Each month, we ask you to share your questions about farming, food or Sacrewell with us on Facebook. The person who writes the best question wins a free family admission pass for a day at the farm, as well as having their question answered on our website. This question came from Ella Mckenzie.
Goats are known for their varied diet. They will graze on grass and ground vegetation but also browse on shrubs and the lower branches of trees. They can eat hard, dry twigs which makes them a useful animal for farmers in parts of the world that have an arid climate.
Their digestive system works very hard to break down all these materials into the sugars and nutrients that they need to survive and in the process, it produces gases, which can only be released if the goats pass wind. In fact, goats can belch once every minute to help release the gases that are created by their digestive system. They also release gas from their bottoms. As a human, people would say you were very rude if you belched once a minute. What makes the goat digestive system so different to ours?
Goats are ruminants, like sheep and cows. Whilst humans have one stomach, ruminants have four different parts to theirs, called the rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. It’s this special, four-part stomach that allows them to live on a diet of just plant material.
The rumen contains lots of microorganisms which begin to break down the plant materials that the goat has eaten. As the plant materials are broken down, the bacteria produce gas which the goat would release as a burp. Every now and again, the goat coughs up a lump of partially digested plant materials called the ‘cud’. The goat chews the cud in their mouth to help break it down further and then re-swallows it. This is what is happening when you can see a goat in the field chewing but not actually grazing or browsing on any plants.
The plant material can then pass into the reticulum which is the second part of the digestive system. If the goat has swallowed anything that is not plant material, it is collected in the reticulum so it doesn’t go any further into the system.
The third part of the system, the omasum, has a folded shape. It grinds down the plant material and squeezes the water out of it so that it’s ready to go into the abomasum. This fourth and final part of the system is similar to our own stomach. It is filled with acids and enzymes that turn the remaining plant material into sugars and nutrients for the goat to use. As they work, the acids and enzymes produce gases which the goat will release as a fart.
So yes, goats do pass wind. It’s an important part of their digestive process and if they don’t they can become bloated and (if they don’t get any treatment) actually die due to the trapped gases.
We’re not sure you can use that as an excuse at the dinner table though!