Around the world, goats are found in a wide variety of production settings, from intensively managed, very large dairies in the Netherlands to free-ranging small-farm herds in the African bush. Goats are particularly adapted to harsh, arid environments; however, they flourish even as pets in metropolitan backyards. Because they have a feed efficiency greater than that of other ruminants, as well as the ability to produce meat, milk, hides, and fiber, goats are a worthwhile investment for many producers across the globe, and they play a critical role in self-sufficient agricultural systems, particularly in countries with limited resources.
The world population of goats trails behind those of sheep and cattle; however, it now exceeds 1 billion head and continues to grow as demand continues to exceed supply in many areas. Meat production remains the most common use for goats, with more than half a billion head slaughtered in 2019; global dairy goat numbers, however, are growing rapidly. Between the years of 2007 and 2017, global dairy goat populations increased by almost 22%, to an estimated 218 million head.
Production methods for goats vary widely around the globe, ranging from extensive systems, where goats graze on large tracts of land year round, to intensive confinement systems in which animals are housed for part or all of the year. Most goat populations are found in Africa and Asia and are kept under extensive/semi-intensive management systems. In resource-rich countries, goats raised as pets or on hobby farms are a small but also growing population that are managed in a more intensive style.
Although production methods are as varied as the physical and socioeconomic environments in which goats are found, herd management should always rely on fundamental husbandry and production animal principles. Management of any production system should be based on knowledge of the breed/type of animals raised, of how the animals are housed and fed, and of breeding selection criteria and health care.
Production demands (environment, number of animals, products produced) ultimately determine the specific management of any goat herd. In general, however, basic animal husbandry principles can be applied across most management settings to increase the health status of any herd.