Homesteaders have a healthy respect for goats and appreciate their hardiness, versatility, and ability to eat practically anything. That’s only the half of it, though. Goats are incredible beasts and have been celebrated throughout history.
Did you know that, according to Ethiopian legend, if it wasn’t for goats, we never would have discovered “the magical coffee bean”?
In Sweden, people celebrated the Yule goat for hundreds of years. It was believed that, in the event of a sleigh accident or breakdown, Santa would hop onto his goat and deliver gifts that way instead.
Aside from the myths and legends, there are some other surprising things you probably didn’t know about goats. I’ve done my research, however, and am here to share some unexpected home truths about your caprine creatures.
17 Things You Didn’t Know About Goats
Here are the goat facts we’ll answer today!
- Why do goats fall over?
- Can goats swim?
- How many teeth does a goat have?
- How many stomachs do goats have?
- Why do goats head butt each other?
- Can you house-train a goat?
- Can goats eat apples?
- Do goats eat meat?
- Do all goats have horns?
- How much does a goat weigh?
- Can goats climb trees?
- Can you milk a pygmy goat?
- Why do goats scream?
- Do goats have accents?
- Do goats eat poison ivy?
- Can goats see in the dark?
- Do goats get fleas?
1. Why Do Goats Fall Over?
Most goats don’t fall over very often, although I did just watch a young buck slide off the roof of his enclosure and land in a tangle of legs. It was slippery, though, and, for the most part, my Boer and Dwarf goats manage to stay upright, most of the time.
The same isn’t true of the Myotonic or Tenessee Fainting goat, however. These peculiar creatures fall over at the slightest hint of danger. Rather than engaging in the usual “flight or fight” response, Myotonic goats stiffen up and fall over.
Although commonly known as fainting goats, these strange creatures never actually lose consciousness. They do, however, suffer “from a genetic condition called myotonia congenita, which causes their muscles to briefly stiffen after they are startled”.
In nutshell, that’s why goats fall over. Not all goats, though, some are just clumsy!
2. Can Goats Swim?
Not only can goats swim, but they’ve also been known to cover great distances, using their unlikely hooves to propel them through the water. That’s not to say they’ll throw themselves into the nearest pond with duck-like abandonment!
Most goats will avoid water and won’t usually opt for swimming as their favored mode of transport. If a goat spends too much time in the water, it will be as susceptible to hypothermia as any other creature – two-legged or otherwise.
Curiously enough, however, goats were popular warship companions, but not as a result of their poker-playing prowess! In the days before refrigeration, goats were kept on board as garbage bags for undesirable food and as sustainable sources of milk, butter, and meat.
Not only were they smaller and easier to feed than a cow, but they were also much better swimmers so would survive the occasional goat-overboard disaster.
3. How Many Teeth Does a Goat Have?
A mature goat has 32 teeth, made up of eight incisors, six premolars, and six molars. The incisors are present on the bottom jaw only, with the front of the top jaw sporting a dental pad instead. This combination is perfect for gathering large quantities of leaves, branches, and other plant matter.
Baby goats, just like human kids, get a set of deciduous or “baby” teeth before getting their permanent teeth. Born with eight, equally-sized baby teeth at the front of their lower jaw, kids get their first permanent teeth at around one year of age. This happens until the goat turns four, by which point all the deciduous teeth have been replaced.
Because of this process, it’s possible to age a goat according to their teeth. Goats older than four years can be aged according to the amount of wear on the teeth, although this will vary depending on its habitat and diet.
My goats, for instance, send a lot of time browsing on thorny acacia trees and so their teeth will wear away faster than the goats on my friend’s farm, who enjoy a softer diet made up of grass and lucerne.
4. How Many Stomachs Does a Goat Have?
As ruminants, goats have four separate stomach chambers, each one with a unique role to play in the digestion system.
The first two stomachs, the reticulum and the rumen, are used for digesting cellulose fiber. The goat then regurgitates cud from the reticulum, chews it, and swallows it a second time, sending it to the third stomach, the omasum.
This stomach removes the water from the digested material and passes it into the abomasum, the fourth stomach, where enzymes complete the digestive process.
Although adult goats have multiple stomachs, kid goats are born monogastric, meaning they use just one of those four chambers. The milk moves directly from the esophagus to the abomasum, via a temporary rumino reticular groove. It’s important to know this as it influences how you bottle-feed an infant.
