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When Good Goats go Bad

In that past, we have written and spoken on the subject of goat horns, and our belief that goats should be allowed to live their lives naturally without being altered for our convenience. However, the one questions that regularly remains is goats who use their horns against other goats as weapons. What to do then?

Photo by Angie's Art, 2022

First, this is most likely to happen during rutting reason for males, and breeding season for females. Despite most worries about a buck's size and demeanor during rut, most of the cases I have heard of this happening has been with does boring other does.

When does are pregnant, their status in the herd determines their offspring's status, so does will fight hard to maintain or increase their status in order to give their young a better start. While I have heard of some gorings resulting from this pecking-order struggle, they are rare. Our experience has been that our does want higher positions for their babies, but not at the risk of their babies. There is some tussling, but nothing serious.

Photo by Angie's Art, 2022

Where we have run into problems is the doe who was not bred. Clover has always been a sweet doe, but jealous of our attention. She doesn't sit very high on the pecking order, and has always lorded her position over those few under her. However, she was unable to be bred this year due to medical issues - she suffers from stress induced seizures that make it dangerous - and during the normal pregnancy-induced scuffling, she got nasty.

Not only did she head butt the other does, but those does under her in the pecking order were repeatedly body slammed into walls, chased and refused the peace to eat. We thought at one point she had even induced a miscarriage in Sunflower, but luckily Sunflower stabilized and all was well.

Once the babies were born, things didn't get better. She has been seen to repeatedly butt and bite at them. We have stopped taking her to shows because she now tried to bite the sheep if they are with us. She butts and jumps on us when we try to feed everyone, trying to knock the grain out of our hands before we get to the feeders. Some of Sherri's bruises are pretty impressive!

So what do we do?

  • First, we thought about it rationally. While some have advocated having her dehorned, that is an expensive surgery that is extremely traumatic for the goat. It's also important to realize that the damage she has done was with her head and hooves, not her horns. Other's have advocated Clover's behavior as proof that all goats should be disbudded as kids. She is one of 15 goats here and 1700 San Clemente Island goats worldwide. Should we disbud all of them because she is badly behaved? THat logic doesn't work for us.

  • - We have tried behavioral corrections. All of them. Nothing has worked and some seem to have only only made her worse. Trying to positively reinforce good behavior... well, she doesn't seem to be able to make the connection between the behavior and the treat and the only result has been an increase in bad behavior because she wants more treats!

  • - We have tried punishment. Not hurting her, obviously, but removing her from the situation for "time out" or denying her treats for bad behavior. Nope. She learns nothing. Again, attempt to improve her behavior seem to have only made her worse.

With all this in mind, we will be moving her out for the safety of the other goats, kids and sheep. Luckily, the farm she originally came from is willing to take her back with a no-breed contract. Otherwise, we would offer her as a pet or land-clearer to a home willing to sign such a contract. She is quite well behaved and loving when she doesn't feel she has to share her attentions, so she should do well in that kind of environment. Her sister, Willow, is small and shy and Clover rarely competes with her, so Willow will go with her for company.

And yes, if all else has failed, she would have been put down. It's an incredibly hard thing to do with a named goat who has been a pet, but the safety of the other animals - to say nothing of our own health! - needs to come first. While we might get away with just bruises, there is no doubt that she will severely injure one of the other does, kids or sheep if this continues. The needs of the many must come first, and it is our job as farmers to put the safety of the animals first.

But that doesn't make it easy.

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