Every goat-herd has a defined social hierarchy (pecking order), and the number one female goat in that hierarchy is the herd queen. She’s the dominant doe in the herd, and as such, she gets first choice of food, sleeping spot, and anything else considered desirable by goats (in a dairy herd, she’ll want to be milked first). Every other doe in the herd has a specific dominant order below her, and gets access to the best items based on that position.
The goats establish their hierarchy through rearing and head butting or just butting, and it can be a little disturbing to watch as they sort out their social positions. However, by understanding that it’s normal behavior and what they’re trying to accomplish, we can learn a lot about our herd dynamics and make better management decisions.
The herd queen tends to be the most aggressive, oldest, and largest (also horned if there are horned goats) goat in the herd, but that can vary depending on herd makeup. She’s the goat that will lead the herd out to pasture and determine where they should browse, and in wild herds, is responsible for teaching the herd which plants are poisonous or inedible. If she finds a plant that’s poisonous, she’ll sniff it, snort at it, and display her dislike of the plant. The rest of the herd will then sniff the plant thereby learning which plants to avoid.
The herd queen’s kids automatically assume rank directly below the queen. So they also get access to the best food, sleeping spot, etc., and the queen will defend them if other goats try to take their position. As her kids grow, they will also defend her to make sure she retains the top spot, and she will usually retain her position until she dies or becomes infirm and another doe wins the spot. When a new herd queen does emerge, it’s usually a daughter of the original queen (often the eldest), since her daughters have been groomed to the position from birth.
In terms of meat production, the queen usually produces more kids and they grow faster, making her a top producer. For milk production; however, studies have shown that herd queens are not usually the top producers, but that the goats in the middle of the social hierarchy are. This seems odd since the queen has access to the best food and is usually a larger doe – one hypothesis is that the queens spend more time being aggressive, finding the best food, and defending territory rather than producing milk.
In our herd, the queen isn’t the largest, oldest, or best milk producer (that’s her in the picture on the left vs. our largest doe on the right), but she’s certainly the most active. She’s also doesn’t seem that affectionate and is very stubborn, so she’s not my favorite doe. Understanding that she’s the herd queen, and that her agenda is a little different, at least helps me appreciate her even when she’s being her most stubborn.