Article Index "All About Goats" Article Index


By: "Goat Handbook, United States, 1992"
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The goat is one of the smallest domesticated ruminants which has served mankind earlier and longer than cattle and sheep. It is managed for the production of milk, meat and wool, particularly in arid, semitropical or mountainous countries. In temperate zones, goats are kept often rather as supplementary animals by small holders, while commercially cows or buffaloes are kept for milk, cheese and meat, and sheep for wool and meat production. Nonetheless, there are more than 460 million goats worldwide presently producing more than 4.5 million tons of milk and 1.2 million tons of meat besides mohair, cashmere, leather and dung; and more people consume milk and milk products from goats worldwide than from any other animal. Cheese production, e.g., from goat milk even in France, Greece, Norway and Italy is of economic importance. Goat herds, on the other hand low producing though, are an expression of capital assets and wealth in Africa and Asia where they are found in large numbers. In the United States, there are between 2 and 4 million head; with Texas leading in Angora, meat and bush goats; and California leading in dairy goats.

2) Goats can survive on bushes, trees, desert scrub and aromatic herbs when sheep and cattle would starve to death. Goat herders often have neglected a rational numerical balance between goat numbers and sparse vegetation. Over-grazing has destroyed many tree and woodland areas which was blamed then on goats rather than man, and this has caused widespread ecological and political concerns, erosion, desertification and even ban on freely grazing goats in some areas. On the other hand, goats are valued by cattle and sheepmen in the fight against brush encroachment on millions of acres of open rangeland.

3) Swiss goat breeds are the world's leaders in milk production. Indian and Nubian derived goat breeds are dual-purpose meat and milk producers. Spanish and South African goats are best known for meat producing ability. The Turkish Angora, Asian Cashmere and the Russian Don goats are kept for mohair and cashmere wool production. In addition, there are Pygmy goats from Western Africa of increasing interest as laboratory and pet animals.

4) Goat milk casein and goat milk fat are more easily digested than from cow milk. Goat milk is valued for the elderly, sick, babies, children with cow milk allergies, patients with ulcers, and even preferred for raising orphan foals or puppies. Fat globules in goat milk are smaller than in cow milk and remain dispersed longer. 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. The shorter chain fatty acids (C6, C8, C10, C12) are characteristically higher in goat milk than in cow milk. Otherwise milk gross composition from goats or cows is similar except for differences due to breeds, climate, stage of lactation and feeds.

5) Breeds of goats vary from as little as 20 lb mature female bodyweight and 18 inches female withers for dwarf goats for meat production up to 250 lb and 42 inches withers height for Indian Jamnapari, Swiss Saanen, Alpine and AngloNubian for milk production. Some Jamnapari males may be as tall as 50 inches at withers. Angora goats weigh between 70 to 110 lb for mature females and are approximately 25 inches tall. Birthweights of female singles are between 3 and 9 lb; twins being often a pound lighter and males 1/2 lb heavier. Twinning is normal in goats with a high percentage of triplets thus giving several breeds an average annual litter size above 2 per doe and more than 200reproduction rate. Females are called doe, young are kids, males are bucks; one speaks of buck and doe kids, and doelings, and of wethers or castrates.

Morphologically, goats may have horns of the scimitar or corkscrew types, but many are dehorned in early age with a heated iron, caustic or later on with a rubber band or surgical saw. Goats may also be hornless genetically. They can be short haired, long haired, have curled hair, are silky or coarse wooled. They may have wattles on the neck and beards. Some breeds, particularly the European, have straight noses, others have convex noses, e.g., the Jamnapari and Nubian breeds or slightly dished noses (Swiss). Swiss and other European breeds have erect ears, while pendulous, drooping, large ears characterize Indian and Nubian goats. The American LaMancha breed has no external ear. A ''gopher'' ear rudiment in LaMancha is less than 1 inch long with little or no cartilage; an ''elf'' ear is less than 2 inches long, but bucks can be registered only with gopher ears. The responsible gene for rudimentary ears is dominant, thus sires with gopher ears will always have gopher or elf-eared offspring, no matter what the genotype of the dam is to which he was mated.

7) Goats come in almost any color, solid black, white, red, brown, spotted, two and three colored, blended shades, distinct facial stripes, black and white saddles, depending on breeds.

8) Teeth in goats are a good guide to age. Six lower incisors are found at birth and a set of 20 ''milk teeth'' are complete at 4 weeks of age consisting of the eight incisors in the front of the lower jaw, and 12 molars, three on each side in each jaw. Instead of incisors in the upper jaw there is a hard dental pad against which the lower incisors bite and cut. Some goats have an undesirable inherited recessive condition of ''parrot'' (overshot upper jaw) or ''carp'' mouth (undershot upper jaw) which does not interfere with barn feeding conditions but handicaps the goat severely in pasturing and browsing, because the lower incisor teeth cannot cut correctly against the upper dental pad. With progressing age, the permanent teeth wear down from the rectangular crossectional shape and cores to the round stem which is a further distinguishing mark of age. Furthermore, there are pregnancy rings marking horns and telling age.

