This story was originally published in March 2021.
Forget flowers and candy. For the male goat, nothing signals “come hither” to a female goat like a shot of his own hormonally triggered urine to his face. As off-putting as that may sound, it’s a natural part of goat behavior and all part of the reproduction process, according to goat breeders. It can also come as a bit of a shock to those unfamiliar with the behavior.
It happens when a male goat — or buck — is in what breeders call rut, that window of time when a buck’s hormones signal he’s ready to mate with a female goat — or doe. For most goat breeds this happens when the days start to shorten in July and can last several months. Other breeds, like Nigeria dwarf goats, go into rut in the fall.
“When the boys go into rut, their goal is to attract a mate,” said Kassie Dwyer, who breeds and raises LaMancha show goats on her Eden Farm in Athens, Maine. “Male goats in rut have a really unique smell, and by unique I mean disgusting.”
But what may smell disgusting to humans is like Axe body spray to goats, Dwyer said. And the goats will spray their urine with all the enthusiasm of a middle school boy with Axe cologne.
“My bucks start getting stinky in September, and it really only stops at the end of January,” Dwyer said. “They are tolerable now.”
According to Dwyer, male goats will spray their own urine inside their legs, on their beards and on their faces to capture and preserve the strong musky scent. She said it’s impressive just how far they can spray that urine and how well they can aim their own penis to do so.
“I have one goat with white patches on his face,” Dwyer said. “When he’s in rut, those patches turn yellow.”
There is no point in bathing the goats because the second they are clean and fresh smelling, they will simply reapply their own urine.
“Sure, you can give them a bath, but then they are like, ‘Why did you wash off my cologne? I’m just going to put it back on.’” Dwyer said. “They know the does are attracted to that manly smell.”
The only way to prevent male goats from bathing in their own urine is to castrate them, which cuts off the supply of testosterone that triggers the behavior. When the testosterone is really ramped up in a buck, they have been known to spray the urine into their own mouths and then spit it out all over their bodies, according to Dwyer.
And if the urine smell was not enough, a male goat also has a scent gland below each horn on its head. These glands secrete a smell that is on a par with the strong urine scent. They will rub their head on any stationary object to spread that scent.
Other than the smell, there is nothing bad about the behavior of male goats urinating on themselves. However, Dwyer said if you are milking goats, it’s a good idea to keep the females away from the males in rut, as the milk can take on the flavor of that musk.
Dwyer cautioned that bucks in rut can be aggressive, so it’s a good idea to never turn your back on one.
“Hormones can make them do really crazy things,” she said. “You have to be careful.”
On the other hand, their actions can be taken as a sign of affection, Dwyer said.
“If you are in range and they are really wound up, the bucks will try to pee on you,” she said. “That’s how you know they like you, and they have really good aim.”