You may have noticed many times how goats love to climb and stay on rocks and other raised objects. They also browse on hills. For any curious goat keeper, this tendency should not be taken for granted. In this episode, I bring you the major reasons why goats are fond of doing so:
1. Safety. Goats know that they are prey to a number of predetors and are prone to many dangers; including theft. Because of this, they always live in the fear of what is likely to come and make attempts to stay safe. A hill or rock becomes their watch tower where they climb to look out for possible danger. It is within the nature of goats to strive to stay safe and where possible, to defend themselves. You will be quick to notice that when a foreigner enters the herd, especially by him/herself and not in the company of any of the herdsmen or caretakers, the goats will show signs of tension, discomfort and even start to make noise, calling for their owner’s attention. What usually follows after that is the run for safety. Other high points where goats try to find security include anthills, short and bent trees, walls of incomplete buildings and other raised objects that are placed within their reach, which they easily climb.
2. Resting. Closely related to their safety motive, goats also hike on raised objects in order to rest. Most of a goat’s time is shared between moving, feeding and resting. It is a common scientific fact that like cattle, sheep and buffalos, goats are ruminants; meaning that part of their four chambered stomach, the rumen, is like a large fermentation container. It contains bacteria that digest the feed and convert it into energy and protein. The whole process of moving the the cud from the stomach and sending it back up to the goat’s mouth, where it is re-chewed before finally going back down into the stomach to be fully digested requires suffcient and comfortable time. The goats’ resting becomes more comfortable only when their safety is ‘assured’, at least by being their own ‘watchmen’. So they prefer to rest and diggest their food in what they perceive to be a safe place.
3. Cooling and warmth. Still from the scientific perspective, stones (especially those with dark surfaces)are thermal mass materials. That is to say, they are capable of absorbing and storing heat from the sun, yet remaining relatively cold during day time and then slowly emitting (releasing) that stored heat during the late afternoon and evening hours when the sorounding temperatures get low. It is not surprising then that during hot hours of the afternoon, goats will tend to rest on stones (which are cool at that time of day). It is also common occurrence to see goats (especially those that sleep in the open) taking positions and resting on stones at nightfall(as coldness sets in). The stones become their ‘warm beds’.
4. Fun. Goats, most especially young ones; naturally love to have fun, play, run about and explore their sorounding. A raised place such as a hill, an anthill or a large rock provides amble environment for doing this.
5. Browsing. Unlike cattle that are grazers, goats are browsers. They prefer to feed on forage at points above their heads. Such forage is usually found on raised thorny plants, shrubs, creeping plants and palatable tree leaves. This intrinsic yearning for raised food makes them to always keep aiming at higher points.
6. Hhygien . Goats are clean animals. They hate to stay in water-logged and muddy places. So they try as much to stay away from dew and from their own urine and droppings. So, during most of their resting time the goats will hike on rocks or any other available raised object. For this reason, a hill is the best place to keep goats, since it has easy drainage and dries up faster in the event of rainfall. Diseases such as foot rot are rarely registered among goats that are reared on a hilly place.
7. Physical fitness . While it may not be their intention, the fact is; goats that move and play on hills and rocks are more physically fit compared to their low land kept counterparts. Their muscles are well-built and this works to better their immunity. In the case of an injury or fracture, a goat that is used to hiking on hills will heal up faster.
On the whole, goats are domesticated animals with a wild nature. They thrive better under specific natural conditions. Not in all circumstances will it be possible for a goat farmer to own land on a hill with rocks, anthills and short bent trees. The situation gets further detached from natural when it comes to urban goat keeping. In such circumstances, it is incumpent upon the farmer to mimic at his or her farm the natural environment under which goats should live. This could involve, but not limited to: building a well-raised shelter with good waste drainage for the goats and placing or fixing some raised play objects within their reach.
I wish you successful farming. May God bless you.
Fr. Morris Grace Lhusenge (Goat Farmer, Kasese)