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Goat myths and facts!

Hello, I’m Alexis and I am a Swing Keeper in the Ambassador Animals Department. Here at the Zoo, I work with a variety of animals. This includes reptiles, small mammals, alpacas, Kunekune pigs, sheep and my favorite … goats.

In the petting zoo, guests are always asking, “Is that a Billy goat?” or “Is that goat pregnant?” Sometimes, the guests will provide commentary about the physical attributes of the goats like, “That goat has strange looking eyes,” or “Don’t stand behind the goat!  It will kick you!” There are many other comments and observations, but my absolute favorite is, “Goats eat everything!”

While there may be truth to some or all of these statements, there is so much more to learn about these beautiful animals.  Let’s take a moment and get into the truth about goats.  We will put some of these myths to rest and possibly ignite an interest in learning more about them. 

What exactly is a Billy goat?  A Billy goat is a term that usually refers to a male goat. You may also hear them referred to as bucks. Here at Zoo Atlanta, all of our male goats are considered Wethers because they are castrated.  A female goat would be called a nanny or a doe.  An interesting fact is that both male and female goats can grow beards, so that’s not Billy, that’s Steve!

Goats are interesting because they are categorized as ruminant animals. Their digestive system is completely different from ours! Where we have only one stomach compartment, ruminants have four! They are the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum.  The rumen, which is on the left side, can hold between four to six gallons, so no, that is not a baby…that’s just breakfast.

Contrary to popular belief, goats do not eat everything!  They are herbivores, so they only eat plants.  Here at Zoo Atlanta, their diets consist of hay (Bermuda and orchard); browse (clippings from plants); and some produce and grains. Now, with that being said, goats have been known to taste-test various things here and there, but eating it is rare. It is important that goats digest their food properly.  To do that, they eat it, then regurgitate it, and eat it again. This way, they are able to get the most nutrients out of their food (cud).  So even though goats do not eat everything, they do spend most of their day chewing as a part of their digestive process. 

Goats’ eyes are also a fun topic to discuss. Goats have rectangular pupils which help them to see 320 degrees around them. Most people just think that they have strange looking eyes, but as prey animals, goats have to stay on their toes or hooves (so to speak). They have to be able to spot a predator from all angles. Their increased peripheral vision is a pretty cool adaptation that helps to keep them safe. Goats also have the ability to dilate to circular pupils in low light, which also assists them in allowing in more light for better vision.

Often times, our guests think that we have baby goats in the petting zoo. However, we do not currently have any baby goats, also called kids. Guests can sometime mistake the goats for offspring because of how they vary in size, but this is breed-specific.  Goats are classified into over 200 different breeds and can vary in size. Here at Zoo Atlanta, we have four different breeds of goats. We have five Nubians, two Oberhaslis, two Saanens, and four Nigerian dwarf goats. The Nigerian dwarf goats are one of the shorter breeds of goats and therefore are often mistaken for kids.

One of the biggest misconceptions about goats is that they will kick you. People constantly warn to not stand behind a goat. Although a goat could kick you, most likely that will not happen.  Goats are more likely to headbutt instead. Headbutting is a natural behavior used as a way of play and as protection.  A goat’s horns can grow between eight and 12 inches long.  However, the goats here at Zoo Atlanta undergo a process called disbudding. This is where the horns are cauterized while the goat is still a kid (child). You may still see the horn caps on the tops of their heads. Occasionally they may fall off. 

There is so much that goes on in the world of goats. Learning the facts around them, their behavior, their habits and their contributions to our world helps us to appreciate them for the beautiful animals that they are and makes them awesome ambassadors. If you are interested in meeting some of them, come out and visit. Zoo Atlanta offers an opportunity to see them in our petting zoo, so come and see the herd!

(photo: Alexis J.)

Alexis J.
Swing Keeper I, Ambassador Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl