Many years ago when we started to have a few too many kids and didn’t give them enough attention, we got a crash course in taming wild kids. We learned very quickly that you can’t just leave baby goats out in the pasture and expect them to be as friendly as the family dog.
How to tame a goat
Even friendly goats tend to run more when they’re in a big pasture, so start by putting an unfriendly goat in the smallest space you have in your barn. Our smallest stalls back then were 10 x 10, so I put two does in there, and I started by simply going in there and just sitting with them.
Goats are curious creatures and will want to check you out at some point. You could just take your phone and check email or something like that. Just hangout for at least 15 minutes a couple of times a day.
After a couple of days, go in there with a pan of grain or alfalfa pellets, although the grain might be more tempting to them. Set it on the ground about a foot in front of you. When they start eating it, reach out very slowly and pull it towards you very slowly.
Then over the course of a few days — or faster if they’ll go for it — pull the pan of grain into your lap. When they are willing to eat from the grain in your lap, after a day or two, put your hand on their shoulder while they’re eating, then start petting them. It may feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back every day.
Just remember that they’re prey animals, so the first thing on their mind is that you are going to eat them. They just have to get over that idea. The bottom line is that they don’t trust you.
If these are does that you’ll be breeding, the other thing to remember is that once they kid, they tend to get friendlier when the oxytocin is initially flowing right after birth. So, that’s a great time to spend more time with them and also start to handle their udder.
Don’t even try to touch the udder before they kid, but definitely start handling it right after they kid. When I have first fresheners, the ideal is to start milking them on day one. You can usually do it right there in the middle of the stall (again because of those hormones). You’re not going for volume. You’re just practicing.
If you can get them friendly enough before kidding to jump on the milk stand for you, do that every day and give them just a handful of grain so that they’ll want to jump up there for you afterwards.
It’s not the best idea to do a bunch of painful stuff to them if they don’t trust you yet, so avoid anything unpleasant that’s not absolutely necessary. Their hooves can probably wait.
Some people make the mistake of only putting does on the milk stand for things like hoof trimming and shots before they kid so they think the milk stand is a horrible place.
Are you wondering what happened to those does that were wild as deer all those years ago? They became wonderful milk goats that were easy to handle. We grew to love one so much that she lived on our farm until she died at age 12, and her daughter is now one of our favorite milkers.
What are your favorite tips for getting a goat to trust you?
17 thoughts on “How to Tame a Goat”
I’m very thankful for your info, as I have a wild goat. I bought her because of her colouring and registration. She escaped right off the truck, so I didn’t have a chance to put her in a small space. It’s been a couple of months of wandering into the field with a little grain, but always mauled by my other goats so had to stop that. Then the snow came, and Bridget wanted to come into the barn. Since then it’s been a lot easier. I try to get eye contact first and while the others are eating their hay, slip her a bit of bread. She even let me pat her yesterday. She is still after months, very beautiful and very skittish. I’m hoping to breed her by AI, but I don’t know if she ever go on the milk stand.
Just like with spooky horses, don’t look them straight in the eye (that’s aggression to a prey animal), and do whatever you’re going to do calmly but matter-of-fact, not sneaking or hesitant or angrily. Some of my first goats were wild as March hares. They were 4-6 months old, dam raised, practically untouched. The first thing to do was put plastic chain collars on with 6-8” extra dangling to grab. But I still spent a lot of time trying to get hold of them, usually grabbing a leg to haul them out when they hid behind the hanging bag feeder. Then I would drag them over to the fence and clip them to it with a short double ended snap strap, each one to the same spot each time (goats love routine), and put their grain under their noses. After they ate I would then rub them all over before I let them go (kick, kick, buck) and not stop until they stood still for a few seconds. I’d also hold the collar after unclipping and rub some more til they stood still a few seconds again, so they knew that getting unclipped was not instant freedom to run away in panic. I did rub their udder area, and if they sat down on me I just kept twiddling and moving my fingers to show them that wasn’t going to work, and I wouldn’t stop until they got up again. After a couple weeks they would still run from me, but would run TO their tie spots and stand there cringing until I snapped them and fed them. They got much better as the winter wore on, but of course settled down immensely after I helped them kid, and they became calm, steady, and friendly milk goats.
Milk stand: I started feeding them there a few weeks before kidding, continuing the rubbing all over. Of course at first I had to drag them up and push their heads through the gates. Then they’d pitch a fit and bawl because they were caught. Which I’d ignore. Don’t eat your grain because you’re upset? You don’t get any til next feeding time on the stand. Every goat I’ve had (I have Nigerian Dwarfs) has been an absolute grain slut, and by the third feeding they are running and jumping on the stand to get their grain.
“Grain slut” ha HA ha ha…
Raisins! That is my secret, I have not met a goat yet who can resist raisins for long. I keep a small bag of raisins in my pocket and when I’m out in the pasture with the goats I will feed each of them a few. This has the unfortunate side effect of not being able to enter the paddock without being mugged by the whole herd! But, the upside is, those skittish goats quickly learn you are the bearer of treats and very soon will not only eat from your hand, but will start allowing you to touch them. Once they allow me to touch them, I start scratching them up and down their spine. You can almost see their eyes roll back in their head from pleasure. Just like us, it’s hard for them to reach all their itchy spots. Once I start scratching their back, they follow me around and pester me incessantly till I scratch some more. I had a little buck who would follow me around and paw my leg with his foot until I scratched his back.
