General Goat Behavioral Patterns

Grazing versus browsing behavior

Goats tend to browse forages and legumes rather than graze them. This eating behavior makes them uniquely different from many other domestic ruminants. Goats will graze and browse vegetation selectively when given free range, but under confined or controlled conditions, their preference for browse of trees and shrubs intensifies. Goats seek variation in the consumption of vegetation, oftentimes consuming many plants that cattle and other livestock prefer not to ingest. This preferential eating behavior of goats lends itself favorably to the production management concept of inter-species or rotational grazing.

Food consumption by goats is believed to be inversely proportional to the ambient temperature and water intake. Goats have a tendency to limit water intake in colder weather and consequently reduce feed intake, although the amount of time to ingest feedstuffs and the digestibility of the percent ingested crude protein may actually increase.Prolonged reduction in water consumption should be avoided as this can lead to reduced urinary output and increased concentration of urea and minerals.

It is said that goats are able to distinguish between bitter, salt, sweet, and sour tastes.Their higher tolerance for bitter tasting feeds is attributed to their browsing propensity for bark, leaves, shoots, shrubs, and branches which may have a more bitter taste than grasses, forbs, and general pasture. Goats also have a well-developed ability to discriminate sweets.

Seasonality and sexual behavior

Goats in tropical areas may show little response to photoperiod, while most goats in the United States show some seasonal restriction to breeding.

The breeding season for most goats encompasses the time period from late August to mid-March, with the most optimal observed time period usually being September-November. Silent heats, in which ovulation is unaccompanied by normal estrus behavior, are common at the beginning and end of the season. Decreasing light and temperatures helps bring the doe in heat.

Introduction of the buck at the beginning of the season often brings the whole flock of does into heat in an average of eight days. Of course, there is great variation depending on the breed. For example, Angora goats seldom show heat prior to September, while the French Alpine breed of goat may still be in anestrus during April, May, and June.

Estrous cycle variations occur, ranging from 18 – 24 days and on average usually 21 days, during the breeding season. Individual and breed differences account for variation. Older does, for example, may have shorter cycles. Pygmy goats often show 24-day cycles.

Sexual activity of the doe when in the presence of the male is more overtly noticeable and in many instances, hastens the onset of puberty and estrus in a group of female goats. In general, the duration of estrus in the doe is 32-40 hours, but she may stand for only 12-24 hours (Angoras – 22 hours). Goats are classified as spontaneous ovulators, denoting that ovulation will occur ~ 30-36 hours after the onset of heat.

Pheromones (chemical attractants in bodily secretions detectable by the opposite sex) have a significant role in the sexual and courtship behavior of both male and female goats prior to mating. The odor from the scent glands of the buck will peak the interest of a sexually receptive doe. Signs of estrus include uneasiness, tail switching, continuous bleating, frequent urination, mucous, clear to cloudy discharge, standing to be mounted by the buck.