Goats are smart, curious critters and if you don't have a good handle on goat behavior, you may find yourself outsmarted.
When you understand the dynamics of a goat herd, you'll be ready to solve any problem these lovable little stinkers throw at you.
Understanding the Behavior of Goats
First and foremost, it's important to understand that goats are foragers, rangers, and they move about all day long.
Goats stick together and graze together, but at the head of the herd is the alpha doe—also referred to as the queen. She literally leads the way for the herd and makes the decisions about where they are headed next.
Bucks, on the other hand, bring up the rear and take their job very seriously. The “main” buck is considered an alpha male and also referred to as the herd king.
So, think about this for a minute: if you are trying to herd your goats somewhere from the backend of the group, the alpha buck may see you as a threat or competition—with dire consequences… More on aggression soon.
A Goat Herd's Pecking Order
Coined by our beloved chickens, the ‘pecking order' rings true for goat herds as well. In fact, goats take their hierarchy very seriously, and any upset or threat to their established rule can send an orderly herd into mass chaos.
The pecking order depends on factors like:
- Horn size
Adding a new goat to an established herd must be done carefully to keep the peace amongst the goats.
Luckily, there is no such thing as “ganging-up” on new goats, and the pecking order is usually established goat-to-goat.
How Bucks Fight to Rule
When bucks work to establish a king, they fight.
Butting, pushing, rearing, and smashing are all forms of pecking order establishment.
Males may also try to intimidate other bucks by staring, displaying horns, or simply rearing at nothing.
When each challenger has been defeated, the king buck takes his place at the rear of the herd.
How Does Challenge Each Other
The queen of the herd is usually an older doe that has worked hard to establish her place over time. Once she is in place, very few challenges occur.
Herd queens are replaced by their daughters (most often) once she is too weak to lead, or has been removed from the herd.
Then There's Just Everyday Play
Once the herd has been established, you may witness play fighting or “gentle” reminders about who's the boss, throughout the day. It's rare to see fighting amongst an established, mature herd unless there's a new member or coming-of-age bucks within it.
So, the queen rules the roost. She decides when and where the herd eats and the herd happily follows her command.
So, if you have her respect and loyalty, you have the entire herds’ respect and loyalty…for the most part.
With that being said, there are times throughout the year when there's a different herd leader, and the queen doesn’t seem to mind too much. And that, is during breeding…
Breeding Changes Everything
During the rut and breeding, the king buck takes over the herd. He breeds every single doe, and young bucks know to stay out of his business.
Sometimes a savvy youngster may try to challenge the king, but he often fails in his efforts and quickly learns his lesson.
Bucks become different versions of themselves during breeding. Even if you have the sweetest boy you’ve ever had, he can become dangerous and aggressive when he is in rut.
Some goats are just plain old cranky. Most of the time it's during breeding that bucks become aggressive, however, some goats just have bad attitudes in general.
How to Handle an Aggressive Goat
If you’ve got an aggressive buck, never turn your back on him. It’s always the moments when you think all's well that you get a painful butt in the back, and the bigger your goat, the more force and pain come with an attack.
Some items goat farmers use to ward off an attack from a crabby buck are:
Lastly, if you are in a dangerous situation, you can try to grab ahold of your bucks beard. It puts them in a submissive state and position. Walk with your buck to the exit and only let go when you are safe.
The best thing you can do to understand goat behavior and avoid getting hurt is to understand the body language of the buck, the herd dynamics, and the breeding seasons.
Furthermore, understanding the social dynamics of your herd can help you communicate in their own language. If you respect the way they do things, you are less likely to get hurt and more likely to fit right in with the herd.