Goat Capra hircus

About this pest

Key Clues

Distinctive features: A sheep-sized animal with short hair, pointed horns and a beard. Colour can be white, black, brown or a combination of these.

Size: Males average 39 kg, while females average 30 kg. Males are about 680 mm tall with a body length of 1.3 m.  Females are about 620mm tall with a body length of 1.2 m.

Droppings: Found singly or in groups, pellets are as large as 20 × 8 mm with an elongated, oval outline.

Footprints: Cleaved hooves with pointed, slightly in-curved tips.

Kill signs: Not applicable (herbivore).

Vegetation damage: Browsers, with short-term impacts on forest understorey and longer-term impacts on forest regeneration.

Eye shine: Greenish blue.

Distribution: Feral goats are widespread, though patchily distributed, across both North Island and South Island and occur on four offshore islands.

Why are goats pests?

Ecological impacts

In New Zealand, feral goats have adversely affected vegetation, fauna and land stability. Browsing by goats can significantly reduce vegetation biomass (total quantity or weight of vegetation in an area) and can have short-term consequences on forests by changing the types of species in the understorey.  In the long-term, this can affect forest regeneration. Goats are agile and sure-footed climbers and jumpers so they can get to places many other ungulate (hoofed mammal) browsers cannot.

In the Paparoa Range, Westland, where vegetation was protected from browsing by goats, hares and possums, there were more browse-sensitive species (e.g. the alpine herb Anisotome haastii) than in unprotected areas. In podocarp-hardwood forests in parts of the King Country, significant recovery of the understorey has been observed, particularly in canopy gaps, following goat control. Goats have also had profound impacts on some offshore islands. On Raoul Island, in the Kermadec Island group, locally endemic plant species became rare as a result of over-browsing by goats. After goats were removed from the island in 1984, a dramatic return of these species occurred and the density of the understorey has increased.

Read more about goats.


Droppings

Separate

Faecal pellets can be found singly but are more typically found in groups. Individual pellets have an elongated oval shape, smoothly rounded at the ends. Pellets rarely adhere to each other and measure up to 20 × 8 mm. They are usually clean and dry but can have a moist oily-like texture from anal mucous when they are first deposited. The droppings are usually almost odourless. Sometimes pellets are found in deep layers in sites where goats spend the night.

Can be confused with:
Similar to droppigns of sika deer and fallow deer, and are difficult to distinguish from those of sheep. They can also be confused with the droppings of young red deer which lack the dinge-and-nipple found on the ends of pellets from adult deer.

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Footprints and Tracks

Hooves

Goat footprints show cleaved (two symmetrical parts) hooves with slightly incurved tips. The footprints of goats are more kidney shaped (due to the curve on the inside of the toe) than sheep, pig or deer prints. Footprint dimensions are approximately 55mm long by 25 mm wide for adults.

Can be confused with:
Goat footprints can be confused with those of deer, particularly sika deer, but goats have more kidney shaped footprints (due to the curve on the inside of the toe). They are also distinguishable from those of sheep, as the latter have blunt tips.

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Have a look at all of our tracks.

Vegetation Damage

Tree Tops (Canopy taller than 3m)

Goats are able to feed by standing on their hind legs, which means that they can reach vegetation that is 2 m high, which can include the top of shrubs and small trees. Goats are surefooted and will sometimes climb sloping trunks and branches to reach even higher. They are also superb rock climbers and will browse vegetation and the fruits and flowers of some species if these are within reach.

Can be confused with:
Deer species can sometimes reach high enough to browse the top of short trees and shrubs. Possums will also eat canopy foliage, but there will be fewer broken branches hanging down.

Understorey (less than 3m)

When feral goats are abundant they can denude vegetation and change the composition of species in the forest understorey. Despite their reputation as eating almost anything, like deer, goats have preferences and will first select palatable species such as broadleaf (Griselinina littoralis), kiekie (Freycinetia banksii) and mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus), quickly reducing their abundance in an area. Goat are more likely to eat prickly species such as mingimingi (Leucopogon fasciculatus) and gorse than deer.

Can be confused with:
The impact of goats on the understorey can look similar to that of deer and other browsing ungulates. Goats will eat a wider range of of species, including those with prickly foliage, and will often crop plants closer to the ground than deer.

Bark

Goats are able to survive on many plant species that are often considered unpalatable to other ungulates. They can digest roughage and harsh woody vegetation, including the bark and branches of some species. Goats were deliberately used by early settlers to prevent the spread of species such as blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) on newly cleared land.

Can be confused with:
Removal of bark from trees by goats will sometimes be confused with antler rubbing by deer. Goat teeth marks may be obvious in the soft wood underneath, although deer can also scrape their teeth down a trunk.

plant leaves

Goats are browsers and usually leave cleanly cut leaves and shoots as feeding sign. However, when the stems are too tough to bite through they can be torn off leaving ragged wood fibre edges.

Can be confused with:
Goat feeding sign is difficult to distinguish from that of other browsing herbivores such as deer, and sheep, and wallabies where these occur.

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Kill Sign

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Other Clues

Smell

A pungent smell is produced from the subcaudal glands of alarmed or rutting males. It is fairly distinctive and can be described as a stale milk/urine smell.

