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Fact Sheet

Goat Terms

Bleat: goat vocalization
Buck: billy, or intact male goat
Doe: nanny, or female goat
Kid: baby goat
Wether: castrated male goat

Natural History

Goats, along with sheep, were among the first domesticated animals. Goat remains have been found at archaeological sites inNubian goats at Kids' Farm
western Asia dating back about 9,000 years. Except for angora, cashmere, and Damascus goats, which descended from the markhor (Capra falconeri), domestic goats are primarily descended from the Bezoar goat (Capra aegagrus).

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.

What Is a Breed?

A breed is a group of animals that have been bred over a long period of time to look similar in color, size, conformation, and function and can pass these traits to their offspring. For example, the Labrador retriever is a breed of dog. All Labradors look similar in appearance and have a few select colors (yellow, chocolate, black) allowed for their breed. It is mainly breeders and the livestock industry that determine when a group of individuals constitutes a breed. Some goats are crossbred, which combines the best traits of two or more breeds.

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.


Some goat breeds are among the smallest domesticated ruminants. Nigerian dwarf goats weigh about 20 pounds. At the other end of the scale, Anglo-Nubian may weigh up to 250 pounds. Goats may have horns of the scimitar or corkscrew types, but many are dehorned at an early age to prevent injury to other goats and handlers. Goats may also be polled (genetically hornless).

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.


Many goat breeds are seasonal breeders, being influenced by the length of daylight. Goats typically reach sexual maturity at six months of age, although the recommended breeding age varies. Does cycle every 21 days. Goats can be bred year-round, depending on the climate. A goat's length of pregnancy is five months. Average birth weight is six pounds. Twins are normal, and triplets are also common. Most kids can be weaned at eight to 12 weeks of age. Goats generally live ten to 12 years.

Feeding and Digestion

Like cattle, goats are ruminants. The digestive tract of the goat has the typical four stomach compartments of ruminants:

Rumen: four 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.


Goats have been classified as intermediate selector feeders. This means that they have plant preferences that extend to many different plants. Although goats have a higher nutrient requirement than larger ruminants, they are good browsers and can utilize a wide variety of shrubs, woody plants, weeds, and briars. Goats can also survive on bushes, trees, desert scrub, and aromatic herbs when sheep and cattle would not.

Interesting Information

  • The pupil in a goat's eye is rectangular in bright light instead of round.
  • A group of goats is called a "trip of goats."
  • Goats discovered coffee. According to legend, Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herd, was grazing his goats on a mountainside. The goats were eating a tall bush with shiny green leaves and red berries. Soon after, the goats started moving actively, as though they were full of energy. Finding this quite interesting, Kaldi decided to try the berries himself. After consuming the berries he reported that he felt awake, uplifted, and full of energy.
  • Sixty percent of the world’s supply of cashmere is produced in China.
  • Bucks have a strong musk-like odor during breeding season.

Types of Goats

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.

Dairy—More 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.

Milk Production

The udder of goats consists of two separate halves with a single gland in each half. The size of the udder depends on age and stage of lactation of the animal. Each udder half normally has only one teat, although extra teats are not uncommon. Milk is actually produced in small cells called alveoli.

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.

Interesting Information

  • On a worldwide basis, more people drink the milk of goats than any other single animal.
  • Some goats have been known to produce up to 1.75 gallons of milk a day, more than 600 gallons a year.
  • The volume of blood flow through the udder in a lactating goat has been estimated to be 317 gallons of blood per day.
  • Goat’s milk is nearly always pure white in color; goats more effectively convert carotene (which lends the yellow cast to cow's milk) to vitamin A.
  • Many things can affect goat milk flavor. Foods such as green grass, silage, wild onions, garlic, and turnips, if eaten even 15 to 30 minutes before milking may be detected in the taste. The flavor of goat milk can be affected by not only what the goat has eaten but also by the chemicals in the air including products commonly found on farms such as paint, oil, or insect repellent. Even the presence of a buck, with his strong scent gland, can affect the flavor of the milk produced.


The behavior of a goat can vary widely based upon a number of factors such as breed, surroundings, and size of the herd.

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.