I’ve always wondered why goats yell like that…
Apparently, back in 2013, Slate went looking for the answer…
We asked the goat experts. The first thing we learned is that the goat experts are not amused. “Maybe for some it is entertaining,” Dr. An Peischel of Tennesse State University told me. “I am a goat producer and don’t consider it entertainment at all.”
They were quick to point out that some of these “goats” are not, in fact, goats at all. “The individuals making the noises were not all goats,” wrote Dr. Peischel, “There are several sheep involved.”
Yelling, for goats, is not unusual. They will yell for all sorts of reasons. “Mother goats call for their young when they get separated,” explained goat specialist Dr. Daniel Waldron of Texas A&M, and “young kid goats also call for their mothers.” “Goats may also ‘yell’ when they expect to get fed,” continued Dr. Waldron. “If I feed one pen of goats, the second pen may start ‘yelling’ because they want to be fed right now.”
Huh. So that’s interesting… I wonder if there’s more information?
Like… for example… can goats specifically “talk” to humans, in a similar way dogs do?
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an animal that spends the majority of its life chewing, these body-language-based conversations tend to revolve around food.
But the findings show that goats may be far more intelligent than they are perhaps given credit for.
Biologists at Queen Mary University of London found the goats use their gaze in the same way as dogs when they face a problem they cannot solve.
For example, if they cannot reach a tasty morsel of food placed just beyond their reach, the goats will gaze repeatedly between the snack and a human in the same room.
Dogs have been found to use similar approaches to communicate that they would like some help to get the food.
In their study published in the journal Biology Letters, the researchers found the goats also changed how they directed their gaze depending on what a human was doing.
At least, it appears so…
That link goes directly to the study. I’ll quote the abstract here…
Domestication is an important factor driving changes in animal cognition and behaviour. In particular, the capacity of dogs to communicate in a referential and intentional way with humans is considered a key outcome of how domestication as a companion animal shaped the canid brain. However, the lack of comparison with other domestic animals makes general conclusions about how domestication has affected these important cognitive features difficult. We investigated human-directed behaviour in an ‘unsolvable problem’ task in a domestic, but non-companion species: goats. During the test, goats experienced a forward-facing or an away-facing person. They gazed towards the forward-facing person earlier and for longer and showed more gaze alternations and a lower latency until the first gaze alternation when the person was forward-facing. Our results provide strong evidence for audience-dependent human-directed visual orienting behaviour in a species that was domesticated primarily for production, and show similarities with the referential and intentional communicative behaviour exhibited by domestic companion animals such as dogs and horses. This indicates that domestication has a much broader impact on heterospecific communication than previously believed.
So goats might be even more communicative with us than we (or at least I) thought. Which is rather interesting, and kind of cool.