Should We Eat Goats?

goat meat industry

For many of us, our only connection to goats is typically through our screens. We see them regularly feature in viral videos of their vocal screams to odd facial expressions, stunts, and of course, their presence in yoga. The idea of eating a goat may be a little strange to you. While most Westerners were not raised to eat them, goat flesh is a staple part of many cultures’ diets. Every year around the world, over 400 million of them are killed for human consumption and Australia is responsible for helping meet some of this demand.

While you may not be part of this demand, it is important to understand how the industry operates and its effects on the animals, the environment, and our health. 

About Goats

Goats are social, emotional, and intelligent animals. They are inquisitive, unique, discerning, and are incredibly perceptive. Ancient studies held that goats were able to recognise and understand if the people drawing closer were hunters or merely walking, which they argued proved their intelligence [1].

Goats are emotional and incredibly social.

Emotions are very important because they facilitate the choosing of appropriate decisions in response to events and stimuli [2]. Despite misconceptions and myth, there is compelling and overwhelming evidence that many other animals experience a range of emotions, including joy, fear, love, despair, and grief [3]. Once upon a time, scientists were reluctant to recognise emotions to other animals. Now, that taboo is considered archaic, outdated, and fundamentally out of sync with sound science [4]. Though they are popularly known for and associated with their formidable head-butting skills and their seemingly crazed jumping routines (YouTube “Buttercup the goat and friends”), the rich and complex emotional lives of goats has been significantly underestimated [5]. We are, in many ways and in those that matter most, a lot like them [6]. 

Goats talk to and learn from each other.

Goats are very vocal animals. They even murmur in their sleep [7]. They can sense subtle emotional changes in each others vocal calls [8]. A lot like us, they can also discern the calls of friends from those of strangers [9]. That means they can distinguish between other goats’ emotions, such as happiness or sadness, simply by listening to their voices [10]. They can also use cues from others to locate and access food [11]. Yet, it goes far further than interactions with their own species. Other studies have found that goats prefer to interact and engage with happy human faces [12]. This means that they can discriminate between friendly faces and negative perceptions can be tied to past experiences with those people, as has been shown in other species [13]. They understand the gestures we make with our hands [14]. They even show physical and psychological benefits from massage therapy [15]. This means that they are conscious of and sensitive to our emotional and physical cues, too! 

Goats are highly intelligent and have impressive long-term memories.

The emotions described above have serious ethical ramifications. As the author of one study said: “if we treat an animal in bad conditions, there could be consequences that could spread in a group of animals [and] it’s up to us if we want to use that in a positive or negative way” [16]. Goats are highly intelligent animals who have been used for their meat, milk, skin, and fur since they were first domesticated up to 10,000 years ago [17]. They enjoy exploring their surroundings and are naturally curious animals [18]. Goats can perform matching tasks with simple visual symbols [19]. That they have “impressive” long-term memories which allow them to accurately distinguish between objects first seen several weeks earlier means that they are far more intelligent than is often believed [20].

Goats are loving mothers.

Like many other ungulates, goats live in large social groups where females generally give birth at the same time [21]. After birth, they form fast and strong relationships with their offspring [22]. These relationships, referred to as “imprinting”, are formed almost immediately [23]. During the first week, kids are completely dependent on their mothers. After approximately 15 weeks, they begin spending more time with other goats of their own age [24]. Like cows, goats lick their newborns and establish a bond by doing so [25]. They also quickly learn to recognise their babies within 4 hours of birth and can identify them by voice by 48 [26]. Kids use distress calls to alert their mother where they are with sounds which vary with age, sex and body size [27]. 

Goats have distinct personalities.

Like the reluctant scientists refusing to recognise emotions to other animals, there has been a similar trend to discount the existence of individual personalities in animals [28]. Like us, animals consistently differ from one another [29]. And like us, the mother in the animal kingdom is a significant influence [30]. Every goat has a distinct individual personality [31]. Some are bold, while others are shy – no two are the same. This has been known for a very long time, at least since Aesop’s tales were written in the 14th century [32]. Many farmers acknowledge this, noting that they continue to surprise them with their unique personalities. Some have said that “people just think you throw ‘em in a field and they’re just a goat, but they have personalities [and] they can be a pet just like a dog” [33]. 

The Industry

While Australia has a relatively small demand for goat flesh, around the world, they are one of the most widely consumed animals [34]. Annually, around 450,000,000 goats are killed for human consumption [35], with over 1.65 million individuals slaughtered in Australia every year [36]. Their flesh is popular in North Africa, the Middle East, among Hispanic populations in the US, and parts of Asia [36]. Australia has become the largest exporter for goats and goat meat in the world [37], sending to the US, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Trinidad and Tobago [34]

Standards and Welfare Issues

The following information is in regards to the Australian goat meat industry. There are over 40 goat producers, both meat and dairy, in Australia [38].

