All goats should be allowed to express natural behaviours. Behaviour refers to the way that an animal acts. An important type of behaviour that an animal expresses are those that are instinctive (what they would typically do in the wild). Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animal's own kind, encourages the expression of natural behaviours.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your goats receive the exercise and enrichment they need to express their natural behaviours.
Goats are naturally curious animals who love to explore their surroundings and discover new things. They will often try to do whatever it takes to get to something that looks interesting.
They particularly like exploring around for food, as they are browsers and like lots of variety of food. Goats are also very good at reaching up high to look around and explore - they do this by standing on their back legs and sniffing around and reaching for food. They also have very good balance.
Goats will use their mouth to investigate new surroundings and nibble on items that look exciting. Being a good goat guardian (owner) means you should provide opportunity for your goat to explore and investigate. You should try to replace items in your goats housing area every now and then or move them around to new areas to help with this.
For example, you can drape loose branches over trees or other areas and your goat will enjoy reaching for it and stripping the bark off it. You could also try giving your goats items like large empty barrels, large balls, and children’s plastic playsets. You could even make a see-saw which your goat will love.
Goats are browsers which mean they enjoy searching for the best food they can find. They also enjoy variety in their diet and eating their food in new, exciting ways.
Although your goat's hay should be stored in a hay rack so it doesn’t get dirty, you can always present your goat's greenery in new and exciting ways. Goats also stand on their back legs a lot when browsing in the wild, so you could also try putting some food in trees (just not too high) or draping branches or roots over tree branches that your goat has to reach. This will make meal times exciting and fun for your goat.
Goat hooves are specially designed for climbing and exploring. In the wild goats can climb very steep mountains and even climb trees and will do this for a big part of their day. You should give your goat some items in its environment which it can climb on and climb up. Items which are good for goats to climb could include:
Goats have very strong hooves and they really enjoy digging. Goats will dig shallow holes in the ground and lay in these to rest, or to dust bathe. Dust bathing is when your goat will roll around in dust or soil, as a way to clean themselves.
If you have a goat as a companion, you should expect it to dig from time to time. You should not tell your goat off for digging, as this is normal behaviour for your goat.
If your family do not want small holes in your yard, you probably should not get a goat! Do not forget to check your fences to make sure there are no holes for your goat(s) to escape under either.
In the wild, goats would be out exploring and walking around for many hours a day to get the nutrients and variety of foods they need for their diet to keep healthy.
If you keep a goat, you should make sure the area they are kept in is big enough so that they can move around a lot during the day, providing exercise and entertainment, whilst searching or browsing for food. Goats can also be trained to go for walks. You can train your goat to get used to wearing a collar and harness and lead using positive reinforcement training – this is where you reward your goat with treats or praise for walking on a lead.
Once your goat is used to these items, you can start walking your goat around other areas of your property for a while, so they get a chance to both explore, get some extra exercise, plus browse for food (and maybe eat some weeds along the way).
However, you need to remember to take these off at the end of the walk and not keep them tethered.
Goats are social herd animals and are not usually happy when they are on their own. Guardians should plan for at least two goats that get on well to live together.
It is usually easier to get two goats from the same herd, rather than from separate ones, as introducing new goats to one another can sometimes be difficult. When goats are in a pair or a group, they will have other goats to play, explore, and communicate with.
This will make your goat very happy.