The kid’s head needs to be up and its neck extended, as it would be were it drinking from its mother. “If milk gets into the rumen where it will not be digested because the rumen is not yet functioning in a neonate goat, it will sit and go toxic”.
5. Why Do Goats Head Butt Each Other?
Goats head butt each other for various reasons and the type of head butt can tell you a lot about what motivated it.
A head-to-head butt, for example, is a kind of ritual that goats use to establishing their rank within the herd. I also see my goats head-butting one another to see who’s going to get the last grain of corn.
Goats are surprisingly rough with one another and particularly so with each other’s kids. I often see a doe slamming her head into the flank of another doe’s kid, trying to teach it some discipline and keep it away from her teats.
If you have a large herd in a small enclosure, you’ll probably witness a lot more in-fighting and head butting than if they have room to roam. Unsurprisingly, tensions run high when resources are limited, and overstocking often increases frustration and bullying.
If you’ve got a particularly aggressive goat who thinks head-butting his owners is appropriate behavior, you can always try sticking a couple of tennis balls or some pool noodles on his horns to prevent injury (and have a giggle at his expense).
6. Can Goats be House-trained?
Amazingly enough, over 50,000 people in the UK live with a goat as a companion – many of them letting them into their homes and onto their furniture. While that might sound appealing, especially when you’ve got a tiny Dwarf Nigerian kid to cuddle, it does come with a few problems.
Although goats are intelligent and relatively easy to train, they’re not so easy house-train, simply because they don’t always know when the next scattering of little raisin-like pellets is about to descend. You can teach a goat to urinate outside, but teaching him not to poop his little pellets outside the house is virtually impossible.
Goats do make excellent pets, but they’re not the ideal housemates. They like eating hay, for one, which is rarely ideal in a home situation. They also jump on every item of furniture available, often damaging it with their sharp little hooves. That’s before we even mention their voracious appetites and love of chewing.
If you’re prepared to compromise on cleanliness and are committed to a lengthy house-training regime, you could find a goat to be the flatmate of your dreams. That’s what Tom Horsfield thinks about his goat buddy, Benjamin. If not, you’re probably better off keeping your goat in the garden (assuming you don’t like plants, that is).
7. Can Goats Eat Apples?
According to experts, goats love apples. According to my goats, apples are the spawn of Satan and should be avoided at all costs. My goats are weird!
Most people’s goats are willing to gobble down an entire bucket of apples given half the chance. Don’t give them that half chance, though – it could end in a potentially life-threatening case of bloat.
While goats can eat apples, if you feed them too many in one go, you run the risk of fermentation taking place in the digestive system.
To give your goats a healthy snack, chop the apple into smaller pieces so your goats can digest it more easily. This way, your goats can get all the benefits of the apple, without the dangers of bloating.
8. Do Goats Eat Meat?
Goats have a reputation for eating absolutely anything but, in reality, they’re quite picky eaters and strict vegans.
While some ruminants, like the giraffe, will chew on the occasional bone to get the calcium and phosphorus they need to strengthen their skeletons, goats are more rigid in their diets. They may nibble on a piece of meat out of curiosity, but they instinctively know they don’t have the digestive system necessary to process it.
9. Do All Goats Have Horns?
A lot of people are under the misconception that only bucks and male goats have horns. In most species, both the females and males have horns. These start to appear when the kid is just a few days old and grow at a rapid rate. Some breeders and owners prefer goats without horns and dis-bud them early on.
Sometimes, you will get a goat born naturally hornless, which is known as a polled goat. It is possible to breed two polled goats to get a polled kid, but there’s only a 25% chance of that unless one of the parents is homozygous for the polled trait.
10. How Much Does a Goat Weigh?
Goats can weigh anywhere between 20kg (approximately 44lbs) and 140 kg (310 lbs) depending on the breed. The lightest goats are the diminutive Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats, while the heaviest are the Boer goats which are bred purely for meat.
11. Can Goats Climb Trees?
I’m pleased to say that, while I have had to rescue a horse who was stuck in a tree (a story for another day), I’ve never found any of my goats balancing in the branches. My Boer goats are probably too heavy to climb, although they do an impressive pruning job by standing on their hind legs. My little Nigerian Dwarf crosses are even less inclined.