Wild-Caught

Goats were introduced into Australia in 1788, with the first fleet and were released onto islands and various areas of the mainland as an “emergency” food source [39]. All of the wild goats are descendants from the originals, who are now known as Rangeland goats. They have adapted to the environment and thrived, but are now viewed as “pests”.

Previously, wild goats were caught and sold for human consumption, however, 90% of goats killed are actually “semi-wild” meaning they are part of a partially managed system. This method involves trapping animals from the wild and occasionally introducing a buck to breed with females for “higher quality” products [40].

There are a few mustering methods used in Australia, involving motorbikes, dogs, and light aircraft [40]. Farmers will go out on motorbikes and round up entire herds, eventually forcing them into trapping stations. Aircraft are sometimes used to find the herd and direct the people on motorbikes. Occasionally they will use a “Judas” goat, where one animal is caught, fitted with a tracking GPS, and released. The producers will then be able to know the exact location of the herd and will go and round them up. Once a herd is found, the animals are directed towards the trapping station, where they can enter, but are unable to leave. These stations are typically set up around water sources.

Judas goat,

Drafting and Culling

Once rounded up, goats are separated based on their height, weight, and behaviour. Weaker or infirm individuals are “culled or sold at the next available opportunity… to save double handling” [40]. Those who are of slaughter weight are loaded onto transport trucks and killed. Others may be kept in pens until they reach the slaughter weight.

Breeding and Selection

After drafting and culling, some producers keep females for their “breeding stock”, moving them to either selected rangeland bucks or an introduced meat buck. Both does and bucks can be released in a relatively “uncontrolled free-range environment” or be confined to a rangeland goat paddock [40].

semi-wild goats
Semi-wild goats.

Vaccinations

Goats are prone to worms and it is recommended that they get drenched frequently [3840], as well as vaccinated for tetanus, puppy kidney, and cheesy gland [41]. To drench means to give an oral application of drugs to remove adult worms. 

Farms

A growth in international demand sparked goat farming. Farmers saw it as an opportunity to increase their carcass size and shorten their growth rate. Goat farmers breed Boer goats, as they have higher fertility rates, are more likely to have twins and triplets, and can live in a range of environments [4139]. On farms, they may be fed a partially unnatural diet, of corn or “mash” or pellets, to increase their growth rate [41].

boer goat
Boer Kid.

Transport and Slaughter

Goats are loaded onto transport trucks, given just 0.22m2 per 40kg of weight. This roughly equates to 136 goats per 12.5m by 2.4m truck. The industry claims that too much room can result in injuries due to the individuals moving around too much. They can legally be transported in these cramped conditions for 36 hours – meaning no food and water. If they need to travel for more than 36 hours, they have to be let off after 24 hours and rested before being transported again [40]

wild goats slaughter
Wild goats being loaded onto slaughter trucks.

Once arriving at the slaughterhouse, goats are either stunned with an electrical current or bolt gun and then have their throats slit, or are gassed and then bled out [42].

Animal Liberation exposed goats being stunned with a captive bolt gun in 2018.

Farm Transparency Project exposed the gassing of goats at a NSW slaughterhouse. You can watch it here from the 4 minute mark.

Live Export

Those who are not killed in Australia are sent overseas on the live-export ships [43]. Those that survive the horrendous journey will either be used for breeding or slaughtered shortly after arrival [44]. The number of goats sent on the death ships changes year to year, however, in 2018, over 21,000 individuals were loaded onto the ships, accounting for 4% of total export value [34].

Animals are trapped on the ships for several weeks with unnatural social structures and are unable to exhibit any of their natural behaviours, like running, exploring, playing, and grazing. On the ships, animals are subjected to high stocking densities, making it difficult for them to access food and water, and even lay down, heat stress, pneumonia, extreme changes in climate, and poor handling both before, during, and after the journey [45]

live export ship
A live export ship.

Other Welfare Issues

Mustering, trapping, transportation, and slaughter are all incredibly stressful for the goats, as most have had little interaction with humans. While being chased, animals can become injured due to frantically trying to escape. There is a chance that mothers will have been separated from their young during mustering. If she is unable to escape, her kid could die of starvation, if trapped, they can easily get trampled [46]. Once they are caught, they are exposed to a range of unfamiliar noises and may be separated from their friends. Stress can lead to mismothering, feeding disruption, social disruption, heat stress, and abortion [46]. Sudden environmental changes can also cause mortality or morbidity in confined wild goats [46]. During drafting, the scared goats usually crowd together, which can lead to smothering and trampling. Many also try to escape which can lead to injury [40]. Truck drivers and slaughterhouse workers have stated that pregnant does give birth on the trucks and at the slaughterhouse. 

wild goats caught
Trapped wild goats.

