Truth About Raising Goats

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Even in winter, goats need access to the outdoors so they can get exercise.
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Goats are exceptional climbers and will climb just about anything, from trees to fences to buildings.

Raising goats

Some days, you wake up wanting to butt heads with someone. That someone really acts like a silly kid, and you’re tired of the whole goat story. Well, then. You’ll really like what you’re about to read regarding raising goats.

Some 7,000 to 11,000 years ago, your ancestors took a gigantic leap. Instead of hunting for meat on the hoof, they captured Bezoar goats, assimilated them into mythology and religion, bred them, and gathered them in herds. Not only was this vastly easier for grilling purposes, but goats could also be used as mobile milk dispensers, and they could carry luggage. It didn’t take long, then, for goats to travel with farmers who used them as trade, and with ships’ captains who used the critters to feed the crew. In fact, goats were likely aboard the Mayflower.

No matter where they hailed from, DNA results say that all goats came from any one of up to five lineages. The oldest Capra hircus likely came from Asia. The other goat families came from Asia and the Near East and spread across Europe. It’s interesting to note that modern goats look almost exactly like their ancient forebears, so little have they changed.

Today, if you’ve a mind to, you can have a herd of some 300 different breeds of goats, wild and domestic. And goats can be both: It’s easy to tame a goat, but he’ll happily go feral if you let him. Although, the chances of surviving predation may be bleak, depending on the local pressures.

Your goat can have tiny, short ears (like the LaMancha), or you can get one with loppy ears (the Nubian). Your goat can sport a short coat, or he might require a goat beautician like Angora goats do. Your goat can faint (yes, indeed, that’s the Myotonic who falls over when startled), he can fit into a dog crate (the Pygmy goat), he can help you make a sweater (the Cashmere), or you can rescue him from the clutches of extinction (the beautiful Arapawa goat of New Zealand, which is not easily found in domestic captivity today).

If you’re ready to get your goat, there are a few things you’ll need to know. First of all, goats are social animals, so it’s better to have more than one. If space is at a premium, though, they’ll bond with almost any four-legged animal. Either way, you’ll want a sturdy fence for your new pet, because goats are the Houdinis of the animal world and will climb on anything that’s climbable.

You’ll have to decide if you want a goat with horns or without, bearing in mind that a goat can be single-minded, and if he wants to head-butt you, he will. If he’s got horns, he could do serious damage, even if he never intends it. The good news is that some goats are naturally polled (hornless), so you’ll never have to worry about anything but a butt in the behind.

Feeding your goats on pasture is undoubtedly the cheapest way to keep them happy, because goats are foragers. They’ll gladly eat leaves and weeds, but it’s a huge myth that goats will eat anything. They will taste things that interest them — goats are very oral creatures — but they will rarely swallow what’s not yummy. Unfortunately, things that are yummy can include poisonous weeds as well as the contents of your rose garden.

Yes, a goat can be the most delightful, wonderful, frustrating, goofy, annoying animal you’ve ever had. While they’re independent creatures and have their own minds, they can be taught to come when called, do tricks, pull wagons, and make you laugh. And if that doesn’t get your goat, nothing will!   

Ready for more on goats? Find out all you need to know about Raising Goats for Meat and Milk.

Terri Schlichenmeyer, book reviewer and trivia collector, lives in Wisconsin with her two dogs and more than 11,000 books.

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