Goats and humans have a long and productive history together. Over the millennia, we’ve found a range of interesting uses for these incredible animals—which are also capable of some unbelievable feats of their own. To celebrate National Dairy Goat Awareness Week, here are 15 amazing facts about goats.
1. GOATS WERE ONE OF—IF NOT THE—FIRST ANIMALS TO BE DOMESTICATED.
The great goat domestication took place about 11,000 years ago in the Near East. The event was a pivotal moment in human history that represented a key shift of mankind from hunter-gatherers to agriculture-based societies.
2. GOATS WERE AMONG THE FIRST ANIMALS TO BE BROUGHT TO AMERICA.
The earliest European settlers of America brought goats over on the Mayflower. By 1630, a Jamestown census listed goats as one of that colony’s most valuable possessions.
3. GOAT POPULARITY SURGED FOLLOWING THE 1904 WORLD’S FAIR IN ST. LOUIS.
The fair was host to the first dairy goat show in America as well as an exhibit featuring 300 Angora goats, the most ever shown at one time. With their heavy coats of curly mohair, the Angoras drew swarms of fans to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and increased national recognition for the breed.
4. GIVING BIRTH IS CALLED “KIDDING.”
You may know that a baby goat is called a kid, but did you know that, because of that, a goat giving birth is said to be “kidding”? We’re not … joking.
5. GOATS DON’T HAVE TEETH ON THEIR UPPER JAW.
Instead, they just have a strong dental pad. They do, however, have an incredibly mobile upper lip that helps them to sort through spiny, thorny twigs to find plants’ tender leaves.
6. GOATS HAVE RECTANGULAR PUPILS.
This unusual shape, shared by sheep and several other ungulates, gives them a fuller range of vision than humans and other animals with round pupils. Goats can see 320 to 340 degrees in their periphery—everything except for what’s directly behind them—which is useful in avoiding predators. The drawback to the flattened pupil is that goats are unable to look up or down without moving their heads.
7. GOATS HAVE FOUR STOMACHS.
The four-chambered stomach helps goats digest tough roughage like grass and hay. Food enters the rumen first and then passes to the honeycombed reticulum where non-digestible objects are separated out. In the omasum chamber, water is removed from the food before it finally enters the “true” stomach, the abomasums.
8. GOAT’S MILK IS THE MOST POPULAR KIND OF MILK WORLDWIDE.
Even though we drink cow’s milk almost exclusively here in the States, around the globe more people eat and drink meat and milk from goats than any other animal.
9. THERE’S GOOD REASON TO DRINK GOAT’S MILK, TOO.
It’s naturally homogenized (meaning it doesn’t separate out into layers in its original state) and is easier to digest than cow’s milk, even by people who are lactose intolerant. It’s also higher in calcium and vitamin A.
10. “FAINTING” GOATS DON’T REALLY FAINT, BUT THEY SURE LOOK LIKE THEY DO.
One of the more remarkable species of goats is the myotonic goat, better known as the fainting goat. Because of a genetic quirk, when they get excited or startled, myotonic goats’ muscles freeze up, causing them to topple over. They’re not actually fainting—they remain totally conscious and their muscles return to normal within minutes or seconds—but the notable behavior has made them Internet favorites.
11. ABRAHAM LINCOLN LOVED GOATS.
Among the many pets that populated the White House during Abraham Lincoln’s time in office were two goats, Nanny and Nanko. They were particularly beloved by Lincoln’s son, Tad, who even used them for chariot rides around the White House.
12. CASHMERE COMES FROM GOATS.
The incredibly soft and expensive cashmere is made of the downy winter undercoat produced by certain goats. The price of cashmere is so high because the hand-wrought process of separating the silky material from the goat’s wiry outer coat is incredibly time-consuming. And, it takes at least two goats to make every sweater.
13. ACCORDING TO LEGEND, GOATS DISCOVERED COFFEE.
According to an Ethiopian legend, the stimulating properties of coffee were discovered when a goat herder found his flock frolicking with extra verve after consuming the red berries of the coffee shrub. The plant had the same energizing effect on the herder himself—and with that, the tradition of drinking coffee was (supposedly) born.
14. GOATS HAVE INCREDIBLE AGILITY AND BALANCE.
Not only can they survive in precarious rocky habitats, they can even climb trees.
15. GOATS HAVE ACCENTS.
Just as human voices will vary in cadence and inflection by geographical region, a particular goat’s bleat will sound different from that of a goat in a different country.