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The Truth About Keeping Backyard Goats

Truth about Backyard Goat Keeping

As a city homesteader for the last 23 years, I couldn’t be happier about the current trends aimed at a healthier lifestyle for ourselves and our families. Growing vegetables and fruits in our backyards, canning to preserve fresh food for later, cooking from scratch and raising small flocks of backyard chickens are coming back into vogue in a big way. I’m so happy to see others jumping on the bandwagon. But the homesteading trends aren’t stopping there — they have moved on to creatures such as bees, rabbits…and goats.

Adorable, fuzzy, playful, impossibly small goats! Even I have been moved to consider owning backyard goats (and I am normally a very sensible person).

Yet, even after swooning over multiple mini-livestock photos and goat articles, I’m left with a (very) minuscule amount of good sense. But I wanted to know – exactly how do people decide if backyard goats are right for them? To get to the truth, I went straight to several of my goat keeping friends and also tapped into my hobby farming connections around the country. I wanted the real scoop from people who live with them every day.

To my great surprise, everything I had heard about goats being adorable was true. But wait… there’s so much more to consider besides the cute factor

Thanks to some goat-savvy friends, I can offer you the whole truth about keeping goats in your backyard.

Before You Go Buy A Backyard Goat:

Keeping Backyard Goats1) Make sure that your city is goat friendly.

The first thing you need to do is check your city ordinances for two things: that they’re allowed within the city limits and the size limitations. If they do allow goats, more than likely they will have a size and/or weight limit. This is why the smallest goat breeds are the most popular in urban and suburban areas. Goats such as the pygmy (smallest meat breed), Nigerian Dwarf (smallest dairy breed), and the pygora (smallest fiber breed) are going to be your best bets.

2) Goats can be loud.

To say the least. If you happen to have a doe (a girl goat) and she’s in heat (like almost every month), “loud” won’t be the word that you use to describe it. At this point I promise that I’ll get several comments or emails telling me all about their quiet-as-a-church-mouse goat. This will not be the case with your goat. If you have an unfriendly neighbor that has zero pet tolerance, you will have a problem.

Check out this video so you know what I am talking about…

Sure, it is all funny, until you have one in your backyard. Which leads me to the next consideration…

3) Goats are herd animals.

What this means is that in order for them to be truly “happy”, they need a goat friend. In fact, they feel completely insecure as a singleton, so you don’t get “a goat”; you get “goats” — as in two or more. (What are the chances of them both being shy, unvocal wall-flowers? Hmm?)

4) Goats are hard on fences. Plus they’re escape artists.

Especially the shorter guys. For instance say your goaties have grown a lush winter coat and spring rolls around. All of that extra fur needs to come off and the best way they can think of to do that is to press their sides as hard as they can against the fencing as they walk by. Over and over and over.

You’ll need strong fencing material and even stronger supports for that material — like sunken wood posts and wood framing if possible. Many goat owners add a strand of hot wire (electric wire or fence) along the bottom. I’ve been assured that young goats can slip through field fencing square that are no bigger than 4″ X 4″. The general rule of thumb is said to be “if the goat can get his head through it — he can get the rest of the way through it.”

5) They’re picky eaters.

Proper Care of Goats

Most goat owners told me that they’ve never seen a goat that would eat their hay, oats, etc once they’ve stepped on it or God forbid, peed near it. One has to be prepared to obtain a manger that keep the hay up off the ground as long as possible or the feed bill is going to be a bit higher than you first projected.

6) They eat every growing thing in sight.

Except your lawn; they won’t do you any truly helpful thing like trim the turf. Goats are browsers like deer, not grazers like sheep. They’ll eat every tree, vegetable, herb, and cutting flower in your yard…your street…your town. Nothing is sacred. The good news is that this includes weeds! Goats love to eat weeds and will nail them down to the ground…right along with your roses. The take away from this? Goats need their own yard to live in so that you can have a yard, too.

The Good News:

Lest you and I feel completely let down with what may seem like disappointing news; I will also reminded that goats are:

Baby Goat1) Personable and Affectionate.

Goats are naturally curious beasties and become very attached to their people, making them wonderful companions. They’re perpetual children and continue to play, run, and jump if given the opportunity (and toys!). Little goats are perfect “petting zoo” critters, especially if they are hand-raise (bottle fed) by humans,

2) Excellent Weed and Brush Eaters.

Put them in a side yard that’s grown weeds six feet tall and watch these little guys go to town. Your weeds will be history in no time. (Poison oak and ivy won’t faze them a bit)

3) Produce Terrific Manure for the Garden.

Gardeners swear by tossing their goat manure into the compost pile. It offers nutrition, breaks down easily, and creates good tilth.

4) Milk.

Backyard goats can, indeed, become a source of milk for you and your family. I also learned that if you want to keep goats for milk, your doe will have to be bred every year. So be prepared to either grow your herd (most cities have a cap on that number, as well) or eventually find homes for the kid(s). You absolutely must be responsible about this. It is becoming a growing problem among city homesteaders who didn’t think about this before diving in.

Milking Goats

Of course, I took my goat-loving friends’ information to heart and I know full well that I can never have goats in my current backyard. Perhaps they’ll become a part of my homestead future (if I ever move to a large place), but my chicken-ladies are enough for this homestead now. And I’m okay with that.

If you are thinking about getting a few goats of your own, you might want to read:

Do you keep backyard goats?

What “goat truths” would you add to the list? 

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.