Goat Behavior – The Referees (OP: 5/2014)

I’ve got a great one for you guys today. You all know how much I love goats, but is it just the way they look? Their affectionate qualities? Their milk?

I love goats because they are fascinating. There is a shocking lack of research and information about their deeper behaviors, and every day that I spend observing them teaches me something new. I am exceptionally lucky to be able to work with such a large herd that is allowed as natural a life style as possible.

While this video isn’t the greatest quality, as it was taken with my cell phone, it’s clear enough to show a behavior that I (and others living here) have observed multiple times. We call it the Referee behavior.

Goats have a very complex social system and hierarchy. There is a queen goat (often more than one in a large herd) and then it filters down to the young does, who are low on the totem pole. I have noticed that twice a year – breeding season and kidding season – does will get into more scuffles as they jockey to improve their position – which also means that their kids will enjoy a stronger position in the herd.

Herd rank determines when/where a doe gets to eat, drink, and even come into the milk room.

Goats challenge each other with body language and of course the famous head butting. Pawing and blubbering like a buck often accompany these disputes, usually by the more dominant doe.

I was separating the milking herd into the holding area when a pair of two year old first freshener does began to challenge each other for a better position within the herd. The tan larger doe is Butterscotch, and the smaller white doe is Marshmallow.

They were battling for some time before I noticed the older does starting to move in, and grabbed my phone and began to video the first part. You can observe right away that more goats have become interested in the dispute and they begin to push at the two battling goats, trying to discourage the fight from continuing.

At one point Blue Ceder even begins to become aggressive to the pair, butting and shoving them away until they are separated, with Sweet Pea pushing at Marshmallow.

After I had moved them both into the holding pen for milking, they took up where they left off, and I began to video again.

This time I was able to video the majority of their dispute, and once again, when it shows no sign of either doe giving way to the other, the other goats move in and begin to attempt to separate the foes. From the start, Rumble is standing with them, with Blue Cedar nearby, observing the dispute.

They start with gentle requests that the goats separate, inserting their heads and bodies between the two. You can observe that this doesn’t work – these two goats are determined to hash this out.

Watching the battle itself is interesting enough – the more dominant doe (Butterscotch) even blubbers and paws at Marshmallow on several occasions in an attempt to reassert her dominance and get Marshmallow to back down. They move from place to place, headbutting and pressing their heads together, until they begin to upset the entire herd.

At this point Blue Cedar becomes more forceful with the two, and other does like Toshi, Chattanooga, and Rumble step in once more.

Marshmallow gives way multiple times but continues to turn back. Blue Cedar again moves in and begins to become more aggressive, headbutting Marshmallow in an attempt to move her away.

At this point, Chattanooga, Zinnia, Blue Cedar, and Rumble have moved in and are standing with the combatants, separating them. Marshmallow insists on pushing the issue, until both her and Zinnia hit Butterscotch at the same time. At this point, Butterscotch becomes aware that she has been outmatched, even though Marshmallow had help.

This is the breaking point. Marshmallow has won, which she demonstrates by shoving Chattanooga and then walking away.

Interestingly, the does surround Butterscotch and rub their scent on her while Marshmallow makes her way back to her sister, where she will settle down until it’s her time to milk.

This ended up being one of the longest and most intense examples of this Referee behavior I have witnessed. I have seen, more times than I can count, a mature doe standing with two (or more) juniors or yearlings who are scuffling for position. They eventually separate the group if the conflict doesn’t resolve itself, though it goes much quicker when they’re pushing around smaller, younger does.

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I do, and I do hope that I am able to document and share more behavior with you in the future.