9) The digestive tract of the goat after nursing has the typical four stomach compartments of ruminants consisting of the rumen (paunch) (4-6 gallon), the reticulum (honeycomb) (1-2 liters), the omasum (maniply) (1 liter), and the abomasum (true stomach) (3.5 liters). The intestinal canal is about 100 feet long (11 liters), or 25 times the length of a goat. The total blood volume of the goat approximates 1/12-1/13 of bodyweight; it takes about 14 seconds for goat blood to complete one circulation.

10) Among diseases, goats are not too different from cattle and sheep in the same regions. Goats tend to have more internal parasites than dairy cows, especially in confined management. They tend to have less tuberculosis, milk fever, post partum ketosis and brucellosis than dairy cows and their milk tends to be of lower bacteria counts than cow milk. They have more prepartum pregnancy toxemia than dairy cows, and are known to have laminitis, infectious arthritis, Johne's disease, listeriosis, pneumonia, coccidiosis, scours, scabies, pediculosis, liver fluke disease and mastitis.

The skin of the goat has sebaceous and sweat glands besides growing the hair cover, horns, hooves and the two compartmented mammary gland (udder). Before the first pregnancy, the udder is underdeveloped, but with sustained repeated gentle massaging, a small, normal milk producing gland can be stimulated in virgin does and even in goat bucks. In contrast to sheep, the teats of goat's udders are conveniently long and large for hand milking.

12) Tails, scent and horns distinguish goats easily from sheep and cattle. The goat tail is short, bare underneath and usually carried upright. Major scent glands are located around the horn base. They function in stimulating estrus in male and female goats, improving conception. The goat odor is, however, a detriment to goat keeping and milk consumption if not properly controlled. Many goat breeds are seasonal breeders, being influenced by the length of daylight. Artificial insemination is commercially practiced in regions where numbers of females make it economical. Goats are in puberty at 1/2 year of age and can be bred if of sufficient size. Does come into estrus in 21 day cycles normally, lasting approximately 1 to 2 days.

13) In temperate zones, goats breed normally from August through February. Nearer the equator, goats come into estrus throughout the year. Thus more than one litter per year is possible, considering the length of pregnancy of 150 days. Five days after ovulation one or several corpus luteum form to protect the conceptus from abortion. The goat pregnancy is corpus luteum dependant in contrast to cattle. If no conception occurred, the corpus luteum disappears and new ovulation takes place. A buck ejaculates normally 3/4 - 1 1/2 ml of semen with 2-3 billion spermatozoa each. The life of an ovum after ovulation is about 8-10 hours. As the ovum travels down the goat's oviduct, it is fertilized by semen which traveled up through the uterus. The fertilized embryo becomes firmly attached to the uterine walls and surrounds itself with a nourishing placenta starting at 52 days after conception. Semen of goat bucks freezes as well as that of bulls and may be stored for years in 1 ml ampules or 1/2 ml straws in liquid nitrogen tanks for artificial insemination use.

Wild goats or escaped feral goats are found in many countries and islands and can be harmful to the vegetation if numbers are left uncontrolled.

15) Truly wild goats are found on Creta, other Greek islands, in Turkey, Iran, Turkmenia, Pakistan; in the Alps, Siberia, Sudan, Caucasus; the Pyrenees, the Himalayan, Central Asian, Russian and Tibetan mountain ranges, and prefer rocky, precipitous mountains and cliffs. Goats can not be herded as well with dogs as sheep; instead they tend to disperse or face strangers and dogs headon. Relatives of true goats are the Rocky Mountain goat, the chamois of the Alps and Carpathian, and the muskox.

16) Goats belong, scientifically, to the Bovidae family within the suborder of ruminants (chevrotain, deer, elk, caribou, moose, giraffe, okapi, antelope), who besides the other suborders of camels, swine and hippopotamuses make up the order of eventoed hoofed animals called artiodactyla. They have evolved 20 million years ago in the Miocene Age, much later than horses, donkeys, zebras, tapirs, rhinoceroses, who make up the order of uneventoed hoofed animals; and the hyrax, elephants, manatees who make up the ancient near-hoofed animals. All these are herbivorous mammals, i.e., they live from plants and nurse their young with milk from an external gland after the young is born, having been carried in pregnancy to term relatively long in an internal uterus with a complex, nourishing placenta.

17) Goats and sheep make up a tribe within the Bovidae family called Caprini that include six goat, six sheep and five related species. Goats have a 2n chromosome set number of 60 while domestic sheep have a 2n set of 54; yet living hybrids of the two genera have been reported. The six species of goats can be distinguished by their horn shapes:

  • 1. Capra aegagrus, the wild (or bezoar) goat of Near East Asia has scimitar-shaped horns with a sharp anterior keel and a few knobs in- terrupting it.

