Domestic goats are sure footed, resourceful animals that we humans prize for their milk, meat, and companionship. Goats were first domesticated around 10,000 years ago in Western Asia and the Middle East. As they have become part of farmer's lives for centuries, their anatomy and biology has changed to fill our needs and their more comfortable domestic living situations.
With the exception of specially bred "polled" goats, all goats grow horns. This is not a male only trait, female goats will also grow horns. Horns can be prevented from growing by a process called disbudding, burning the area where the horns grow in as they are first starting to appear. A horned goat is a stunning sight, but debudding is commonplace because it prevents the goats from injuring themselves or others with their head gear.
All goats also have distinct eyes with horizontal pupils. Their eyes can often be found "creepy" by people who are not familiar with goats, but the truth is that horizontal pupils are commonplace in grassland prey mammals. The reason that goat pupils can appear more distinct than those of cows or horses is that their irises are usually a much more pale shade, ranging from light brown to a steely blue.
Wattles and beards are also unisex features of goat anatomy, they can appear on both males and females. Unlike horns, both are a bit random and depend on genetics and what features their family carries.
Contrary to legend, goats do not have to smell at all. The odor associated with goats is the smell of a buck in rut, that is a buck trying to impress females and intimidate other male goats. This generally happens in autumn, and can last for a few months. To attract the ladies, male goats urinate in their beards and rub themselves in their own waste. This creates a very unique and incredibly strong smell, but it is not a smell that female goats or wethers - neutered males - have at all.
Also in contradiction to many assumptions about goats, they do not eat everything. Goats will nibble and taste-test just about anything, but when it comes to actually consuming a full meal, they will turn up their noses at a lot of foods you might think they'd enjoy. For example, goats do no like fresh green grass. They prefer dried leaves, twigs, and rough vegetation. This makes them perfect for rough land, but not ideal for lawns and open pasture space. They'll happily eat your fruit trees and herb garden, but they'll avoid fields unless there is no other option.
One common tale about goats that remains true: they are escape artists. Fencing for goats has to be tall enough that they cannot jump over it, have coarse enough braiding that they cannot climb it, and lack any gaps for them to sneak through. Goats can pass through holes in fencing that look much smaller than their bodies, and they can leap surprisingly high. Fencing goats in is a struggle, but if they have plenty of hay, clean water, and entertainment in their pasture they should be interested in staying close to their home.
When it comes to both eating and escaping, it is important to remember that goats and browsing animals, easily distracted curious about the greener grass on the other side of the fence. This curiosity is part of what makes them such entertaining pets, even if it means they can be a nuisance. As herd animals, they are also capable of forming strong bonds with people and recognize their owners versus strangers. This special connection makes goats a heart warming addition to the farmyard.
Goats are playful and entertaining farmyard beasts that are unique in so many ways. They make a great introduction to livestock as relatively easy keepers and along with their delicious milk they provide the farmer with endless smiles.
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