close this bookMicrolivestock - Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future
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close this folderPart I : Microbreeds
View the document1 Microcattle
View the document2 Microgoats
View the document3 Microsheep
View the document4 Micropigs

2 Microgoats

More than 90 percent of the world's nearly half billion goats (Capra hircus) are found in developing countries; many weigh less than 35 kg fully grown.` Such "microgoats" are noted for their high reproductive rates, rapid growth, early maturity, tasty meat, and rich milk' as well as for their robust constitution, ease of handling, and tolerance of climatic stress and poor feeds.

To many people - especially where pigs and poultry are not common - meat and milk from microgoats are the primary animal proteins consumed during a lifetime. Perhaps the world's best foragers, goats eat practically anything made of cellulose, and are not dependent on grass. Because of their unselective feeding behavior, they are capable of living where the feeds - tree leaves, shrubs, and weeds - are too poor to support other types of livestock.

Such microgoats deserve wider recognition, for they are often the poor person's only source of milk, meat, and cash income. They are cheap to acquire and easy to maintain, even by people with little property and scarce resources.


Worldwide, especially in arid and semiarid climates.


Goats generally have a long snout and an upright tail, by which they can be distinguished from most sheep. The mouth is unusual in having a mobile upper lip and a grasping tongue, which permits the animal to nibble even tiny leaves on spiny species.

Common commercial goat breeds generally weigh between 60 and 100 kg, with some weighing more than 200 kg. Microgoats may weigh less than 15 kg. Representative examples are listed at the end of the chapter.


Worldwide, with half in Asia and one-third in Africa.


The FAO projects that world numbers may nearly double by the turn of the century. Goats are thus not endangered, but in some areas select populations of feral goats are being deliberately eradicated, with the consequent loss of potentially valuable genes. Some small breeds are also threatened by excessive crossbreeding with larger types.


One of the most adaptable of all livestock, goats can persist in conditions from arid to humid, and from sea level to high altitude. They are especially well adapted to hot, semiarid climates and to rocky, barren terrain.


These ruminants can subsist on many feedstuffs that would otherwise be left to waste. Although selective browsers, they often prefer coarse leaves (including palm fronds) and shrubbery to palatable forage grass.

Most microgoats mature quickly, and in the tropics they can generally breed year-round. Their reproductive potential has often been underestimated; kidding is rarely difficult, and many types produce twins and sometimes even triplets or quadruplets.

In hot, dry areas, goats require less attention than other livestock, and smaller goats have the added advantage of better heat dissipation. Some microgoats may also show disease resistance. For example, tolerance to trypanosomiasis makes them an important livestock in many regions of Africa.


Goats are generally gentle, but can be easily frightened. They may become stubborn and aggressive when threatened or thwarted, and can prove hard to confine.

If their feed smells of other animals - particularly of other goats - they usually shun it unless nothing else is available.


Microgoats mainly produce meat and form an important part of the diet in southern Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, especially the Caribbean. Goat is sometimes a preferred meat, and there are few social or religious prohibitions against eating it.

Some microgoats are good milkers, and under stressful conditions they may keep producing when other livestock are dry. Goat milk is a valuable dietary supplement: it is nutritious, easily digestible, and usually commands premium prices. It makes excellent cheese and yogurt and can be used by people allergic to cow's milk.

Microgoats produce some of the finest and most valuable fibers in the world. Angora and Cashmere goats often weigh less than 30 kg fully grown, for example.

Goats produce a fine-textured, durable leather that finds extensive uses both locally and internationally. Horns, hooves, blood, and bone meal also have commercial value. Manure is another important product, and comes in fairly dry pellets that are easy to collect, store, and distribute.

Goats perform important functions in land management. Seeds of many trees (Acacia and Prosopis, for example) are "scarified" by passing through the goats' digestive system, fostering germination and natural revegetation. With care, goats can also be used to clear land of weeds and brush.


Goats are often allowed to roam and scavenge for their own food. They form strong territorial attachments and can be trained to stay within a designated area. However, they cannot be kept from investigating - and quite probably devouring - anything within that territory. They are persistent browsers, so it is essential to prevent overstocking as well as raids on crops.

Variety of diet is important, and goats show much individuality in feed preferences. They are often raised on crop residue and kitchen refuse.

Goats can be run with other livestock without creating serious competition. The goats browse weedy shrubs, whereas the sheep and cattle graze more on grasses.

Although perhaps the hardiest of all livestock, most breeds benefit when they are provided shelter from rain and high-noon sun. Abrupt chilling and poor ventilation can cause severe respiratory problems. They are also susceptible to various maladies, such as internal parasites, especially when confined. The highest mortality, however, is caused when very young kids are not supplied with adequate feed and clean, dry shelter.



In most developing countries goats are already prominent in rural life. Common almost everywhere in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, they are dependable multi-use animals. They are particularly important in providing ready cash, such as for school fees, taxes, marriages, or funerals.