Some goats are particularly adept at climbing trees. In Morocco, it’s not uncommon to see a whole herd of goats precariously perched some 30-feet above ground. In the hot, arid conditions of Morocco, there’s little else on offer so these goats have developed a taste for the Argon fruit.
Making up over 80% of their diets, these Moroccan miracles have adapted to their lofty lifestyle quite comfortably. Sadly, because tourists are fascinated with the species, some farmers now forcibly tie their goats up in trees, hoping to elicit a few dollars from tourists eager to capture the strange sight on camera.
12. Can You Milk a Pygmy Goat?
Pygmy goats are usually kept either as pets or bred as meat goats, but they’re pretty good milkers as well, producing up to two quarts (just under 2 liters) of milk a day. The only drawback is that you can only milk these little does for 120 to 180 days.
In comparison, the Dwarf Nigerian can produce the same amount of milk per day but for up to 304 days, while the queen of dairy goats, the Saanen, produces up to 3 liters a day for up to 265 days.
13. Why Do Goats Scream?
As far as my herd is concerned, any reason is a reason to scream! I have one particularly vocal Boer doe who screams when the buck gives her attention and when he doesn’t. She screams because she wants to come in for her evening meal and then starts screaming again at dawn because she wants to go out.
Unfortunately, that particular doe sounds a lot like a person screaming. Not all goats have that same ear-shattering bleat and some are even quite cute – emitting a quiet gurgling sound rather than a full-on screech.
For the most part, goats bleat when they’re bored, scared, hungry, thirsty, in heat, giving birth, being covered by a buck, or separated from the rest of the herd.
Although I have a very noisy Boer Goat, they are generally regarded as a quiet breed, whereas the Nubians have a reputation for creating a playground-like cacophony of noise 24/7.
14. Do Goats Have Accents?
I can’t say I’ve noticed my Boer goats screaming with an Afrikaans accent but maybe they do.
Researchers have concluded that, like humans, goats adapt their calls depending on their social environment.
Goat kids raised together tend to have similar calls, “But the calls of kids raised in the same social groups were also similar to each other, and became more similar as the kids grew older.”
In other words, “goat kids modify their calls according to their social surroundings, developing similar ‘accents’.” Like us, a move to a new area produces a change in how they vocalize. A bit like South Africans who move to Australia and almost instantly adopt an Australian accent.
15. Can Goats Eat Poison Ivy?
We’ve already established that goats can’t eat everything but, it would seem, they can eat nearly everything, including poison ivy.
Goats are very effective at bush control, so much so, an article in the New York Daily News dubbed them, “weapons of grass destruction.” While goats won’t go near the roots of a poison ivy plant, their persistent browsing will “eventually starve the plant of the energy it needs to survive.”
16. Can Goats See in the Dark?
Goats can see extremely well in the dark and their peculiar horizontal pupils can control the amount of light entering the eye.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that those “slit pupils provide the dynamic range needed to help them see in dim light yet not get blinded by the midday sun.”
17. Do Goats Get Fleas?
Just like any other animal, goats are prone to infestations of both internal and external parasites, including fleas, mites, and ticks.
Here on the Wild Coast of South Africa, we have every tick known to man and a few more only women and goats know about.
Thankfully, our goats rarely have a problem with fleas or mites which is a relief as some say bathing your goats is the best way to rid them of the little blighters and the thought of bathing my herd of 13 is the stuff of nightmares.
If you don’t mind going the chemical route, I’d recommend Frontline or a similar product as both a preventive and a solution to external parasites like fleas.
If you prefer to stay organic, try dusting the goats with diatomaceous earth, focusing on the face, neck, pit areas of the legs, and the legs themselves. This is also relatively effective against most ticks, but not the more persistent ones, like the colorful African bont tick.
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Now you’ve reached the end of this insightful article into the real nature of goats, you should never be taken in by a shaggy goat story ever again. In fact, you’re probably even better informed than those Special Forces soldiers from the Seventies, known as “the men who stare at goats”.
If your desire for knowledge about goats isn’t yet satisfied, why not check out our articles on
- What is a Wether Goat?
- How To Tell If Your Goat is Pregnant?
- How to Trim Goat Hooves
- 7 Tips for Building the Best Goat Shelter
- 17 Tips for the Best Goat Toys to DIY or Buy
If you still have questions about goats or a myth about these caprine creatures you’d like to resolve, feel free to comment below and we’ll see if we can find the answers.