Thanks for the raisins tip.. I just inherited some goats with a property and I had a few raisins in the cupboard … the goats loved them.. I have some ammunition now to help me coerce them to be my friends and stop looking me like I’m trespassing their land !
Hello I am new goat owner and my goat has gotten pink eye. I was wondering jf anyone on here was familiar with it and how to get rid of it. I have given her 3 doses of penecillin upon a vets advice and have been spraying pink eye spray that I got from tractor supply in there but it still is red and slightly milky. I will gladly take any suggestions.
There is really no cure for pinkeye. Regardless of what you do, it seems to last about two weeks and then just goes away on its own. I felt like I was torturing my poor goats by putting over-the-counter stuff in there, and it just didn’t help, so I never used it again on future goats that got pinkeye.
When I had a goat stab itself in the eye (trying to butt head with another goat through the fence) I took him to the university vet clinic and was lucky enough to listen to the vet professor quizzing the students, and they do NOT give systemic antibiotics to a goat with an eye infection because they don’t get to the eye, so injectable penicillin is worthless for an eye infection. They gave my buck a prescription eye ointment.
However, a goat with pinkeye has a blue eye, so I’m not so sure that that is what your goat has if it’s red. Is it the eyelid that’s red?
Warm salt water will do more good than anything. Make sure all the salt is completely dissolved in the water so you don’t cause scratches on the eye and allow the water to cool to at least 100 degrees before applying to the eye. You can use a spray bottle or just douse the eye. It stings a bit, but nothing unbearable (as a child I had pinkeye that was treated in this manner, it’s not that bad). For future reference, a vitamin A deficiency will cause animals to be susceptible to pinkeye. Get your A up to optimal levels and you’ll never have the issue again.
Goats do not become vitamin A deficient if they are eating green grass and browse as live plants are abundant in vitamin A. Unless a goat is eating a diet of only dried brown hay, they are generally getting enough vitamin A.
My favorite technique for taming is specific to does – when a doe kids and after the baby is clearly safe and navel-dipped, I smear afterbirth on myself and put my arm under her nose to lick in the middle of her licking the kid(s). I’ve found that when a doe does that, she is noticeably more bonded to me afterward, go figure.
I know that’s a super popular old bit of folklore, but it’s really not necessary, and in some cases it could be dangerous. If you don’t know your goat’s disease status, you could be infecting yourself with something like Q-fever or another zoonotic disease. And unfortunately the more popular goats get, the more people are buying goats with no known health history or known herd health history.
When does give birth, their hormones — especially oxytocin — just naturally make them more loving and tame in general. In cases where I needed to milk out a doe and give the kid colostrum in a bottle, I can’t even recall a doe that wouldn’t let me milk her standing in the middle of the floor in the barn — even first fresheners that had never been milked before.
After struggling with my wild goats (what was I thinking?) for nearly a year it occurred to me that if Karen Pryor could train a scallop with positive reinforcement, I could certainly train goats and have the background. They took to it immediately and although they don’t love being petted, they quickly learned to put their heads in a rope loop (Gotcha!) and lead, pick up feet for trimming, etc. They still don’t LIKE it, but they are willing to let their behavior be shaped with R+ and it took no time at all.
I love Karen Pryor! Temple Grandin also helped me to understand my goats’ psychology.
Temple Grandin has so helped me understand animal behaviour and how to work with it.
Thanks for this great article and I am wondering how I can get a skittish goat to let me close the headstall on her. She will jump on the stand and eat her food but the instant I move( ever so slowly because fast did not work either) towards closing the headstall, she’ll jump off the stand. She also does not like being petted on the stand and will jump down.
She is due for the first time in a couple of weeks and I don’t want to struggle with her to get her locked in to milk her. Oxytocin has not always worked for me to get a FF up on the stand to milk.
Any tricks you might have to share? Thank you!
I would continue to put her on the milk stand every day for food. Do not try to touch her udder. Many goats hate that if they have not yet kidded, and that doesn’t mean anything about how they’ll act after they kid. If she jumps off the milk stand when you touch her shoulder, then you need to just forget about the milk stand and get her to the point where is OK with you touching her when she is just in the barn or wherever. If she is jumping off the milk stand when you just touch her shoulder, then she is scared of you, and that’s the first thing you need to overcome.
Just because another goat didn’t get friendlier after kidding doesn’t mean that another goat won’t. They are all individuals. If they were not born on your farm, you have no idea what their history is and what their fears are — and if you’ve read Temple Grandin, you know that all makes a huge difference.
I have a 2 year old doe that I bottle fed. She loves people and is very sweet, but she is mean to the other goats specially when she is in heat.
Will her temperament change towards the other goats if she gives birth to babies?
It’s not unusual for goats that love people to be very bossy with other goats. Their self confidence is what causes both of these seemingly opposite behaviors. Sounds like she is the herd queen, and it is unlikely that she will give up that position. There are never any guarantees, but if you were thinking of breeding her in hopes of her mellowing with the other goats, I wouldn’t count on it. And what I have seen is that sometimes the herd queen ultimately only gets challenged by her daughter.