Thursday, February 24, 2011
Goat behavior and children
First let me back up a bit and explain general goat behavior. Goats are herd animals and they all have their rank and position in the herd. The does often challenge and test the other does in an attempt to move one up in the herd. They do this by lowering their heads and charging and ramming the other doe in the head until one gives up and runs off. When goat kids are born to a doe, if she is a good mother she will keep her kids close to her and try and protect them from the other does. As the kids grow and merge into the herd, the other does will ignore the new kids, until the kids approach a doe who is not their mother. They are quickly put in place by the does who are not their dam. They quickly learn to stay away from the other does. Some does are worse than others about bullying the younger goats and some aren't so bad.
The does view me as their leader. So far they tend to view and treat my children as they view the other does children, which means they are up for challenging. Only one of the most daring senior does tends to have the audacity to attempt to knock over my kids. There is one other doe who looks as though she is thinking of trying. By attempting to ram and knock over my children, they are trying to put my kids in place and let them know who is boss. Yelling, scolding and physical discipline does not seem to work, and it may make matters worse. When the children and I spend time with the goats I tie up the two does who may challenge them. Then the kids come in and spend time with the goats. Another idea I got from a fellow goat owner, is to give Noah a squirt bottle with water. He is only to use it if one of the problem does is lowering her head or looking like she is going to push on him, then he squirts her until she turns away. This summer we kept a small squirt bottle outside the doe pen. Noah wouldn't enter without it and was able to move about and spend time around the goats without getting knocked over.
I do not let the children enter the goat pen without me. I have learned that although I think I'm quick enough to stop a doe from knocking over the kids, I'm not. All it takes is for me to turn away for a minute and one of my kids can be flat on the ground crying. So I always tie up problem doe now. I have not noticed that this doe is more aggressive with other kids. But most of my does have not challenged my children. However, if they ranked higher within the herd, they might have the confidence to try.
I would suggest to anyone introducing a new milking goat to their children, is to prevent any challenges and behavior patterns from being established. So maybe start by holding the doe while small children brush or feed her treats. I would not let children run wild in the pen with the goat, or kid goats for that matter. This is a mistake that I made in our first summers with goats. When we first had goat kids shipped up, Noah was one year old, the pen was new and not poopy yet. He and I spent a lot of time with the kids, bottle feeding and he would crawl and toddle around with the kids. The second year when kids were born I would let him run around and play with the goat kids. This reinforced his kid status with the mom goats. It was about this time that the first mom decided to put him in his place, and it has become a pattern ever since. So, spending time handling, petting, holding, brushing and feeding treats to kids is a good way to get them use to children and people in general. Letting your kids run wild and be rowdy around the goats is not a good idea!
Our milking does are well behaved and sweet for the most part. The know their routine. They expect and appreciate routine. They are also herd animals and opportunists.