All About Goats
The goat is one of the smallest domesticated ruminants which has
served mankind earlier and longer than cattle and sheep. It is managed
for the production of milk, meat and wool, particularly in arid,
semitropical or mountainous countries. In temperate zones, goats are
kept often rather as supplementary animals by small holders, while
commercially cows or buffaloes are kept for milk, cheese and meat, and
sheep for wool and meat production. Nonetheless, there are more than 460
million goats worldwide presently producing more than 4.5 million tons
of milk and 1.2 million tons of meat besides mohair, cashmere, leather
and dung; and more people consume milk and milk products from goats
worldwide than from any other animal. Cheese production, e.g., from
goat milk even in France, Greece, Norway and Italy is of economic
importance. Goat herds, on the other hand low producing though, are an
expression of capital assets and wealth in Africa and Asia where they
are found in large numbers. In the United States, there are between 2
and 4 million head; with Texas leading in Angora, meat and bush goats;
and California leading in dairy goats.
Goats can survive on bushes, trees, desert scrub and aromatic herbs
when sheep and cattle would starve to death. Goat herders often have
neglected a rational numerical balance between goat numbers and sparse
vegetation. Over-grazing has destroyed many tree and woodland areas
which was blamed then on goats rather than man, and this has caused
widespread ecological and political concerns, erosion, desertification
and even ban on freely grazing goats in some areas. On the other hand,
goats are valued by cattle and sheepmen in the fight against brush
encroachment on millions of acres of open rangeland.
Swiss goat breeds are the world's leaders in milk production.
Indian and Nubian derived goat breeds are dual-purpose meat and milk
producers. Spanish and South African goats are best known for meat
producing ability. The Turkish Angora, Asian Cashmere and the Russian
Don goats are kept for mohair and cashmere wool production. In
addition, there are Pygmy goats from Western Africa of increasing
interest as laboratory and pet animals.
Goat milk casein and goat milk fat are more easily digested than
from cow milk. Goat milk is valued for the elderly, sick, babies,
children with cow milk allergies, patients with ulcers, and even
preferred for raising orphan foals or puppies. Fat globules in goat
milk are smaller than in cow milk and remain dispersed longer. Goat
milk is higher in vitamin A, niacin, choline and inositol than cow
milk, but it is lower in vitamin B6, B12, C and carotenoids. The
shorter chain fatty acids (C6, C8, C10, C12) are characteristically
higher in goat milk than in cow milk. Otherwise milk gross composition
from goats or cows is similar except for differences due to breeds,
climate, stage of lactation and feeds.
Breeds of goats vary from as little as 20 lb mature female
bodyweight and 18 inches female withers for dwarf goats for meat
production up to 250 lb and 42 inches withers height for Indian
Jamnapari, Swiss Saanen, Alpine and AngloNubian for milk production.
Some Jamnapari males may be as tall as 50 inches at withers. Angora
goats weigh between 70 to 110 lb for mature females and are
approximately 25 inches tall. Birthweights of female singles are
between 3 and 9 lb; twins being often a pound lighter and males 1/2 lb
heavier. Twinning is normal in goats with a high percentage of triplets
thus giving several breeds an average annual litter size above 2 per
doe and more than 200reproduction rate. Females are called doe, young
are kids, males are bucks; one speaks of buck and doe kids, and
doelings, and of wethers or castrates.
Morphologically, goats may have horns of the scimitar or corkscrew
types, but many are dehorned in early age with a heated iron, caustic or
later on with a rubber band or surgical saw. Goats may also be
hornless genetically. They can be short haired, long haired, have
curled hair, are silky or coarse wooled. They may have wattles on the
neck and beards. Some breeds, particularly the European, have straight
noses, others have convex noses, e.g., the Jamnapari and Nubian breeds
or slightly dished noses (Swiss). Swiss and other European breeds have
erect ears, while pendulous, drooping, large ears characterize Indian
and Nubian goats. The American LaMancha breed has no external ear. A
''gopher'' ear rudiment in LaMancha is less than 1 inch long with
little or no cartilage; an ''elf'' ear is less than 2 inches long, but
bucks can be registered only with gopher ears. The responsible gene for
rudimentary ears is dominant, thus sires with gopher ears will always
have gopher or elf-eared offspring, no matter what the genotype of the
dam is to which he was mated.
Goats come in almost any color, solid black, white, red, brown,
spotted, two and three colored, blended shades, distinct facial
stripes, black and white saddles, depending on breeds.
Teeth in goats are a good guide to age. Six lower incisors are
found at birth and a set of 20 ''milk teeth'' are complete at 4 weeks
of age consisting of the eight incisors in the front of the lower jaw,
and 12 molars, three on each side in each jaw. Instead of incisors in
the upper jaw there is a hard dental pad against which the lower
incisors bite and cut. Some goats have an undesirable inherited
recessive condition of ''parrot'' (overshot upper jaw) or ''carp''
mouth (undershot upper jaw) which does not interfere with barn feeding
conditions but handicaps the goat severely in pasturing and browsing,
because the lower incisor teeth cannot cut correctly against the upper
dental pad. With progressing age, the permanent teeth wear down from
the rectangular crossectional shape and cores to the round stem which
is a further distinguishing mark of age. Furthermore, there are
pregnancy rings marking horns and telling age.
