Capra hircusdomestic goat

Geographic Range

Domestic goats, Capra hircus, most likely descended from C. aegagrus which is from Central Asia. Since the domestication of this species, goats have been spread all over the world by humans. C. hircus requires grass for grazing, but can survive on very thin deposits of grass. Therefore, the only areas C. hircus cannot inhabit are tundras, deserts, and aquatic habitats. There are some feral groups on Hawaii and on other islands. ("Capra hircus", 1983; "Goat", 2004)


Capra hircus is a domesticated animal and has been raised in almost all habitats. Goats do require grass for grazing, but can thrive in areas of thin growth that would not support other grazers such as sheep or cows. Also, C. hircus can be kept in dry lots as long as they are constantly fed by humans. Some sort of clean and ventilated shelter is necessary, but it does not have to be extravagant. For sleeping, C. hircus prefers a bedded area of at least 15 feet. Goats require exercise; optimally a goat should have at least 25 square feet per animal for this. Due to a well-developed herding instinct, C. hircus prefers to be in groups of 2 or more. As a domesticated species, C. hircus is very susceptible to predation. Therefore, it is best situated in a fenced in area. Feral groups are found usually in rugged mountain country, rocky crags, and alpine meadows. ("Capra hircus", 1983; "Did you know?", 2004; "Goat", 2004)

Physical Description

Because of its long history of domestication, there are many different breeds of C. hircus. Different breeds can have many different attributes. Typically, adults weigh 45 kg and be 64 cm tall. C. hircus is 1150 to 1700 mm in length. However, weight can vary between 9 and 113 kg and height can vary between 26 and 107 cm in different breeds. ("Capra hircus", 1983; "Did you know?", 2004; "Goat", 2004; Haenlein, 1992)

Capra hircus is sexually dimorphic. Males have a beard, horns, a rank odor, and are generally larger than the females. The odor stems from sex glands. The horns are hollow, and grow either scimitar or corkscrew. The hair is generally straight, however some breeds have a wool undercoat. Coat color varies, and can be black, white, red, and brown. Color patterns include solid color, spotted, striped, blended shades, and facial stripes. The nose can be either straight or convex. European breeds have erect ears and Indian breeds do not. The LaMancha breed has no external ear. The tail is short and curved upward. ("Capra hircus", 1983; "Did you know?", 2004; "Goat", 2004; Haenlein, 1992)

The average heart rate for C. hircus is 83 beats per minute, and the body temperature is 103.6 degrees F. C. hircus is born with 6 lower incisors and by 4 weeks old have a full set of milk teeth consisting of the 6 lower incisors and 24 molars. The upper jaw does not develop milk teeth, rather it has bony plates to articulate with the lower teeth. ("Capra hircus", 1983; "Did you know?", 2004; "Goat", 2004; Haenlein, 1992)

  • Range mass
    9 to 113 kg
    19.82 to 248.90 lb
  • Average mass
    45 kg
    99.12 lb
  • Range length
    1150 to 1170 mm
    45.28 to 46.06 in


Humans usually control the breeding behavior of C. hircus. Under human control C. hircus follows a polygynous reproductive system. In nature, feral groups follow this same pattern. In captivity, certain males may be chosen by humans to sire the young of several females. The females are then inseminated either directly by those males or by artificial insemination. Left to their own devices, male goats compete for rank, and the highest ranking males have access to mate with the females. Males fight by butting heads until one competitor surrenders. Sex glands are used to produce pheromones. ("Capra hircus", 1983; "Did you know?", 2004; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

The breeding season for C. hircus is from late summer to early winter. The female estrus cycle is 18 days long. However, in the tropics certain breeds reproduce all year long. By manipulating the amount of light goats are exposed to during the day, the estrus cycle can be artificially induced. Twins are extremely common to this species, otherwise 1 or 3 offspring is the typical brood size. Gestation differs between breeds, but is between 145 and 152 days. The young are born precocious and able to walk and follow the mother just hours after birth. About 10 months after birth the young are weaned from their mother’s milk and graze independently. Females become reproductively mature around the age of 1 year, whereas males reach reproductive maturity around 5 months of age. ("Did you know?", 2004; "Goat", 2004; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

  • Breeding interval
    C. hircus breeds every 18 months from late summer to early winter.
  • Breeding season
    Copulation occurs from late summer to early winter.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 3
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    4.83 to 5.07 months
  • Average gestation period
    5 months
  • Range weaning age
    4 to 5 months
  • Average time to independence
    10 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    406 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 10 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    5 months

Mothers of C. hircus nurse their young for 10 months after birth. The main source of parental care is the mother. She provides milk for the young. Since this is a grazing species grass is readily availiable to the young and no solid food needs to be delivered by a parent. Once the young are grown, they will remain in the herd and compete for rank. ("Capra hircus", 1983; "Did you know?", 2004; "Goat", 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents


Domestic goats typically live to be 15 years old in captivity. An individual has lived to be 22 years old. Humans control the lifespan of domestic goats generally, however predation still occurs under human control. In the wild, predation and parasites are the major factors affecting longevity. ("Capra hircus", 1983)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    22 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    15 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    20.8 years


Domestic goats are social animals and prefer to be in the presence of other goats. The size of captive herds is controlled by humans. Herd sizes in the wild tend to be 5 to 20 members, but can be as high as 100. The herds can contain only males, only females and young, or a mix of both. Goats are diurnal, and spend most of the day grazing. Because they live under human control, most goats can be described as sedentary. There is a rank structure in the herds. The males butt heads for hierarchy status. ("Capra hircus", 1983; "Did you know?", 2004)

Home Range

There is no known home range size for these animals. Because their living arrangements are most often controlled by humans, it is difficult to estimate how much space they would occupy without human control.

