GOAT. Goats are one of the earliest domesticated animals, providing humankind with milk, meat, hides, and fiber. They include several species of small, cloven-hoofed ruminants constituting the genus Capra. Similar to other ruminants, including cows and sheep, goats process plant roughage through a fermentation process within their compartmentalized stomachs, and they chew regurgitated, partially digested food known as cud. Unlike other ruminants, goats are agile browsers, preferring to reach upwards for foods such as the leaves, fruit, and bark of small trees rather than grazing on grasses. When the desired foods are unavailable, however, goats will consume any plant material accessible. It is this foraging ability and flexibility of diet that has secured the importance of goats as a food source in the world's subsistence economies.
Wild ancestors of modern goats, known as Persian or Bezoar goats (Capra aegagrus ) once roamed from South Asia to Crete. It is believed human goatherding began 10,000 years ago in the Zagros highlands of western Iran, as evidenced through selective slaughter of young males. DNA studies support that domestication began at that time due to the rapid growth of the goat population. Domesticated goats (Capra hircus ) demonstrate remarkable genetic uniformity worldwide. Genetic analysis suggests that goats were a commonly traded in ancient times, which dispersed the population to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Later, they provided a convenient source of milk and meat aboard the ships of European explorers, who introduced goats to the New World.
Selective breeding of goats has resulted in animals smaller than their ancestors, and with greater diversity of coat length, texture, and color. Noses are straight or convex; ears vary from negligible external organs to pendulous and droopy. Both males (bucks) and females (does) are horned. Hornless (polled) animals have been bred, though the recessive polled trait is associated with infertility. (Goat horns are frequently removed after they bud to prevent accidents.) One characteristic that has not changed with domestication is goat intelligence, judged superior to that of dogs. Numerous breeds have been developed for meat, milk, and fiber (including angora for mohair, and cashmere), in addition to being bred for hardiness and suitability to specific geographic regions.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that in 2001 close to 693 million goats were kept worldwide, with 95 percent of all stock found in developing countries. This compares to 1.3 billion cattle and 1 billion sheep. Regionally, South Asia has the most goats, with 205 million head, followed by East and Southeast Asia, due largely to the 157 million in China. Other nations with significant goat populations (in descending order) are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, and Somalia.
Official statistics on goat meat and milk greatly underestimate production since many goats are raised for personal family use. Primarily nations with large numbers of animals accounted for the most meat: over one-third of the global supply in 2001 came from China. Other significant producers include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sudan, and Iran. Commercial milk production did not correlate so closely with number of head, however, reflecting cultural differences in dairy food use. In 2001, major producers were India, Bangladesh, and Sudan, followed by Pakistan, Somalia, Spain, Russia, France, and Greece.
Meat. Goat meat has a taste similar to mutton, with a slightly gamy flavor. It is lower in fat than either beef or mutton (due to a fat layer exterior to the muscle rather than marbled through it), and can be drier. The United States Department of Agriculture describes quality goat meat as firm and finely grained. The color can vary between females and males, from light pink to bright red. Kids, defined as under one year old, are often slaughtered at three to five months of age. Their meat is less flavorful and juicy, but more tender than the meat of older goats.
Goat meat is an important protein source in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It is consumed regularly in some parts of Latin America, such as the Caribbean, Mexico, and Brazil, and is regionally popular in China, Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. The entire goat is usually consumed. An eviscerated carcass is typically cut, flesh and bone, into cubes for stewing, used in dishes such as curried goat and garlic-flavored caldereta, a Spanish specialty found also in Latin America and the Philippines. Roasted goat is popular worldwide, often considered a special-occasion food. In Saudi Arabia, the cavity is stuffed with rice, fruits, and nuts. Jerked goat leg, heavily seasoned before cooking over allspice wood, is a Jamaican specialty.
Organ meats are eaten, too. Goat's head soup is prepared in most regions where the meat is consumed. The dish is known as isiewu in Nigeria; the eyes are considered a delicacy. In Morocco, kidneys, liver, heart, lung, and pancreas are added to the meat to make goat tagine. In Kyrgyzstan, the testicles are roasted separately over the fire for consumption by men, and washed down with vodka. In the Philippines, paklay is an Ilocano specialty that combines goat intestines with sour fruits, such as unripe pineapple.