Sound

Goats make a distinctive ‘meh’. During courtship males chase females relentlessly, while making a gobbling sound and flaring their nostrils. You may also hear the crashing of horns when males fight for females.

Can be confused with:
In coastal locations, goat bleating can be confused with seabird cries. It can also sound similar to sheep calls, but sheep make more of a ‘bah’ sound.

Body covering

Feral goats are usually short-haired with variable amounts of underfur (cashmere fleece, ‘pashmina’). Some populations of angora origin have longer coats.

Can be confused with:
Fur caught on a fence or in vegetation could potentially be confused with sheep’s wool, especially for angora goat types.

Bite marks

Goats have no incisors in their upper jaw; instead they use the incisors at the front of the bottom jaw to chomp up against a bony pad at the front of the upper jaw. They have no canine teeth and are typical of grazing/browsing herbivores in having numerous premolars and molars at the back of the jaw for chewing and granding their plant food.

For guidance on identifying goat bite marks go to page 23 of the Landcare Research identification guide.

Eye shine

Greenish blue.

Distribution

Feral goats are present on both the North and South Islands and have been present at various times on 34 offshore islands, but currently only occur on four (Arapawa, Forsyth, Great Barrier and Great Mercury Islands). They do not occur on Stewart Island. Their distribution is patchy but it is estimated they currently occupy 39,500 km2 of New Zealand.

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More about goats

Origin

Feral goats are domestic goats that have become established in the wild. Their most likely ancestor is the bezoar ibex (Capra aegagrus aegagrus), which originated in Eastern Europe and South Western Asia where the first domestication of goats took place. Today, feral goats can be found in many parts of the world. They have been introduced to New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Great Britain, Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands. Populations are formed from escapes from domestic herds, rather than deliberate releases. It is believed that as a consequence of farm escapes, 62 new herds were established between 1993 and 1996.

Description

Goats are sheep-sized animals with short hair, pointed horns and a beard. Both sexes have horns but they tend to be larger in males. All males and some females have beards. Goat hair can be white, black, brown in colour or a combination of these. The hind-quarter hair may be shaggy, as may the neck and shoulder hair of males. Tails are short (100–130 mm), tufted and can be carried erect. Goat eyes have notable yellow irises.

Size and weight

Males average 39 kg and females 30 kg in weight. Males are about 680 mm tall with a body length of 1.3 m. Females are about 620 mm tall with a body length of 1.2m. Male horns average 386 mm in length and 453 mm in span; female horns average 159 mm in length and 162 mm span.
Behaviour

Feral goats are diurnal (active during the day, sleeping at night), with unsynchronised periods of feeding and resting. Social units usually comprise females and their offspring from the previous year though, sometimes, males join these matriarchal groupings. Males can also form their own mixed-age groups, which quite commonly dissolve and reform. Female goats can be pregnant during any month and have a 150-day gestation period. During courtship, males chase females relentlessly, while making a gobbling sound and flaring their nostrils. Males will also chase off competing males, often clashing horns.

Diet

Goats are browsers. They are able to eat a variety of plant material but have preferences for certain species when they are available e.g. broadleaf (Griselinina littoralis) and mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus). Diet studies have found the rumen (stomach) of forest dwelling feral goats to contain an average of 19 plant species at any one time and, sometimes, as many as 30 different plant species. Goats are able to digest woody material and will often survive on whatever is available, including gorse (Ulex europaeus).  Like other hooved animals they also eat pasture grass species.

Habitat

Feral goats occupy a wide variety of habitats in New Zealand. On offshore islands, this varies between peaty moorland on Auckland Island to sub-tropical forest on Raoul Island. On the North Island and South Island, goats range from sea level to the alpine zone, utilizing introduced and native grasslands, scrub and forest. However, forest or scrub covered areas with rocky substrates is their characteristic habitat.  They are very adapt at climbing steep faces.

Distribution in New Zealand

See distribution clue.

Other

Some people consider feral goats to be a resource. Feral goats of Angora origin have been captured and integrated into mohair-producing flocks. In some regions, feral goats are used to control woody weeds such as gorse and sweet briar.

How to get rid of goats

Contact your local Department of Conservation office for advice (see Next Steps).  The main method for controlling feral goats is hunting. Judas goats are often used to locate the whole herd.  Judas goats are a member of a goat herd that has been caught and fitted with a radio telemetry collar. Hunters then use radio-tracking equipment to follow the goat, which leads them to other goats in the herd.  Hunting can be done from helicopters or by professional ground hunters with or without dogs.


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FIND MORE INFORMATION IN:

Barton, I. (1990). A handbook for the Assessment of Noxious Animal Damage in Auckland Forests. Unpublished report, Auckland  Regional Council, Auckland.

Parkes J.P. (2005). Feral goat. In King, C.M., (Ed.), The handbook of New Zealand mammals (pp. 374-392). Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Stronge D., and Dijkgraaf A. 2001: Wild Animal Control Report 1998/99 & 1999/2000. Wanganui Conservancy. Wild Animal Control Report Department of Conservation, Wanganui.

Stronge D., Mackintosh A., Dijkgraaf A., & Hawcroft A. (2004). Wild Animal Control Report: 2000/2001 & 2001/2002 Wanganui Conservancy (p. 116). Internal report, Department of Conservation, Wanganui.