The domestic goat (Capra hircus) is a species of goat first domesticated in southwest Asia and Eastern Europe in approximately 8000 BCE, making them (along with cattle) among the first animals ever domesticated for agriculture. The goat is a member of the family Bovidae, and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. Its direct ancestor is the wild goat, Capra aegagrus, of which the domestic goat was formerly considered to be a subspecies.
There are over three hundred breeds of goat, which are bred by humans for their meat, skin, milk, fur, and sometimes companionship.
The goat is a small-sized (45 to 300 pounds, depending on the breed) hoofed bovid. Most goat breeds naturally have two horns, though the size varies between breeds and sometimes between sexes. The length of the coat, which can come in a variety of colors, is also highly variable; some goats have very long hair, while others have quite short hair. The tail is generally short.
Goats differ from cattle in a variety of ways. Most obviously is their size, but female goats have two teats on their udders as opposed to cows, which have four. Some exceptions do exist, though, such as the Boer goat, which has eight. The pupils in the eyes of goats are also much more noticeable, with easily identifiable horizontal rectangular shape. Additionally, whereas polled (hornless) cattle can be reliably bred, this has not been accomplished in goats. When polled goats are bred, a high percentage of sterile intersex offspring usually result. This is because the genes controlling sex and the genes controlling horn growth in goats are closely linked.
The color of the goat is variable, coming in shades of brown and gray or black and white. These colors are often combined in patterns of spots or patches. Since they are keratinous, the horns are usually more solid in color, with black and gray being the most common.
Baby goats are called kids. Most are born with smaller horns, which grow as the animals mature. As with many mammals, the head is disproportionately large in babies. They mature in about 305 days, but this varies with breed.
Goats in captivity live for about eighteen years.
Differences between male and female goats varies with breed. Male goats have sebaceous scent glands at the base of the horns which are used to attract females, while females have udders which are used to feed their offspring.
The goat is an adaptable creature, though its original habitat consisted of semi-arid mountainous regions with some forest and grassland habitat. It is a skilled climber and can feed on a variety of foliage, so mountains and badlands are seldom an obstacle to it. Goats are able to survive in conditions that many animals consider harsh, although certain breeds are better suited to particularly hot or cold climates than others.
Goats originated in the Zagros Mountains area, where they share common ancestry with the wild bezoar ibex (Capra aegagrus aegagrus). They were domesticated by Neolithic cultures in what is now Iran, with goat remains dated to 10,000 years before the present discovered at the Ganj Dareh archaeological site. Over the next two thousand years, domestic goats were bred throughout western Asia and the Middle East. Plenty of goats still live there, where they form the backbone of agriculture in many countries, but in modern history the goat has been exported the world over. Like with many domestic animals, it is impossible to draw a clear line between the animal’s natural range and where it is solely an introduced species, just as there is no way to distinguish between “natural” human expansion and that which is facilitated by civilization.
The first domesticated goats were kept in the Middle East and Asia in around 8000 BCE. They were quickly exported to Europe and Africa, becoming well-known there. Their multiple utilities (used for milk, meat, hair, and skins) made them a desired animal, and wherever humans traveled, goats came with them. Trade brought the domestic goat to the Americas and the Pacific, where they have existed for many years. Today they are farmed and kept on every continent except for Antarctica, which has never had long-term human settlements. As of 2011, there were around 924 million domestic goats in the world.
