If you were asked to name one of the oldest animals to be domesticated, how would you answer? Would you guess that it was a cat, dog or even rabbit? Well, there is one species that rises above the others. You may be surprised to find that the goat was domesticated as far back as 10,000 years ago. This livestock animal was used for milk, meat and other essentials. But how exactly are these animals able to survive? Do they eat the same things in the wild that they would in a captive herd?
WHAT DO GOATS EAT?
You may have heard that goats will anything that it comes into contact with. In reality, these browsers are herbivores, only eating various types of plants. These include mostly trees, shrubs, leaves, and grain. All goats are considered to be browsers as opposed to grazers, finding specific foods instead of simply mowing through any plant material. Comparing their family characteristics can help set them apart from grazing livestock.
When looking at the lineage of a goat, you must first consider the family in which they belong to, Bovidae. These animals are grouped together for their divided, or cloven, hooves. Such individuals include bison, goats, deer, and pigs. Goats are broken down further into the genus Capra, where nine species make up the group.
An interesting discovery to be stated is that almost every wild species of the genus Capra is considered to be allopatric. Simply put, wild goats were separated by geographical barriers until they were forced to create new species. These new populations exist in biomes separate from their close relatives, meaning that they must find different sources of sustenance.
WHAT DO GOATS EAT IN THE WILD?
We already know that there are nine species of goats found to be living, but how exactly do they differ in dietary preferences? Both wild and captive herds are found worldwide, making it difficult to pinpoint what a typical goat will consume each day. Breaking down each of the most common wild goat species will help to highlight what they tend to chew on in the wild.
The mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) is called by another name, the Rocky Mountain goat. This species is widely known for its thick coat, which typically is made up of either white or brown hair. They sport two shorter, black horns that slightly curve at the tip. These animals are quite large, weighing around 45 to 140 kilograms, depending on gender. Interestingly, the mountain goat is the largest mammal found to live in its habitat.
This species of wild goat is specifically designed to survive harsh winters at higher altitudes, sometimes even reaching over 4,000 meters. They are considered to be an Alpine or subalpine species, naturally inhabiting mountain ranges found in North America such as the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Range.
The diet of a mountain goat typically includes grass, plants, and moss. These preferences vary depending on the season at hand. Although goats can be thought of as foragers, this animal does resort to grazing on grasses, ferns, and lichens in addition to the various available browse options. If found at a higher altitude, they even resort to feeding off of the conifer bark for energy.
You might assume that the Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) is similar in appearance to the mountain goat due to its name, but this is quite incorrect. Instead of a wholly white coat, these animals have short brown to red coats. The most iconic physical characteristic is a set of large horns that curve backward. A full-grown ibex usually weighs around 122 kilograms.
The Ibex can be found roaming the mountainous regions of central Europe, Ethiopia and China. Although they are found in the Alps, these individuals thrive in arid mountains that often lack snow and precipitation. This can explain why they lack the large coat that you would find on a mountain goat.
As with all goats, these species are herbivorous, seeking out various plants. Due to the drier environment, ibexes feed off of moss, leaves, twigs, and flowers. Biologists have recorded them standing on their rear legs in order to reach leaves, making them highly adaptive.
Also known as the screw horn goat, the markhor (Capra falconeri) is most commonly recognized for its unique horns that resemble a corkscrew. This species has a shorter brownish-grey coat with shaggier hair on the chest. Depending on the individual’s gender, they can weigh anywhere from 80 to 110 kilograms.
The markhor is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, where it was hunted for its prized horns. This animal can be found in certain areas of Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Mountains with scrub forests make up the main habitat of this species, generally at elevations of about 600 to 3,600 meters above sea level.
The diet of a markhor varies depending on the season. In the winter, they can be found browsing among the trees to reach leaves and shoots. When food sources are abundant, the markhor will eat mostly grass. Similarly to the ibex, this species can also stand on its hind legs to find food in the trees.
When talking about a feral animal, it typically describes an individual that is only slightly wild. In other words, it was domesticated only to return back to its original state. Feral goats (Capra hircus) have become quite the phenomenon, wreaking havoc on the environment around them. In fact, they have been named one of the top contenders for the 100 worst invasive alien species found worldwide.
These individuals can be found mostly in Australia, taking over a staggering 28 percent of this continent. Such areas usually have rocky substrates or hills with semi-arid regions. The first goats to inhabit Australia were brought over by 18th-century European settlers, which led to certain problems.
As for what an Australian feral goat can eat, the options are numerous. They tend to favor flowers, fruit, roots, and fungi, competing with existing livestock and other wild animals. With such an expansive diet, feral goats can overgraze. This can lead to the destruction of vegetation and soil stability.
HOW DO GOATS CHEW THEIR FOOD?
Some people wonder how a goat can browse so exceptionally. The answer to this question lies in their dentition.
Goats are specifically designed to chew and grind, making the intake of food all that more simple. Compared to other animals, these individuals do not have upper incisors that would aid in the tearing and crushing of food. When taking a first glance, you might assume that they have no teeth due to the fact that they have no upper front teeth. Instead, they have a “dental pad” that helps them intake larger quantities of plant matter.
As for the rest of a goat’s mouth, they have molars located along the lower jaw. These are essential in grinding. They also have teeth on the upper layer found in the back of their mouth. People use the teeth to actually gauge how old the individual is, using the size and shape to pinpoint the years.