Communication and Perception

Capra hircus uses the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to experience the world. To communicate with each other sight, smell, and hearing are primarily used, although touch is important when males are butting heads to determine dominance status. During the mating season the males emit pheromones. Due to domestication, C. hircus has learned to interact with other species such as humans and dogs. Vocal and visual signals from humans and dogs can control where and when members of C. hircus walk, eat, and reproduce. ("Did you know?", 2004)

Food Habits

Domestic goats are ruminants and eat grasses and shrubs. Goats can choose what grasses they will eat and generally avoid grass covered in feces. In captivity they eat roughage all year round. When the season is warm they can graze, but during the winter they are fed by humans. Farmers feed males and females different quantities and different types of foods on farms. C. hircus is a ruminant and eats grasses and shrubs. Goats can choose what grasses they will eat and generally avoid grass covered in feces. In captivity they eat roughage all year round. When the season is warm they can graze, but during the winter they are fed by humans. Farmers feed males and females different quantities and different types of foods on farms. C. hircus is a ruminant and eats grasses and shrubs. Goats can choose what grasses they will eat and generally avoid grass covered in feces. In captivity they eat roughage all year round. When the season is warm they can graze, but during the winter they are fed by humans. Farmers feed males and females different quantities and different types of foods on farms. C. hircus is a ruminant and eats grasses and shrubs. Goats can choose what grasses they will eat and generally avoid grass covered in feces. In captivity they eat roughage all year round. When the season is warm they can graze, but during the winter they are fed by humans. Farmers feed males and females different quantities and different types of foods on farms. ("Did you know?", 2004; "Farm Animals", 1981; "Goat", 2004; "Did you know?", 2004; "Farm Animals", 1981; "Goat", 2004; "Did you know?", 2004; "Farm Animals", 1981; "Goat", 2004; "Did you know?", 2004; "Farm Animals", 1981; "Goat", 2004)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves


The main predators of domestic goats are coyotes, dogs, mountain lions, foxes, eagles, and bobcats. Humans provide the most protection by keeping them in fences; however even that is not impenetrable. The main defense from predation which domestic goats have is living in herds. They can also be aggressive and will use their horns in defense. ("Capra hircus", 1983; Haenlein, 1992; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Ecosystem Roles

Because goats are a domestic species and non-native throughout most of their current range, their grazing can be detrimental to natural ecosystems. Goat overgrazing can cause erosion, spread of deserts, and the disappearance of natural wildlife. This was documented in New Zealand and scientists believe grazing by goats is preventing revegetation. A feral population of C. hircus led to the extinction of many forest bird species in Hawaii and feral goat populations may most severely impact their wild cousins, other members of the genus Capra. However, in some managed grasslands, goats have been used to prevent the spread of introduced weeds. ("Capra hircus", 1983; American Sheep Industry Association, 2007; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Capra hircus is regularly farmed for milk, wool, cheese, meat, and leather. The milk is actually more digestible by humans than cow milk. More people worldwide use goats for dairy and meat than use cows. Many people also keep them as pets and show them in competitions. ("Did you know?", 2004; "Goat", 2004; "National 4H council", 2000)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Capra hircus can be quite detrimental to the environment and therefore be a problem to humans. Feral groups of C. hircus have caused erosion and ruined the quality of soil by overgrazing. ("Capra hircus", 1983)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Capra hircus is quite abundant and under no special conservation status.


Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Adam Mileski (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


1983. Capra hircus. Pp. 1298-1301 in R Nowak, J Paradiso, eds. Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. 2. United States of America: John Hopkins University Press.

2004. "Did you know?" (On-line). American Dairy Goat Association. Accessed February 03, 2004 at

1981. Farm Animals. Pp. 176-179 in D McFarland, ed. The Oxford Companion to Abnormal Behavior.. Great Brittain: Oxford University Press.

2004. "Goat" (On-line). Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed July 29, 2004 at

1984. Goats and Sheep. Pp. 85-88 in I Mason, ed. Evolution of Domestic animals. New York: Longman Group.

National 4-H Council. 2000. "National 4H council" (On-line). Accessed February 10, 2004 at

USDA. Sheep and Goats predator loss. Washington, DC: National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2000. Accessed February 09, 2004 at

American Sheep Industry Association, 2007. "Targeted grazing, a natural approach to landscape enhancement" (On-line). Accessed October 06, 2008 at

Haenlein, G. 1992. "All About Goats" (On-line). National Dairy Database. Accessed February 03, 2004 at

Vaughan, T., J. Ryan, C. Nicholas. 2000. Mammology. United States: Thomson Learning Inc..