Goat Behavior: Why They Paw, Stomp, Bite, Headbutt and Act Out

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Goats are fun animals to own and raise, but sometimes their odd and even bad behavior can be frustrating. Sometimes their wild and often peculiar antics may have you wondering, why do goats act this way?

goat standing above the stone

At some point, all goats will display behaviors like pawing, stomping, biting, headbutting and acting out. These often bad behaviors are usually just a form of communication but they can be a signal that something is wrong. Some goat behaviors can be remedied while others are natural and harmless.

It is important to know the reason why goats act the way they do so that you can recognize any signs of distress.

The more you know about goat behavior, the easier you will be able to distinguish which behaviors can be remedied, which ones cannot, and which behaviors need to be investigated further.

Pawing

Goats will paw for several reasons. Sometimes, they will paw at the ground, at the food trough, or at random things around the farm.

goat pawing on the grass

Goats will frequently paw the ground just to make a comfortable, cool place to lay down. They will paw at the food trough or water bucket to let you know that they are thirsty or hungry.

Pregnant does will sometimes paw because they are uncomfortable and nearing the end of their pregnancy.

Goats will often paw at things they are unfamiliar with because they are still exploring and learning how things work.

You should also know that goats will also paw the ground if one of their hooves are hurting or something is stuck in it.

What to do about excessive pawing

1. Let it go

As long as they are not hurting anything, it is okay to let your goats paw at things. That is how they learn if something is breakable, movable or could hold their weight if they jump on it.

2. Remove unnecessary items

If something they are pawing at repeatedly is not needed or that you consider valuable, you can remove it from their pen or enclosure to prevent further pawing or destruction.

3. Check for injuries

If a goat is pawing with and favoring a specific leg, you should check it to make sure nothing is wrong. It is possible that the goat needs medical attention to fix the issue.

Stomping

Goats stomp when they become alarmed by something suspicious. It is a sign of dominance and signals to other goats or animals to back off.

goat stomping in the grass

Pay attention, however, if you notice a goat repeatedly stomping its feet when there is not sign of a threat.

It is very possible that they are being bitten by an insect such as ants or, even worse, lice! The pain of the bites causes them to stomp to stop the itching or pain.

Goats that are experiencing bloat will also stomp the ground because of the pain they are in.

What to do about stomping

1. Separate animals

If goats are alarmed or frightened by a dog or other animal that can be moved, consider moving the stomping-causing culprit away from the goats.

2. Check for medical issues

If they are stomping and appear to be in pain, check for signs of a parasite infestation or bloat. Watch for diarrhea, depression, and noticeable lethargy.

3. Let it go

If a goat is stomping at other goats, do not be too alarmed. It is simply how they communicate with one another. They are just telling the other goats to keep their distance.

Biting

Not every goat is a biter, but some goats do bite as a form of communication. They may simply be playing but often they are either communicating that they are irritated, or they are simply trying to get another goat’s attention.

goat biting the metal

Luckily, like cows, goats do not have any upper front teeth.

They do have front teeth on the bottom of the mouth, so if they do bite, it usually does not hurt the victim. It only hurts if they can get whatever they are biting to the back of their mouth where their molars can do some real damage.

What to do about biting

1. Separate the biting goat

Biting, or essentially their nibbling, usually does not cause a problem. If it does start to be an issue, you try to move the goat to a separated pen or paddock, away from the rest of the herd or from the goat they are biting.

2. Spray them with water!

Some goat owners recommend carrying a spray bottle full of water and spraying the goat when they try to bite you. Others suggest using a squirt gun! Either way, let the goat know that you are not okay with this bad behavior!

Headbutting

goat headbutting

Goats will headbutt one another to establish their place in the herd. If there is more than one buck in a herd, eventually one will establish its dominance.

Overtime, the dominant buck will have to headbutt with younger goats to maintain their leadership role in the herd. Whichever buck refuses to back down will be the dominant male.

Young goats will headbutt each other during times of play, instinctively practicing the dominant matchup they will experience later in life. Goats will also headbutt other animals to protect their herd if they feel threatened.  

If a goat is repeatedly headbutting humans that get its pen, it could be because there is a doe in heat, or it could just be because the goat is rude and trying to prove that it controls you as well.

What to do about headbutting?

1. Separate the bucks from one another.

Have you ever heard the saying, there is too many roosters in the hen house? The same rule applies to goat bucks. The best way to combat headbutting between bucks in your herd is to keep the bucks separated. The more bucks that are together, the more headbutting that will occur to establish dominance.

2. Keep other animals away from the offending goats unless they are needed.

If a goat is headbutting a dog or other animal, consider moving that animal away from the goat herd to prevent future events. If the dog is needed to protect you, always keep your security dog with you when you enter the goats’ enclosure.  

3. Divert their attention or stay out of the pen.

If a goat is trying to headbutt you, just ignore them and do not acknowledge them, reward them, or challenge them. Try to divert their attention and stop the headbutting before they even try. If you can, avoid going into the enclosure with them altogether.

4. Spray them with water!

Again, the same rule applies with regards to water. Use a spray bottle, squirt gun or hose to keep the goat away from you or to stop them from headbutting one another when you can. Do not get in between two goats that are fighting; always keep your distance and spray the water from outside the fence.

