Goats are a versatile species, producing milk, meat, and fibre. While no single breed can supply more than two of these commodities with a high level of quality and/or quantity, most breeds are dual purpose. All breeds can provide companionship to humans and other livestock, serve as educational projects for children in 4-H or other youth activities, or can be utilized as environmentally friendly alternatives to chemicals for clearing brushy land. Goats also produce manure for the garden, hides and skins for the garment industry, and are used as pack animals for largely recreational purposes.
No matter what the breed, all goats have something in common - a need for good management. This includes adequate nutrition, shelter and care.
The goat was the second animal to be domesticated by man, the first being the dog. Sheep, pigs and cattle were not domesticated until about 2000 years later. The usefulness of goats as agricultural animals was recognized long before recorded history. Evidence shows that the nomadic people of the Middle East tended goats as early as 10,000 years B.C. as ancient cultures and tribes began to keep goats for milk, hair, meat, and skins.
History reveals that goats were often carried on ships as a source of fresh milk by early explorers to the New World, including Captain Cook and Christopher Columbus. Cashmere and mohair, luxurious fibres produced by goats, first attracted the attention of Europeans in the early 1800s. The first definite and tangible proofs of soap making are found in the history of ancient Rome, where soap is described as being made from goats' tallow and causticized wood ashes. Historically, goat hides have been used for water and wine bottles, and to produce parchment, which was the most common material used for writing in Europe until the invention of the printing press.
In Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, the Caribbean Islands and the Mediterranean countries, goats are valued as a favourite source of meat, and goat meat is often the staple of traditional meals for festive occasions and celebrations. It is a little known fact that goat meat (chevon) is eaten more than any other red meat worldwide. And, even in this day and age, more than half the world's population drinks goat milk. For years, the goat has been called "the poor man's cow" because it is smaller and eats less than a cow, yet provides ample milk for a family.
Goats did not have much presence in North America until the 1920s when purebred dairy goats were imported from Europe. The goat industry in North America has been slow to develop as the traditional agricultural community has been reluctant to accept this species, about which much myth and not much fact is generally known. However goatkeeping gained in popularity during the back-to-the-land movement in the 1960s and 1970s, and is currently enjoying another "boom" as Canada's population diversifies, bringing with it the culture and tradition of foreign lands.