September 10, 2014

Goats - What's Normal?

Goats have some peculiar behaviors. What's normal and what isn't?

I'm asked pretty regularly if something is "normal" for goats. I remember coming across some of these situations myself in my early days and wondering if something was wrong with my goat. So, to help set your mind at ease if you are a relatively new goat owner, here are a few things that might concern you when you see them for the first time.

Callouses on a goat's knees. Normal?
Goats often have bare patches on their front "knees". These are callouses. If you've watched your goat lie down, you've noticed that they sort of flop down on their knees and then lower the rest of their body to the ground. Some goats develop a callous on their chest between the front legs. Again, this is from lying on the ground.

Dairy does tend to be thin while they are lactating, whether they are raising kids or being milked. They put all those calories into producing milk instead of into maintaining their body weight; goat breeders call this "putting it all in the bucket". A good way to check your goat's body condition is to feel the breastbone, between the front legs. You should be able to feel a layer of fat over the bone. If all you feel is the bone, increase your doe's feed (do so gradually to avoid digestive upset). She needs a higher protein feed and good quality hay while lactating.

Some does will have a lopsided udder, caused by the kids nursing one side and not the other. This happens more often when she is raising a single kid. You can milk the neglected teat to keep her udder "even".

When the doe decides that her kid should be eating more solid food and nursing less, she will discourage the kid from nursing, sometimes by kicking it away, running away, or even lying down on the ground. She hasn't rejected her kid, she's simply encouraging it to grow up.

Goats: is this normal?

Goats begin chewing cud when they start eating hay as kids. You might witness your goat regurgitating her cud, or notice a "wad" in her cheek like chewing tobacco. Sometimes they burp to release the gasses building up in the rumen, where their food is fermenting. This is normal; chewing cud is a sign of good digestive health.

Some goats like to suck on wire fencing; my daughter and I called this "flossing their teeth". Not all of my goats do it, but a few of them do it regularly after finishing their supper. Standing at the fence, the goat puts her mouth on a strand of wire and moves her head back and forth so that the wire slides through her mouth. I have no idea why some of them do this. Do they need a mineral in the metal, or is it just a habit, like a horse that cribs? Since I've had several do it over the years, I guess it's "normal".

Goats have some peculiar behaviors. What's normal and what isn't?

Older goats can have long dewclaws, those horn-like growths on the back of their legs above their hooves. These can be trimmed when you trim their hooves, just like fingernails. If you don't trim them, they'll peel off eventually on their own, similar to a dog's toenails.

Contrary to what you've seen in cartoons, goats have sensitive digestive systems. They don't eat license plates or tin cans, and when you change their feed, you must do it gradually. They don't graze like horses, they'd rather browse like giraffes, and they prefer weeds, brush, tree leaves and bark over grass.

Do you have any more questions about what's normal? Please leave a comment if you do, and make sure you include your email address so I know you'll see the answer.

Part Two:  Goats - What ISN'T Normal?

This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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  1. Good information, Kathi. And you're right, some things that are normal for one goat, will never show up in another one. Thus, the continuing challenge to understand each animal and what is normal for them. Thanks!


  2. Yes, Fern, they are all individuals. Getting to know them and their "quirks" is half the fun of having them, isn't it?

    The first time I saw one with a wad of cud in her cheek I was worried. It looked like a lump. Later when I checked on her again it was gone. I finally figured it out. ;-)

  3. Anonymous5:32 AM

    Any ideas on how to make my neighbors despose of a dead goat?
    It died 3 days ago and it is about 40 feet from my kitchen door. We have asked them 3 times to have someone come and pick it up.


  4. Oh my word. I can't understand why they've left it for so long. I hate to say that if you've asked 3 times and they haven't done it yet, I'd call the sheriff/police, or at least threaten to do so. It's not just distressing, it's unhealthy.

    (I'm sorry for the delay in answering. Anonymous comments go into my spam folder so I hadn't seen your comment until now.)

  5. You always have such thorough advice and information. So glad you shared this on this week's Maple Hill Hop!

  6. I've never seen the callouses - great information!

  7. Heidi, the callouses come with age, of course, so one day you realize your goat has a "sore" on her knees, and you wonder what it is!

  8. Normal is such a funny word! And I don't know what a normal goat is - mine are all so totally different :-)

  9. You're right, Joan! It's a case of "what's normal for this goat" and "what's normal for that goat" isn't it?

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