Farm animals are, in my opinion, incredibly sweet and cute and I still count my blessings that I got to care for Shasta the llama and Mady and Mini the sheep for a couple years. And recently, there seems to be a rise in urban farming (to some degree). Backyard chickens are becoming more popular, to the point where the CDC has to repeatedly remind people to not kiss their chickens to avoid getting salmonella. Urban gardens are also popping up on the roofs of NYC buildings (and on the roofs of buildings around the world) and urban beekeeping is becoming more popular!
One other but very similar trend is having goats as pets, even with the animal’s advanced level of care. There are so many things to know about keeping goats before starting your journey. First, ask yourself why you want a goat. Are you raising them for meat or milk? Or maybe as pets? Are you hoping they’ll be entertaining lawnmowers? There is a whole lot that goes into caring for goats so knowing what you’re getting into is the important first step.
If you’re hoping that goats will help maintain your grass, you might want to reconsider. Generally speaking, goats prefer eating trees, bushes, and weeds than grass so they’ll likely eat up a good portion of the trees and flowering plants in your yard and mostly ignore your grass. Some cities have started keeping goats to help eat up unwanted vegetation but even then, those goats are eating weeds, ivy, and other unwanted vegetation rather than grass.
- Want a backyard goat? 10 things to consider by Dr. Lauri Hess, DVM, DACVP, Vet Street
Codes, Regulations, and your neighbors
If you live in a city/urban area, there might be some regulations and codes to keep in mind (if you happen to have enough space for goats or chickens!). Some cities limit the size and number of goats you can have like many cities limit the number of backyard chickens per household. Other cities also specify the size of the goats allowed (only miniature breeds) and regulate many other details.
The Municipal Research and Services Center is a nonprofit organization that helps local governments across Washington and its citizens by providing legal and policy guidance. They do have a general overview of the regulations of keeping livestock and farm animals. King County (Seattle’s county) also has an FAQ document on keeping small animals and livestock.
- 5 Top Cities for Raising Urban Livestock by Brian Barth, Modern Farmer
Odds are that county and city codes will differ, which means that how many goats and other farm animals you are allowed to have will depend on whether you live within a city’s limits or in a more rural space out in a county. Figuring out all the regulations and zoning issues might be difficult, as explained by Modern Farmer, but talking with your local zoning board might be a good place to start. Additionally, regulations will differ between cities too.
Once you’ve established the city or county regulations on goats, it’ll be important to talk to your neighbors too. Goats are loud and can be smelly so not everyone will want to live next to them! Having goats despite what your neighbors think may ruin your relationship with the people who live around you, especially if you live in relatively close proximity to others.
- What you don’t know about goats but should by Christina Donnelly, The Spruce Pets
Space and Shelter
After deciding why you want a goat and if you can legally keep them, the next important things to keep in mind are that goats need plenty of space and that goats are herd animals and should not be kept alone. If you want a goat, you’ll have to get at least two goats and the number of goats you have will influence how much space they need. Some cities require that you only have two goats but even just two require plenty of space, as goats can be playful and active at times.
The square footage of yard space per goat will depend on the breed you end up getting. Little goats like pygmies need at least 135 square feet per goat while larger goats, like Nubians, will need at least 270 square feet. So, for example, if you have three pygmies, you’ll need 405 square feet. If you have two Nubians, you’ll need 540 square feet of space. To figure out how much space needed, multiple the necessary square feet per goat based on breed/size on how many goats you are planning to have.
Additionally, goats are notorious escape artists since they are very agile and great jumpers. There are plenty of stories of goats escaping and wandering around different neighborhoods in the US! Fencing 4 to 5 feet tall for all goat breeds should be good and the fence should be sturdy, as goats love to rub on fences (especially when shedding!).
- Hundreds of goats run wild down streets of Washington Town after escaping enclosure by Matt McNulty, People
These animals are also known for being mischievous and they will try to tick their heads through any openings in the fence to eat something on the other side. Having slats close together or hog panels with small openings should prevent goats from sticking their heads through (and potentially getting stuck).
The area should also have some shade cover and have a shelter or barn space. Sheds or barns can protect the goats from extreme weather and predators, in addition to giving them space to sleep! Some breeds aren’t particularly fond of rain or other types of weather so having a shelter where they can escape will help.
- How to House and Fence Goats by Lauren Arcuri, The Spruce
Nutrition and Health
While goats will eat weeds and plants that humans don’t particularly care for (and some that you might like!), they are pretty picky eaters and will need some added supplements to keep them happy and healthy. There are also some plants to avoid giving your goats, as there are some toxic ones out there. Rhododendron and buttercups are both plants that are toxic to goats! Here are some lists of plants that are good and bad for goats:
- Poisonous plants for goats: Avoiding dastardly disasters by Katherine Drovdahl, Backyard Goats
- Edible and poisonous plants for goats from Liberty Homestead Farm
According to the blog “The Free Range Life”, goats will need a wide variety of supplements. Loose minerals and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) should be offered freely, preferably in a feeder to keep them clean. This way, the goats can ingest these things when they want or need to. Goats will also need probios (a probiotic), selenium/vitamin E, nutri-dench, copper, vitamin B complex/thiamine, and iron. Goats and sheep need different minerals and vitamins so it’ll be important to note what kind of supplements you’re getting (and whether they’re meant specifically for goats).
These animals will also need a wide range of medical care throughout their lives. Their hooves will need to be trimmed every 4-6 weeks, as not trimming them can lead to lameness and infection. They’ll also need vaccines, like rabies and tetanus, and the occasional additional supplement like probiotics. There are also some common health issues for these animals, including upper respiratory infections, coccidiosis (a parasite), bloat or grain poisoning, abscesses, and internal parasites like lungworms and barber pole.
Taking care of goats, like taking care of many other animals, is a long term commitment with plenty of work. These farm animals are unbelievably cute and fun but that can wear off after a while! Like with any other animal/pet, it’ll be important to know what exactly goats need and for you to be ready for the work and commitment. Goats can live for 12-14 years so getting some is a commitment that will probably span many years. Before getting goats, do your research, especially regarding your city or county’s regulations on farm animals and what you’ll need to care for goats.