Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Mammals by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Mammals by  Anna Botsford Comstock


Saanen Goats in Switzerland

Peer.   Twenty-first Annual Report Bureau of Animal Industry,
U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Goat

Teacher's Story

Little do we in America realize the close companionship that has existed in older countries, from time immemorial, between goats and people. This association began when man was a nomad, and took with him in his wanderings, his flocks, of which goats formed the larger part. He then drank their milk, ate their flesh, wove their hair into raiment, or made cloth of their pelts, and used their skins for water bags. Among peoples of the East all these uses continue to the present day. In the streets of Cairo, old Arabs may be seen with goat skins filled with water upon their backs; and in any city of Western Asia or Southern Europe, flocks of goats are driven along the streets to be milked in sight of the consumer.

In order to understand the goat's peculiarities of form and habit, we should consider it as a wild animal, living upon the mountain heights amid rocks and snow and scant vegetation. It is marvelously sure-footed, and when on its native mountains, it can climb the sharpest crags and leap chasms. This peculiarity has been seized upon by showmen who often exhibit goats which walk on the tight rope with ease, and even turn themselves upon it without falling. The instinct for climbing still lingers in the domestic breeds, and in the country the goat may be seen on top of stone piles or other objects, while in city suburbs, its form may be discerned on the roofs of shanties and stables.

It is a common saying that a goat will eat anything, and much sport is made of this peculiarity. This fact has more meaning for us when we realize that wild goats live in high altitudes, where there is little plant life, and are, therefore, obliged to find sustenance on lichens, moss and such scant vegetation as they can find.

The goat is closely allied to the sheep, differing from it in only a few particulars; its horns rise from the forehead curving over backward and do not form a spiral like those of the ram; its covering is usually of hair, and the male has a beard from which we get the name goatee; the goat has no gland between the toes, and it does have a rank and disagreeable odor. In a wild state, it usually lives a little higher up the mountains than do the sheep, and it is a far more intelligent animal. Mary Austin says: "Goats lead naturally by reason of a quicker instinct, forage more freely and can find water on their own account, and give voice in case of alarm. Goat leaders exhibit jealousy of their rights to be first over the stepping-stones or to walk the teetering log bridges at the roaring creeks." On the great plains, it is a common usage to place a few goats in a flock of sheep, because of the greater sagacity of these animals as leaders, and also as defenders in case of attack.


Zaraibi Milch Goats of Egypt

Thompson.   Twenty-first Annual Report Bureau of Animal Industry,
U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Goats' teeth are arranged for cropping herbage and especially for browsing. There are six molar teeth on each side of each jaw; there are eight lower incisors and none above. The goat's sense of smell is very acute; the ears are movable and the sense of hearing is keen; the eyes are full and very intelligent; the horns are somewhat flattened and angular and often knobbed somewhat in front, and curve backward above the neck; they are, however, very efficient as weapons of defence. The legs are strong, though not large, and are well fitted for leaping and running. The feet have two hoofs, that is, the animal walks upon two toe-nails. There are two smaller toes behind and above the hoofs. The goat can run with great rapidity. The tail of the goat is short like that of the deer, and does not need to be amputated like that of the sheep. Although the normal covering of the goat is hair, there are some species which have a more or less woolly coat. When angry the goat shakes its head, and defends itself by butting with the head, also by striking with the horns, which are very sharp. Goats are very tractable and make affectionate pets when treated with kindness; they display far more affection for their owner than do sheep.


Milch Goats in Malta

Thompson.   Twenty-first Annual Report Bureau of Animal Industry,
U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Our famous Rocky Mountain goat, although it belongs rather to the antelope family, is a large animal, and is the special prize of the hunter; however, it still holds its own in the high mountains of the Rocky and Cascade Ranges. Both sexes have slender black horns, white hair, and black feet, eyes and nose. Owen Wister says of this animal: "He is white, all white, and shaggy, and twice as large as any goat you ever saw. His white hair hangs long all over him like a Spitz dog's or an Angora cat's; and against its shaggy white mass the blackness of his hoofs and horns and nose looks particularly black. His legs are thick, his neck is thick, everything about him is thick, save only his thin black horns. They're generally about six (often more than nine) inches long, they spread very slightly, and they curve slightly backward. At their base they are a little rough, but as they rise they become cylindrically smooth and taper to an ugly point. His hoofs are heavy, broad and blunt. The female is lighter than the male, and with horns more slender, a trifle. And (to return to the question of diet) we visited the pasture where the herd (of thirty-five) had been, and found no signs of grass growing or grass eaten; there was no grass on that mountain. The only edible substance was a moss, tufted, stiff and dry to the touch. I also learned that the goat is safe from predatory animals. With his impenetrable hide and his disemboweling horns he is left by the wolves and mountain lions respectfully alone." (See American Animals, p. 57; Camp Fires of a Naturalist, chapters VIII and XIII).

