In this fact sheet: Goat production & welfare, Goat milk, Goat hair, Disease, Slaughter, References


Goats are farmed for their milk, meat, hair (mohair/cashmere) and hide. They are also used to graze land (1).

There are around 88,000 goats in the UK, half of which are adults used for breeding. In England and Wales there are 30,000 milk-producing goats (1). Most goat meat comes from male kids which are surplus to the dairy herd (2).

Goat production & welfare

Goats naturally like to browse and cover a wide range for their food and grazing. Their coats are made from hair and, unlike sheep which produce lanolin in the wool, goats do not have natural waterproofing and like to shelter in the wet weather (1). Goats are very inquisitive, social animals, but are not flock-orientated (3,4). Many breeds in the UK require more protection from inclement weather than cattle or sheep. Housing should be dry and well-lit with sufficient ventilation which does not cause draughts and the lying area should be covered. Housed goats should have access to a yard or pasture (1).  

A goat under 6 months of age is known as a ‘kid’. Adult female goats are ‘does’, and the term ‘nanny’ is applied to mother goats with kids. Male goats are ‘bucks’ and when they are castrated they are known as ‘wethers’ (3). Female kids become sexually mature at around 6 months of age and are bred at 18 months. Their gestation period is 5 months and they produce 1-2 kids each gestation (1, 2). The majority of goats are mated naturally (with one male serving 30-40 females). The productive life of a dairy/fiber goat is 7 years (2). Goats should be kept in accommodation which is dry underfoot and hooves should be regularly trimmed to prevent lameness from overgrowth.

Goats may have to endure mutilations such as castration, disbudding and dehorning. Disbudding must be carried out at the earliest possible age (2-3 days) but no later than 10 days. Goats over the age of 6 months can be tethered, as long as it does not cause distress or injury to them, but the tethering of kids is not allowed (1).

Goat milk

60% of goats are kept in small herds for milk production (5). The main breeds are British Saanen, British Toggenburg, British Alpine and Anglo Nubian. British Saanen goats produce higher milk yields and are most commonly used commercially. Anglo Nubians produce a higher fat content (2). The average lactation length is 9 months with average yields of 500 - 1,200 litres (5). Goats can milk through to 24 months but should be supported by adequate nutrition (1). In commercial dairy units, most kids are taken from their mothers after receiving colostrum for 24 hours, then fed on milk replacer. Colostrum is the first milk that goats produce and contains essential antibodies, vitamins and minerals, and cannot be sold as regular milk for human consumption. When kids are artificially reared, they are weaned at around 6-8 weeks of age and should always have access to milk substitutes or be fed at least 2 or 3 times each day. (2). Unwanted kids are disposed of (slaughtered) on the farm (1).

The choice of milking depends largely on the number of goats kept. Those who keep just a few will probably milk by hand compared to those with large herds, who will use a milking machine. About 75% of British goat milk is used in cheese production (5). The practice of zero grazing (no access to the outdoors) is becoming more common as it is more convenient for the farmer.

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The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Limited, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham WA14 4QG
Registered Charity No. 259358, Registered Company No. 959115 (England and Wales)

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