  • 2. Capra ibex, the ibex of the Alps, Siberia and Nubia has scimitar shaped horns with a flatter front and many transverse ridges.

  • 3. Capra falconeri, the markhor of Central Asia has sharpkeeled horns that are twisted into open or tight spirals.

  • 4. Capra pyrenaica, the Spanish goat has outward-upward curving horns with a sharp posterior keel.

  • 5. Capra cylindricornis, the Dagestan tur of the Caucasus mountains has round outward-back inward curving horns.

  • 6. Capra hircus, the domestic goat evolved principally from capra aegagrus, except for Angora, Cashmere goats, and Damascus types who descended from capra falconeri.

Domestic goat breeds are many. Swiss breeds are distinguished in milk producing ability and have influenced significantly milk production from goats around the world, especially in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. A few breeds kept mostly for meat are the South African boer goat, the Indian beetal, black Bengal, the Latin American criollo, the US ''Spanish'' goats and most of the small or nondescript goats. Fiber producing goat breeds are the Angora in Turkey, USA, South Africa; the Cashmere in Afghanistan, Iran, Australia and China; and Don breed in Russia.

19) The major breeds of US goats are:

20) Saanen originate from Switzerland (Saanen Valley), are totally white, with or without horns. The white color is dominant over other colors. They are mostly short haired. The ''Appenzell'' is a similar breed, but partially related to the Toggenburg is from Northern Switzerland, longhaired, white and hornless. Saanen have been exported around the world as leading milk producers. An Australian Saanen doe holds the world record milk production of 7,714 lbs in 365 days. Saanen have been bred in Switzerland for odorfree milk long ago.

21) Toggenburg, brown with white facial, ear and leg stripes, another straight nosed, horned or hornless, mostly shorthaired, erect eared goat, as all Swiss are, has been very popular in the USA, comes from N.E. Switzerland, but is 4 inches shorter in height and 18 lb lighter in average than the Saanen. They have been bred pure for over 300 years, longer than many of our other domestic breeds of livestock. They are reliable milk producers summer and winter, in temperate and tropical zones. Mrs. Carl Sandburg, wife of the famous US poet had several world record Toggenburg does on official USDA tests.

22) Alpine (including French, Rock and British), another Swiss breed (French Switzerland), horned or hornless, shorthaired, as tall and strong as the Saanen, with usually faded shades of white into black, with white facial stripes on black. They are second in milk production to Saanen and Toggenburg.

23) LaMancha is a new, young breed developed in California from Spanish Murciana origin and Swiss and Nubian crossings. They are known for excellent adaptability and good winter production. They are also producing fleshier kids than the Swiss, but are not milking as much. They have straight noses, short hair, hornless or horns, and no external ear due to a dominant gene. They are more the size of Toggenburg. Their milk fat content is higher than that of the Swiss breeds.

24) (Anglo)-Nubian is a breed developed in England from native goats and crossed with Indian and Nubian which have heavy arched ''Roman'' noses and long, drooping, pendulous ears, spiral horns and are shorthaired. They are leggy and as tall as Saanen, but produce less milk, though higher milk fat levels and are more fleshy. They are less tolerant of cold but do well in hot climates. They ''talk'' a lot, and are in numbers the most popular breed in USA and Canada. They have a tendency for triplets and quadruplets. They are horned or hornless and have many colors that may be ''Appaloosa''-like spotted.

25) Oberhasli, a western Swiss breed, usually solid red or black, horned or hornless, erect ears, not as tall as Saanen, very well adapted for high altitude mountain grazing and long hours of marching; popular in Switzerland, but milk production is variable. They are also called Swiss Alpine, Chamoisie or Brienz.

26) Angora originated in the Near East. The long upper coat (mohair) is the valuable product in the Angora in contrast to the Cashmere, where the fine underwool is the valuable product. Head has a straight or concave nose, thin, not very long; pendulous ears and twisted horns, in both sexes. It is a small breed, usually white. The haircoat is long with undulating locks and ringlets of fine, silky hair. The top quality fleece of purebreds may be 1-2 lbs, but slightly more in males and wethers. They are bearded. Spring moult is natural and shearing occurs just before. They are not very prolific and twinning is less frequent than in other breeds.

27) Pygmy are dwarf, short legged goats from West and Central Africa and the Caribbean. Their growth rates and milk production are relatively respectable, although low, twinning is frequent and they are breeding all year usually. They are adaptable to humid tropics and resistant to trypanosoma.

28) Others. There is little known about the so-called Spanish or bush goats that are kept on the open range in the Southwest mostly. Also, a few minor breeds exist in this country, e.g. the Sables, which are a colored variety of the Saanen. It would be profitable to know more about the other at least 60 goat breeds in the world and their comparative values under US conditions.

About the author: Extension Goat Handbook - This material was contributed from collections at the National Agricultural Library. However, users should direct all inquires about the contents to authors or originating agencies.
G. F. W. Haenlein; U. of Delaware, Newark
D. L. Ace; Pennsylvania State U., University Park.

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