Racecar goat at Farm Sanctuary
The Species

Goats

Racecar goat at Farm Sanctuary

Mischievous, Friendly Goats

Marcia goat at Farm Sanctuary

At our shelters, goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) are almost notoriously friendly. Like border collies and basset hounds, they wag their tails, respond to their names, and form strong bonds with peers and people.

As much as any farmed animal, goats display the ability to understand and respond to human communication using eye contact, gestures, and body language—traits they likely developed over thousands of years evolving alongside human populations. In the United States, although goats are not as commonly incarcerated and slaughtered as are other animals used for meat, dairy, and fibers, nearly half a million are kept for milk production, while worldwide millions more are needlessly processed into food and fabric.

Farm Sanctuary provides refuge to many different breeds of domestic goats, allowing them the freedom to graze fresh pasture and range across play structures designed for their enjoyment. Our visitors are regularly moved by the inquisitiveness and playfulness of these merry pranksters, who are always eager to greet guests in the hopes of receiving a scratch or a leafy snack.

A Brief History of Goats

~10,000 to 7,000 BCE

Bezoar Ibex: Ancestor Still Jumps Today

DNA testing of bones suggests that nearly all modern domestic goats share an ancestor with the Bezoar Ibex, a wild mountain goat that still bounds across Turkey and northern Iran. Furthermore, the isotopes found in the bones hint that some herds kept during this period were grazing on wild diet while others were intentionally fed different plants—suggesting that humans were harvesting fodder or shepherding the goats to different areas.

~10,000 BCE

Goats: The First Kept Herds?

Archaeologists exploring the 10,000-year-old human settlement Ganj Dareh in the mountains of Iran found that the abundant goat bones present were predominantly those of females. Herders throughout history have generally preferred female animals for reproduction and milk production, and with no such collections traced to earlier points in time, the discovery suggests that goats from this era may have been the first animals kept in large herds.

1,000 BCE

Half Goat, Half Myth

Goats figure prominently in ancient myth and religion. Most famously, the Greek god Pan, with goat’s horns and hind quarters, represented wilderness and fertility. Budi, the goat of the African Kuba people’s creation myth, created all horned animals. The eighth animal of the Chinese zodiac is a goat. And ancient Israelites loaded their sins onto the head of the goat-god Azazel to be borne and carried away by him—giving us the term “scape goat.”

1500s to 1600s

New World Arrivals

Domesticated goats likely arrived in North America first with Spanish explorers in the American Southwest and later with English settlers in New England. Kept primarily for milk, they were easier to keep and transport than cows and capable of reproducing 3 or 4 times a year. While indigenous people did hunt and collect fibers from North American mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), no evidence exists that these animals were ever herded or kept.

1841

Three Billy Goats Gruff

First published in a collection of Norwegian fairy tales, the story tells of three goats who, needing to cross a bridge to find new feeding grounds, must outwit the troll who lives underneath (and eats all who cross his bridge). Such “trolling” resonates into the age of social media. Like other animal fables (The Wolf and the Lamb, The Three Little Pigs), the tale ascribes rational capacity to farm animals and reinforces their role as food.

1900

A Million Dairy Goats in the US

A USDA Census of farm animals in 1900 estimated that the nation was home to 1.2 million dairy goats, an all-time peak and triple the current population. Prior to the explosive growth in commercial dairy cows, milk and cheese products were largely derived from backyard animals, and the human consumption of goat milk was not markedly less common than that of cow’s milk. As of 2017, however, the nation’s dairy goat population stood at 373,000.

1971

Goat in Every Pot, Science in Every Goat

The second (1971) and third (1982) International Conferences on Goats led to the founding of the International Goat Association, the largest global alliance devoted to the use of science and technology in production of goat meat, milk, and fibers. The organization’s journal, Small Ruminant Research, describes a prominent IGA project aimed to improve goat “value chains” in developing economies by growing the scale of local goat-keeping operations.

