Yesterday, Snow Leopard made the comment ‘Having three goats must make for some interesting goat politics‘.  That is a good observation, so I thought today I would try to describe their hierarchy.  Goats have their position on the social ladder decided by head-butting contests.  They battle each other like medieval knights, one-on-one.  Here’s how to win:


1. Height rules, so stand on higher ground than your opponent and then get up on your hind legs.

2. Cock your head sideways and eye your opponent’s head.

3. Butt your horns downwards on to the other goat.  She will just stand there while you are doing this.

Next, charge at your opponent’s side and butt her in the ribs as hard as you can.

Repeat these steps until your opponent runs away (you have won).

It is not as straightforward as it sounds, though.  The biggest one in the herd isn’t necessarily head goat.  It takes time to learn fighting skills.  Supposing you are a short, but ambitious goat and you want to make an impression on the others: a good trick is to hook your horns underneath your opponent’s body and jerk your head upwards fast.  It’s not just physical, brains play nearly as big a part as brawn.  Being able to convince your opponents you’re unbeatable isn’t a question of size, it is about how confident you appear even when inside you might feel like running away.  It’s like becoming a good poker player, you have to learn how to bluff.  It’s fun to watch a contest because you can see all this going through the winner’s mind as they’re doing battle.

What’s the point of being head goat?  It is mostly about food.  You get first choice of everything while the others just stand back and wait until you are finished.  If there is a catch it is that the other goats are going to be expecting you to stand in front when they come face to face with a panting great dane.  You never know how goats are going to react with a dog: sometimes they run, sometimes the dog runs, sometimes they all run and sometimes they just sniff each other.  It isn’t about size, there’s a lot  more to it than that: body-language things, carnivores and herbivores.

We have three Angora (or Mohair) goats:  Holly; her cousin Misty, who is her age and breed——part Asiatic and part Texas (Texas is smaller, but with the softest, finest wool)——and Vesle (Vesle means ‘Tiny’ in Norwegian) who is unrelated to the others, one year older and a Texan goat.

Vesle is really small, pure Texas, no bigger than a retriever, although unsheared she seems a lot fatter——more like a little pig than a dog.  Vesle gets beaten up by Misty all the time, but although she is much smaller than Holly, as well, of those two it’s Vesle who is the boss.  Early on, when Holly was small, she won the head-butting and now she keeps her position by giving Holly at least one butt every day.  Holly isn’t bottom, it’s a vicious circle——literally——what happens is this: Holly butts Misty, Misty charges at Vesle and Vesle hooks Holly from underneath.  So Holly butts Misty again and they do the whole thing one more time, only running.

butting, plan view