Goats are notorious escape artists, and frequently can get out of captivity to establish feral populations. When this happens, they are considered an invasive species. Feral goats are known on all of the continents where they are farmed, but can be particularly destructive on islands, where a lack of competition and predators allows their populations to boom. Goats then dominate the habitat, stripping islands of edible foliage and leading to native species going extinct. The animals are usually introduced by humans deliberately as a food source when settlements are built on the islands. On Isla Nublar, an island near Costa Rica, the indigenous Tun-Si tribe farmed goats for thousands of years, but the species did not become extremely destructive under their careful practices. When Europeans took over the island in the 1980s and evicted the local people, they continued importing goats to feed the de-extinct animals in the Jurassic Park facility. Some of the Tun-Si may have sold their goats or left them behind while they were displaced, but many were probably taken to the mainland. Jurassic Park did not successfully open; due to a series of incidents the island was abandoned in 1993 but the live goats were left there. Although the goats were preyed upon by the park’s carnivorous animals, they maintained a stable breeding population and became invasive. When the island was reused in 2002 to build the subsequent Jurassic World park, the goats were contained again. Jurassic World is considered to have been better about protecting Isla Nublar’s environment than its predecessor. This park operated from 2005 until 2015, after which point it was abandoned a final time. Feral goats are not known from the island now, especially after the 2018 eruption of Mount Sibo.
Other islands, such as the Hawaiian and Galápagos archipelagos, have had more ecological damage done to them from goats (de-extinct apex predators were never bred by genetic engineering corporations on these islands). In the Galápagos in particular, the Ecuadorian government has had to initiate a military campaign to scour the islands for feral goats, from the tops of their volcanic mountains to the lava tubes below sea level, to protect the endemic flora and fauna.
Behavior and Ecology
Goats are diurnal animals.
Diet and Feeding Behavior
While goats are characterized as opportunistic herbivores that can and will eat anything, this is not quite true. Goats are browsing animals (as opposed to grazers like cattle), favoring vines, shrubbery, and weeds. They are curious by nature and will investigate unfamiliar objects that vaguely resemble plant matter by chewing on them to determine if they are edible. However, they will not actually eat non-food items. Goats will also eat the woody tips of trees and shrubs, and will sometimes take large-leafed plants.
In the parks, the goats were not shown engaging in social behavior due to being fodder animals for the carnivorous dinosaurs. However, following the abandonment of Isla Nublar, the goats were left in the wild and were reported to live in a herd structure.
Goats are herd animals and tend to be very social. They establish dominance through headbutting and other mild combative behaviors.
In temperate parts of the world, goats begin the breeding season when the length of the day begins to shorten. Goats in equatorial regions such as Isla Nublar can breed at any time of the year, doing so when forage is at its most available. Puberty is reached between three and fifteen months of age.
Female goats, called does, can go into estrus once every twenty-one days, for a period of two days. She will vigorously wag her tail, remaining close to a male goat (or buck). She becomes more vocal, eats less, and produces less milk. Bucks exhibit rutting behavior when females are in estrus, eating less and becoming obsessed with does. He will curl his lip, urinate on himself, and produce a pungent scent to attract females.
Gestation lasts roughly 150 days, after which twins are usually born. Single and triplet births are also common, but larger litters are rare. The mother typically eats the placenta after birth, which helps hide the scent from predators; on Isla Nublar, they would likely exhibit this behavior.
The kids usually drink their mother’s milk for about 305 days, after which they start to wean off it and begin to mature.
Goats are best known for their bleating sounds, which they use to get the attention of other goats and communicate basic information to one another. When frightened, their bleating can be much higher-pitched. Body language is also an important form of communication, especially with goats being a social species that establishes social hierarchies based on physical confrontation. Head-butting is a common means of determining dominance.
A goat in Jurassic Park in 1993 could be heard bleating to itself. There were no other goats nearby, but it would likely have been recently removed from the other goats in the island’s stock and may have been calling to them. Goats in isolation at various InGen facilities have been heard bleating to themselves, often shortly before being eaten by their intended predators. When removed from their herds, goats can become distressed; these goats being used as fodder are probably attempting to communicate with the herds they have been removed from.
In the wild, goats are small foraging grazers that keep plant life cropped low by feeding on it. Goats are adaptable and can settle into virtually any environment with available plants, and are well-known for their ability to balance on precarious ledges. They are the only ruminants that can climb trees. Their adaptations help them avoid predators; since they are not very large, their best defense against many foes is to simply live in places where they can easily get out of reach. Predators of goats include large felids and canids such as lions, pumas, coyotes, and wolves, as well as larger carnivorous reptiles and birds of prey.
