19 January 2010

Goat Sociology

Being an adoptive mom to goats is new territory for me. For a year or two, JD and I talked about bringing goats in to keep down the blackberries that are slowly burying us alive. I've never had goats before but by all accounts they are pretty great animals and keeping something that likes to eat blackberries is pretty appealing. Seeing them last year at the Oregon State Fair sealed the deal for us:



Despite growing up in rural areas of New Mexico and Texas, we never had goats. There were always an assortment of animals around: dogs and cats, a few horses, flocks of chickens and I even had two pairs of ducks and a little Bantam rooster and hen. I even have a vague memory of pigs at our house in New Mexico. But no goats.

When JD and I first brought Spike home, I emailed photos of him around to my family. They all know that four-legged animals are my version of children and have come to expect a different sort of "family photos". Everyone thought our latest addition was pretty cute.

Except Dad. My mom told me that he had a less than enthusiastic reaction: "I showed the picture to your father, but maybe you remember his speaking of Depression Days when he was growing up and on welfare. They were given charity food and some of it was canned mutton and he has never been able to eat lamb or anything resembling it since. So, I'm sorry to say, he didn't not wax enthusiastic about your new family member. But I still think he's a pretty color." That certainly explains the lack of goats around my childhood homes.

So I have a learning curve when it comes to goats. I rode a fair amount when I was a teenager so I understand how a horse operates. I've had a few dogs and I know how to interpret their behavior and how to be the pack leader. I have kind of a bird phobia but they are small and I can run away from them (yeah, that's right, I'll say it out loud!). Even cows, while being large and kind of cumbersome, are pretty direct-able (bulls are a different story, I know that much.)

Goats are another story entirely. I'm still learning what their behavior means, what their social structure consists of, whether they have an Alpha Goat (male or female) or just small groups within a herd, etc. JD told me one thing he learned was that when a female had kids, their position in the herd was one rung below their mother's rank. There is definitely a hierarchy among the three that we have now. Spike is at the top, then Sir Robin and at the bottom Sir Lancelot. I'll be curious to find out if those positions can change as Robin has displayed some challenging behavior towards Spike.

We've done some reading and there's always Google but does anyone have goats? What should I look out for? Does a herd of males act differently than one of mixed genders? None of our males are, um, intact. Does that affect their herd behavior significantly? I'd be grateful for information about your experiences with goat sociology be it anecdotal or scientific.


  1. I know nothing about goats except they seem to eat everything - I had one try to eat the shirt off my back in a petting zoo.

    If I ever get a house with lots of land, there will be goats "mowing" the weeds for me. But I think I would save all the blackberries for myself.

    I love your goat photos, and their names crack me up.

  2. They do seem to have developed a fondness for coats. Anytime I go into the pen to talk with them for muck out the shed, I have to keep an eye on all three or they'll chow down on my clothes!

  3. I remember two ducks named Gertrude and Tumbleweed. Were they yours?

  4. Hmmm. I remember the names but I don't remember if they were mine. I had the mallard pair and a white pair and the little bantam hen and rooster but I can't recall their names at all.


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