This article discusses:
- Why goats are so important to rural communities in Rajasthan
- Interesting new research on the potential to apply the intelligence of goats
- How you can spend time with local goat herdsmen and their flocks during your visit to Ikaki Bagh
Why Goats Are Important
Goats are often called the poor person’s cow. Even a short trip to Rajasthan will show this is anything but the case.
Visitors to Ikaki Bagh, the model organic farm on the outskirts of Jaipur, can enjoy the opportunity to learn about the essential role goats play in village communities producing meat, milk and skin.
Goats are one of the oldest domesticated species in agriculture with farming activity dating back approximately 10,000 years. They are hardy and disease resistant suited to the year-round climate of Rajasthan. Unlike sheep, goats happily graze on anything they can, including leaves, twigs and anything edible they can reach.
This means they are a fantastic source of manure rich in nitrate, phosphorous and potassium. These main components of soil fertiliser are excellent for fodder crops and farming plants. Any excess manure to a farmer’s needs also provides a valuable income source.
Goats are also incredibly engaging and full of character.
The rural countryside around Jaipur is well-suited to goat herding with its open grazing system.
Herders keep their flocks moving so they can forage along open roads and manage the risk of over-grazing. Close attention is given to ensuring any poisonous plants in grazing areas are weeded out. Some farmers also use trained goats to help lead flocks of sheep along open roads searching for feed.
Goat herders also keep a close eye out for any sick animals. It essential these are removed from the herd quickly to avoid any spread of sickness and to bring a sick animal back to health.
The Government of Rajasthan, Universities and international agencies undertake significant research and development in support of sustainable goat farming. This includes herd development, breed improvement and farmer education programs, for example to mitigate over-grazing.
Work is also put in to developing strategies to improve the economic return from goats including high value goat leather products and goat meat products.
Because of their tame nature, goats are ideally suited to being managed by village women and children.
New research suggest goats are as smart as dogs
In 2014, I travelled widely through Rajasthan. It was quite common to see herds of goats, or sheep, either grazing in open fields or being walked along roads looking for feed.
I was surprised to occasionally see farmers moving the sheep with what looked like the assistance of a few goats. A goat would often be in the lead, following the farmer with the sheep following the goat. Other men would be walking alongside the flock keeping it moving, again with the help of a goat.
The easiest way to tell the difference between sheep and goats is to look at their tails. A sheep’s tail hangs down (or is often ‘docked’) and a goat’s tail goes up.
Scientific research conducted in 2016 at the Queen Mary University of London (1) suggests goats can form one-to-one relationships to those between people and horses, dogs and cats.
The research also concluded goats have an intelligence to rival that of dogs. We already know goats have the capacity to be excellent “guard animals”, and for example are often used around horse training stables.
Experiments established goats can develop communication relationships with people. One researcher, Alan McElligott commented:
“But these results show how they can communicate and interact with their human handlers even though they were not domesticated as pets or working animals.”
Experience time with local goat herders
Visitors to Ikaki Bagh can have the opportunity to meet local goat herders. By arrangement, you can spend a morning with local herders helping move their animals through the countryside in search of feed.
Many visitors find goals relaxing and engaging company. Being herd animals, most goats are mild-mannered (males jockeying for superiority, especially around mating season can be an exception) and amicable.
There is also the opportunity to look closely first-hand at the role and relationship between goat herdsmen and individual goats.
Visitors will also find a lot of comic pleasure in goats, especially the young kids with their playfulness and boundless energy.
Christian Nawroth, Jemma M. Brett, Alan McElligot 2016 Goats display audience-dependent gazing behavious in a problem-solving task 5 July 2016
Biology Letters – Royal Society Publishing (12 July 2016)