Goats are notorious for escaping captivity and becoming feral, which can result in environmental devastation. This is especially destructive on islands with fragile ecology; goats destroyed much of the Galápagos Islands ecosystem before being mostly killed off by the Ecuadorian government. On a small offshore island such as Isla Nublar, they would probably have a similar impact. After the failure of Jurassic Park in the early 1990s, a population of feral goats was established on the island; the closure of Jurassic World in late 2015 most likely had a similar effect.
Goats are highly adaptable herbivores. Due to their small size, they would have been incapable of defending themselves against larger predators and may have faced competition for habitat and food from herbivorous dinosaurs. Their diet consists of vines, shrubs, and weeds, many of which would be harder for the large herbivorous dinosaurs to access. Goats can also eat grass, which most dinosaurs are poorly adapted to feed on.
They would also compete for food with the indigenous Nublar tufted deer, which is the size of some smaller goats. The deer is crepuscular and inhabits deep forested areas. Goats often decimate habitats when they become feral, so it is likely that the deer suffered from competition more than the goats.
Known dinosaurian predators of goats on Isla Nublar include Tyrannosaurus rex. Presumably, other carnivorous animals would prey on them as well; the game Jurassic World: Evolution depicts almost every carnivorous dinosaur as eager to feed on goats. The largest indigenous carnivore on Isla Nublar is the common boa, whose typical diet includes mammals in this size range.
Jurassic World: Evolution and Jurassic World Alive both portray goats as largely fearless in the face of carnivorous dinosaurs, ignoring these predators up until the moment they are eaten. According to the former source, a combination of genetic engineering and behavioral conditioning has resulted in breeds of goat which lack a fear response, making them easier to kill and eat. This would also reduce stress on the goats, as they would remain blissfully unaware of their impending deaths until the last moment. The latter of these two games does depict some goats as exhibiting a fainting response when surprised, so although they do not fear death, their lives are not completely stress-free.
The goat is a culturally important animal the world over, as befits one of the first animals ever domesticated. It is relied upon for sustenance in many societies, and has been depicted in art and literature for thousands of years. Goats feature strongly in Greek mythology, Norse mythology, the Chinese zodiac, and ancient Hebrew documents. Many mythological hybrid creatures, such as the chimera, faun, and Capricorn are part goat. Western cultures often depict the goat as a symbol of impulsiveness and short temper, while in Eastern societies the goat more often symbolizes shy and creative introverted people.
Goat skulls were often used in ancient artistry in the Middle East and nearby regions, and the goat was (and in some cultures still is) a common sacrificial animal. Some nomadic goat-herding cultures use this animal as a form of currency. Alternatively, the goat is often seen as a symbol of demonic or satanic entities in European Christian folk artwork, possibly due to the goat’s ritual uses in pagan cultures. Even some modern-day societies still make use of the goat as a sinister symbol, and a ram’s curled horns are often attached to demonic imagery. However, goats are also used as metaphors for both positive and negative things in Christian and Jewish literature; it is not exclusively considered an ill omen. The meat and wool of sheep was considered superior to that of goats, which may have lent itself to more of the negative comparisons long before the goat was demonized in European Christianity.
Western culture has come to look down upon goat-herding cultures, even in atheistic settings. Because goats are stereotyped as the popular livestock of “primitive” nomadic peoples, it is not uncommon for people in Western societies to associate goat-herding with negative stereotypes such as barbarism and backwardness. This is also probably related to the relative rarity of goat meat in the diet of North American and Northern European people; they tend to prefer beef and bacon, and are often unfamiliar with the types of meat that can be obtained from the goat. However, goat cheese is increasingly popular in the United States and the goat is often viewed as a dairy animal; goat cheese is seen as one of the fancier forms of cheese by many people. Pet goats are also becoming common in the United States, despite Americans’ frequent joking at the expense of traditional goat-herding peoples. The United States’ complicated relationship with Christianity and Middle Eastern cultures may be partly to blame for its hypocritical view of domestic goats.
