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Goats: All You Need to Know

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Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.

A 36,000-year-old drawing of a goat in the Chauvet Cave in France.

A 36,000-year-old drawing of a goat in the Chauvet Cave in France.

Goats vs. Cows

Early civilisations had domesticated goats, as we've learned from the ancient myths and stories. Scientific evidence shows that goats were domesticated about 10,000 years ago by the Middle Eastern people in the Fertile Crescent, the crescent-shaped region of the Middle East where one of the earliest civilisational groups is thought to have lived.

Goats and sheep were the first-ever domesticated livestock animal species. Capra aegagrus was the scientific name for wild goats from which the domestic goats evolved. In the Neolithic era, people began to travel across vast regions and with them, the goats also spread across the continents.

Capra Falconer, the western Himalayan species, Capra Nubiana, the North East African and Arabian species, and Capra Wallie, the northern Ethiopian species are those in existence today. Goats can jump up to five feet and many goat breeds are also capable of climbing trees and rocky steep mountain slopes.

They are ruminants just like cows, chewing their food into a semi-digested state and swallowing it and then bringing it back to the mouth for full chewing. The semi-digested food is called the ‘cud’, and chewing the cud is a distinctive rest-time activity of goats. They are also very picky eaters, always avoiding soiled leaves and those that have fallen to the ground.

Sue Weaver, who has written hundreds of books about rearing livestock and domestic animals, has authored a book about the natural and cultural history of goats. She observes that goats are browsers rather than grazers as they eat only selected brushes and shrubs. They can even stand on their hind legs and feed on the branches of small trees. They also can sustain in uncultivable and difficult terrains with water scarcity.

All these factors make them the favourite animals of many nomadic tribes and the people who live in extreme climatic conditions including deserts and wastelands. Less space is needed to keep goats as compared to cows and buffaloes and this is another reason why poor people prefer them to bigger cattle.

Wild goats

Wild goats

Goat in Our Lives

Goat milk has medicinal values. Goatskin was turned into pelts, clothes and even water carrying sacks by ancient people. The horns, bones, fleece, hair, and everything they got from goats had utility. Goat dung has always been the super-fertiliser used by farmers to grow grains and vegetables. They provide the best nutrition for sweet potatoes and Chinese potatoes.

Last but culturally not least, goats were the favourite sacrifice of many gods, who were offered the blood of goats, and their meat and whole head. The Dongria Kondh tribe of Orissa in India have goat sacrifice as part of the worship of their mountain god, Niyamraja.

Goat Breeds

There are around 570 goat breeds around the world. Some known breeds are Alpine, La Mancha, Nubian, Angora, Boer, Beetal, Damascus, British Saanen, West African Dwarf, Pygmy, and Icelandic. Though goats are miserly milk producers, giving a maximum of about 1-litre milk per day, the Alpine goats are capable of producing 3.5 litres of milk per day. The La Mancha breed can be milked continuously for two years.

Saanen is the largest breed among the dairy goats. Boer, Kiko and Nubian are good meat goats. Angora goats are the source of mohair, used in making winter clothes. The clothes made of mohair are lustrous, flame-resistant, and capable of retaining their shape. The hair of some dolls and teddy bears is often made of mohair. Pygmies are a very small breed, and they are often reared as pets. The total number of goats on our planet is estimated to be about 450 million.

Boer goat breed

Boer goat breed

Etymology

The etymology of the word "goat" goes back to the old English word "gat," which was used to speak about a female goat. The male goat was called a buck in old English. It was only in the 14th century that the coinage of the words, he-goat and she-goat happened.

The connotations of goat in language kept changing. In the late 1300s, the zodiac sign Capricorn was referred to as similar to a goat for the first time. Similarly, in the late 1600s, a promiscuous man began to be called a goat. The early 1900s saw another meaning getting associated with the word goat: a fool. G.O.A.T. is also used as an acronym for "Greatest of All Time."

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The word scapegoat came from the Old Testament. It tells how a priest would transfer the sins of all to a single goat by putting his hand on its head and then driving it away into the desert to suffer for everybody’s sins. This is why in the English language, a wrongfully accused person is called a scapegoat.