2009

Conservation Grazing Revival

Their reputation as omnivores is mostly accurate: goats can’t eat tin cans, but they will eat paper labels, poison oak, kudzu, and most other plant matter. Human use of goat herds to clear unwanted vegetation has resurged in the past decade. Google used goats to manicure its campus, government agencies have deployed them for weed control and fire prevention, and goat rental companies have been featured in national business publications.

2016

Reading Humans to Find Rewards

Animal behaviorists have long known that certain domestic animals’ interactions with humans have shaped their communication behaviors. Using the ‘unsolvable problem’ experiment, scientists at London’s Queen Mary University presented individual goats with two containers—one with a food reward and one without. Notably, the goats would make prolonged eye contact with the humans—as will dogs, horses, and human toddlers—to discern a treat’s location.

2017

Growing Global Goat Milk Demand

From 1960 to 2017, the number of goats kept for milk stayed fairly constant in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania, while it more than tripled in Asia and Africa. With roughly one billion domestic goats on Earth, only about 22% are kept for milk production. Still, most are raised in much smaller scale systems than used for cattle and chickens, and the corresponding processes, products, and markets are thus less regulated and less understood.

2019

Not a Humane Choice, But Still Growing

Over 675,000 goats were slaughtered for meat in 2019 in the U.S.—nearly 20% more than three years earlier. U.S. figures are dwarfed by the rest of the world’s appetite for goat—at least 7 nations slaughter 10 million goats or more each year, with over 100 million killed in China. Routinely in the U.S. at least 300,000 goats are kept for dairy production, a figure that has steadily grown along with consumer wariness of milk from factory-farmed cows.

Male Ibex on a cliff showing side profile and full large horns and beard against blue sky.

Photo Credit: Manoj Kumar Tuteja/shutterstock.com

~10,000 to 7,000 BCE

Bezoar Ibex: Ancestor Still Jumps Today

DNA testing of bones suggests that nearly all modern domestic goats share an ancestor with the Bezoar Ibex, a wild mountain goat that still bounds across Turkey and northern Iran. Furthermore, the isotopes found in the bones hint that some herds kept during this period were grazing on wild diet while others were intentionally fed different plants—suggesting that humans were harvesting fodder or shepherding the goats to different areas.

Goat Facts

  • Totes goat at Farm Sanctuary
  • Goats

    can understand how other goats are feeling just from the sound of their voice.

  • Goats seek help from others when they can’t solve a problem on their own.

  • When happy or excited, goats point their ears forward and hold their tails up high.

  • Wild goats are native across western Asia and can be found at elevations as high as 14,800 feet.

Goats walking uphill at Farm Sanctuary
“Goats are the cable talk show panelists of the animal world, ready at a moment’s notice to interject, interrupt, and opine.”
- Jon Katz

Suffering for Their Meat, Milk, and Fibers

In all three industries, playful, intelligent goats routinely suffer inhumane treatment throughout their lives and are often slaughtered for human consumption.

  • United States

    621,700 goats were slaughtered in the United States in 2018.

  • Global

    479,172,098 goats were slaughtered worldwide in 2018.

factory farming

A lot of goats on a goat farm. Farm livestock farming for the industrial production of goat milk dairy products

Photo: Syoma Antonov/shutterstock.com

A lonely sad goat kid curled up in a ball and lies on the ground. The coat is brown, there are no horns. Sunny weather

Photo: Vladimir Kazakov/shutterstock.com

Goats eating, ready for being milked with an electrical dairy equipment

Photo: 2xSamara.com/shutterstock.com

Mother goat looking for her kids

Photo: Aju Arelt/shutterstock.com

Intensive goat farming. Taiwan, 2019

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Doe kid with burnt head

Photo: Aussie Farms

Two Angora goats behind a fence

Walaiporn Paysawat/shutterstock.com

A herd of goats in the snow in Mongolia.

Photo: AleCasa77/shutterstock.com

Goats Used for Dairy

Continuously pregnant
Goats used for dairy, like dairy cows, are kept continually pregnant via repeated artificial insemination so that they will keep producing milk. In 2017, over 500,000 dairy goats were being kept in the US.

