That Scary Goat!
Life is Too Short to Deal with Aggressive Goat Behavior
Reading Time: 5 minutes
“That was a SCARY goat,” quipped my husband, who was now convinced we should never own bucks.
We were looking at goat farm setups some 20 years ago to see what people did for fencing, shelter, feeders and the like when two large-breed bucks came running up, reared up taller than us, and strained the wire fencing downward between us and them with the weight of their hooves and upper bodies. My husband was CONVINCED they were going to get us.
So, what contributes to scary goat behavior and how can we reduce that likelihood? Let’s explore that so that you seldom to never have a scary goat!
Goats benefit from gentle but firm handling. If you are used to goats you know that the amount of training we can do with them is somewhere between working with the average cat or alpaca and the loyal dog or horse. They are more independent in their thinking but of course do lead, learn to jump on a stand for handling, etc. Ideally, working with your kids from a very young age so they become people-oriented and used to handling gives them more opportunities to build a confident relationship with you. Grumpy owners that yell frequently, shove their goats often, or even hit them aren’t getting anywhere with these highly intelligent, independent-thinking animals. This is a surefire way to create some scary goats out of the ones that feel a need to protect themselves, a kid, or a herd-mate. It will also cause immune system distress, decreasing herd wellness over time. If you were already grumpy, think of how much grumpier you will be working with scared, protective, mean, or sick goats.
Gentle husbandry is the kind word, ear or rump rub, and one’s calm demeanor. Being firm is things like holding their collar securely as you lead them, calmly pushing (not shoving) them over if they are in your way, and things of that nature. We also need to remember that owning goats is like having a barn full of toddlers! Entertaining and sometimes acting their age. They are going to spill things, get into things, step on your foot, possibly dump a milk bucket, etc. Kind but firm owners give their goats stability and security. Grumpy, impatient handlers will find they have a higher incidence of scary goats.
I keep kids from jumping up on me. Though they are excited to see me, it’s no longer fun when their hooves bruise your legs as they get older. So, I tap them moderately hard and firmly (without shoving them) between the horn buds when they jump up. Most kids only require that a couple or three times. Never ever (did I say NEVER?) push on the top of their heads where the horns are or were, or you most likely will create a dangerous, scary goat. Many years ago, I had mistakenly let a couple of two-legged kids play with my doelings and left them unsupervised for a little bit. One of our beautiful doelings, from that day on, had it in her head to butt at us. Try as hard as we did, we could never break her of that and at two years old finally had to sell her for meat because she was a danger to us and any visitors with her extremely hard butts to backs and midsections. Those children had to have been pushing her on her head to get her to butt them back. That is our only kid that has done that.
I visited a farm about 25 years ago and had to hang on tightly to a very large wether’s beard to keep him from butting and injuring me. I still refer to him as the “wether from Hell.” No one wants to own one of those.
Underfed and hungry goats can become scary as they compete for what food is available. Crowded goats can become scary too as they are more likely to shove others around. Very pregnant goats can be grumpy as well! I recently got nailed by one of my own does and it wasn’t even her fault. Another doe rammed into her, which caused her almost-200-pound body to slam my legs into a wood feeder, making a couple of big reasons to apply my herbal salve for healing support.
So, we’ve discussed wethers and does a bit. Can bucks become scary goats? You bet! Due to their testosterone peaks during rutting (breeding) season, they are the most likely to become dangerous even if they are mild-mannered and calm during the off-season. Not all bucks become scary, but since they are breeding livestock, I still respect their potential to move faster than me and in the case of my LaManchas, to outweigh me more than two times. During breeding season, we do not run more than two bucks together. We also make sure the ones that are together are friends and we don’t pen them right next to the does. Doing so increases competition and aggressiveness and with that increases the potential for facility, goat, or human damage. We set up feeding and watering so we can accomplish all of it from the barn aisle or from outside the pens. Doing so makes your chore time more efficient as well. When we need to go in a pen with bucks, we put on their collars from outside the pen. Once collared, we take a short lead with snaps on both ends and clip each buck to the fence and apart from each other. This is the only way I will enter a buck pen with senior bucks any time of the year. Even though our bucks are “gentle giants,” they still get goofy when “Mom” is in the pen and try to rub on me too hard, making it challenging to keep my footing, and they sometimes do fight over my attention.
We have our barn set up so that when we need to breed a doe, we can put her into a paddock (pen with a stall) and can then turn the buck in with her without even having to handle him. This works well for us and allows us to have less scary goat trouble.
A goat with a bad or dangerous temperament will generally produce a percentage of goats with bad temperaments. Temperament IS heritable in the DNA. Consider culling them for auction or a meat sale rather than keeping that scary goat. Life’s too short to have to deal with mean goats. Also, don’t underestimate their size and ability. A mean or aggressive miniature-breed buck is quite capable of knocking you off of your feet before you can blink, possibly resulting in injury from the goat or from the fall.
May all of your goats be happy, sweet and gentle, well-loved, and enjoyed goats!
Katherine Drovdahl and husband Jerry keep LaManchas, Norwegian Fjords, alpacas, and gardens on a small piece of Washington State paradise. Her lifelong livestock experience and alternative degrees, including Master of Herbology, give her insight in guiding others with their stock and wellness issues. Her products, consultations, and signed copies of The Accessible Pet, Equine, and Livestock Herbal are available at firmeadowllc.com.
Originally published in the September/October 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.