|The domestic goat (Capra aegagrus hircus) is a domesticated subspecies of the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep, both being in the goat antelope subfamily Caprinae.
Domestic goats are one of the oldest domesticated species. For thousands of years, goats have been used for their milk, meat, hair, and skins all over the world. In the last century they have also gained some popularity as pets.
Historically, goat hide has been used for water and wine bottles in both traveling and transporting wine for sale. It has also been used to produce parchment, which was the most common material used for writing in Europe until the invention of the printing press.
Bucks (intact males) of Swiss and northern breeds come into rut in the fall as with the doe's heat cycles. Rut is characterized by a decrease in appetite, obsessive interest in the does, a strong heat.
In addition to live breeding, artificial insemination has gained popularity among goat breeders, as it allows for rapid improvement because of breeder access to a wide variety of bloodlines.
Gestation length is approximately 150 days. Twins are the usual result, with single and triplet births also common. Less frequent are litters of quadruplet, quintuplet, and even sextuplet kids. Birthing, known as kidding, generally occurs uneventfully with few complications. The mother often eats the placenta, which, with its oxytocin, gives her much needed nutrients, helps staunch her bleeding, and is believed by some to reduce the lure of the birth scent to predators.
Freshening (coming into milk production) occurs at kidding. Milk production varies with the breed, age, quality, and diet of the doe; dairy goats generally produce between 660 to 1,800 L (1,500 and 4,000 lb) of milk per 305 day lactation. On average, a good quality dairy doe will give at least 6 lb (2.7 L) of milk per day while she is in milk, although a first time milker may produce less, or as much as 16 lb (7.3 L) or more of milk in exceptional cases. Meat, fiber, and pet breeds are not usually milked and simply produce enough for the kids until weaning.
Contrary to this reputation, they are quite fastidious in their habits, preferring to browse on the tips of woody shrubs and trees, as well as the occasional broad leaved plant. It can fairly be said that goats will eat almost anything in the botanical world. Their plant diet is extremely varied and includes some species which are toxic or detrimental to cattle and sheep. This makes them valuable for controlling noxious weeds and clearing brush and undergrowth. They will seldom eat soiled food or water unless facing starvation. This is one of the reasons why goat rearing is most often free ranging since stall-fed goat rearing involves extensive upkeep and is seldom commercially viable.
Goats do not actually consume garbage, tin cans, or clothing, although they will occasionally eat items made primarily of plant material, which can include wood. Their reputation for doing so is most likely due to their intensely inquisitive and intelligent nature: they will explore anything new or unfamiliar in their surroundings. They do so primarily with their prehensile upper lip and tongue. This is why they investigate clothes and sometimes washing powder boxes by nibbling at them.
The digestive physiology of a very young kid is essentially the same as that of a monogastric animal. Milk digestion begins in the abomasum, the milk having bypassed the rumen via closure of the reticular/esophageal groove during suckling. At birth the rumen is undeveloped, and as the kid begins to consume solid feed, the rumen increases in size and in its capacity to absorb nutrients.
Nutritionally, it is healthier than mutton as it is lower in fat and cholesterol, and comparable to chicken. It also has more minerals than chicken, and is lower in total and saturated fats than other meats. One reason for the leanness is that goats do not accumulate fat deposits or “marbling” in their muscles; chevon (goat meat) must ideally be cooked longer and at lower temperatures than other red meats. It is popular in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, northeastern Brazil, the West Indies, and Belize. Chevon, as yet, is not popular in most western nations, though it is among the fastest growing sectors of the livestock industry in the US.
Other parts of the goat including organs are also equally edible. Special delicacies include the brain and liver. The head and legs of the goat are smoked and used to prepare unique spicy dishes and soup.
One of the most popular goats grown for meat is the South African Boer, introduced into the United States in the early 1990s. The New Zealand Kiko is also considered a meat breed, as is the Myotonic or “fainting goat”, a breed originally identified in Tennessee.
Milk, butter and cheese
Goats' milk contains less lactose, so is less likely to trigger lactose intolerance. The milk is naturally homogenized since it lacks the protein agglutinin. The curd is much smaller. The milk also has a more similar makeup (percentage of fats, etc.) to human milk than cows milk. For these reasons, goats' milk may be recommended for infants and people who have difficulty digesting cows' milk. On the other hand the UK Department of Health say that, "infant milks based on goats' milk protein are not suitable as a source of nutrition for infants (under 1 year of age)." They also state that, "Formula derived from goats' milk is also unsuitable for babies who are lactose intolerant as it contains similar levels of lactose to cows' milk based infant formulae."
Goats' butter is white (compared to cows' yellow butter) because the goats produce milk with beta-carotene converted to a form of vitamin A.
Goat cheese is known as “chèvre” in France, after the French word for goat. Some varieties include Rocamadour and Montrachet. Feta is a well-known Greek variety that may be made with a blend of goat's and sheep's milk.
