Is your goat's behavior normal? Why it's important to know

Goats have some pretty quirky behaviors. How do you know if your goat's behavior is normal or if there's something wrong with her?

The answer is observation, and knowing what is normal and usual for your goats.

I'm asked pretty often if something is "normal" for goats. 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 and a list of behaviors that could signal a serious condition and require medical intervention.

Normal vital signs

First let's establish what the normal vital statistics are for goats.

Temperature = 102.5 - 104 - This can vary depending on the temperature of the goat's surroundings and time of day. It's a good idea to take a second goat's temperature for comparison.
Pulse rate = 70 - 80 beats per minute
Respiration = 15 to 30 per minute
Normal rumen (stomach) movements = 1 - 1.5 per minute

Is your goat's behavior normal? From quirky to unusual, here's what you need to know - and whether or not it's a sign of something seriously wrong.

Normal physical characteristics

1. Bare spots - 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. This results in wear on the skin and causes callouses.

Some goats also develop a callous on their chest between the front legs. Again, this is from lying on the ground. These callouses are normal in goats.

2. Body condition - Dairy does tend to be thin while they are lactating, whether they are raising kids or being milked. They put all those calories from their feed 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 high protein feed and good quality hay while she's producing milk.

3. Udder - Some does will have a lopsided udder, which is usually 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."

4. Dewclaws - 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. Long dewclaws are nothing to worry about.

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

Are these goat behaviors normal?

5. Kicking her kids away - 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. It's just an instinctive behavior for a nursing goat.

6. Chewing cud - 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.

However, foaming at the mouth is not normal. 

7. I don't even know what to call this behavior - Some goats like to suck on wire fencing. It's almost as if they are "flossing their teeth."

Not all of my goats have done this, 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. Maybe it's just a habit, like a horse that cribs? Since I've had several do it over the years, I guess it's "normal." Well, it's nothing to worry about anyway. Just one of those "quirky" behaviors that goats have.

8. No, goats can't eat everything - 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.

In fact, a goat can starve in a field of grass. While some are more willing to eat grass than others, they would all prefer to browse.

Goats have some peculiar behaviors, some are signs of serious problems. What's normal and what isn't?

Abnormal behavior - you DO need to investigate these

Any kind of behavior that is unusual for your goat calls for a second look.

This is why knowing your goat's normal behavior is important. That's your baseline, and that's how you'll know that something is "different." The only way to know what's normal for your goats is to spend time with them and observe them.

If you do notice something unusual, keep an eye on the affected goat. You might need to call your vet for some of these conditions - actually, I encourage you to call your vet any time you have a question about your goat.

9. Any goat that won't eat has a problem. If your goat is nibbling at hay but turns up her nose at grain, she has a problem. A bottle-fed kid that doesn't want a bottle has a problem.

Once you've ruled out mouth problems - burrs in the soft tissue, or blood from a tooth or other injury - you'll need to take her temperature and look for additional symptoms. Does she have diarrhea? Is her rumen making normal noise and movements, and how many movements per minute can you detect? Is she unwilling to move and does she look bloated?

This goat is in trouble and needs treatment; call your veterinarian for help.

10. A goat that stands off from the herd, or won't come out of the goat shelter needs a second look. Sometimes this means an injury - it might hurt to walk, for instance. My goat Wish did this when she had pinkeye because sunshine hurt her eyes. It's not normal for a herd animal to stay away from the herd.

11. If your goat is crying or bawling, there's a problem and it could be urgent. She might be scared, being chased by something, stuck in the fence, or in pain.

On the other hand, if your normally noisy and friendly goat is quiet and anti-social, you also need to investigate.

However, a goat in heat will often bawl. Knowing your goat will help you figure this one out, but please investigate to make sure she isn't stuck in the fence or worse.

12. Standing with his or her back hunched up is another reason to investigate and can be serious. There can be several causes: the goat might be cold, have an intestinal or digestive problem, or if it's a buck or wether, he might have urinary calculi.

13. Another sign of urinary calculi is a buck or wether who is unable to urinate. You might notice him straining with no results. I once had a young buckling that strained, cried, and rolled on the ground in pain. If you suspect a urinary blockage, you need to get help for this goat immediately. This can be a life-threatening situation.

14. Your goat's poop can tell you a lot of things. Normal, healthy goats should produce "berries." A soft clump of poop might mean anything from eating a weed the goat wasn't used to, a bit too much grain, or perhaps intestinal worms.

If you have several goats it can be hard to tell which one is responsible for clumpy poop. Keep an eye on the whole herd until you figure out which goat is affected.

Usually soft, clumpy poop doesn't last long, but if it persists you should investigate more closely. You can check your goats' gums and/or eyelids to check for a worm infestation; the tissues should be a healthy pink color, not pale pink or white which would indicate a heavy worm load. Research the famacha worming method for more information on checking for worm infestation.

15. Watery diarrhea is more serious than soft poop. It's usually easy to see which goat is affected. Diarrhea may or may not be caused by coccidiosis and is especially serious in young kids. Call your vet if your goat is suffering from diarrhea, especially if it is severe.

Anytime you notice your goat acting out of character you should investigate. Hopefully it's nothing serious, but it's better to check out the situation than to be sorry that you didn't.

Are you looking for more goat information? You'll find all of my goat-related posts here: What You Need to Know about Goats

For more homesteading and self-sufficient posts like this, subscribe to my weekly-ish newsletter "The Acorn" and join me on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest. I'd love to see you there!

Goats have some peculiar behaviors, so how do you know what's normal and what isn't?

These 7 behaviors demand a second look; your goat may need medical attention! Plus 8 behaviors that are just "quirky."

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1 comment

  1. Hi Kathy! Thank you for this great goat article. Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.


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