A true hermaphrodite goat has male and female sex organs or other sexual characteristics.
A pseudohermaphrodite goat has internal sex organs consistent with the chromosomal sex.
But the external genitalia of the opposite sex.
If a true hermaphrodite goat had the full female reproductive tract, she theoretically could have babies, but it is very unlikely. Pseudohermaphrodite goats are less rare, and it is possible for the males to be fertile, although they are usually not.
Goat hermaphrodites are not common at all.
What farmers typically refer to as a hermaphrodite is a pseudohermaphrodite.
Pseudohermaphrodite goats occur about 1 in 5 times when two naturally polled, or hornless, goats breed.
Keep reading to find out more about hermaphrodite goats and why they might be useful around the farm.
What Is A Hermaphrodite?
Hermaphroditism means having male and female sex organs or other sexual characteristic.
This is also known in more modern terms as intersex.
True hermaphrodites occur when the animal has both the XX and XY chromosomes, the genes for being both female and male, and are quite rare.
Because of the genetics behind inheriting horns and intersex, any horned hermaphroditic goats are true hermaphrodites classified as either chimeras or mosaics.
Chimerism occurs in two circumstances:
- When two fertilized eggs fuse into one
- Two young embryos of opposite sexes combine into one during pregnancy
The cells in a chimera are genetically distinct and originated in different zygotes or fertilized embryos.
Mosaicism is when a single organism has two or more different, genetically distinct cells from the same zygote.
The single egg has a mutation, passed down to some of the body’s cells but not all.
What Causes Hermaphroditism And What Goat Breeds Are Prone To It?
Most hermaphroditism people are referring to is really “pseudohermaphroditism.”
Pseudohermaphrodite goats are usually genetically female but have been masculinized by hormones.
Dairy goats of Western European descent are more likely to have hermaphroditism occur.
Examples include the Alpine, Saanen, and Toggenburg breeds.
What Is The Relationship Between Hermaphroditism, And Polled Goats?
The gene for hornless goats, or polled, is dominant to having horns and correlates with a recessive gene that causes hermaphroditism.
Thus, breeding two polled goats will pass along the recessive gene for being intersex.
In male kids, they are sterile though their appearance is unaffected physically.
Genetically female intersex goats have a high chance of being a hermaphrodite with a sterile reproductive system and masculine characteristics.
Because the polled gene is dominant, you will never find a horned goat with pseudohermaphroditism.
Not all polled goats are pseudohermaphrodite, but all pseudohermaphrodite goats are polled.
What Is A Freemartin?
Another way a goat is intersex is through freemartinism.
Cattle have freemartinism more often, but it is occasionally seen in goats.
Freemartin goats are still genetically female, though they have high testosterone levels.
They are also sterile.
Freemartinism comes from the goat’s twin.
When a female twin has a male brother, the placentas may merge early, sharing blood and hormones.
With the higher testosterone, the female’s reproductive tract is stunted.
Often, the male is unaffected by the extra hormones.
A freemartin goat has both XX and XY DNA because of the sharing of blood and other cells.
This makes the freemartin goat a type of chimera without the fusion of the embryos.
Often a blood test is necessary to determine freemartinism vs. pseudohermaphroditism.
How Are Intersex Goats Useful?
Intersex goats, if sterile, can make good companions for bucks.
Because of their female characteristics, they are sometimes used to stimulate the bucks during the breeding season.
They have the same pheromones as bucks and some masculine behavior and can get the does excited, giving the farmer an idea of their heat cycles.
Can A Goat Be Both Male And Female?
Only true hermaphrodites have both testes and ovaries to make them male and female.
The relatively more common pseudohermaphrodites are often genetically female but have testes and male sex characteristics such as fuller beards, bulkier muscles, and male behaviors.
Can Two Polled Goats Have A Horned Baby?
Two polled goats, if heterozygous, will produce a horned kid 25% of the time, statistically speaking.
If one of the parents is homozygous for being polled, then all their kids will be polled.
Two horned goats will not have a hornless kid.
Are Hermaphrodites Sterile?
True hermaphrodites are mostly sterile, but not all of them.
True hermaphrodites have genetic, gonadal, or anatomic characteristics of both sexes, from mainly male with some female features to mainly female with some male features.
What we typically refer to as a hermaphrodite is a pseudohermaphrodite and is usually genetically female but has been masculinized by male hormones.
Pseudohermaphrodites, in general, have either ovaries or testes but are infertile.
What Are Other Reproductive Conditions In Goats?
Cloudburst or false pregnancy
False pregnancy is when hormonal imbalances cause a doe to look, feel, and act pregnant, even to the extent of producing milk, when she is not.
Instead of giving birth to a kid, she only produces cloudy discharge.
Non-pregnant female goats may, due to hormones or intersex characteristics, develop an udder and produce milk.
Sometimes the udder dries up, but more often, human intervention in the form of exogenous hormones is required.
Ringwomb is when the cervix does not dilate properly at birth.
This is often fatal for both doe and kids and requires a C-section.
This is more common in sheep than goats but is heritable and must be watched.
Male goats can develop their udders and even produce milk.
These goats are usually from heavy milk-producing breeds.
It is probably a hormonal issue linked with genetics.
Reducing the amount of protein in the goat’s feed can control lactation, but sometimes they need the udder removed by mastectomy.