Jumping on you

goat jumping over

Some goats will pick up a bad habit on jumping on people and placing their front paws on your chest. When they are young, we often see this behavior as cute and endearing.

Unfortunately, as the goat ages, having a 100 plus pound goat jump on you will not seem as fun as it once did. As adults, the action can be view as an act of dominance and if you let it continue, they can accidentally injure you or someone else.

What to do about it?

1. Do not reward bad behavior

If the goat is still young, try to curb the behavior now to prevent it in the future. If it jumps up, immediately push it off you and tell it no. Do not encourage the behavior, pet it, or give treats to the goat when it is jumping on you. Instead, you should give them a treat or reward only if they listen to you when you tell them not to jump up on you.

2. Ignore them if they continue.

Goats love to get your attention and hopefully, if you ignore them when they act badly, they will get the message. If a goat is older and tries to jump on you, turn around immediately and tell them no. Do not acknowledge a goat if it continues to try to jump on you.

3. Spray them with water.

While it may not work with every goat, some goats will get the hint. Use a spray bottle, hose pipe, or even a squirt gun to spray them with water when they try to jump on you.

Mounting each other

baby goat on top of mothers back

Goats will instinctively begin mounting each other at a young age. They cannot help it, but it is important to make sure that bigger goats do not accidentally hurt the smaller goats when mounting one another.

When they are older, it will be for mating purposes, but when they are young it is just a natural form of play and establishing small feats of dominance.

What to do about mounting

1. Do not worry about it.

Unless they are hurting each other, it is okay to let them do their thing. It is simply a part of their learning process and it will subside. Eventually, it will only happen during mating time. If it is causing a problem, separate the offenders, especially if they run the risk of hurting any smaller goats.

2. Spray them with water if they attempt to mount people.

If a goat is trying to mount, you (yes it happens) consider carrying a squirt gun or water sprayer with you. A hose pipe with a good sprayer will also do the trick. They are simply establishing dominance, but it can get dangerous if they knock you down or scratch you with their hooves.

Peeing on their beards

It may seem crazy until you see it, but when a male goat is ‘in rut’ he is on the prowl for female goats that are in heat. During this time, you will see him and other bucks on your property fighting and headbutting one another.

You will also see him peeing in strange places, including, but not limited to, his own beard. He will even lower his head to make it possible.

goat peeing

For some reason, they think it helps them attract females, so do not think they have lost their minds, but do hold your breath. It will get extra smelly around the farm!

What to do about it?

1. Separate the bucks from the does, if you can.

You can try separating the buck or bucks from the does, but you will have to put a lot of distance in between them. A buck can smell a doe in heat from a good distance away.

2. Castrate males if breeding is not intended.

The other option is to have male goats castrated if you do not plan on using them as a breeding buck. That will at least cut down on the number of foul-smelling bucks you have on your property.

Other that these two options, there is not much you can do to combat their instinctive nature.

Curling their upper lip and sniffing in the air

goat curling their upper lip

Also known as the Flehmen Response, goats that sense that another goat is in heat will curl their upper lip and sniff into the air. It is a very noticeable and interesting behavior, and while not necessarily a bad behavior, it is odd.

What to do about it?

Like the peeing situation, there are not very many options for correcting this behavior. Luckily, it is not a smelly or dangerous behavior, just makes them look a little silly for a few minutes. The only way to stop this behavior is to remove the offending from the situation, but it is not very necessary.

Escaping Fences

goat standing above the fence

Goats are experts at getting out of fences and they are known to climb them if it is possible. They can squeeze throw tight areas, jump higher than you could ever imagine and physically climb some fences. It does not matter how much food they have on the inside of the pen or paddock; many goats will still test the boundaries of their fencing. Some goats want to escape simply for the fun of escaping.

What to do escape artist goats?

1. Buy goat fencing.

You can invest in fencing made specially to combat the Houdini-like nature of goats. You can find goat fencing at your local hardware or farm supply stores. It has small squares to keep baby goats from escaping. You may want to opt for the higher fencing, at least 4 and up to 6 feet high.

2. Do a perimeter check.

Move any structures at least 10 feet away from the fence, as goats will climb things and then jump over the fencing if they are close enough.

3. Consider using electric fencing.

Some farm owners use low voltage electrical fencing to keep goats from even testing the fence. Normal deterrents like barb wire will not be enough and they will easily squeeze through it.

Final Thoughts

Goats have a lot of strange behaviors, but sometimes that is just a part of being a goat. While some seemingly bad behaviors can be eliminated or deterred, but some of them cannot be fixed.

You should also never assume that a new behavior is just a new bad habit. Pay close attention to your goats and always rule out any illnesses or injuries before writing off a behavior.

April Lee

I have a love for all things farmhouse design. I am currently working on designing a custom built farmhouse from the ground up. While the actual build is a few years out, I am using this blog as a place to consolidate all of my research and design ideas. I hope that you find the information here helpful so that you too can have the farmhouse of your dreams! Remember, you don't need a farmhouse to implement farmhouse design in any space.