The Cashmere goat produces a fiber, cashmere wool, which is one of the best in the world. It is very fine and soft. Most goats produce cashmere fiber to some degree, however the Cashmere goat has been specially bred to produce a much higher amount of it with fewer guard hairs.
The Angora breed produces long, curling, lustrous locks of mohair. The entire body of the goat is covered with mohair and there are no guard hairs. The locks constantly grow and can be four inches or more in length.
Goats do not have to be slaughtered to harvest the wool, which is instead sheared (cut from the body) in the case of Angora goats, or combed, in the case of Cashmere goats. However, the Angora goat usually gets shorn twice a year with an average yield of about 10 pounds while the Cashmere goat grows its fiber once a year and it takes about a week to comb out by hand, yielding only about 4 ounces.
The fiber is made into products such as sweaters and doll's hair. Both cashmere and mohair are warmer per ounce than wool and are not scratchy or itchy or as allergenic as wool sometimes is. Both fibers command a higher price than wool, compensating for the fact that there is less fiber per goat than there would be wool per sheep.
In South Asia, cashmere is called “pashmina” (from Persian “pashmina”, fine wool) and these goats are called “pashmina” goats (often mistaken for sheep). Since these goats actually belong to the upper Kashmir and Laddakh region, their wool came to be known as cashmere in the West. The pashmina shawls of Kashmir with their intricate embroidery are very famous.
Other parts of the goat are also equally useful. For instance, the intestine is used to make catgut, which is still in use as a material for internal human sutures. The horn of the goat, which signifies wellbeing (Cornucopia) is also used to make spoons etc.
Beast of burden
Goat breeds fall into somewhat overlapping, general categories.
Children's clubs such as 4-H also allow goats to be shown. Children's shows often include a showmanship class, where the cleanliness and presentation of both the animal and the exhibitor as well as the handler's ability and skill in handling the goat are scored. In a showmanship class, conformation is irrelevant since this is not what is being judged.
Various Dairy Goat Scorecards (milking does) are systems used for judging shows in the U.S. The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) scorecard for an adult doe is as follows:
General Appearance: 35 points (The doe should be strong in the feet, legs, and back, while showing good breed character and appropriate stature for her age and breed.)
Dairy Character: 20 points (The doe should be lean and angular, have ribs which are flexible but strong, and have smooth, pliable skin. These characteristics have been proven to result in high milk production.)
Body Capacity: 10 points (The doe should be large and strong with a wide, deep barrel).
Mammary System: 35 points (The udder should be productive and very well attached so as to be held up high away from possible injury, teats should be of a good size and shape for easy milking).
In all, the perfect dairy goat would score all 100 points, and this is the standard by which the goats are judged. Young stock and bucks are judged by different scorecards which place more emphasis on the other three categories; general appearance, body capacity, and dairy character.
The American Goat Society (AGS) has a similar, but not identical scorecard that is used in their shows. The miniature dairy goats may be judged by either of the two scorecards.
The Angora Goat scorecard used by the Colored Angora Goat Breeder's Association or CAGBA (which covers the white and the colored goats) is as follows:
Fleece - 70 points
Completeness of cover and Uniformity: 8 points (fineness, length, type of lock and covering, adequate covering of mohair over the entire body, neither too much nor too little on the face)
Luster and Handle of Fleece: 8 points (good, bright type of mohair, silky feeling)
Density and Yield: 8 points (number of fibers per unit area, determined by the amount of skin exposed when the fleece is parted)
Fineness: 14 points (finer mohair generally is more desirable, uniformity over entire fleece)
Character and Style: 6 points (equivalent to one inch per month or more, uniform over entire body)
Freedom from Kemp: 10 points (Kemp fibers are large, opaque, “hairy” fibers most commonly found at the withers, along the spine and around the tail and britch.)
Body — 50 points
Size and weight for age: 8 points (Minimum weight for yearling bucks-80 lb, yearling does-60 lb.)
Constitution and Vigor: 8 points (width and depth of chest, fullness of heartgirth and spring of ribs)
Conformation: 11 points (width and depth of body, straightness of back, width of loin, straightness of legs)
Amount of bone: 8 points (Indicated by the size of the bone below the knees and hocks. Should be clean and in proportion to the size of the animal. Strength of feet and legs.)
Angora Breed Type: 15 points (Indicated by head, horns, ears and topknot. Horns should be wide set and should spiral out and back. Wattles highly discouraged.)
Deformed mouth, broken down pasturns, deformed feet, crooked legs, abnormalities of testicles, missing testicles, more than 3 inch split in scrotum, close set distorted horns, or roached back.
The perfect Angora goat would score a 120 on the total points. For more information visit the CAGBA site: The Colored Angora Goat Breeder's Association.
Goats have horizontal slit-shaped pupils, an adaptation which increases peripheral depth perception.
Some breeds of sheep and goats appear superficially similar but goat tails point up, whereas sheep tails hang down (and are therefore often docked).
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