The digestive tract of the goat after nursing has the typical four
stomach compartments of ruminants consisting of the rumen (paunch) (4-6
gallon), the reticulum (honeycomb) (1-2 liters), the omasum (maniply)
(1 liter), and the abomasum (true stomach) (3.5 liters). The intestinal
canal is about 100 feet long (11 liters), or 25 times the length of a
goat. The total blood volume of the goat approximates 1/12-1/13 of
bodyweight; it takes about 14 seconds for goat blood to complete one
Among diseases, goats are not too different from cattle and sheep
in the same regions. Goats tend to have more internal parasites than
dairy cows, especially in confined management. They tend to have less
tuberculosis, milk fever, post partum ketosis and brucellosis than
dairy cows and their milk tends to be of lower bacteria counts than cow
milk. They have more prepartum pregnancy toxemia than dairy cows, and
are known to have laminitis, infectious arthritis, Johne's disease,
listeriosis, pneumonia, coccidiosis, scours, scabies, pediculosis,
liver fluke disease and mastitis.
The skin of the goat has sebaceous and sweat glands besides growing
the hair cover, horns, hooves and the two compartmented mammary gland
(udder). Before the first pregnancy, the udder is underdeveloped, but
with sustained repeated gentle massaging, a small, normal milk
producing gland can be stimulated in virgin does and even in goat
bucks. In contrast to sheep, the teats of goat's udders are
conveniently long and large for hand milking.
Tails, scent and horns distinguish goats easily from sheep and
cattle. The goat tail is short, bare underneath and usually carried
upright. Major scent glands are located around the horn base. They
function in stimulating estrus in male and female goats, improving
conception. The goat odor is, however, a detriment to goat keeping and
milk consumption if not properly controlled. Many goat breeds are
seasonal breeders, being influenced by the length of daylight.
Artificial insemination is commercially practiced in regions where
numbers of females make it economical. Goats are in puberty at 1/2 year
of age and can be bred if of sufficient size. Does come into estrus in
21 day cycles normally, lasting approximately 1 to 2 days.
In temperate zones, goats breed normally from August through
February. Nearer the equator, goats come into estrus throughout the
year. Thus more than one litter per year is possible, considering the
length of pregnancy of 150 days. Five days after ovulation one or
several corpus luteum form to protect the conceptus from abortion. The
goat pregnancy is corpus luteum dependant in contrast to cattle. If no
conception occurred, the corpus luteum disappears and new ovulation
takes place. A buck ejaculates normally 3/4 - 1 1/2 ml of semen with
2-3 billion spermatozoa each. The life of an ovum after ovulation is
about 8-10 hours. As the ovum travels down the goat's oviduct, it is
fertilized by semen which traveled up through the uterus. The
fertilized embryo becomes firmly attached to the uterine walls and
surrounds itself with a nourishing placenta starting at 52 days after
conception. Semen of goat bucks freezes as well as that of bulls and
may be stored for years in 1 ml ampules or 1/2 ml straws in liquid
nitrogen tanks for artificial insemination use.
Wild goats or escaped feral goats are found in many countries and
islands and can be harmful to the vegetation if numbers are left
Truly wild goats are found on Creta, other Greek islands, in
Turkey, Iran, Turkmenia, Pakistan; in the Alps, Siberia, Sudan,
Caucasus; the Pyrenees, the Himalayan, Central Asian, Russian and
Tibetan mountain ranges, and prefer rocky, precipitous mountains and
cliffs. Goats can not be herded as well with dogs as sheep; instead
they tend to disperse or face strangers and dogs headon. Relatives of
true goats are the Rocky Mountain goat, the chamois of the Alps and
Carpathian, and the muskox.
Goats belong, scientifically, to the Bovidae family within the
suborder of ruminants (chevrotain, deer, elk, caribou, moose, giraffe,
okapi, antelope), who besides the other suborders of camels, swine and
hippopotamuses make up the order of eventoed hoofed animals called
artiodactyla. They have evolved 20 million years ago in the Miocene
Age, much later than horses, donkeys, zebras, tapirs, rhinoceroses,
who make up the order of uneventoed hoofed animals; and the hyrax,
elephants, manatees who make up the ancient near-hoofed animals. All
these are herbivorous mammals, i.e., they live from plants and nurse
their young with milk from an external gland after the young is born,
having been carried in pregnancy to term relatively long in an internal
uterus with a complex, nourishing placenta.
Goats and sheep make up a tribe within the Bovidae family called
Caprini that include six goat, six sheep and five related species.
