Breeds of Goats

There are approximately 450 million goats around the world.

Goats were domesticated as long as 9,000 to 11,000 years ago in the near East. They have been in North America for hundreds of years, and were among the first animals brought to America.

In 1493, Columbus brought goats to America. In the 1590's the settlers brought Swiss breeds along with Spanish and Austrian goats. A 1630 census of Jamestown lists goats as one of the most valuable assets. The early 1900's was a period of explosive growth in the number of dairy goats being brought into the US. Goat popularity in the United States surged following the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, where the first dairy goat show in America was held. There was also an exhibit of 300 Angora goats, the most ever shown at one time. Their appearance, curly heavy hair, drew hundreds of fans to the Louisana Purchase Exposition.

Goats are members of the Bovidae family, as described by ITIS (Integrated Taxonomic Information System), which includes cattle, sheep, antelope, and buffalo. The normal body temperature for goats is between 101.7 to 104.5 degrees. The heart rate of goats is between 70 to 135 beats per minute. The normal respiration rate for goats is 12 to 15 breaths per minute. Goats are quite agile and in some cases they can jump over 5 and even climb trees. Goats do not have tear ducts. In bright light their pupils are rectangular rather than round. Goats are social creatures and live in groups called herds, which may contain as many as 20 goats in the wild, according to National Geographic.

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Goats are herbivores (they only eat vegetation). They are ruminants, and like cattle, they have four stomach compartments. (A ruminant is any hoofed animal that digests its food in two steps. First by eating the raw materials and regurgitating a semi-digested form known as “cud” then eating the cud – called chewing their cud.) The rumen can hold 4 to 6 gallons; the reticulum can hold up to a quarter to a half-gallon; the omasum can hold up to a quarter gallon and the abomasum can hold up to 1 gallon. It takes 11 to 15 hours for food to pass through a goat's digestive system.

Ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats are herbivores with a unique digestive anatomy. A prominent feature of ruminant dental anatomy is that they lack upper incisors, having instead a "dental pad", as shown in the image below. The upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw, so they use one side of their mouths to grind the food. This causes the rotary movement that is seen when a goat (or a cow) is chewing.

Contrary to popular myth, goats are selective feeders. They do not like eating food that has been soiled, contaminated or has been on the ground. It is said that coffee was first discovered when goat herders noticed the animals acting very energetic after nibbling on coffee beans.

There are three types of goats:

  • Domestic Goats (Capra Hircus) which are raised and bred on farms.
    Domestic goats are raised all over the world in almost every type of climate. The main habitat requirements for a domestic goat are browse and grass to eat, fresh clean water, and a clean, ventilated shelter in harsh climates. According to the Smithsonian Institution, there are about 200 breeds of domestic goats, and size can vary greatly according to breed. Nigerian dwarf goats are one of the smallest breeds, weighing around 20 pounds. Pygmy goats weigh between 53 and 86 pounds. Nubian goats weigh can up to 250 lbs. Boer goats can weigh up to 300 lbs. Domestic goats can be any color and each breed registry generally has breed standards that describe the desired appearance and color for that breed.
  • Wild goats (Capra genus) include ibex, markhors and turs. Wild goats can weigh from 125 to 180 pounds and can be between 49 to 70 inches long. Both males and females have horns and do not shed their horns like some other animals do. They typically spend their days grazing on grasses within their home range. They digdepressions in the ground to sleep, rest and dust bathe in.
  • Mountain Goats (Oreamnos americanus) are wild goats that occupy the mountainous areas of northwest United States. Mountain goats can jump 12 feet (3.5 meters) in a single bound, according to National Geographic. Most have bright white coats that help them blend into the snowy areas of their home ranges. They can weigh from 125 to 180 pounds and can be between 49 to 70 inches long. Both males and females have horns and do not shed their horns like some other animals do. Mountain goats are most social during the winter and tend to go solo in the summer. In herds, there is a dominant female throughout the year, until mating season. At this time a male dominates the herd. Many times, males only live with a few other males or by themselves, year-round.

Many people, particularly people unfamiliar with livestock or who live in cities, confuse goats with sheep. Although they are both herbivores and ruminants, they are different species and have several physical and behavioral differences.

  • Goats have 60 chromosomes, while sheep have 54. As a side note, humans have less, at 46 chromosomes.
  • A goats tail usually points up (unless it is frightened or sick). Sheep tails hang down and domestic sheep producers often dock (shorten) the tails of the sheep.
  • While goats are herd animals, they are independent and naturally curious. Sheep tend to flock together and are more aloof.
  • Goats have hair (much like that on dogs) that does not require shearing or combing (but Angora goats are sheared to provide mohair). Sheep's woolly coat will continue growing unless it is sheared.
  • Sheep produce lanolin which coats the wool and acts as a protectant. It also attracts dirt and most sheep wool does not remain white.
  • Most goat are horned, while many sheep do not have horns. Goat horns are narrow and straight or slightly curved. Horned sheep have horns that curl around to the side of their head.