SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Handling goats and goat behaviour

How to handle goats:

  • Never catch, lift or pull a goat by their fibre, legs, head, ears or tail.
  • A goat should never be grabbed by its horns, as they can be damaged or broken.
  • Heavily pregnant goats should only be handled when absolutely necessary, and care should be taken to avoid stress in such situations.
  • Goats should not be ‘upended’ onto their rumps.
  • General husbandry, such as foot and coat maintenance, should be performed with your goat in a standing position.
  • Keep in mind that goats are herd animals, and feel most comfortable when around other goats. If you need to isolate a single goat on its own, allow them the opportunity to at least see other goats.
  • It is useful to train goats to approach and follow a bucket of food whilst calling them. When the goats approach they should be rewarded by giving them access to the bucket or a treat (e.g. carrot top). Remember, too many treats are not recommended.
  • Sick or injured goats should not be transported unless it is being done for veterinary treatment, and it is better if the veterinarian is called to visit.

Goat behaviour

    At times, goats may display behaviours which are not appropriate for where they are kept, and some of these environments may not be ideal (e.g. barren environment, or isolated from other goats). In many situations, it may be that the goat/goats have not been provided with everything they require to behave normally, which can result in what might be called inappropriate behaviour. In general, by talking with your local veterinarian, doing additional research on what goats need, and talking to an experienced goat stock person, you should be able to come up with appropriate ways to reduce this (e.g. ensuring goats are not isolated).

    Vocalising: Goats can vocalise in various situations, such as when they are hungry, thirsty, afraid, injured, or sick, thereby making this a good behavioural measure in which to check your goat has everything they may need or want. Goats may also call or vocalise quite a lot during the breeding season.

    Inquisitive nature: A goat’s inquisitive nature can sometimes be perceived as destructive (e.g. chewing, digging, butting). However, by providing what the goat wants and needs, and by ensuring a stimulating environment for your goats, you can help to prevent destructive behaviour (e.g. ensure you have appropriate fencing to keep your goats where you want them to be).

    Agility: Goats are extremely agile, are very good at climbing and enjoy exploring their environment. Boundary fences and gates will need to be checked regularly to ensure they keep your goats safe in their own area.

    Head butting: In the wild, head butting, rearing and clashing heads is normal behaviour within the herd, it is also play behaviour, and supports establishment and stability of a hierarchy within the herd. It is also used as a means to fend off predators. Avoid pushing on a goats’ head or horns, as this can encourage butting behaviour. Butting often occurs when unfamiliar goats are introduced, so introducing unfamiliar goats should be done carefully and gradually.

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