The history of goats in North America began with the arrival of Spanish explorers and settlers in the 1500s. English settlers brought a few goats to New England beginning in the 1600s. These two types accounted for most of the goats found in North America until the time of the Civil War. Importation of several European dairy breeds, including the Nubian, began about 1900.
In the United States, there are between two and four million goats. There are about 200 breeds of goats producing a variety of products, including milk, meat, and fiber (mohair and cashmere). Predators include mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats.
Much like Species Survival Plans with wildlife species, most breed associations maintain herd books that track sires, dams, and offspring as well as reproductive traits of the bulls and dams.
Goats can have short or long hair and curled, silky, or coarse hair. They may have wattles—hair-covered appendages—on the neck and beards. Wattles serve no purpose. Some breeds have straight noses, others have convex noses or slightly dished noses. Ears may be erect or drooping, small or large. Goats come in almost any color, solid black, white, red, brown, spotted, two and three colored, or blended shades.
Tails and scent distinguish goats from sheep and cattle. The goat tail is short, bare underneath, and usually carried upright. Bucks have scent glands located around the horn base and function in stimulating estrus in does.
It is believed that goats have excellent night vision and will often browse at night. The color of a goat's eyes varies; the most common color is yellow or brown.
Like cattle, goats are ruminants.
The digestive tract of the goat has the typical four
stomach compartments of ruminants:
to six gallons capacity
Reticulum: 0.26 to 0.5 gallons
Omasum: 0.26 gallons
Abomasum: up to one gallon
Goats' lips, teeth, and tongue are the primary grazing tools. The lips are most important in grabbing feed and bringing it into the mouth. Because the upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw in ruminants, only one side of the mouth can be used at a time to grind the feed. This causes the rotary movement you see when a goat (or cow) is chewing. It takes 11 to 15 hours for feed material to pass through the goat’s digestive system. The ruminant digestive system of the goat works non-stop throughout the adult life of the animal.
Angora (fiber)—Angora goats are a medium-size breed that grows very long curly coats. The hair from Angora goats is removed, or sheared, to give a fiber called mohair. Angora goats can also be raised for meat. Angora goats are not exhibited at the National Zoo.
Meat—With the exception of the South African Boer goat imported via New Zealand in early 1993, there are no true meat goat breeds in the United States. Goat meat is consumed worldwide, and is called “chevon” or “cabrito.” Meat goats usually have a long body with a strong, wide, and straight back. Chevon can be produced from all goats; however, there are a few breeds that stand out as more specialized for meat production. These are the Spanish, Myotonic, Nubian, and pygmy goats.
people consume milk and milk products from goats
worldwide than from any other animal. Goat milk is used for
drinking, cooking, and baking. It is also used to make cheese,
butter, ice cream, yogurt, candy, soap, and other body
products. In addition to milk, dairy goats provide meat,
leather, and fiber. The principal breeds of milk goat in the United States are the Saanen, Nubian, Toggenburg, French Alpine, and La Mancha. A dairy goat is angular with thin thighs and a long body.
Average milk production for dairy goats is 1,500 pounds per year but depends on the individual goat. Many dairy goats, in their prime, average 0.75 to one gallon of milk daily during a ten-month lactation.
Does may be milked by hand or machine. The milk requires the same careful attention to cleanliness and cooling as any other milk. The milk of the different breeds varies, as it does with cows. Generally, milk composition from goats and cows is similar. However, there are some differences: 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. Good goat milk does not have any stronger flavor than good cow's milk.
Socialization: Goats are herd animals and often prefer to surround themselves with goats of their breed in a mixed herd. They cannot be herded with dogs as well as sheep, but instead tend to disperse or face strangers and dogs head on.
Curiosity: Goats are intelligent and quick to learn good and bad habits, such as opening gate latches. A goat’s natural curiosity may lead it to investigate newly found items by sniffing and nibbling, but it quickly refuses anything that is distasteful.
Vocalization: Goats communicate with each other by bleating, what many people call the baaah sound. Goats will bleat when stressed, hungry, or calling for attention from keepers. Does (females) will also call to their kids.
Climbing: Goats are agile climbers and can run on or crawl under fences. Some breeds are able to jump more than five feet high. Most goats will also stand on their back legs to reach tree branches and shrubs.
Rumination: Goats spend many hours every day re-chewing the food they have eaten.
Goats can easily revert to feral, or wild, condition.