Researchers from Queen Mary University of London discovered that goat kids develop group accents, with each group bearing a distinct vocal stamp. This study, along with others on goat bleats and body language, provides scientific proof that goats are highly social animals. Questions, such as, "Do goats have accents?" lead to deeper ones, such as why? And how do these facts relate to our farming practices? It could be useful to understand what goats are saying when they bleat and why they headbutt. Most importantly, we need to know if goats require companions and what kinds of companions are appropriate.
Indeed, the social goat requires the company of familiar and bonded individuals. When their social needs are met, they are more likely to live happy and healthy lives. This applies to all domesticated herd animals, as they have evolved to seek the safety of the family group. The accent of goat calls distinguishes each group as a self-sufficient clan, and each child as a welcome member. This desire for familiar companionship is shared by goats of all breeds and purposes, whether they are pet goats, working goats, large goats, or pygmy goats. We can better meet the needs of goats if we understand their social behavior.
Goats are extremely social creatures. Each goat feels more secure in familiar surroundings. They seek safety in numbers because they evolved to defend themselves from predators. For goats, being alone is extremely distressing. They also benefit from the emotional support of their friends and family, which helps them cope with stressful events. However, only the company of well-liked people will suffice. Goats want to be with their friends and the goats with whom they grew up. Strangers are not welcomed. But how did this particular behavior develop, and what can we do to accommodate goats' social needs?
Goats evolved in the high mountains of the Middle East, where forage was scarce and predators were numerous. Goats live in herds for their own protection. The herd increases each individual's chances of survival. This is because goats with many eyes have a better chance of spotting danger, and those who do warn the others. Many eyes help find the most nutritious food while ranging over sparse vegetation. It is easier to find mates during the breeding season if they congregate. Each animal, on the other hand, is competing for the same resources: food, shelter, rest/hiding places, and mates.
Goats deal with these difficulties by forming small groups of related females. Males leave the family when they reach adulthood. Then, in bachelor herds of kids who grew up together, they rove over the hills. Bucks associate with female clans during the breeding season, but otherwise remain in all-male groups.
Goats form a hierarchy to reduce competition among group members. This means they don't have to compete for resources on every occasion. Through play, kids assess one another's strength as they grow. As adults, ranking is determined by age, size, and horns. Older members are generally more dominant, with larger body and horn size, at least until they reach their prime. Subordinates yield, giving them first pick of resources.
When the pecking order is unclear, it must be resolved through competition. This happens as kids grow and challenge the ranking, as former members rejoin the group, and as new goats are introduced.
Horn clashing and head-to-head pushing establish hierarchy. The goal is to subdue rather than maim. When a goat believes his or her opponent is stronger, he or she will submit. There is no further debate. The dominant only needs to approach for the subordinate to move. At most, staring or lowering the head is enough of a warning to force the opponent to retreat. A quiet bleat indicates agreement from the underling.
Problems arise when animals are confined in pens or barns. Weaker animals may be unable to flee quickly enough and become trapped by an obstacle. The dominant will deliver a painful butt to the flank in this case. To avoid such aggression, we ensure that goats can move freely without being cornered. We accomplish this by removing any dead ends within enclosures. Platforms are useful because young animals can jump up and out of reach. Hiding places allow vulnerable goats to remain hidden from their pursuers. Feeding racks must be sufficiently spaced so that goats can feed together without fighting.
Of course, social life is more than just competition. Dam and the kids form strong bonds from the start. This is especially important in the wild, where kids are easy prey. This behavior may be observed when raising kids on the dam naturally. Initially, the mother hides her kids and returns to them on a regular basis to suckle. After a few days or weeks, the kids return to their dam. Then, gradually, they begin to hang out with other kids from the herd more frequently. They are becoming more independent and socially integrated at the age of five weeks.
Nonetheless, they remain close to their mothers until weaning, which occurs at three to five months of age. Doelings maintain close bonds with their mother until she has another child. She drives them away at this point, but they frequently return after joking and remain bonded for life. If you need to reintroduce yearlings to the doe herd, after kidding is a good time to do so. Females who grow up together remain bonded and frequently form their own small groups.
Kid groups develop distinct accents that distinguish them as gang members. This allows them to quickly determine whether an unknown caller is one of their own or a stranger. They can quickly find each other in the underbrush this way. This means they can defend themselves while the adults are away. As they grow older, they spend more time with their friends and siblings. They learn to compete through play fighting, to reconcile after competition, to strengthen friendship bonds, and to tolerate competition from each other without breaking their alliance.
According to research, goats form friendships with other goats, usually from their nursery group, but sometimes with unrelated goats. These bonds form when goats have the opportunity to form long-term bonds in a stable group. In confinement and at the feed rack, bonded goats compete less and tolerate proximity better. Such friendships offer moral support as well as emotional comfort. They also stimulate the intelligent and active goat minds. When we trade animals and change the composition of the herd, we disrupt the harmony and stability that allows these bonds to grow. Goat friends may still fight, usually for fun but occasionally for serious competition.