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Goat Behavior
From the National Agricultural Library
ORIGIN: United States
Extension Goat Handbook
This material was contributed from collections at
the National Agricultural Library.  However, users
should direct all inquires about the contents to
authors or originating agencies.
G. F. W. Haenlein
R. Caccese; U. of Delaware, Newark
P. H. Sammelwitz; U. of Delaware, Newark
Anatomy and Physiology
While recognizes and commends the eminence of the contributors readers are cautioned that certain behaviors described within this paper should be considered as observations only and not as absolutes.

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.

Ingestive Behavior
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 ruminate.

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 production.

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.

Eliminative Behavior
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
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 estrus.

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 be available.

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 throughout life.

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 locating it.

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 flock.

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.


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