The Environment

While the goat meat and export industry claims they are helping with Australia’s goat “problem”, this is nothing but lies. Producers and exporters rely on a steady supply of goat-meat, meaning they need wild-goats around. Wild and semi-wild goats require less input, such as food, water, and staff costs, increasing profits. Hence why after years of killing millions of goats, they still exist and are prominent in Australia’s environment.

Before we head into this section, it needs to be noted that Animal Liberation is against the killing of all sentient beings and do not believe animals should be considered “pests” for thriving in an environment they were placed in. We are in support of non-lethal control methods, such as trapping, neutering, and rehoming and/or releasing. TNR has proven to be effective at reducing population numbers in wild animals, such as cats [47].

wild goat
A wild goat.

Why Goats are called “Pests”

The Australian Government considers wild goats “pests” because they compete with native animals, sheep, and cattle, and degrade the land [39]. As mentioned earlier, goats were introduced during the first fleet, meaning they are not a native animal. Their ability to survive in a range of environments, largely due to their diet, has meant they have thrived in many areas of Australia. The agricultural industry, particularly the beef, lamb, and wool, however, see wild goats as a competition for resources. Labelling goats as “pests”, reduces these sentient beings to nothing more than a problem that needs to be solved, and ends up with them being treated with no respect.

Reading that you may be thinking that catching and killing goats is helping rid the outback of them and thus helping native animals, but this is far from true. The goat meat industry is not trying to protect or improve the environment. The industry not only partially manages wild goats, breeding them, and introducing higher-quality males to assist with breeding, they also are killing predators, who are known to keep numbers down. 

Killing Predators

In areas where there is a strong presence of dingoes and predators, there are low population numbers of wild goats, as they are a natural predator. Yet, while the industry claims goats are pests that need to be culled, they also say they need protection from predation, in particular dingoes or wild dogs. Other predators include foxes, pigs, and eagles. As a result, the industry promotes the culling of predator species, through baiting, trapping and shooting, or a combination of both, and also encourage the use of fences and guard dogs to reduce kids being taken [40]. If the industry wanted to improve the environment, they would not prevent wild animals from naturally keeping numbers down. 

Risking Other Animals

Baiting, trapping, and trapping stations can both result in the deaths of non-target species [484946]. More information regarding bait killing non-target species can be found on the Ban 1080 website, under the “indiscriminate tab”, here. The trapping stations used can have a significant negative impact on other wildlife and non-target species, as they can become trapped inside [40]. If set up around water, traps can prevent other animals from accessing the water. It is noted that animals will often try to hang around the trapped water, rather than looking for an alternate source [46]. Trapped animals, in particular macropods, will often injure themselves trying to escape, running into fences or when trying to jump over them [46].

macropod

Health Impacts

Goat meat is known as red meat, which means it is classified as group 2A carcinogen and can cause cancer. Research has found that red meat contains the chemical haem, which is broken down in the gut, as a result, N-nitroso chemicals are formed and these have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel, which can lead to bowel cancer. This research has resulted in the Cancer Council telling people to limit their consumption of red meat, and include more legumes, nuts, and seeds to their diets [50]. Red meat has also been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and premature death [51].

Slaughterhouse Workers

Slaughterhouse workers are expected to repeatedly take the lives of thousands of animals every day. They commit acts that most people could not stomach. The industry is characterised by high staff turnover rates and absenteeism. The repeated violent work environment results in workers suffering from a range of mental and psychological health illnesses, like perpetration-induced traumatic stress (PITS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), paranoia, depression, and cognitive dissonance. This can end up causing drug and alcohol abuse, an increase in violence towards people and domestic animals, and crime rates [52]

In addition to the psychological impacts, workers suffer from physical injuries. They work long shifts in damp and cold environments, conduct monotonous and repetitive movements. They commonly suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, back problems, musculoskeletal disorders, arthritis, and tendonitis. Other injuries include sprains, cuts, punctures, severed limbs, and even death [52].

slaughterhouse worker
The goat killing room at Gretna.
Exposed by Animal Liberation.
Full exposé here.

What’s Next?

These sentient, intelligent, and emotional individuals are just another group of animals who are being exploited for money. By changing our perceptions of animals, we are helping foster a kinder world for all and a more sustainable future.

You can help the goats, by sharing this information with your friends and family. Knowledge is power and creating an informed society has never been more important. 


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