November 24, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Goats Part 1


Goats & man: Senses: Social behaviour

By Dr Clive Dalton

Goats are not like sheep

Milking goats soon adapt their grazing and herding behaviour to the
timing and routine of twice-a-day milking

  • The first thing to accept is that goats are very different from sheep in their behaviour, and we sometimes forget this when trying to handle them.
  • The goat is found on all the continents of the world, and is one of man's most important animals as more people in the world eat goat meat than eat sheep meat.
  • Goat remains 10,000 years old (or of their early ancestors) have been found in central and West Iran, and domestic goats existed in other parts of the world for 8,000 years.
  • Some authorities suggest that goats were companion animals long before dogs. The goat has also caused many of the world's deserts through man's ignorance and stupidity resulting in over grazing.
  • The goat was domesticated early along with sheep and adapted well to man's nomadic lifestyle as well as in established farming.
  • Goats are a different species to sheep with different numbers of chromosomes (sheep 27 pairs and goat 30 pairs). Hybrids between them are often reported (Geeps or Shoats) but are not viable and don't breed.
Products from goats:
  • Meat - called Chevon
  • Dairy produce - milk, cheese, yoghurt
  • Skins
  • Fibre - mohair, cashmere, cashgora (Cashmere x Angora), and beard hair.
  • In some cultures they are sacrificed for religious reasons.
  • Companions and pets.
Goat senses

  • Sight is very similar to sheep (see sheep)
  • Goats have a similar blind spot at their rear, but they are more difficult to catch using this area as they are generally more alert than sheep and are not blinded by wool on the head and around the eyes.
  • They can distinguish different colours - responding best to orange and worst to blue.
  • Goats are very sensitive to a range of sounds from the high pitched squeals of kids to low pitched snorts or foot stamping on the ground.
  • They have an ability to move their ears to locate the source of sound.
  • Being browsers and highly selective grazers, goats have a keen sense of smell which aids in diet selection.
  • Goats will not eat mouldy or musty feed, and generally avoid poisonous plants unless they are wilted and then are more palatable.
Peg Dewes knows that goats are not like sheep
and expects to be accosted & have her jacket chewed & tasted

Social behaviour
  • Goats are a flocking species but they don't flock as tightly as sheep.
  • Feral goats are hard to muster as individuals (especially males) keep breaking back and prefer to escape rather than herd with the mob.
  • Sheep stick with the mob for safety unlike goats that seem to more keen to take a chance on their own.
  • Goats will herd together better when you get them off their home range. It's a good idea to have some sheep in the goat mob to encourage flocking during mustering.
  • Goats are a "lying-out" species like cattle and deer which is a big contrast to sheep.
  • Males join harems of females in autumn and feral bucks will travel up to 20km to find does. But the rest of the year they are in bachelor groups or live as solitary males. They sort out a social order in these groups by bunting and horn wrestling.
  • So most of the year, an alpha female leads a small family group of females suckling their current kids, with any previous adolescent females still in the group. A dam may suckle a kid till the next one is born.
  • Younger members of the family or tribe are submissive to higher-ranking females.
  • As most feral goats in NZ have horns, they use these along with head butts to sort out their social status.
  • In farmed milking goats, you see them bunting and biting each other in the milking bail to sort out their differences, especially in competition for any feed supplements.
  • At mating the buck is the harem leader and fights off any on-comers. These may be younger lower-ranking males in the group waiting for an opportunity, but the old buck is the boss and does the mating.
  • Mature bucks sort themselves out by serious head butting, rising on their hind legs to attack with horns and heads. They also use their horns to side-rake their opponents

Climbing and digging

Goats will dig holes to get through below fences

  • Goats are remarkable in their ability to climb and can move safely along narrow mountain paths to graze among the rocks.
  • You often see a roadside goat standing on the ridge of their A-framed shelter.
  • The contrast between goats and sheep is best seen at school pet days, where the goat kids are tested in extra exercises like climbing and walking over a see saw which would be a much greater challenge to a lamb.
  • This ability can be a problem in farming, as goats will climb fence stays to jump over. So electric fencing is necessary to run goats, especially at the high stocking rates needed to make them eat weeds.
  • Goats will also dig holes below fences to escape. They also like to dig areas to lie in and enjoy the sun's warmth in winter. They do this especially on North facing slopes which then start eroding.

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