members.
Agonistic Behavior (antagonistic)
Bucks engage in a form of rearing and butting in order to establish
dominance for the formation of a flock hierarchy. While animals such as
sheep approach each other and butt head on, goats stand about 4 to 6
feet apart, then rear up so that their body is at right angles to their
opponent, with their head turned and facing toward the opponent. They
then pivot and lunge forward and down to the ground, coming together in
a sharp crack. This difference between sheep and goat behavior enables
the two to be kept together with little conflict between them.
The establishment of a social hierarchy among the bucks results in
the selection of the dominant (alpha) buck, who is responsible for
flock safety and the breeding of the does. The other bucks in the
flock, because they do not breed, are peripheral males or 'social
castrates'. If the buck is not fertile or of low fertility, then the
flock kidding rate will be low, even though several fertile bucks may
The dominant buck is aggresive during the breeding season, but
during the rest of the year he is content even to be pushed around by
the leading female (queen). This queen is the true leader of the
flock, and usually achieves her rank by virtue of having the most
descendants. The dominance of the mother over her young is maintained
It appears that dominance may be established by such factors as
relative age, play fighting and whether or not the goat is horned. A
horned female may be dominant over a hornless male.
The development of dominance is enhanced by crowding and the use of
small feeding areas, as the increased competition for the same food and
space exerts an organizational pressure. Once a dominance order is
established however, it may remain stable for several years even though
the organization of the flock itself changes as individuals are born,
die or mature. Newcomers to the herd have to find their own level and
establish themselves in the flock order, with the result of increased
fighting for a short period of time. Any fighting is always on a one to
one basis; there is never a gang attack on a goat, although one after
another may fight against the same goat.
When alarmed, goats will stomp one forefoot and produce a high
pitched, sneezing sound. Goat flocks exhibit a tendency to move about a
short distance away, forming a thin line in front of the disturbance.
If pursued further, they will tend to break up from the group. This
prevents them from being herded like sheep, which tend to bunch
together while being pursued. This is one reason shy dogs have never
worked well in goat herding attempts.
Young kids, instead of following their mother while she grazes,
remain in one spot, 'freezing' at the sign of any danger. By
freezing, a predator (if that is the danger), may pass the kid without
Adult goats are also occasionally known to go into a catatonic state
when scared or threatened. This response, which is similar to the
opossum, was first recorded by Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, the Russian
scientist who pioneered the classical conditioning experiments with
dogs. He felt that goat response was related to some inhibition of the
goat's normal self-protective impulse to run.
Shelter Seeking Behavior
Goats are generally quite hardy animals, being able to weather the
heat and the cold comparatively well, so long as they are provided with
a well constructed shed. If there's one thing a goat doesn't like,
it's rain. Goats will run to the nearest available shelter on the
approach of a storm, often arriving before the first drops of rain have
fallen. They also have an intense dislike for water puddles and mud.
Probably through evolution they have been more free of parasites if
they have avoided wet spots. Goat management should copy this.
While hot weather poses no great problem to most goats, high level
of humidity does cause them stress. This will lower milk production,
cause loss of body weight and even may increase hostility within a
An interesting adaptation of shelter seeking behavior occurs among
goats that are living in hot, dry and treeless areas. They have been
observed to congregate and huddle during the midday heat, when it
seems preferable to be apart from one another. This crowding occurs
when the rate of heat taken in by the goat's body is in excess of its
ability to dissipate heat. By crowding, the goats manage to reduce the
intake of direct and reflected solar energy.