Top 9 Goat Predators In The United States
What Eats Goats? The Answers Might Surprise You.
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Whether you are planning to build a herd or building a goat shelter, what goat predators do you need to think about? For answers, I turned to the USDA APHIS report on goat losses. In 2015, there were about 500,000 goats lost, about a quarter of which were killed by predators. Here are the nine animals you need to worry about when caring for goats.
In this article, I rank the nine most serious goat predators from the least number of kills to the most with details on how to determine what predator you may be dealing with.
The largest of all canids, wolves are mainly nocturnal except during winter months when they hunt both day and night. They often kill with bites to the neck or throat. Bites to head, back, flanks, and hindquarters are also common, as are multiple kills in one night.
Wolves’ powerful bite causes damage deep in the underlying tissues. They may carry or drag a goat carcass away or totally consume it at the kill site. It is difficult to tell a wolf from a large domestic dog just by footprints. Wolf tracks usually measure 4¾”x4”, and their stride usually measures about 40”. Look for blackish scat at least 1” in diameter, usually containing hair.
Despite being apex predators and gaining in numbers in the U.S., wolves accounted for only 0.3% of predator losses in goats with just 393 kills.
Bears are omnivores with the largest portion of their diet coming from vegetation. The two main types of bear in the U.S. are the American Black bear and the Grizzly bear. Both live primarily in sparsely populated forested areas.
Bears usually kill by biting the neck or by slapping the victim. Torn, mauled, and mutilated carcasses are characteristic of bear attacks. Goat carcasses may be moved to a secluded area and almost entirely consumed with only the rumen, skin, and large bones left. Bear tracks look like human footprints with large claws. The little toe often does not leave a mark, leaving the track with only four toes. The presence of bears spooks the herd, so look for nervous or panicked goats before and after an attack.
With 687 kills across only three states, bears accounted for 0.6% of total goat predator deaths.
#7: Feral Pigs
Feral pigs, also called wild hogs or razorbacks, are considered an invasive species in the United States. There are now an estimated six million feral pigs in at least 35 states and the numbers are growing. Pigs are opportunistic omnivores. They eat vegetation, fruits, grain, fish, reptiles, birds, small mammals, and carrion.
Persistent unexplained low reproduction rates may be caused by feral pigs. Pigs prey on kids at dawn, dusk, and night, leaving very little carcass, which can be easily missed. In adult goats, the carcass will be skinned out and the rumen or stomach contents eaten. Pig tracks have cloven hooves and are similar to deer or cattle. In mud or soft soil, dewclaws may be visible. Look for signs of rooting, digging, or wallows in the area.
At 1,477 kills, almost half of them preweaned kids, wild pigs account for 1.2% of goat predator deaths.
Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica. They eat primarily rabbits, rodents, birds, insects, and fruit. Foxes usually won’t take prey larger than a rabbit, although they do sometimes kill young goat kids. If food is scarce they occasionally attack adult goats.
Foxes usually attack the throat, but some kill by inflicting multiple bites to the neck and back. They do not have the size or strength to crush large bones and generally feed on the viscera through an entry behind the ribs. Foxes often carry their prey away from the kill site or bury uneaten parts.
Fox tracks measure 1¼ ”-2 ½” long by 1”-2” wide. Stride measures about 25” between prints. Scat appears long, ropey, and segmented at 1 ¼”-1¾ ” in diameter and 3”-6” long.
At 1,833 reported kills, foxes accounted for 1.5% of goat predator losses
#5: Mountain Lions
Mountain lions, also called cougars, pumas, or catamounts, are the largest cat in North America. A mountain lion can kill a large number in one night although one or two is common.
Carcasses show claw marks on the neck, back, and shoulders, as well as bite marks on the neck, head, and throat. Unlike dogs, cats leave clean edges in tissue and bone. Mountain lions often drag their kill to a bushy area to feed, then cover the remains with litter. Scratches on the ground around the carcass measure approximately 35”. When surplus killing, they make no effort to drag or cover more than one or two carcasses.
Mountain lion tracks measure 3”-4” long. Scat is often segmented and 1” or larger in diameter. It often contains hair and bits of bone.
Mountain lions accounted for 3,707 kills, or 3% of total goat predator losses.
Bobcats are the smallest species of lynx. Canada lynx are larger with thicker coats and broader paws. Both are carnivores that hunt mainly at night.
Hunting and feeding styles match those of the mountain lion. The carcass may look the same but with deeper tissue damage from canine teeth spaced at ½”-1” apart for bobcats vs 1 ½”-2 ¼” for mountain lions. Bobcats scratch 12”-14” in the dirt around the carcass to cover.
Bobcat tracks share the same characteristics of mountain lion tracks only smaller, measuring just 1⅝”-2 ½” long by 1⅜”-2 ⅝” wide. Scat measures ½”-1” in diameter and 3-9” long. It has a smooth outer surface and may be segmented.
Bobcats and lynx accounted for 5,933 kills or 4.8% of all goat predator deaths.
#3: Predatory Birds
This group includes eagles, vultures, and ravens. These predatory birds usually target smaller or weakened livestock, killing seven times as many kids as adult goats.
Eagles easily kill goats over 25 pounds with multiple talon punctures in the back and upper ribs. They skin the carcass, leaving the skin inside out with head and hooves still attached. The rumen is usually not eaten. Talon punctures are deep and slightly oblong or triangular with three talons, one to three inches apart, and a fourth opposing talon four to six inches from the middle.
When attacking small livestock like goats, both vultures and ravens attack as a group, pecking at the animal’s eyes, nose, or tongue. Carcasses are often entered through the navel or rectum. Because both are scavengers that feed on carrion, the presence or absence of blood tells whether the animal was alive or dead when the birds started feeding.
With eagles making up the most losses, predatory birds accounted for 6,328 kills, or 5.2% of losses to goat predators.
#2: Domestic Dogs
Domestic dogs attack at any time of day or night. Because domestic dogs attack for the thrill of the chase rather than food, they tend to have multiple kills in one night with mutilation to legs, hindquarters, tails, and ears. The least effective of goat predators, their attacks last longer and leave more injured survivors.
Not even the larger size and horns of pack goat breeds are enough to deter domestic dogs. Most packers I talked to said domestic dogs are their number one concern, especially on the trail. Beth Kennelley of Florida says dogs attacked her goats twice. In the first attack, they killed all six of her goats including two pregnant does.
With more kills than the previous seven goat predators combined, domestic dogs accounted for 22% of total losses at 26,931 confirmed kills.
Coyotes hunt at night or early dawn. They attack the throat in adult goats, collapsing the trachea, causing death by strangulation, although with young kids, they kill with bites to the skull and spinal area.
Coyotes eat the abdominal cavity first and usually leave the hide and bones. Look for splintered bones, chewed ribs, and scattered pieces of skin, fur, and tendons. Young kids may be missing entirely. Since they are quick, efficient hunters, the rest of the herd is usually calm after the attack and there are rarely injured survivors. Look for tracks that look like domestic dogs, but denser and more oval, that run in a fairly straight line.
Coyotes accounted for 52,830 goat deaths, or 43.1% of total predator losses.
The remaining percentage of goat predator losses falls under Other Known Predator at 3.9% and Other Unknown Predator at 14.5%. For more information on what predators you need to guard against in your area, contact your local county agricultural extension office. Maybe with better education and more protective measure, we can reduce the numbers of both unknown predators and total predator deaths.
Originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.