SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Handling goats and goat behaviour

Handling your goat

It is best to get your goat used to being handled from a young age, so that future visits from the veterinarian or other human contact is not stressful. At all times, goats should be handled quietly, gently and confidently. Goats will quickly become habituated to your presence and will actively seek out positive interactions with you and other people, when treated kindly and in a positive manner.

Dos and don’ts when handling goats:

  • Never catch, lift or pull a goat by their hair, legs, head, ears or tail.
  • A goat should never be grabbed by its horns, which can easily 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 the 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 still 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).
  • 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 instead.

Goat behaviour

At times, goats may display behaviours which are not appropriate for where we keep them (e.g. urban areas, barren environment, or isolated). In many situations, it may be that goats have not been provided with everything they need or want, which results in inappropriate behaviour for the situation. In general, by talking with your local veterinarian, doing additional research on what goats need or talking to an experience goat keeper, you will be able to limit these behaviours.

Goats may show the following behaviour:

  • Vocalising: Goats can vocalise in certain situations, such as when they are hungry or thirsty, afraid, injured, or sick, thereby making this a good behavioural measure in which to check your goat has everything it needs and wants. Goats may also call or vocalise during the breeding season: uncastrated male goats may vocalise in frustration when there are no females close by, and females can call loudly over this time.
  • Destructiveness: A goat’s inquisitive nature can sometimes be perceived as being destructive (e.g. chewing, digging, butting). However, this is primarily because something may be lacking in the goat’s environment, and not providing what the goat wants and needs. By ensuring a stimulating environment for your goats, you can help to prevent this behaviour.
  • Escaping: Goats are extremely agile and very good at climbing. They are also incredibly resourceful, finding ways to escape both over and under fences. Boundary fences and gates will need to be checked regularly to ensure they keep your goats safe in their own area.
  • Aggression or butting: In the wild, 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 this should be done carefully and gradually. Keeping horned and polled goats together is not recommended, unless they have been bought up together.
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