Humans have tended to domestic goats for over ten thousand years, and they are still common farm animals around the world today. Goats are mainly kept for their meat and milk, though they can also be raised for their hides and hair. They are easy animals to keep healthy in captivity and are capable of eating many types of plants, making them ideal for smaller farms. In fact, some towns and cities will employ goat farmers to maintain lawns and fields; the goats will consume weeds that would otherwise be difficult to exterminate. The creative goat farmer may even loan out a goat to wealthier people around town as an imaginative and environmentally safe alternative to a lawn mower.
Care must be taken, though, to prevent wider environmental impacts. The goat is a well-known escape artist and is smarter than it appears, and this adaptable mammal has feral populations around the globe. In some countries, such as New Zealand, feral goat populations can have devastating impacts. The goats’ enclosure on a farm or in the home should be regularly checked for weaknesses or fence breaks, and should have boundaries that are tall enough the goats cannot scale them. Remember that these are the only tree-climbing ruminants. One way to discourage goat escapes is to provide them with ample stimulation within their enclosure; they are curious animals and can perform simple problem-solving tasks, so giving them toys and other objects to play with can keep them satisfied.
More aggressive goats may have their horns covered with foam objects such as pool noodles to keep them from destructively ramming their herd companions, handlers, or structures in their enclosure.
Goats can be herded with sheep successfully, since goats and sheep prefer different plants as food. They can graze together without competition becoming a serious issue. Goats and sheep are capable of interbreeding, producing hybrid offspring with traits of both parent species.
Disease is not as common in goats as in some other domestic animals, and they have a reputation for hardiness. Still, they are susceptible to certain infections; foot-and-mouth disease, rabies, tuberculosis, and mastitis are some diseases that can infect the goat. Some of these are zoonotic, making them medically significant to humans.
Like other early-domesticated species such as the dog and cattle, the goat is significant to bioarchaeology and other forms of archaeology as it provides insight into the development of early human civilizations. The goat remains useful in science today as a research organism used as a model in a wide variety of experiments; its affordability and ease of feeding make it ideal for scientific use.
One notable example of goats used for scientific purposes is in genetic hybridization. Geneticists at Nexia Biotechnologies in 1993 genetically engineered a breed of goat with a single gene from the golden orb-weaver (Nephila clavipes). Spider silk is a highly durable and strong material with a wide range of industrial applications, but spider farming is a difficult process because the most commonly-used spiders are territorial and may eat one another if kept in close conditions. Instead, researchers integrated a gene linked to silk production into goats. Once the does reached the age where they were able to lactate, their milk contained spider dragline silk proteins. This allowed the researchers to obtain large quantities of spider silk proteins without farming spiders at all. Though Nexia Biotechnologies went bankrupt in 2018, the breeding of spider goats has continued through the Randy Lewis laboratory at the University of Wyoming and Utah State University.
Since goats are physiologically and anatomically comparable to humans in some ways, they are used as subjects in medical training, particularly for combat trauma medics. They have been the preferred species to use for this purpose in the United States Armed Forces since the 1980s, when the Pentagon stopped the use of dogs.
Goats are subject to local and national regulations with regards to farming. Their environmental impact is far smaller than that of livestock such as cattle, but they have a greater likelihood of escaping and becoming feral. Among domestic animals, only the cat is known to become wild again so quickly. Feral populations of goats, if not kept in check by local predators, can become hugely destructive by eating all the shrubs and greenery around. They are a major problem in Australia and New Zealand, and have established in other countries as well. Feral goats are especially damaging on islands where there are usually few large predators. Here, goats can destroy entire ecosystems; in many cases the government must intervene to exterminate the feral goats. This was performed by the Ecuadorian government in the Galápagos Archipelago, where goats had eaten nearly all the plant life on certain islands and presented an immediate threat to the survival of indigenous animals.