Milch Goats—Many breeds of these have been developed, and the highest type is, perhaps, found in Switzerland. The Swiss farmers have found the goat particularly adapted to their high mountains and have used it extensively; thus, goats developed in the Saane and Toggenburg valleys have a world-wide reputation. Above these valleys the high mountains are covered with perpetual snow, and winter sets in about November 1st, lasting until the last of May. The goats are kept with the cows in barns and fed upon hay; but as soon as the snow is gone from the valleys and the lower foot-hills, the cattle and goats are sent with the herders and boy assistants, to the grazing grounds. A bell is put upon the cow that leads the herd so as to keep it together and the boys, in their gay peasant dresses, are as happy as the playful calves and goats to get out in the spring sunshine. The herds follow the receding snows up the mountains until about midsummer, when they reach the high places of scanty vegetation; then they start on the downward journey, returning to the home and stables about November 1st. The milk from goats is mixed with that from cows to make cheese, and this cheese has a wide reputation; some of the varieties are: Roquefort, Schweitzer and Altenburger. Although the cheese is excellent, the butter made from goat's milk is quite inferior to that made from the cow's. The milk, when the animals are well taken care of, is exceedingly nourishing; it is thought to be the best milk in the world for children. Usually, the trouble with goat's milk is, that the animals are not kept clean nor is care taken in milking. Germany has produced many distinct and excellent breeds of milch goats; the Island of Malta, Spain, England, Ireland, Egypt and Nubia have each developed noted breeds. Of all these, the Nubias give the most milk, sometimes yielding from four to six quarts per day, while an ordinary goat is considered fairly good if it yields two quarts per day.


Poona (India) Goat

Thompson.   Twenty-first Annual Report Bureau of Animal Industry,
U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Mohair Goats—There are two noted breeds of goats whose hair is used extensively for weaving into fabrics; one of these is the Cashmere and the other the Angora. The Cashmere goat has long, straight, silky hair for an outside coat and has a winter under-coat of very delicate wool. There are not more than two or three ounces of this wool upon one goat, and this is made into the famous Cashmere shawls; ten goats furnish barely enough of this wool for one shawl. The Cashmere goats are grown most largely in Thibet, and the wool is shipped from the high tableland to the Valley of Cashmere, and is made into shawls. It requires the work of several people for a year to produce one of these famous shawls.

The Angora goat has a long, silky and very curly fleece. These goats were first discovered in Angora, a city of Asia Minor south of the Black Sea, and some 200 miles southeast from Constantinople. The Angora goat is a beautiful and delicate animal, and furnishes most of the mohair, which is made into the cloths known as mohair, alpaca, camel's hair and many other fabrics. The Angora goat has been introduced into America, in California, Texas, Arizona, and to some extent in the Middle West. It promises to be a very profitable industry. (See Farmers' Bulletin No. 137, "The Angora Goat," United States Department of Agriculture.)


Angora Goat

Thompson.   Twenty-first Annual Report Bureau of Animal Industry,
U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The skins of goats are used extensively; morocco, gloves and many other articles are made from them. In the Orient, the skin of the goat is used as a bag in which to carry water and wine.

References—American Animals, p. 55; Neighbors with Claws and Hoofs, p. 190; Familiar Animals, pp. 169 and 183; Camp Fires of a Naturalist, chapters VIII and XIII; Lives of Animals.

Lesson LXV

The Goat

Leading thought—Goats are among our most interesting domesticated animals, and their history is closely interwoven with the history of the development of civilization. In Europe, their milk is made into cheese that has a world-wide fame; and from the hair of some of the species, beautiful fabrics are woven. The goat is naturally an animal of the high mountains.

Method—A span of goats harnessed to a cart is second only to ponies, in a child's estimation; therefore, the beginning of this lesson may well be a span of goats thus employed. The lesson should not be given unless the pupils have an opportunity for making direct observations on the animal's appearance and habits. There should be some oral and written work in English done with this lesson. Following are topics for such work: "The Milch Goat of Switzerland," "How Cashmere Shawls are Made," "The Angora Goat," "The Chamois."


1. Do you think that goats like to climb to high points? Are they fitted to climb steep, inaccessible places? Can they jump off steep places in safety? How does it happen the goat is sure-footed? How do its legs and feet compare with those of the sheep?

2. What does the goat eat? Where does it find its natural food on mountains? How are the teeth arranged for cutting its food? Does a goat chew its cud like a cow?

3. What is the covering of the goat? Describe a billy-goat's beard. Do you suppose this is for ornament? For what is goat's hair used?

4. Do you think the goat has a keen sense of sight, of hearing and of smell? Why? Why did it need to be alert and keen when it lived wild upon the mountains? Do you think the goat is intelligent? Give instances of this.

5. Describe the horns. Do they differ from the horns of the sheep? How does a goat fight? Does he strike head on, like the sheep, or sidewise? How does he show anger?

6. What noises does a goat make? Do you understand what they mean?

7. Describe the goat, its looks and actions. Is the goat's tail short at first or does it have to be cut off like the lamb's tail? Where and how is goat's milk used? What kinds of cheese are made from it? For what is its skin used? Is its flesh ever eaten?

Everyone knows the gayety of young kids, which prompts them to cut the most amusing and burlesque capers. The goat is naturally capricious and inquisitive, and one might say crazy for every species of adventure. It positively delights in perilous ascensions. At times it will rear and threaten you with its head and horns, apparently, with the worst intentions, whereas it is usually an invitation to play. The bucks, however, fight violently with each other; they seem to have no consciousness of the most terrible blows. The ewes themselves are not exempt from this vice.

They know very well whether or not they have deserved punishment. Drive them out of the garden, where they are forbidden to go, with a whip and they will flee without uttering a sound; but strike them without just cause and they will send forth lamentable cries.

Charles William Burkett

"Our Domestic Animals"

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