Female goats are referred to as “does” or “nannies” (or, less
frequently, as “mishas”), intact males as “bucks” or “billies”;
their offspring are “kids”. Castrated males are “wethers”. Goat
meat is sometimes called “chevon”.
The Modern English word “goat” comes from the Old English “gat” which meant she-goat which itself derived from Proto-Germanic “*gaitaz” (compare Old Norse and Dutch “geit”, German “Geiß” and Gothic “gaits” all meaning goat) ultimately from Proto-Indo-European “*ghaidos” meaning young goat but also play (compare Latin “hædus” 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/she-goat occurred in the late 12th century. “Nanny goat” originated in the 18th century and “billy goat” in the 19th.
The word “chevon” is derived from the Norman French “chevre” (goat).
Goats seem to have been first domesticated roughly 10,000 years ago in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Ancient cultures and tribes began to keep them for easy access to milk, hair, meat, and skins. Domestic goats were generally kept in herds that wandered on hills or other grazing areas, often tended by goatherds who were frequently children or adolescents, similar to the more widely known shepherd. These methods of herding are still used today.
Historically, goat hide has been used for water and wine bottles in both traveling and transporting wine for sale. It has also been used to produce parchment, which was the most common material used for writing in Europe until the invention of the printing press.
In some climates, goats, like humans, are able to breed at any time of the year. In northern 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, obsessive interest in the does, a strong heat.
In addition to live breeding, artificial insemination has gained popularity among goat breeders, as it allows for rapid improvement because of breeder access to a wide variety of bloodlines.
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 with few complications. The mother often eats the placenta, which, with its oxytocin, gives her much needed nutrients, helps staunch her bleeding, and is believed by some to reduce the lure of the birth scent to 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.
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. 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 toxic or detrimental to cattle and sheep. This makes them valuable for controlling noxious weeds and clearing brush and undergrowth. They will seldom eat soiled food or 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 actually consume garbage, tin cans, or clothing, although they will occasionally eat items made primarily of plant material, which can include wood. Their reputation for doing so is most likely due to their 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 clothes and sometimes washing powder boxes by nibbling at them.
The digestive physiology of a very young kid 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, and as the kid begins to consume solid feed, the rumen increases in size and in its capacity to absorb nutrients.
Goats will consume, on average, 4.5 pounds of dry matter per 100 lbs of body weight per day.
This Domestic Goat Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub