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Polly's Goat Research Project

The Tribe - By Polly , Year 7

Over the last 6 weeks I have spent hours of quality time with the goats; testing their intelligence, investigating what really motivates them, observing their ability to love and show affection as well as just hanging out which has allowed me a unique insight into life in the tribe.

In matters of love and affection I have observed that the goats can be both loving and affectionate. I have observed that it is difficult for our goats to really show affection towards you when there is a crowd or a large distraction of food, so I also spent time with the goats alone (out of goat club hours) and without food. When I did this I found that they can be affectionate and show they love you by sitting down with you or even rubbing their heads on you to represent the action of stroking you do to them. Ms Goldsmith believes that Alan is the only goat who seeks affection regardless of if you have food or not and that Ethel also enjoys human company. However I have warmed to Bertie, believing him to be the most affectionate so it could be subjective. Generally I think that the goats are more affectionate if you are at their height or if they are on a bench for example. I think they would  feel intimidated if you were to stand at twice their height and chase them around while trying to stroke them, but if you were to sit down they will not be as scared in fact they might even come towards you and sit with you. We also wanted to test a theory that the goats may respond to our emotions as with dogs: ‘According to the University of London researchers found that dogs were more inclined to approach a crying person than someone who was talking or humming, and that they responded to crying with submissive behaviour.’ Unfortunately our goats responded with apathy however I wasn’t genuinely upset and therefore I can not have been emitting the right hormones or smells.


Our varndean goats rely on humans allot: for food such as fruit, veg and straw; To help keep their pen tidy; and also to keep clean and groomed. But Queen Mary University of London have found that ‘goats will gaze imploringly at their owners when they are struggling to complete a task’, a trait common in dogs but not wolves. To my knowledge our goats have not shown signs of asking for help. They just give up instead.

Through my investigations and observations into goats intelligence I have found that goats are very intelligent. According to my research goats are more intelligent than sheep. This has been proven by British researchers who got 12 goats together and taught them how to open a box of food by pulling and then lifting a lever. After 12 tries, most of them learned it. They quizzed the goats on the skill after a month. Then after 10 months the goats were tested again. After all that time, they still remembered how to do it in less than two minutes. They can remember lots of things, such as tricks that were learnt in the past to tricks they are more familiar with that were taught recently. We tested the goat Ethel on a trick she had learnt six months previously.. She performed the trick quickly and fluently just like she had done six months before. This proves that they have very good long term memory.

One study from Frontiers of Zoology believes that goats follow the "behavioral flexibility hypothesis," which says evolution favors animals bright enough to forage for food and remember where they can find shelter. A good long term memory could help a goat remember where a juicy patch of grass is or . According to M.A Russello ‘It is an important adaptive response to changing environments’.

They can recognise human faces that they have seen before eg.when Miss Goldsmith walks past the window they will communicate to each other and run to the door. I predicted that the goats probably recognise faces and they dislike and faces that they know will give them food,like Ms Goldsmith however as you will read in the interview Ms Goldsmith believes that they recognise body shapes and colours more than faces. They also recognise each other such as how Bertie hates Angel and attacks her every time she is close as well as recognising other animals such as the visiting alpacas. They can also tell if you have food. I am not sure if they have a great sense of smell or can recognise a colour or packaging of the food or container. Fellow goat wrangler/whisperer Felicity believes that they recognise her yellow bag which often has dead leaves in it and the goats definitely recognise Sophie’s green food box which they all run towards. Whenever it is held in the air they all react and all run over to it . However when I tested their sense of smell I found out that their sense is rubbish. Either they can't smell well or they can’t be bothered to retrieve the food. But either way they are still very intelligent.

Opinions on goats

Some people may think goats are therapeutic others may think there is nothing worse than getting muddy and playing with farmyard animal. Goats can be a comforting animal. It is easy to understand how it would be therapeutic to stoke a goat but also easy to understand the worry of the goats attacking or biting you as they are wild animals and have horns that are used for fighting. Although they don't have horns any more it is possible that the still carry this defensive instinct of head butting. Goats will attack you if they strongly feel they are in danger but this relates to every animal. People just think goats are more dangerous because of their horns and and unique defence system of head butting you over.

Team work

I have found out that goats are sometimes collaborative but other times very selfish. A good example of them being collaborative is when they work together to get food. They will work together by all pushing or standing on the hay storage (a bin) and try to knock it over. They will usually succeed but only if they work together. I have discovered that they are also very selfish.

I found this out when Angel came along. When ever they were eating they would head butt Angel and not let him eat their food but this is not the first time it has happened. When Downs and Pavilion came they were treated badly by the other goats but after about a month they are treated equally. I don't know if the goats are mean because they are unsure of the others new  and all of the others didn't know how to react. Perhaps it is like a ‘every goat for itself’ scenario or maybe it is a sign of fear of the unknown (or unknown goats in this case).

However they do recognise the faces of other goats I know because when we removed Alan from the flock they all seemed to start crying or calling in a sad way. Perhaps Alan shows some significance to the goats like the leader. Or perhaps he is just a nice goat. It is odd though because when we took Ethel the goats didn't care. They do all have some relationship with each other. Even if the relationship is as much as not attacking each other. Respect. Hierarchy.Then we come to the conclusion of if they really are collaborative and I think yes. In the wild this would be essential for survival but I wonder if being domestic has changed our Varndean goats to be more individual which means they act more selfishly or If they still carry their instincts of helping each other.



Interview with Ms Goldsmith

We asked Ms Goldsmith what she thought about certain questions related to the goats and here are  the answers:

Do they recognise you? And how do they show it?I think they don’t recognise faces but instead shapes, colour and smell. They  will recognize a certain colour such as the colour of the green goat leader jacket or a shape of a person with a certain shape or smell. They will associate this person with food or affection and react to seeing them

Why do you think Downs is so aggressive? I think this is because he is maturing and thinks he needs to prove himself to the other goats as he is smaller and the ‘runt of the litter’. He will probably never grow taller so it is important that he earns a place and can stand up for himself


What is the hierarchy of the goats? It changes all the time. When they first arrived I think William was the head goat because of the way he acted around the other goats. Then I think it changed to Ethel, then to Bertie.


How affectionate do you think they are? And how do they show it?  Most of their actions are based on food. And they most of the time they will decide if they like you if you have food. But some of the goats are affectionate. I feel Alan is the most affectionate out of all the goats.


Do you think the goats will ever accept Angel into their tribe? I am not worried about Angel Because I have noticed the goats including and protecting him. I noticed this when the goats met my dogs they seemed to make a circle of protection. William and Ethel were at the front, Alan was at the back, Bertie was everywhere and just walking about but what was most interesting was that the babies and Angel were in the middle. It is nice that the goats were protecting Angel when they were in trouble.