Goat Mythology

There is this Azerbaijanian goddess of prosperity and childbirth who is believed to have the ability to turn herself into a goat. In rural Azerbaijan, a goat fleece rope is tied to the bed in which a child is being born. Another god who is associated with goats is the Indian Vedic god of fire, ‘Agni’. In ancient pictures, he is depicted as riding a black, buck goat.

There is also a Basque god named, Akerbeltz, who is a black male goat. This deity is for protecting the domestic animals and cattle of the people. In the honour of this god, the farmers of Basque keep a black, buck goat in their cattle sheds. Mary, another Basque goddess is also a being that shifts itself between human form and a goat.

The Slavic god of the dead, Chernobog, also rides a goat. He is believed to have the ability to turn into a black male goat as well. To honour him, the Slavic people used to have pictures of goats tattooed on their bodies. Another Slavic god, the sun god Dazbog, is portrayed as a white goat.

The Babylonian and Sumerian god of magic is Marduk and he is also a god with a great affinity toward goats. Chinese people also have a goat god, Yang Ching, who protects them from wild animals.

Pygmy, the pet goat breed

Pygmy, the pet goat breed

The Cashmere Goats of England

In Wales in England, there is a flock of Cashmere goats roaming the Great Orme County Park of Llandudno. These are called Queen Victoria’s Windsor herd of Cashmere goats and were brought to England by Sir Savage Mostyn in the 1800s.

All of these flocks are white and the males are quite distinct with their horns looking like the scimitar knives that broaden towards their sharp tips. Cashmere sweaters are an all-time favourite of fashionistas. They are silky and luxuriously soft.

A cashmere sweater

A cashmere sweater

Sheep vs. Goats

Sheep differ from goats in many ways. Sheep are typical herd animals and live in flocks. Goats, though living in herds, are more individualistic and they do not always follow the flock. They are curious by nature and love to explore something that catches their attention.

One might remember Jesus observing in the Bible that the righteous are like sheep and the wicked are like goats because sheep are obedient, while goats go in search of trouble (Book of Mathew, New Testament).

Sheep wool is natural cloth material whereas goat hair is only rarely sheared on a commercial basis. An exception is Angora goats. Most goats have horns, while most sheep do not.

Goats in America

It was Christopher Columbus who brought goats to America in 1493 on his sea voyage that ended up discovering the American continents. The settlers from Europe gradually brought many different breeds into the country.

Goat Milk

One would be surprised to know that goat milk comprises 65-72 per cent of all dairy products consumed internationally. Goat milk has a thicker and creamier texture than cow milk. It promotes the health of the heart, is easy to digest, and also does not cause milk allergies.

It is an amazing source of Vitamin A. The high protein content in goat milk makes it a healthy choice over cow milk and plant milk, but one has to remember that it is not lactose-free.

Mohair wool beret

Mohair wool beret

Goat Cheese

Goat cheese is a world delicacy, also known as Chèvre. It is the Capric acid in the goat milk that gives Chèvre its differentiating flavour—a little bit tangy, a bit tart. It does not melt as smoothly as cow cheese does but softens when heated.

There are three types of goat cheese:

  1. Fresh chèvre, which is not aged more than 3-4 days,
  2. Valencay, 3-weeks aged, citric in taste, pyramid-shaped, and with a grey-blue rind that is smeared with charcoal,
  3. Bucheron, 5-10 weeks aged, log-shaped, and with a thin whitish rind.
Goat cheese

Goat cheese

Goat Yoga

Lainey Morse, the owner of Original Goat Yoga in Oregon, began the one-of-a-kind concept of goat yoga when she started giving yoga classes inside her farm where she reared goats. The concept caught on, and soon goat yoga became popular. While the participant is doing yoga postures, a goat stands on his/her back. It is a highly relaxing and fun activity.

References

G.O.A.T. Greatest Of All Time, Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, 2016, grammarphobia.com

The Goat: A Natural and Cultural History, Sue Weaver, 2020.

12 Popular Goat Breeds, Successful Farming, agriculture.org

Breeds of Goats, americangoatfederation.org

Goat Milk: Are There Health Benefits? webmd.com

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Deepa

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