Goats, along with many other livestock species, were brought to the Americas by Spanish Explorers in the 1500s. Contemporary uses of goats include meat, dairy products, fiber, and vegetation management (targeted grazing).
Many goats are kept as pets or companions for other farm animal species including horses.
Photo credit: Claudia Ingham
Goats evolved in arid environments and are innately browsers which means they select the nutrient dense portions of plants such as leaves, twigs and tender shoots of vines, shrubs, and tree seedlings as the largest part of their diet. Some refer to the behavior as concentrate selector because these portions of plants contain a high proportion of nutrients compared to other parts such as stems.
Like all animals, goats learn what to eat from birth so many goats eagerly eat pasture grasses and legumes which they observe their herd mates consuming. Palatability, the desirability of a feedstuff to the animal eating it, is influenced by many factors and is dynamic. Animals eat to satisfy their bodies’ need for nutrient but also because it feels good. It is possible to over-eat, or consume toxins, in which case negative post-ingestive feedback teaches the animal to avoid or reduce its intake of those feeds (Provenza, 1995a). Aversions to feedstuffs develop in animals which experience negative post-ingestive feedback whether they have eaten a plant with secondary plants compounds (i.e. terpenes, glycosides or alkaloids) or been does with a compound to train them to avoid certain plants (Provenza, 1996).
Food aversions develop when post-ingestive feedback makes an animal feel ill. This process is automatic and non-cognitive (Provenza, 1995).
Value & Statistics
In January 2019, there were 2.62 million goats (including kids) in the United States. This was 1% fewer than in the previous year. Of the total, 2.06 million of these were meat goats. The number of milk goats has increased to 430,000 while the number of Angora goats, raised for fiber, has declined to 137,000 (USDA NASS, 2019). The USDA NASS figure below illustrates the relatively constant number of goats in the United States for a 5-year period. The value of the products (meat, dairy and fiber) from these animals is less readily available.
In Oregon, there were a total of 42,000 goats in January of 2018 (ODA, 2018). As of January 2019, there were 27,000 meat and other types of goats and 13,000 milk goats in Oregon (USDA NASS, 2019b). The difference of 2,000 goats, on a year-to-year basis, does not necessarily represent a decrease in numbers; it may be due to sampling methods.
Most goats are kept on pasture or rangelands which provides most of their nutrient requirement. Concentrates formulated for goats can be fed when the pasture resource is limited or the nutrient demands of growth, pregnancy, or lactation dictate their use. When fattening, weight gain is the goal for the purpose of meat production, supplemental feed is required to increase daily gain from 0.1 to 0.8 lbs. (Luginbuhl, 2006).
Northwest Oregon Dairy Goat Association
Oregon Meat Goat Producers
American Goat Federation (dairy, meat & fiber goats)
American Dairy Goat Association
Sheep and Goat Research Journal - published by American Sheep Industries Association
Goat Rancher Magazine (meat goats)
Animal & Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University:
Goat Teaching and Research Facility at UC Davis
American Institute for Goat Research, Langston University
Goat Pastures and Forages USDA NIFA Cooperative Extension System
Owning a Dairy Cow or Goat
Living on the Land: Getting Started with Sheep and Goats: Nutrition and Feeding
Internal Parasites in Sheep and Goats
Understanding Your Forage Test Results
Selenium Supplementation Strategies for Livestock in Oregon
Sheep and Goat Program at University of Maryland
Find a Small Ruminant Veterinarian American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners
Luginbuhl, J-M. 2006. Pastures for Meat Goats. In: Meat Goat Production Handbook, ed. T.A. Gipson, R.C. Merkel, K. Williams, and T. Sahlu, Langston University, ISBN 1-880667-04-5. https://articles.extension.org/pages/19396/goat-pastures-and-forages
ODA. 2018. Oregon Agriculture Facts & Figures. https://www.oregon.gov/ODA/shared/Documents/Publications/Administration/ORAgFactsFigures.pdf
Provenza, F. 1995. Postingestive feedback as an elementary determinant of food preference and intake in animals. J. Range Manage. 48:2-17.
Provenza, F. 1996. Acquired aversions as the basis for varied diets of ruminants foraging on rangelands. J. Anim. Sci. 74:2010-2020.
USDA NASS. 2019a. Sheep and Goats. ISSN: 1949-1611. https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/000000018/np193h05c/4t64gt965/shep0219.pdf
USDA NASS. 2019b. State Agriculture Overview- Oregon 2018