What Do Mountain Goats Eat? Their Diet Explained.

Mountain Goat (Oreamnos-americanus) - goat with baby on a rock
Joshua Schutz/Shutterstock.com

Written by Gabrielle Monia

Published: March 3, 2022

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The common domestic goat is part of the genus Capra, along with all other goats. However, the mountain goat is not actually part of the same genus and is distantly related. The mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) is more closely related to antelopes, takins, and chamois. These incredible climbers are one of the largest goats in the world and can scale seemingly impossible to climb, ice-covered cliffs. They have muscular legs and specialized hoofs shaped for the feat. They are also skilled jumpers, able to jump up to 5 feet in the air. As mammals with unbelievable mountain mastery, what do mountain goats like to eat?

What Main Foods Do Mountain Goats Eat?

Mountain goats eat a diet of grasses, herbs, sedges, mosses, lichen, bark, and twigs.

Mountain goats eat a diet that consists mostly of grasses, herbs, sedges, mosses, lichen, bark, and twigs. They are herbivores classified as ruminants. This means that they acquire nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it in their stomach prior to digestion through microbial action. 

Mountain goats are browsers who consume vegetation from shrubs, trees, and other above-ground plants. They have a complex, four-chambered stomach. The first two are like large fermentation vats where microbes break down the tough cellulose of plants into smaller usable carbohydrates. After initial digestion, goats will regurgitate their meal and chew on it with cheek teeth. These are molar and premolar teeth consisting of many folds and cusps, allowing ruminants sideways jaw motions to break down tough matter. Next, they swallow it again to continue the breakdown process. Digestion for these creatures is a long and arduous process and their stomach works constantly. It takes roughly 11 to 15 hours for food to fully pass through their digestive system. Mountain goats have 100-foot-long intestines, where many of the nutrients they take in are digested.

A Complete List of Foods Mountain Goats Eat

Here’s a list of 10 foods mountain goats eat:

  • Grasses
  • Herbs
  • Sedges
  • Moss
  • Lichen
  • Bark
  • Twigs
  • Leaves
  • Hemlock
  • Kelp

Seasonal Diet of Mountain Goats

In the spring and early part of summer, mountain goats follow the flush of nutritious new growth up the mountains. By the summertime, they are usually grazing on grasses, lichens, and low-growing shrubs in the high-alpine meadows. In the winter, mountain goats usually move to lower elevations and consume more hemlock and lichen. Toward the close of winter and the blossoming of spring, they will work their way downhill. During this part of the year, mountain goats will find themselves in forested areas, but the rest of their time is spent in rocky, rough terrain where they are relatively safe from predators. Since options are limited in the wintertime, they will usually increase their salt and mineral intake with foods like kelp.

Where Do Mountain Goats Find their Food?

Mountain Goat on Mount Evans, Colorado, USA.

To meet their daily nutrition needs, mountain goats spend the majority of their time foraging.

Swift-footed, mountain-climbing ruminants venture to areas where others dare not go. The mountainous areas of western North America are home to the mountain goat. They are common in Alaska and parts of British Columbia. These creatures are adapted to some of the most spectacular alpine and subalpine environments. Mountain goats like to establish seasonal ranges that are fairly consistent. According to a review, their home ranges are between 2.4 and 17.3 square miles. They maintain highly predictable routes, traveling the same paths, visiting the same feeding sites and resting areas daily. Males are more likely than females to switch up the pattern and find new areas to seek nourishment.

Mountain Goat Eating Habits

Living in such harsh terrain, mountain goats can’t afford to be picky and have to work hard to maintain their nutrition. They spend the majority of their time foraging in order to meet their dietary needs. Although they feed throughout the day, they are typically most active from dawn to midmorning and again from late afternoon to evening. They are often inactive at midday and frequently active at night. Overall, their daily habits and movement patterns are heavily dependent on weather. Mountain goats rely on their senses to find their food. Their wide-set eyes have rectangular pupils and allow them to see in almost every direction. They have incredible depth perception and sensitivity to movement and are able to navigate in both bright and low light. These adaptations help them to seek out food sources in the tough environments of the mountains and to evade oncoming predators.

What Do Baby Mountain Goats Eat?

Baby mountain goats are called kids. Males are billies and females are nannies. So, what do the nannies and the billies feed the kids? As mammals, female mountain goats nurse their young to provide initial nutrition. The kids typically wean quickly, no longer drinking milk within their first month of life. Usually, the weaning occurs at about 4 months. They can begin eating vegetation within their first week. However, kids typically remain with their mothers for at least a year. Then, at roughly 2 ½ years old, the young ones will go on to breed and produce young of their own.

What to Feed Mountain Goats

Cashmere goat being combed for its wool.

In the uncommon condition of captivity, mountain goats eat grasses, hay, vegetables, and grains

It’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself in a position to feed mountain goats anything. Mountain goats are wild creatures that haven’t been domesticated. The commonly domesticated goat was derived from an entirely different lineage – they came from the wild goat species Capra aegagrus. However, mountain goats are sometimes found in zoos. In these conditions, they’re fed a variety of grasses, hay, vegetables, and grains. Though they have never been raised for their wool, pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest would collect moulted (shed) wool they left behind to incorporate into their weaving.

What Eats Mountain Goats?

Bears, wolves, cougars, eagles, and wolverines are the main predators that mountain goats have to worry about. Kids, within their first year, are especially vulnerable to predation. However, mountain goats have developed an effective strategy to evade predators. They rely on their excellent skills at scaling mountains to traverse steep, rocky terrain that most other animals can’t navigate. Mountain goat mothers travel close behind kids so that eagles have less chance of knocking them off their feet. The dangers of gravity and avalanches actually take more mountain goats than their predators do.

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About the Author

Gabrielle is a freelance writer with a focus on animals, nature and travel. A Pacific Northwest native, she now resides in the high desert beneath towering ponderosa pines with her beloved dog by her side. She often writes with a coyote call or owl hoot backdrop and is visited by the local deer, squirrels, robins and crows. A committee of turkey vultures convenes nightly in the trees where she resides. Here, the flock and their ancestors have roosted for over 100 years. Her devotion to the natural world has led her to the lifelong study of plants, fungi, wildlife and the interactions between them all.

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