As with most animals that eat a lot of grass, goats have what is called a “ruminant digestive system”. Ruminants include cows, antelopes, deer, goats, giraffes, and other grass-eaters. All of these species share a stomach that has four chambers. This aids in gaining essential nutrients while grazing or browsing.
After chewing up a large quantity of grass, the goat will pass along any food to the first few compartments found in the four-chambered stomach. Enzymes and acids are released into the stomach and small intestine for further breakdown.
The difference between a ruminant stomach and our own is that these animals are able to regurgitate any previously masticated food. This allows them to save it for later when they need additional nutrients.
HOW DOES A GOAT GET WATER?
One of the basic needs that nearly every animal needs is water. Without it, the body becomes dehydrated and ceases to function. As a general rule, goats require approximately two to three gallons of water each day. Some species are found in habitats that lack abundant sources of water. The Alpine ibex, for instance, has to find other ways meet this need. During the warmer months, ibexes have to resort to drinking every other day. With water so scarce, they rely on their food to meet the proper liquid requirements.
WHAT DO CAPTIVE GOATS EAT?
Goats have become a widely accepted domesticated animal. They are mainly used for their milk, meat, and hair. After 10,000 years of being domesticated, this species has expanded to inhabit nearly every inch of the Earth. As of today, there are over 200 breeds of domestic goats, each with different physical differences.
Some captive breeds of goat are fed a diet that mirrors their wild counterparts. Goats kept as either livestock or pets often thrive off of various plant materials such as trees and shrubs. Owners also provide supplements through hay, grains, and alfalfa. Putting your goat in a pasture during the warmer months is quite common, using grains in the colder times.
Goats found in captivity also require salt. These minerals round out the necessary requirements found in their diet. In the wild, natural salt deposits provide these nutrients. The mountain goat, in particular, will travel over 15 miles in order to find this delectable necessity.
What Predators Do Goats Have?
Livestock animals are always susceptible to predation. They can too often become an easy target. Captive goats have to look out for coyotes, foxes, wolves, mountain lions, and bobcats. Even domestic dogs can attack a goat from time to time.
As for those in the wild, it depends on the region. Wolves and mountain lions most commonly hunt down mountain goats. They also have to watch out for grizzly bears and eagles that will go after their young. Wolves, lynxes, foxes, bears, eagles and snow leopards can take down an adult alpine ibex. Although not a “predator”, these individuals can also fall off cliffs, resulting in a close call.
Can Horns Be Used to Identify Age?
Did you know that a goat could be aged using its horns? Some species are easier to read than others. The mountain goat is among the most straightforward when identifying age. When looking at a picture of their horns, you will notice ridges, some of which extend around the front and back of the horn. These are termed by scientists as “annuli”.
The darker rings, or annuli found on a goat’s horn signify each year of growth. The first region located at the tip was grown during the first two years of life. You can count each separate annuli to correctly age a goat.
Why Do Goats Head Butt Each Other?
If you’ve spent any time around goats, you may have seen them smack their heads against each other. Or perhaps you were caught in the middle of it. But why exactly do they demonstrate this behavior? Is it meant to cause harm?
In the wild, head butting is used almost entirely for dominance and defense. For instance, two males will clash their skulls together when trying to compete for a female. The winner backs down, walking away from the fight. You may also see a bold goat ram at predators to protect themselves and their kin.
As for those in captivity, they don’t need to establish dominance. By nature, goats are incredibly playful. Head butting is a way that they can get their energy out in a way that is, for a lack of a better word, enjoyable. When a goat turns around and attempts to head butt you, they either want the attention or simply want you to engage in their play session.
How Are Goats Able to Head Butt?
Now that you know the reason behind this movement, there’s another question associated with head butting. How are they able to clash skulls without getting seriously hurt? It’s due to a number of special adaptations.
Certain species of goats have horns that are able to absorb some of the impact. This adaptation paired with their thick skulls helps to alleviate some of the possible damage. Studying the anatomy of a goat, you might notice how in line their skull is to the spinal column. This allows for any impact to be evenly distributed down the back, instead of resulting in a cracked skull. Butting heads, when done with enough force, is no walk in the park. In fact, the exertion used can render an opponent seriously hurt if tackled at the right angle. Those head butting in a play session won’t use the same amount of force.
What Should Goats Not Eat?
You may have heard that a goat will eat anything it sees. Technically, a goat can eat just about any object. One reason for this is because of the lack of taste buds in their mouth. Many animals, including us humans, won’t eat something that tastes sour or bitter. In the wild, that can be used to indicate toxic foods. But just because a goat can eat just about anything does not mean that they should.
Some of the foods that a goat cannot properly digest include flowering plants such as milkweed, lilies, holly, and kale. Cherries, rhubarb and avocado are also among the food items that should not be fed to a goat.
What Is a Goat’s Favorite Food?
Goats don’t do well when it comes to any sudden changes in their diet. They do, however, have a number of foods that they prefer. As mentioned earlier, goats are browsers. This means that they will choose leaves and twigs, brush and leaves over grass. Some owners claim that domestic goats favor hay or pasture. Some delectable treats include sunflower seeds, carrots, raisins, and greens.
The goat is an herbivorous herd animal that prefers to browse instead of graze. As an individual that has been heavily domesticated, they have been used for their milk, meat, and fiber. They are so commonly accepted as livestock that there are over 200 recognized breeds. Their separate geographical regions separate those found in the wild. Domesticated, wild, and feral goats find trees, shrubs and other plant material to fend for themselves.