Goats Used for Dairy

Unwanted Males Sold for Meat
Newborn goats, like cow calves, are taken from their mothers immediately after birth, ensuring that their mother’s milk can be used for human consumption.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 “unwanted” male goats are born on dairy farms every year in the United States. As with sheep and cows, males are less valuable to farmers who prefer females for the profitability of their milk and the cheese it produces. Those males who are kept to be sold for meat are “wethered” or castrated, sometimes with a blade and sometimes by constricting blood flow to the testes by strangulating the scrotum with a rubber ring.

Goats Used for Dairy

Incessant Production
Female kids are raised on artificial formula and artificially impregnated as soon as possible to produce milk. A dairy goat will typically produce 1 to 3 liters of milk each day—about 7,000 liters over a 10-year lifetime.

Goats Used For Meat

Smaller industry, less monitoring
In 2017, just over 100,000 U.S. farms reported raising goats for meat, with an average herd size of only 20. One reason for small herd size is goats’ relative susceptibility to parasites, making them poor candidates for the feedlot-fattening practices used with cows. Still, only around half of goat-meat farmers in a 2009 national study were familiar with some of the most common “economically important” diseases in goats, and just over a third had consulted a veterinarian about their goats in the preceding year.

Goats Used For Meat

Slaughtered Young
Goats used for meat are slaughtered very young, at just a fraction of their natural lifespan. A kid is typically slaughtered when just 3 to 5 months old. “Cabrito” meat comes exclusively from goats that are killed in their first week of life. Although goats may not legally be fed growth hormones, they may be fed antibiotics, and must endure a “withdrawal period” before slaughter that allows such antibiotics enough time to exit the animal’s systems.

Goats Used for Fibers

Horns often painfully removed
Mohair yarns and fabrics produced in the US most often come from the hair of the Angora goat, about 150,000 of which are kept at any time on American farms. When still young, goat kids kept for this purpose are typically “disbudded”—a painful and stressful procedure where the buds of the goat’s horns are removed using a hot iron.

Goats Used for Fibers

Shorn and frightened
Like sheep who are shaved for their wool, Angora goats often need to be forcibly wrestled to the ground as their warm coats are removed with electric shears, a frightening process for a prey animal that can result in cuts and scrapes. Farmers will shear goats as young as 6 months old and commonly twice a year.

Goats Used for Fibers

Suffering for luxury
Most of the world’s cashmere production comes from flocks kept in the mountains of China and Mongolia. As worldwide demand has increased, sheep have frozen to death after being shorn midwinter to meet market demand.

A lot of goats on a goat farm. Farm livestock farming for the industrial production of goat milk dairy products

Photo: Syoma Antonov/shutterstock.com

Goats Used for Dairy

Continuously pregnant
Goats used for dairy, like dairy cows, are kept continually pregnant via repeated artificial insemination so that they will keep producing milk. In 2017, over 500,000 dairy goats were being kept in the US.

A lonely sad goat kid curled up in a ball and lies on the ground. The coat is brown, there are no horns. Sunny weather

Photo: Vladimir Kazakov/shutterstock.com

Goats Used for Dairy

Unwanted Males Sold for Meat
Newborn goats, like cow calves, are taken from their mothers immediately after birth, ensuring that their mother’s milk can be used for human consumption.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 “unwanted” male goats are born on dairy farms every year in the United States. As with sheep and cows, males are less valuable to farmers who prefer females for the profitability of their milk and the cheese it produces. Those males who are kept to be sold for meat are “wethered” or castrated, sometimes with a blade and sometimes by constricting blood flow to the testes by strangulating the scrotum with a rubber ring.

Goats eating, ready for being milked with an electrical dairy equipment

Photo: 2xSamara.com/shutterstock.com

Goats Used for Dairy

Incessant Production
Female kids are raised on artificial formula and artificially impregnated as soon as possible to produce milk. A dairy goat will typically produce 1 to 3 liters of milk each day—about 7,000 liters over a 10-year lifetime.

