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There are a number of different goat breeds, many of which have purposes which overlap. As a general rule, goats are kept for milk, meat, or hair, and some are also kept as companions and work animals. All goat breeds share the traits of being very hardy, curious, and intelligent, and they can be very interesting animals to have around, whatever one's use for them might be.
Goats appear to be among the oldest of domesticated animals, with many goat breeds coming from Africa and Central Europe. Along with sheep, goats formed the cornerstone of early human farming, and although goats have been domesticated for thousands of years, they can go feral very readily. If released into the wild, goats typically go wild within a generation, which can be a serious problem, as introduced goats can cause substantial environmental damage.
Several goat breeds have been developed specifically for the purpose of dairy. One of the most famous dairy goat breeds is the Nubian, characterized by large, floppy ears, a gentle personality, and milk with unusually high butterfat, which makes cheese of a very high quality. Other dairy breeds include Saanens, Toggenburgs, La Manchas, and Oberhaslis. Many of these goat breeds are shown in competition and there are very specific breed standards for people who wish to show.
The most well known meat breed is probably the Boer goat, and the Kalahari red is another well known meat breed. Dairy goats can also be kept for their meat, with some breeders slaughtering kids to keep their population of male goats under control. Hair goats include both cashmere and angora goats, which have been crossed with other breeds to produce a number of varieties like American Cashmere Goats. These goats are sheared for their especially soft, useful hair.
The pygmy goat is used for companionship in many areas, although these goats also produce useful meat and milk. Many goat breeds are also used as working animals, to pull light carts or plows and to control unwanted plants. Institutions around the world have taken to hiring roving crews of goat “mowers,” who keep plants under control in an environmentally friendly way, and goats are also used to trim plants along roadsides. Because goats will eat a wide range of plants, they are ideally suited to this purpose, as they will gleefully clip everything in sight until led away to a new location.
In the rugged, rocky Mediterranean landscape goats do rather well. They can climb and find food in places where cows would not be able to get to. The landscape used to be rather void of vegetation in many areas because goats would eat everything in sight. Now it seems that those areas are much greener. Does it mean that there are fewer goats?
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