Goats integrate well in mixed agriculture, for example, by consuming leafy wastes, clearing land, and contributing fertilizer. In many places they are raised almost exclusively by women and children. If confined, goats require only simple, inexpensive shelters or pens, which makes them especially important as subsistence animals. In many situations, they may be the most efficient and economic producers for smallholders.

These animals have a relatively fast rate of growth and early reproductive age, even under harsh conditions. They can graze rougher terrain than cattle and most sheep, can go for longer periods without water, and forage well in wooded areas where grass is lacking. They can derive most or all of their diet from roughage unusable by humans; high-energy feeds, such as protein supplements or carbohydrate supplements, are usually not needed even to fatten them for slaughter.

Goats are generally healthy and are not affected by many of the parasites and diseases that ravage other livestock. Some resistance to mange, internal parasites, foot-and-mouth disease, and other livestock scourges has been reported.


In some places (notably, in industrialized nations) there is a strong prejudice against goats and goat meat.

Smallness makes microgoats targets for predators and thieves.

Many small goats are poor milkers, especially under hardship conditions; however, even small amounts of milk can often fulfill a child's daily nutritional requirement or reinforce a nursing mother's diet.

Goats are independent and may wander away if not watched, and they can be difficult to pen. They may also have an unpleasant odor when kept confined (males are particularly malodorous during rutting season).

Goats are often disparaged for degrading land and destroying vegetation because they continue to survive on overutilized lands often laid waste by mismanagement of sheep or cattle.


A rare wild animal with spectacular horns, the bezoar (Capra aegagrus) is the goat's wild ancestor. People domesticated it before 7000 B.C., probably in the mountains along the Iran/ Iraq border. Until recent times, it remained widely scattered across the vast region between Greece and Pakistan, but it now exists only in pockets and is threatened with extinction.

This would be a tragedy because the bezoar is a resilient wild species that crosses readily with domestic goats, and it could pass on its genetic inheritance for heat, drought, and cold tolerance: disease resistance; and other survival qualities.

Distribution of the bezoar. The arrow indicates the area where it was probably first domesticated, resulting in the goat as we know it (From Mason 1984)

Fascinating science and valuable results probably await those willing to study this hardy, handsome creature and to explore the reharnessing of its genetic endowment. Today the bezoar is considered merely a trophy for hunters. The power of its genes to refresh - perhaps even revolutionize - the world's 500 million goats has been lost to sight.


The microgoat's potential has hardly been realized. More research on performance and husbandry is needed to preserve and restore small breeds. Selective breeding for prolificacy, viability, and rapid growth, as well as more selective on-site culling, could greatly improve both meat and milk yields and quality.

Management systems that exploit smallness, stabilize production, and preserve the environment should be introduced and publicized in appropriate goat-rearing areas. Careful assessments of indigenous management methods should be made, particularly emphasizing their desirable characteristics. Improving hygiene in the wet season and supplemental feeding in the dry season are also important, as are disease- and parasite-control measures.

The undomesticated ibex and markhor could possibly be major contributors in the development of new, useful breeds for tropical and arid regions (see sidebar, page 42).


West African Dwarf (Djallon)

West and Central Africa. Female 20 kg; male 30 kg. Adapted to humid lowlands, this widespread goat is particularly valuable for meat and skin production. Generally, it is bred for meat, but milk is sometimes an important secondary product. Sexual maturity is very early (3-6 months), and quadruplets occasionally occur (most goat breeds normally produce only single births). Related types go by the names "Cameroon Dwarf," "Dirdi," and "Nigerian Dwarf."

Nubian Dwarf

United States. 35-40 kg (often less). A stable miniature variety of the milking Nubian, this microgoat has been developed recently in the United States by crossing standard-sized Nubians with the West African Dwarf. It combines a good milk output with high levels of butterfat.

American Pygmy

United States. 15-25 kg. Derived from the West African Dwarf, it is noted for its hardiness and good nature, good milk production, and adaptability to various climates. There are several varieties, some for milking, others for meat.

Sudanese Nubian

Northern Sudan. 25-30 kg. Widespread milk goats of riverain and urban areas.

Sudanese Dwarf

Southern Sudan. 11-25 kg. A very hardy desert goat similar to the West African Dwarf, it averages 15 kg, but some mature individuals may weigh as little as 11 kg. Used for meat and hides, it produces little milk.

Small East African

Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania. 20-30 kg. A widely neglected meat and hide animal found over a wide range, it is fast growing (sexual maturity at four months) and extremely hardy.


Mauritius. 25-30 kg. A prolific, year-round breeder raised for meat production, it is often confined in simple shelters from birth to slaughter. Perhaps because of this isolation, mortality is less than 10 percent, even with little or no veterinary care.


Latin America. "Criollo" is a name given to several breeds of ancient Iberian blood with local adaptations to many unfavorable conditions. They are often small and hardy.