Goats have a 2n chromosome set number of 60 while domestic sheep have
a 2n set of 54; yet living hybrids of the two genera have been
reported. The six species of goats can be distinguished by their horn
- 1. Capra aegagrus, the wild (or bezoar) goat of Near East Asia has
scimitar-shaped horns with a sharp anterior keel and a few knobs in-
- 2. Capra ibex, the ibex of the Alps, Siberia and Nubia has scimitar
shaped horns with a flatter front and many transverse ridges.
- 3. Capra falconeri, the markhor of Central Asia has sharpkeeled horns
that are twisted into open or tight spirals.
- 4. Capra pyrenaica, the Spanish goat has outward-upward curving horns
with a sharp posterior keel.
- 5. Capra cylindricornis, the Dagestan tur of the Caucasus mountains
has round outward-back inward curving horns.
- 6. Capra hircus, the domestic goat evolved principally from capra
aegagrus, except for Angora, Cashmere goats, and Damascus types who
descended from capra falconeri.
Domestic goat breeds are many. Swiss breeds are distinguished in
milk producing ability and have influenced significantly milk
production from goats around the world, especially in Europe, North
America, Australia and New Zealand. A few breeds kept mostly for meat
are the South African boer goat, the Indian beetal, black Bengal, the
Latin American criollo, the US ''Spanish'' goats and most of the small
or nondescript goats. Fiber producing goat breeds are the Angora in
Turkey, USA, South Africa; the Cashmere in Afghanistan, Iran,
Australia and China; and Don breed in Russia.
The major breeds of US goats are:
Saanen originate from Switzerland (Saanen Valley), are totally
white, with or without horns. The white color is dominant over other
colors. They are mostly short haired. The ''Appenzell'' is a similar
breed, but partially related to the Toggenburg is from Northern
Switzerland, longhaired, white and hornless. Saanen have been exported
around the world as leading milk producers. An Australian Saanen doe
holds the world record milk production of 7,714 lbs in 365 days. Saanen
have been bred in Switzerland for odorfree milk long ago.
Toggenburg, brown with white facial, ear and leg stripes, another
straight nosed, horned or hornless, mostly shorthaired, erect eared
goat, as all Swiss are, has been very popular in the USA, comes from
N.E. Switzerland, but is 4 inches shorter in height and 18 lb lighter
in average than the Saanen. They have been bred pure for over 300
years, longer than many of our other domestic breeds of livestock.
They are reliable milk producers summer and winter, in temperate and
tropical zones. Mrs. Carl Sandburg, wife of the famous US poet had
several world record Toggenburg does on official USDA tests.
Alpine (including French, Rock and British), another Swiss breed
(French Switzerland), horned or hornless, shorthaired, as tall and
strong as the Saanen, with usually faded shades of white into black,
with white facial stripes on black. They are second in milk production
to Saanen and Toggenburg.
LaMancha is a new, young breed developed in California from Spanish
Murciana origin and Swiss and Nubian crossings. They are known for
excellent adaptability and good winter production. They are also
producing fleshier kids than the Swiss, but are not milking as much.
They have straight noses, short hair, hornless or horns, and no
external ear due to a dominant gene. They are more the size of
Toggenburg. Their milk fat content is higher than that of the Swiss
(Anglo)-Nubian is a breed developed in England from native goats
and crossed with Indian and Nubian which have heavy arched ''Roman''
noses and long, drooping, pendulous ears, spiral horns and are
shorthaired. They are leggy and as tall as Saanen, but produce less
milk, though higher milk fat levels and are more fleshy. They are less
tolerant of cold but do well in hot climates. They ''talk'' a lot, and
are in numbers the most popular breed in USA and Canada. They have a
tendency for triplets and quadruplets. They are horned or hornless and
have many colors that may be ''Appaloosa''-like spotted.
Oberhasli, a western Swiss breed, usually solid red or black,
horned or hornless, erect ears, not as tall as Saanen, very well
adapted for high altitude mountain grazing and long hours of marching;
popular in Switzerland, but milk production is variable. They are also
called Swiss Alpine, Chamoisie or Brienz.
Angora originated in the Near East. The long upper coat (mohair) is
the valuable product in the Angora in contrast to the Cashmere, where
the fine underwool is the valuable product. Head has a straight or
concave nose, thin, not very long; pendulous ears and twisted horns, in
both sexes. It is a small breed, usually white. The haircoat is long
with undulating locks and ringlets of fine, silky hair. The top quality
fleece of purebreds may be 1-2 lbs, but slightly more in males and
wethers. They are bearded. Spring moult is natural and shearing occurs
just before. They are not very prolific and twinning is less frequent
than in other breeds.
Pygmy are dwarf, short legged goats from West and Central Africa
and the Caribbean. Their growth rates and milk production are
relatively respectable, although low, twinning is frequent and they
are breeding all year usually. They are adaptable to humid tropics and
resistant to trypanosoma.
Others. There is little known about the so-called Spanish or bush
goats that are kept on the open range in the Southwest mostly. Also, a
few minor breeds exist in this country, e.g. the Sables, which are a
colored variety of the Saanen. It would be profitable to know more
about the other at least 60 goat breeds in the world and their
comparative values under US conditions.
From The National Dairy Database (1992)
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