Goats belong to the Capra genius (which immediately makes me think of the astrological star sign of Capricorn – the goat) – but surely there’s more to goats than just having a astrological sign named after them?
For starters, male goats are known as billies (or bucks) and females as nannies, with the youngsters being called kids – a nickname that English speakers have adopted for our own offspring. Goats can range in size from up to 140kg (300lbs) for the larger kinds down to just 23kg (50lbs) for the smallest pigmy ones.
There are an estimated 924 million goats in the world, with a large assortment of both domestic and wild varieties. We have an identified 300 species of domesticated goats and 9 main species of wild goats, which include Ibexes, Markhors and Turs – all these living in distinctly separate geographical areas, aside from the wild goat, which is more widespread.
The domesticated goat is a sub species from the wild goat – indeed, domestication of goats is long lived, dating back at least 10,000 years and it’s not hard to see why, as goats are versatile guys (and girls), providing milk, meat (which is the most consumed meat in the world), parchment, hides and fleece – gorgeously soft angora comes from our chums here. Also, larger breeds of goat are sometimes used as pack animals.
On that subject, did you know that there is a growing trend of using specially bred and trained goats for packing? The idea being that it helps us to get out into the wild and access more remote terrain with a friendly and sturdy footed companion to bring along some of the kit for us.
The rarest goat breed in the world is thought to be the Arapawa goat. These goats hail from the island of Arapawa, near New Zealand. They originated from two old English goats that were gifted to the island by the intrepid explorer, Captain Cook back in the 1780s. The goats bred most successfully on the island and within about 70 years their numbers had exceeded comfortable proportions. This situation continued until a cull was introduced in the 1970s, which dramatically reduced their population. As the goats are largely confined to just this one island, they are very much considered a rarity.
Both nanny and billy goats have those characteristic beards (varying according to their breed), but a lesser-known feature is the horizontal pupils in their eyes, which peps up their periphery vision, helping them to spot any approaching predators (eg wolves) well in advance. Another well-known attribute is, of course, their horns, which again, both sexes have. They usually sport two of these head adornments, but rarely, some goats have been known to grow up to 8! Wow you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of those!
Like their bovid cousins, goats are ruminants, meaning they chew the cud and have four stomachs with which to help them digest this tough fare. They are able to live in fairly harsh terrains in the wild and are infamous for being known to turn their appetites to a wide variety of foodstuffs, including hay, grasses, weeds, tree bark and even your auntie’s favourite straw hat (if you’re not careful!)
Part of this image of their being versatile eaters, is due to their inherent curiosity – they like to try things out – this demonstrates that they are intelligent souls. As well as being brainy, they like to keep themselves spic n span, being known to be one of the cleanest domesticated animals going. That said, goats are actually aquaphobes and have a distinct dislike of the wet stuff, choosing to pick their way around puddles and leap across streams rather than get their toes wet!
Goats are also fond of a chat and like to call out (bleat) to communicate with each other; this is especially true between nanny and kid goats to help keep the offspring safely close by – no wandering off now young ‘uns! Their alarm call, believe it or not, is a sneeze (maybe a good policy in these current times!!) They will also obliging learn a name and will respond to this when called!
As mentioned, these guys are sure-footed individuals, being used to living in mountainous regions, where they wander across difficult, rocky terrain with adept agility. They achieve their dexterity from the design of their hooves, which are cloven. The inner part of a goat’s hoof is softer than the outer layer – this inner layer acts as a shock absorber and wears down faster than the outer layer, insuring a constant hard edge, allowing for some impressive tippy-toeing moves. As well as being nimble on the hoof, these guys are also good at leaping and can jump up to 12 feet (3.5m).
I’ll always remember watching footage of the incredible ibexes who are able to climb up a practically vertical dam wall, seemingly defying the laws of gravity, using their fearless nimbleness and those remarkable hooves, that act as little gripping devices on this seemingly unassailable surface – surely they must win the prize for being natures most accomplished climbers – I mean, who hasn’t seen that calendar with all the pictures of goats in trees?
Speaking of celebrity status, curtesy of the internet, you’ve probably heard of the fainting goat (aka myotonic goat). These giddy critters have a genetic trait that freezes their muscles when they’re frightened or excited – this temporary paralysis causes the goats to tumble over and appear to faint (although that’s not strictly true as they do remain conscious all along!)
Maybe a cup of coffee might revive them? Well, according to Ethiopian legend, goats are attributed to discovering coffee! Their goat herder found them giddily gambolling around after they’d had a good nibble of some red coffee beans! It’d obviously put a spring in their step!
Goats prefer to stick together and most definitely like to be part of the herd – indeed they become very depressed if they find themselves on their own and if you’re planning on keeping goats, you gotta have more than one!
Indeed, keeping goats as pets has risen in popularity, with small breeds, such as the pygmy or dwarf goats being a popular choice. Whilst they’re more a companion animal rather than a pet, nonetheless, they’re reported as being affectionate, friendly and loving, forming close bonds with humans.
There’s definitely more to goats than you might first think – you’ve gotta admit, they’ve sure goat their act together – no kidding! (sorry couldn’t resist!!)