Creole Caribbean. Females 20 kg; males 25 kg. Robust meat goats of Spanish or West African origin that are kept throughout the Caribbean.

Crioulo Brazil. 30-35 kg. A meat and skin goat derived from Portuguese ancestors, it is hardy, prolific, undemanding, and adapted to harsh environments.


Pakistan. Female 20 kg; male 24 kg. Originating in dry regions, this meat and milk goat is a nonseasonal breeder with outstanding potential.


Pakistan, India. Females 20-25 kg; males 20-40 kg. A prolific, fastgrowing "urban" goat with high twinning and low mortality. Often kept inside houses, they adapt well to confinement and are important for both milk and meat.

Gaddi (White Himalaya)

Hill districts of northern India. 25-30 kg. Kept for meat and their long, lustrous white hair, they are pure-breeding and healthy.

Changthangi (Ladakh)

Kashmir, India. Male 20 kg. A pashmina (cashmere) goat of India, it is adapted to a high altitude, high humidity climate with extremes of temperature.


Nepal. 8-12 kg. A very small, hardy animal of the southern lowlands, it kids year-round (sometimes twice), and often produces twins.

Southern Hill Goat

Nepal. 12-16 kg. A small, mid-altitude goat resembling the Terai.

Black Bengal (Teddy, Bangladesh Dwarf)

Eastern India and Pakistan. Female 10 kg; male 14 kg. A widespread, humid-area, meat goat that is early maturing and very prolific. It kids twice a year, and produces 60 percent twins and 10 percent triplets. It produces a superior leather.


Southeast Asia, China, and Pacific Islands. In places, less than 20 kg. A widespread, highly variable, hardy goat adapted to humid conditions, it usually has twins or triplets. Used for meat and skins, with exceptional females being milked.

Chinese Dwarf (Tibetan, Jining, Fuyang, or Chengdu Grey)

China. 20-40 kg. Well adapted to the humid tropics, it normally twins and is a good meat producer.

Heuk Yumso

Korea. Female 25 kg; male 35 kg. A prolific cold-climate goat with a year-round breeding season. The meat is highly prized, and often sells at a premium due to its supposed health-giving effects.


Middle East. Female 20 kg; male 20 kg. A meat goat, usually black, for harsh desert conditions.

Sinai (Black Bedouin)

Sinai, Egypt and Negev Desert, Israel. Female 20 kg; male 50 kg. Native to dry, hot deserts, this milk and meat goat matures at 5-8 months and has a twinning rate over 50 percent. A most important characteristic is its drought tolerance. The female, for instance, can drink only once a day - at a pinch, once every other day - without losing appetite or reducing milk flow.


Several wild relatives will cross with the goat. Surprisingly, they have the same chromosome number (2n=60), and the offspring are frequently fertile. Although essentially unknown to agricultural science, these hybrids may offer a new gene pool for creating new farm animals and for improving the world's goats. They seem to combine the self-reliance of wild species with the usefulness of domestic ones. Artificial insemination and other modern techniques could make them easier to produce today than ever before.


A project in Israel has already produced a cross between the goat and the Nubian ibex (Capra ibex). The Sinai Desert goat, the breed that was used, ranks next to the camel in its ability to go without water - it often drinks only twice a week - but its meat has such a strong flavor that most people consider it dreadful. On the other hand, the ibex is compact and muscular and produces tender, mild meat that steak lovers find delicious. The product from crossbreeding the two is a creature seemingly able to endure extreme temperatures and drought, make use of poor pasture, and produce wonderful steaks.

A herd of several hundred of these hybrids (dubbed 'ya-ez") has been created at Kibbutz Lahav in the northern Negev Desert area. Both sexes are fertile, and they can be bred with each other or with either parent. The meat is already in demand on the menus of elegant Tel Aviv hotels.



In Pakistan's northern uplands, it is not uncommon to find hybrids between domestic goats and the mountain goat known as "markhor" (Capra falconeri). Each year in Chitral and Gilgit, they can be found in the goat markets.

Markhors inhabit high elevations in rugged mountains and thrive on diets so meager as to be useless to goats. The hybrids are produced when markhor males - perhaps ousted by more dominant males - come in contact with feral domestic goats. However, some farmers raise young markhor and goats together (to overcome mutual resistance) and produce their own hybrids,

For a single hybrid animal local goatherds pay up to 5,000 rupees, a princely sum in this impoverished region. Traditionally, villagers have kept them as stud animals. They appreciate the animal's genetic endowment. Markhors tolerate extremes of cold and snow, are nimble and skilled at escaping predators, and survive on scanty fodder, Moreover, they have a high reproduction potential because they generally produce twins. As a result, they also tend to give more milk and it is rich in nutritive value. Instead of long body hairs, markhors possess insulating underfur - a soft and valuable raw material for the famous Kashmiri shawls.

Apparently, the hybrids can possess many of these qualities together with a calm disposition. Thus they could be useful in themselves and as conduits for passing such traits on to goats.

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