goat, ruminant mammal with hollow horns and coarse hair belonging to the genus Capra of the cattle family and closely related to the sheep. True wild goats, all of Old World origin, include the Persian bezoar goat, or pasan, possibly the ancestor of the domestic varieties; the several species of ibex (including the tur), and the markhor of Asia, with spirally twisted horns. The Rocky Mountain goat and the chamois are not true goats but are closely related. Goats are hardy cliff dwellers, preferring an arid climate. They live in herds and feed on grass, weeds, shrubs, and other vegetation.
Goats were domesticated early; they are pictured in ancient Egyptian art and mentioned in the Bible. Domestic goats, varieties of Capra hircus, are found throughout the world, most abundantly in Asia. They are raised for milk, flesh, hair and wool, skins, and, in certain areas, to control scrub growth. Goat's milk is easily digested and has greater protein and fat content than that of cows, and goats have been used historically to wet-nurse human infants. The chief dairy breeds in the United States are the Toggenburg and Saanen (both of Swiss origin), as well as the Nubian, French Alpine, and Rock Alpine goats. Many dairy goats are hornless. The Cashmere goat is raised in central Asia, N India, and Iran for the wool of its downy undercoat. Angora goats, whose clipped wool is known as mohair, are more numerous than other breeds in the United States; they are raised chiefly in Texas. The Spanish, or common, goat, familiar in the Southwest, was brought to Mexico by early Spanish settlers.
Goats are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Bovidae.
See D. Mackenzie, Goat Husbandry (3d ed. 1970).
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