My Pet Goat Became a Monster!
by Gary Pfalzbot
About the Author
There's an old saying that goes something like this: "never turn your back on a goat".
I've talked with a lot of people over the years who have heard of this saying, yet, they aren't quite sure what it means, or why you wouldn't turn your back on a goat. Their reluctance to accept or understand this old saying might be well founded (in their mind) since they have raised their goat(s) from young kids and those kids were as gentle as could be.
At one time I was one of those who often turned my back on my goats as I left their pen. The saying didn't quite make sense to me until one day...
There aren't really any numbers to describe this situation, but just for the sake of those people who need the numbers to put things into perspective, let's say there is a 60% chance that if you turn your back on a goat - mainly a buck (male goat) in particular, that goat will run full speed ahead and try to head butt you! I have had it happen on more than one occasion and if you are not expecting it, besides giving you a good startle, it could be painful and sometimes cause an injury.
Since starting GoatWorld, I've had a number of people write or call asking me about their goat suddenly turning on them. And what defines "turning on them" simply means that they had turned their back and their goat had butted them unexpectedly. In another scenario, "turning on them" was also defined as their goat (usually one), wouldn't let them in the pen with them without the goat suddenly becoming aggressive. "Turning on them" never once indicated that they suddenly had a vicious goat akin to a vicious dog that suddenly is snapping, snarling and trying to bite a chunk out of them. So in short, please understand that goats do not become vicious in that manner (at least that I know of).
Many of these people that wrote or called explained their situation fully, and were so surprised by their goats sudden change in behavior. They couldn't understand how that loving little goat they had raised from a young kid could suddenly change overnight. "We were just feeding him treats and rubbing on him when suddenly my goat became a monster over night!". And many of them went on to explain, "now none of us can go into the goat pen without that goat becoming very aggressive." At the same time, many were fearful for their children as well who before that point in time, spent time in the goat pen playing with their beloved goats.
Perhaps the only thing that could be said about the old saying "never turn your back on a goat" is that now, you didn't even have to turn your back for the goat to become aggressive!
The majority of bucks (male goats), will be very docile towards their human caretakers while they are young. And many continue to be very docile even as they get older. But their usually does come a point in time when they are of breeding age (which for all is generally pretty young among the bucks), when they go through a period of rut where their hormones are raging. From a distance, this period of time can be somewhat comical for the antics they display, noises they make, and overall courtship of their prospective breeding does.
But you throw a human into this mix, onto their territory, and even though that goat who knows, loves and depends upon you for its care, feels threatened. It's a natural instinct and can largely be observed in the everyday behavior of goats who are vying for their spot in the "pecking order" of the herd. There is always a king of the herd as well as a queen of the herd. And then there is the low goat on the totem pole who is subject to the pecking order of every other goat in the herd not at the top spot.
In large herds of say 50 or more goats of all ages and gender, there is going to be a few "top candidates" for that top spot, and the continual challenge for top spot occurs daily. During rut, it becomes even more pronounced with the bucks all vying for top breeding rights. It's a wonder sometimes how any breeding actually gets done, and therefore it is quite often that one of the underdogs is on the scene to breed while the others are challenging each other. I've seen this happen many times in a large herd.
In smaller herds of anywhere from a few goats to maybe 10, while the challenging is still active, it is usually a little less pronounced because the pecking order is usually pretty well established. It should also be pointed out that some breeders will only employ one buck at a time for breeding purposes, and this drops the challenging dramatically as well - it's then that the does usually challenge each other for the bucks attention.
So it should be fairly easy to see that there are a few factors that will affect this behavior; the ratio of bucks to does and the size of the overall herd.
And now to answer the big questions, "will my does ever be aggressive toward me?" and "how do I correct this behavior?"
Many of those I've talked to are at the point of "that goat has to go" when it could easily be resolved through a couple of simple tricks. It is rather unlikey though I won't rule it entirely, that your does will never be aggressive toward you in the same way a buck will. But, when in doubt, always refer to the first rule: "never turn your back on a goat!"
These bucks in rut are basically by instinct, protecting their territory. Protecting their potential breeding does. Even though you have a good relationship with them, their hormones are raging in overdrive and they are just not themselves: very unpredictable. It can probably be best said that these bucks in rut fear that you are a threat to them and their breeding prowess. Since it is very unlikely that you've gotten down on your hands and knees and butted heads with them (not advisable), they have no impression of how you fit into the pecking order during their period of rut other than being a provider of food. And using this lack of an impression they have, is going to work to your advantage.
With a goat, you are never going to win the head butting battle. You are going to have to resort to a light switch or stick to gain their respect. Please understand that this next part in no way, shape of form implies physically damaging your goat - you are trying to gain their respect by becoming the herd king or queen. You're not trying to flog your goat into submission. You are not trying to hit a home run with a stick. You are trying to establish yourself as the herd king or herd queen through the only thing they understand: their horns and head and the ability to dominate everything with them.
Upon approaching the goat pen with the goat in question, he will generally have you spotted long before you enter. Have your light switch or stick ready, and upon entering the pen and being confronted, lightly tap across the horn area