Why Your Love of Cheese Is Not Enough Reason to Get a Goat
You’ve been fantasizing about drinking fresh, raw milk. Maybe you'd even make cheese or ice cream from the rich bounty of your very own animal. You might imagine yourself settled on a little stool, the sun shining on your face, your forehead nuzzled into a warm, furry belly as you coax the delicious goods from your adorable four-legged creature. Sounds like bucolic bliss, right?
Don’t let reality bite you in the ass. Goats are a serious commitment and hard work, especially in a city where space is limited. They can live up to 15 years, which is practically the amount of time that it takes to raise a child. So before you take the plunge, consider this:
1. There's such a thing as a goat-person. Are you one?
Personality-wise, goats are a cross between a dog and a cat. They love to be stroked, pet, and scratched. They can be trained to walk on a lead, carry packs, or pull carts. Much like the feline, they might come when called, but don’t hold your breath. They demand attention, get jealous if another herd member is getting more love than they are, and make human-like screams when in pain or afraid. They will sit in your lap, nibble your shoelaces, eat from your hand, and sometimes give kisses. They are intensely independent and curious, to the point of being naughty. Very, very naughty. They will exploit any weakness in a fence if it will gain them access to better forage or allow them a larger area to explore. They are smart and crafty, verging on wily. The job of a goat owner is to stay one step ahead of her caprine friends. It's challenging, sure. You'll be the counselor at a summer camp for little bandits. But they're cute little bandits, and besides—pizza's better with bandit-milk chevre.
2. It's not always legal to keep goats. But it might be.
Before diving in, find out whether or not your city allows goats. Municode is a fabulous online resource for researching the bylaws of many American urban areas.
3. Goats, relative to the farming universe, don't need as much space as, say, a herd of cattle. Fair enough. But they do need to be comfortable.
That’s right. I said goats—plural. These guys are herd animals. To keep just one would be cruel, so I would say it’s best to go with two goats, at the least. There are two sizes of goats, miniature and standard size breeds. Miniatures require 135 square feet of roaming space. A standard goat would need twice that.
4. Goats need daily care and adequate shelter.
Contrary to popular belief, goats will not eat anything. Stick some meat or cheese under a goat’s nose and she will turn her head in disgust. A goat won't swallow a tin can, though urban myth and cartoons would have you believe otherwise. Goats are ruminants, meant to wander and munch on plant fibers.
As for shelter, goats need to be dry and out of the wind. We use dog igloos, but any small, draft-free structure will work. An open-air roofed shelter is a good idea for rainy-day roaming—we've put up clear corrugated roofing over a portion of their pen.
5. Goats need to give birth in order to produce milk—milking goats is a daily job.
This comes as a shock to a surprising number of people, so don’t feel silly if you weren't sure about this: when you keep goats, you gotta milk 'em. Everyday. Period. The fact that we're unclear on this point goes to show exactly how far we have been removed from food production.
P.S.—You’ll also have baby goats to either raise or find homes for. Wheee! Or, you'll need to manage the process of raising mindful meat, or perhaps a blend of all of the above. Yeah, we know. Goats: adorable! (YUMMY.) Adorable! (YUMMY.) It's a tough mishmash to hold in the heart for some homesteaders, but not all. And there are certainly ways to enlist the guidance of agricultural innovators who care passionately about the way that meat is produced—if you're a meat-eater anyway, it's a reality that benefits from careful consideration.
6. The key to raising urban goats is adequate fencing.
In a rural area, setting up a goat pen and small barn is pretty straightforward. Urban areas can pose more challenges, particularly around legal code issues: how far must animals be kept from doors and windows, for instance? Compromise with a section of yard that's both legal, and big enough to keep the little ones happy. Miniature goats need a minimum of four foot high fencing to contain them. For standard goats, you should go with five feet. Goats love to gnaw, so plan to replace wooden fences after a few years. Finally, never forget that goats are escape artists. Gaps, spaces, or holes in fencing could have you chasing small goats down all day long. Especially if there's a two-for-one special on cabbage leaves at the Polish diner around the corner. Goats love Polish food.
7. If your goats are good to your neighbors, your neighbors will be good to your goats.
In a city, you live so close to your neighbors that you can practically spit on them. Don’t. If you want to have your animals without raising the hackles of the folks on your block, keep things clean and tidy. Keep your manure shoveled and compost tumbling. Use lime or enzymatic products, to control urine odors. Keep flies and vermin in check. Nobody wants to live next to a dump. Don’t let your property become one.
Done right, a little goat duo or family can be the highlight of your 'hood. They need not challenge anyone else's idea of civilized city living. They're cute, they throw back to an often more enlightened and slower era, and they offer educational value as well as a sweet and highly adaptable nectar as reward. Keep it up, kids.