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  • Writer's pictureNathan Fraley

15 Things You Didn't Know About Goats

Baby goats are as cute as puppies. You just want to pick them up and cuddle them. Some research finds they even have canine-like personalities. Goats of all ages have expressive faces, even with their odd eyes and interesting facial hair. Domesticated about 10,000 years ago, there are more than 200 domestic goat breeds found all over the world today. They come in all sorts of colors and sizes and can be found eating grass or tree trunks.

What else do we know about these doe-eyed creatures? Here are lots of interesting goat facts.

1. They're More Like Dogs That We Thought

In research published in Biology Letters, scientists found that goats will look people in the eye when they're frustrated with a task and could use a little help. For the study, a team trained goats to remove a lid from a box in order to receive a reward. As the final task, they made it so the lid couldn't be removed from the box. They recorded the goats' reactions when they gazed toward the experimenters who were in the room, as if asking for a little help. They looked longer if the person was facing the goat than if the person was facing away.

2. They Have Beards and Wattles

Both male and female goats can have tufts of hair under their chin called beards. Both can also have wattles — hair-covered appendages of flesh, usually around the throat area, but sometimes found on the face or hanging form the ears. Wattles serve no purpose and aren't harmful to the goat. Wattles sometimes can become caught on fences or in feeders or may be chewed on by other goats. To avoid those kinds of injuries, sometimes owners will have them removed.

3. They Love a Smile

Goats prefer happy faces. In a simple experiment published in the Royal Society Open Science, researchers put photos on the wall at a goat sanctuary of the same face: one happy and one angry. Goats tended to avoid the angry faces, while they approached the happy ones and explored them with their snouts. Researchers already knew that goats were very aware of human body language, but this takes things a step farther.

Said lead author Christian Nawroth: "Here, we show for the first time that goats do not only distinguish between these expressions, but they also prefer to interact with happy ones."

4. Goats Are Great at Diets

You might have seen a goat in a cartoon on comic, gnawing on a tin can and heard that goats will eat pretty much anything. That's not true. They're actually very picky eaters but very resourceful and are able to find the most nutritious offerings wherever they are. That can include tree bark, which is rich in tannins. Goats can survive on the thinnest patches of grass, so the only place goats can't live are tundras, deserts and aquatic habitats. There are even some feral groups of goats on Hawaii and other islands.

5. Goats Were Domesticated Early

Goats were among the first livestock species to be domesticated, about 10,000 years ago. Goat remains have been found at archaeological sites in western Asia dating back about 9,000 years, according to the National Zoo. In a 2000 study published in the journal Science, researchers found archaeological evidence that goats (Capra hircus) were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East about 10,000 years ago. Some researchers believe that goats were domesticated from bezoars (C. aegagrus), a mountain ibex found in West Asia.

6. They Don't Love Rain

Goats are generally pretty hardy animals, but the one thing they don't seem to like is rain. According to the USDA National Agricultural Library, "Goats will run to the nearest available shelter on the approach of a storm, often arriving before the first drops of rain have fallen. They also have an intense dislike for water puddles and mud. Probably through evolution they have been more free of parasites if they have avoided wet spots." Some people will offer goats a covered shelter with an elevated, slatted floor so they can stay dry from their head to their hooves.

7. There are Different Types of Goats

There are three types of goats: domestic goats (Capra hircus), which are the kind you find on a farm, and mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), which typically live in steep, rocky areas in the northwestern United States, and wild goats (Capra genus), which include ibex, markhors and turs. There are more than 200 recognized domestic breeds of goats. They are raised all over the world for dairy, meat, and their fiber.

8. Their Odd Eyes Have a Purpose

Some people are creeped out by the odd horizontal, rectangular pupils in a goat's eyes. In a 2015 study published in Science Advances, researchers looked at the eyes of 214 land animals and found a "striking correlation" between the shape of their pupils and their ecological niche, which they defined as foraging mode and time of day they are active. Side-slanted eyes typically belong to grazing prey. It gives them a wider field of vision, but they don't absorb as much light from above. This stops the sun from blinding their view and lets them keep an eye out for predators.

9. They Are Emotional

Goats also have richer emotional lives than many people realize. Not only are they surprisingly intelligent in general and can learn a task within about 12 attempts, but they can also identify their friends by sound alone and even distinguish other goats' emotions by listening to their calls. In a study published in Frontiers in Zoology, researchers found that goats have different physiological reactions based on the emotions they hear from other goats, a sign of a social phenomenon known as emotional contagion. The goats' heart-rate variability — the time between heartbeats — was greater when positive calls were played compared to when negative calls were played.

10. They Come in All Kinds of Colors

Goat coats come in a rainbow of colors and even a few patterns. They can be white, black, brown, gold, and red with many variations of those colors. For example, a "brown" goat can be anywhere from light fawn to dark chocolate. Their coat patterns can be solid, striped, spotted, a blend of shades and they can have stripes on their faces. Some are belted, with a white band across their middles. They can be roan — where their body is sprinkled with white hairs — or pinto, where they have patches of white or black or another dark color.

11. They Have Interesting Names

A female goat is a doe or nanny. A male goat is a buck or billy, or a wether if he's castrated. A young male goat that isn't yet sexually mature is a buckling and a young female goat that isn't sexually mature is a doeling. A yearling is a goat that is between 1 and 2 years old. A baby goat that is less than a year old is a kid, and giving birth is called kidding. A group of goats is called a tribe or a trip.

12. They Are Born With Teeth

Goats are often born with teeth. Those are deciduous incisor teeth, also called baby teeth or milk teeth. Later pairs of baby teeth grow in from the center of the jaw moving out. A baby goat usually gets one pair of teeth per week, so a kid usually has a full set of eight incisors by the time it is only a month old. These baby teeth stick around until a goat is about a year old. Once these teeth fall out, adult goats end up with 32 teeth: 24 molars and 8 lower incisors. Goats don't have teeth in their upper front jaw. Instead, a hard dental pad acts like teeth.

13. They Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Goat size varies greatly, depending on the breed. Domesticated goats range from mini, dwarf, and pygmy to full size. On the tiny end, Nigerian dwarf goats weigh only about 40-60 pounds and are 18 inches tall. On the larger size, Anglo-Nubian goats can weigh as much as 250 pounds and are 42 inches tall, reports the National Zoo. Our myotonic goats range from 100-150 pounds, and are around 26-32 inches tall.

14. Goats Have Unique Digestion

Like cows, sheep, and deer, goats are what's known as ruminants. meaning they have a complex system of stomachs for digestion. They have four compartments in their stomachs: reticulum, rumen, omasum, and abomasum (also called the true stomach). When simple-stomach animals like humans, dogs, and cats, eat, food is broken down in the stomach with acid and then undergoes enzymatic digestion in the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed. In ruminants like goats, microbial digestion occurs in the first two compartments, followed by acidic digestion in the second two. Then nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine. Goats graze using their lips, teeth and tongue. It then takes 11 to 15 hours for food to pass through the animal's four stomachs.

15. They Play a Part in Mythology

When you think about creatures that played a role in mythological history, you might think centaurs or sirens, banshees or dragons. But goats also spring up in a surprising place.

Thor, the god of thunder, typically walked or used his mythical hammer to fly. But according to Norse mythology, during a thunderstorm Thor rode in a chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir (Norse for "teeth-barer") and Tanngnjóstr ("teeth grinder"). When he was hungry, Thor ate his goats, only to resurrect them with his hammer.

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