Considering raising goats within city limits? Ask yourself these questions to find out if backyard goats are right for your lifestyle.
Jennie Grant modified her yard to accommodate goats. Raising backyard goats is one example of the rise of urban farming.
Photo By Harley Soltes
Including information on legalizing goats in your city, preparing your yard, selecting a milk-goat breed, training techniques for milking, and even some delicious goat cheese recipes, City Goats (Mountaineers Books, 2012) by Jennie P. Grant is the comprehensive, down-to-earth guide on backyard goats. The following excerpt from “Do Goats Belong in Your Backyard” walks you through the choice of whether goat farming in your backyard is right for you.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: City Goats.
While it is true that no sensible person would move from the country to the city to keep goats, should a city person who wants to keep goats have to move to the country? I say no, and that is where city goats come in. A conscientious owner can keep a pair of goats healthy and happy within a 400-square-foot area (though more is better) if he or she is willing to put in the time, effort, and money. He or she will need to construct a very cleverly designed goat shed that makes careful use of space. In addition, to keep a goat healthy, city dwellers will need to go out foraging to bring home fresh greens for their goats. A goat can live on good-quality hay and alfalfa pellets but cannot thrive without plenty of fresh greens.
But who would want to keep goats in the first place? Given that you are reading this book, I’m guessing that you are considering the idea and are wondering, “Should I go through with this?” This is a good question, because some people are interested in goats for the wrong reasons. To find out if you may be trotting down the wrong goat path, here are some questions to ask yourself:
If so, think again. Goats will eat your rosebushes clean, carefully devouring every single leaf and flower. However, they are not going to mow your lawn. They will nibble at grass here and there in a sort of unorganized fashion, creating a look very similar to Rod Stewart’s hairstyle.
If so, goats will disappoint. Since you’ve probably read the news stories about goats clearing hillsides of invasive non-natives, you should know that goats don’t do this work without human help. It’s true that goats are extremely efficient at nibbling blackberry leaves, but they won’t eat the canes unless they are starving. The brush-clearing services have people who follow behind the goats and clear out the de-leafed branches and haul them away. Why do the media ignore these people and focus just on the goats, thereby getting the story wrong every single time? It is because people and goats clearing land together are just not nearly as entertaining as goats doing it alone. This is not to say that goats will not help you clear brush. They will, but their help will only go so far. If your problem is blackberries, they’ll defoliate the branches within their reach, but you’ll need to cut and haul away the defoliated bramble so they can eat their way through your thicket.
If so, here are some things to consider. Goats will help connect you with nature simply by getting you outside. This can be good and bad. For example, you may wake up one winter morning to hear wind swooshing about the trees, rain drumming against your roof, and white water pounding out your downspouts as you lie in bed warm and drowsy. You might be thinking how nice it would be to stay inside all day. Goats will not allow such behavior. They will force you out to haul hay, empty buckets and attend to their milking. You will brace yourself as you step outside on such a morning, but you’ll soon warm up and perhaps even enjoy being out in the storm.
Goats require a minimum of 40 minutes of work per day, and this work is unrelenting. If you milk twice a day, you must milk every single morning and every single evening for the full period during which they are in milk (about nine months of the year). This aspect of goat keeping does have an upside. You can give yourself a break by recruiting back up milkers who will help you with milking a time or two a week in exchange for milk. Locating and training these back up milkers can be difficult, but getting to know people who are interested in your goats and sharing your knowledge can be rewarding.
Keeping goats is physically demanding. Goats eat a tremendous volume of food and you will often find yourself faced with the job of hauling several 50-pound bags of alfalfa pellets or bales of hay out to your goat yard. And you may find yourself cursing as you wrestle with your goat in an effort to trim her hooves. All this requires strength and determination and may not be your cup of tea. On the upside, such activity is more exciting than that hamster wheel of a stair master.
If so, a goat may be for you. Goat poop is an even better soil amendment than rabbit droppings and can be added directly to the soil without composting (but if you’ll be using it for food crops, the Seattle Health Department recommends composting it for a year). Goats are like miracle compost machines. They can turn your weeds into valuable compost within twenty-four hours. What’s more, they can do what few compost systems can—kill the seeds of even the most virile weeds. Unlike horse manure, goat manure can be spread on your garden without the worry that it will seed a new crop of dandelions.
Many people who are allergic to dogs are not allergic to goats. Like dogs, goats are friendly and curious animals. When you step into their goat yard, they may greet you with a nuzzle. They may nibble at your clothing. And when it comes time for your goat to give birth, you’ll quite literally get to witness the miracle of life. There is nothing like watching two kids plop out of their mother and onto your goat shed floor. As you watch the new mother dedicatedly licking her kids clean and gently bleating to them, you will marvel at the wonders of the animal world. And as you watch the kids take their first few steps and lunge awkwardly in search of a milk-laden teat, you will consider packing it all up and moving to the country to buy even more goats.
Discover the interesting realm of the goat enthusiast! Having goats will draw you out to feed stores where they sell Carhartt clothing, baby chicks, fabulous muck boots, and bales of hay in a whole array of varieties you never even knew existed. You will search for blackberry bushes in alleys around your neighborhood that you’ve never ventured down before. You will head to country fairs, where you won’t be able to stop yours from asking people with goats about the benefits of alfalfa over orchard grass. You may even one day find yourself down a long dirt road on the grounds of a far-away farm, face to face with a smelly and lascivious stud buck. In short, having goats will broaden your world.
You’d be surprised how goats can fill up your social calendar. Once you have goats, you will inevitably meet other goat keepers. you will get to talking about the type of concentrate you feed your goat, and why you chose it and how much you feed, and they will tell you about what they consider to be the finest spot in their neighborhood for collecting blackberry leaves. You may have spirited debates over what is more important, the size of the teat, the ability to let down, or the size and tightness of the orifice of the teat. Whatever subject you hit upon, you will probably enjoy yourself and find you’ve made new friends.
If so, do not get dairy goats. When you take into account the cost of housing, feed, and medical care, you would do far better buying your milk at the grocery store. It costs about $75 a month to feed a pair of goats.
While milk from your backyard goats will be expensive when compared with the milk from Safeway, it will be of an exceptional quality, unlike any found in a supermarket. The topic of milk has many facets, and if you are interested in keeping dairy goats for milk, there’s a great deal to know.
If after reading all this, you are still excited about the prospect of getting goats, this book is for you. I’ve written this book with the newbie suburban/urban goat owner in mind. I’ll go over the basics of what to feed your goats and how to train them on the milking stand and share with you some of the interesting experiences I’ve encountered in my efforts to legalize and raise goats in my city of Seattle.
Excerpted from City Goats: The Goat Justice League’s Guide to Backyard Goat Keeping by Jennie P. Grant and used with permission from Mountaineers Books, 2012.
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