Story: Goats and goat farming

Goats have been domesticated for many centuries around the world. In New Zealand, feral goats live in areas of scrub. Goats are also farmed for their milk, meat and fibre.

Story by Allan Gillingham
Main image: Cashmere goats

Story summary

All images & media in this story

People have kept goats for milk, meat and fibre for many centuries. Around the world today, more people drink milk and eat meat from goats than from any other animal.

Goat characteristics

Goats feed on a wide range of plants. Goats can be white, black, brown or more than one colour, and both males and females can have horns. Males have beards, and a strong smell in the breeding season. Most goats have floppy ears.

Goats in New Zealand

British navigator James Cook brought a milking goat with him on his first trip to New Zealand. On his second trip, in 1773, he released goats. More were later imported for sailors, castaways and miners to use as food. The animals spread around the country, and have eaten and damaged native vegetation. Today, goats are farmed for milk, meat, and fibre from their hair.

Weed control

Goats can eat tough plants like blackberry, gorse and thistle, so they are often used to control weeds. Farmers sometimes tie them up by the edge of the road, where they eat long grass and weeds and keep the area tidy.


Goat milk is nutritious and easy for people to digest. It has a strong taste, and is good for making cheese. Goats can be milked by hand or machine. In New Zealand, most goat milk is from the Saanen breed.

Fibre from goats

Angora goats have long ringlets which can be shorn off to produce mohair. This soft fibre is used for clothes and furnishings. Several breeds of goat also provide cashmere – very soft undercoat hair, which can be separated from the goat’s coarser hair and made into clothes.


Goat meat is popular around the world. In New Zealand the main breeds for meat production are Boer and Kiko goats.


Goats usually mate from late summer to late winter. They often have twins.


Goats can have problems with their feet. Like sheep, they can get internal parasite worms. Goats need good shelter from rain and wind, especially after shearing.

How to cite this page:

Allan Gillingham, 'Goats and goat farming', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Allan Gillingham, published 24 November 2008