The animal rights movement also is concerned with goats and lobbies for their welfare and health in many of the world’s developed countries. This can become controversial in less developed countries where small farms and impoverished communities rely on goat farming for survival. With the rise in Western veganism, goats are increasingly perceived as companion animals only, and are sometimes kept as pets (especially by people who want to have a “quirky” aesthetic). For underprivileged communities, the goat is more of a livelihood than a luxury. The cultural ignorance displayed by more privileged people toward goatherds is one of the major sources of tension between Western civilization and the rest of the world.
Goats are one of the oldest domesticated species, first tamed for agricultural purposes over ten thousand years ago. This makes them companions of the human species for nearly as long as the dog. Resources obtained from the goat include their meat, hide, fur, manure, and milk. The milk can be drank as it is, but is also frequently used to make cheese called chèvre; goat cheeses have a higher proportion of medium-chain fatty acids than cow milk, giving them a distinctly tart flavor. At one point it was believed that goat milk was hypoallergenic (in C/N canon, it was fed to young dinosaurs on Site B) but this is no longer considered accurate. Goat cheese was among the first dairy products ever made, possibly being older than cow cheese.
The meat of the goat, often called chevon, is a common food resource in many parts of the world. Meat from younger goats is referred to as cabrito or capretto. Meals including goat meat are commonplace in Latin America, the Mediterranean, and Asia; it is less common in Northern Europe and North America, but not unknown. It is also often eaten in Africa: notably, the Chaga people of Tanzania serve whole roasted goat (called ndafu) at weddings.
Horns from goats were historically used to make cornucopias, a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Today they are still used to craft spoons. Additionally, the intestines of the goat can be used to make catgut, a type of fiber cord used in surgery and string instruments. Live goats may be used for driving and packing purposes.
Goats have also been used as fodder animals at de-extinction facilities, since they are small enough to be comparatively inexpensive but provide enough nutrition to sustain carnivorous theropods. The predation of Tyrannosaurus rex on live goats became something of a spectacle at Jurassic World, with hundreds of tourists lining up to see the tyrannosaur make a kill. Guests in the park also consumed goat products; the beet root salad served in Winston’s Steakhouse included goat cheese as an ingredient.
In the modern day, goats are gaining popularity as companion animals due to their sociable nature.
The goat is fairly small and easily tamed, so many people assume it is not dangerous at all. In reality, of course, all animals and especially livestock should be treated with the proper respect and caution. Youths are especially at risk of being injured by a goat. Injuries sustained from this animal usually involve being kicked, head-butted, stepped on, or bitten. While injuries are usually minor and can be treated without emergency medical attention, it is better to be safe and avoid injury in the first place.
One of the easiest ways to avoid injury is to dress sensibly; wearing closed-toed shoes can not only protect against dropped objects on the farm, but can protect your toes if a goat should step on your feet. Proper clothing including gloves, jeans, and long sleeves can help prevent bites, cuts, and scrapes. If startled, a goat is more likely to flee than fight, but some may try to knock a person over in order to get out of a stressful situation. The most common startling stimuli for goats are unfamiliar sounds and sights. Avoid being unnecessarily loud or making sudden movements near the goat, and do not separate them from their herd for too long, as this will stress them out and make them more reactive.
If charged by a goat, you will probably only have a short time to react, so turn to take the impact from the side rather than to the stomach. Smaller goats might be able to be held back by a strong enough person. Normally a goat will only charge if it is provoked, but you will get to know the personalities of the goats that you interact with regularly; goats that are more aggressive than others may need foam caps for their horns. When interacting with goats that are not your own, pay attention to the advice of experienced farmhands and goatherds who know the animals well, and you should be able to keep quite safe in the company of livestock such as these.