Myth 1: Goats will eat anything.
Goats have long been thought of as the ornery trashcans of the animal world. This is by far the most common myth I hear people repeat, and it is simply not true. Goats are actually extremely picky eaters. They are notorious hay-wasters; they eat the lushest parts and throw the rest on the ground. They’ll frequently turn their nose up at feed purchased from a new source.
What goats ARE is extremely inquisitive. They’re one of the most curious animals I’ve ever owned, and they use their mouths to investigate everything. However, that doesn’t mean they want to eat it. They just want to feel it with their sensitive lips and tongue to decide if it’s something they might like.
Myth 2: Goats will mow your lawn.
If you want lawn mowers, you want sheep. If you need a brush hog, you want goats. Goats are browsers, not grazers (like sheep). Goats will nibble on grass, but they much prefer brambles and shrubs.
If you let them out on your lawn, they’re much more likely to devour your hedges than they are to keep your grass neatly trimmed. (This can be a big problem too, as many popular plants such as Azaleas and Rhododendrons are poisonous to goats!)
Myth 3: Only male goats have horns and/or beards.
Almost all goats, both male and female, have horns unless human intervention takes place. Dairy goats of both sexes are typically disbudded within the first week or two of their lives so that they never grow horns as they mature. There are people who choose to leave the horns intact on dairy goats, but they cannot be shown in sanctioned dairy goat shows if they have horns. Meat breed goats, however, are allowed to have their horns intact and you’ll see both males and females with horns. There are a few goat breeds that can also be polled, meaning they have a genetic trait for not having horns at all. Both male and female goats can be polled.
Like horns, both male and female goats can have beards. Goats tend not to grow long, full beards until they’re fully mature. For dairy goat shows, does always have their beards shaved off, but bucks are shown with their full, fancy beards!
Myth 4: Goat milk tastes bad.
This is a somewhat subjective myth, but I wanted to mention it because I will argue that judging goat milk based on what you can buy mass-marketed at the grocery store is a poor representation of what goat milk really tastes like. Goat milk that is fresh, quickly chilled, and clean is every bit as good as (if not better than) cow’s milk. If you’ve only had goat milk from the store, you’re missing out on how good it can really be!
I’ve actually gotten feedback before that our goat cheese isn’t “goaty” enough for some people’s tastes. I hate to disappoint, but at the same time, I find that to be somewhat of a compliment: our goat milk (a mix of Nigerian Dwarf, which is very high in butter fat, and LaMancha) is very mild and not “goaty” tasting at all!
Myth 5: Goats are hardy animals.
If only this were true! I don’t say this to scare anyone, but very often people think they can just pick up a goat at the sale barn and toss it into the barnyard without any expectations of having to do much work to maintain it, and that’s simply not the case. Goats can have a myriad of health issues: mineral deficiencies, parasites, caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE), caseous lymphadenitis (CL), pneumonia, polio, listerosis, and more.
Buying healthy livestock from reputable herds is a good first step. Then keeping good records, keeping up with vaccinations and supplements, and generally being very hands-on and observing your herd will go a long way to keeping your goats healthy. It’s nothing to be scared about, but don’t buy into the myth that goats are hardy and maintenance-free! Even those of us who have worked with goats for years and have good mentors and veterinarians available have lost livestock due to health issues. You do the best you can!