Mother goat looking for her kids

Photo: Aju Arelt/shutterstock.com

Goats Used For Meat

Smaller industry, less monitoring
In 2017, just over 100,000 U.S. farms reported raising goats for meat, with an average herd size of only 20. One reason for small herd size is goats’ relative susceptibility to parasites, making them poor candidates for the feedlot-fattening practices used with cows. Still, only around half of goat-meat farmers in a 2009 national study were familiar with some of the most common “economically important” diseases in goats, and just over a third had consulted a veterinarian about their goats in the preceding year.

Intensive goat farming. Taiwan, 2019

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Goats Used For Meat

Slaughtered Young
Goats used for meat are slaughtered very young, at just a fraction of their natural lifespan. A kid is typically slaughtered when just 3 to 5 months old. “Cabrito” meat comes exclusively from goats that are killed in their first week of life. Although goats may not legally be fed growth hormones, they may be fed antibiotics, and must endure a “withdrawal period” before slaughter that allows such antibiotics enough time to exit the animal’s systems.

Doe kid with burnt head

Photo: Aussie Farms

Goats Used for Fibers

Horns often painfully removed
Mohair yarns and fabrics produced in the US most often come from the hair of the Angora goat, about 150,000 of which are kept at any time on American farms. When still young, goat kids kept for this purpose are typically “disbudded”—a painful and stressful procedure where the buds of the goat’s horns are removed using a hot iron.

Two Angora goats behind a fence

Walaiporn Paysawat/shutterstock.com

Goats Used for Fibers

Shorn and frightened
Like sheep who are shaved for their wool, Angora goats often need to be forcibly wrestled to the ground as their warm coats are removed with electric shears, a frightening process for a prey animal that can result in cuts and scrapes. Farmers will shear goats as young as 6 months old and commonly twice a year.

A herd of goats in the snow in Mongolia.

Photo: AleCasa77/shutterstock.com

Goats Used for Fibers

Suffering for luxury
Most of the world’s cashmere production comes from flocks kept in the mountains of China and Mongolia. As worldwide demand has increased, sheep have frozen to death after being shorn midwinter to meet market demand.

Sir Galahad goat at Farm Sanctuary
“I want to go about like the light-footed goats.”
- Johanna Spyri, author of Heidi, 1827

Featured Goat Rescues

Goat With a Broken Heart Finds Strength in Friendship

VIDEO 3:24

Goat With a Broken Heart Finds Strength in Friendship

Download Audio

Transcript

Oh, your such boy. I remember meeting Halbert and Darius when they lived at Melrose. Darius is this beautiful cream colored Nubian, just like Halbert is. He has really long soft ears, and they lived in one of the pens and they would always come to the edge of the fence when people were walking by, and they'd both put their feet up on the fence and look over the gate and they'd run up and down the length of the fence playing with you.


Overtime, we started to notice that Darius was developing this really firm growth on his leg. We took him to Cornell and it wasn't going to be easily fixable. He was starting to lose mobility and his hind end. We tried physical therapy with him, we tried wheelchairs. Sorry, I knew I was going to cry. And we tried really hard to get back to a point where he would be with us for a little bit longer. Eventually, we had to make the decision to let Darius go.


In situations like that, it's obvious that animals grieve because you could hear his cries. We've seen companions die of a broken heart and I was really worried that was going to happen with Halbert. We kept bringing him cut up apples and treats and just sitting with him. I think it was after about seven or eight days, all of a sudden he gets up and he runs over to me and his ears are out to the side. And I remember just sitting there crying I'm so happy that he was back to being himself.


Who's the handsome man? It's you! He had started cuddling with Chucky and then I started to notice the Gilmore Girls following Halbert out to the pasture. A little while after that, I started to notice that Aretha goat would break underneath the gate to come over here to cuddle with Halbert. So now Halbert, who used to just be Halbert and Darius, is now Halbert, Chucky, Lorelai, Rory, Paris, Lane, and Aretha. So it's a very happy ending.

VIDEO 3:24

Goat With a Broken Heart Finds Strength in Friendship

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