Ours, everyone else’s, pretty much all goats. Big ones, small ones, even the goats who aren’t especially fond of people. When visiting other ‘goat folks’ I’m like the old spinster aunt at family gatherings who would rather sit in the corner and snuggle the cats than socialize. I have to conduct a smell-check and inspect my hair for hay before attending any sort of social event.
I spent a lot of time researching before bringing our first pair of fuzzy babies home. A lot of what I found was repetitive, the same info on basic care and keeping. Grooming, health issues, feed and uses for all classes and kinds of goats, ect. What was missing from most of the articles was straightforward, off-the-books info from actual ‘goat people’. The people interested in buying their first goats from my herd often ask the same questions I had in the beginning, and I’m happy to answer them, but I ask quite a few questions too. There are individuals who really don’t care about the who, where and why as long as they get their asking price for the goat they’re selling; I’m not one of those people.
I’ve only been ‘in goats’ for a few years, but have encountered quite a few issues and situations that all the research never came close to touching. I’ve had to write my own stock responses. I’m far from an expert but, in my humble opinion, there are some considerations that anyone considering goats needs to take an honest look at in the very beginning.
- You really can’t get ‘a goat.’ Goats belong in herds. They’re emotional, social animals who rely on others of their kind for companionship and basic needs like warmth and security. A solitary goat will get depressed, possibly to the point of no longer eating. Goats can live happily with gentle horses, llamas, alpacas, and sometimes sheep (although there can be issues there… Google ‘geep’ and be afraid, *very* afraid…) Even the most attentive human can’t replace the need for a herd.
- Goats and dogs just don’t mix. With the exception of carefully bred and trained livestock guardian dogs, its just not a good idea to expect goats and dogs to share the same space unsupervised. Goats instinctively run, dogs instinctively chase; draw your own conclusions. I had an inquiry on a baby goat from people who planned to keep him in a fenced dog run… *with* the family dogs. They assured me their dogs were sweet, would love the baby goat and would never even think of hurting him, but I wasn’t willing to bet that baby’s life on those assurances. You cant expect an animal to change its base nature just because you want it to; they still are what they are at their core. Forgetting that fact generally doesn’t end well.
- Goats don’t belong indoors. I’ve seen the adorable YouTube videos. Hell, I’ve made a few; we’ve raised quite a few baby goats indoors for their first few weeks. A newborn baby requiring bottle-feeding every 4 hours and can be contained in a dog kennel is one thing, an adult goat that’s expected to live like a dog or cat is another. Goats aren’t trained the same way as domestic house pets because they’re not people-pleasers by nature; the term ‘stubborn old goat’ is rooted in the deep inclination of pretty much all goats to do whatever they want exactly when the mood strikes. They also can’t control their bodily functions the same way a dog or cat can. Goats don’t have control of their bowels, and defecate as their bodies digest. Hay goes in, poop comes out, repeat repeat repeat. Repeat. I don’t care how well you’ve trained your other pets, you will not be getting a goat to use a litter box. It’s muh more likely that you’ll find yourself chasing the aforementioned goat with the aforementioned litter box/puppy pad while he or she poops on your carpet… probably while eating your curtains.
- Bottle babies are a lot of fun… for about three hours. We’ve raised quite a few babies indoors that were either rejected or so weak/small at birth that they’d have no chance of survival without intervention. I love taking video of little big-eared fluffballs bouncing through my living room and dancing with excitement at the sight of their bottle; what those photos and video don’t show are the hours of cleaning up, washing bottles, mixing formula/preparing real milk and doing laundry that accompanies every baby that’s raised that way. Bottle babies are adorable, but they’re exhausting. I only take them on if I absolutely have to. They’ve bounced out of sight and peed on my couch, they’ve chewed up ridiculously expensive charger cables and gotten stuck in tight spaces. They’re basically puppies that can’t be trained to do their business outside. Every single year I get at least one call from someone, usually girls in their late teens or early twenties, who want to buy a baby goat from me and keep it in their apartment/townhouse/suburban rental. When I start my usual round of questions, every one has assured me that they didn’t plan on keeping the goat into adulthood. They wanted to raise it as a bottle-fed baby, because they’re SO CUTE, and would find it the best home ever later on (once it stopped being SO CUTE and started being SO DESTRUCTIVE, I’m guessing.) One became pretty hostile when I explained that I wouldn’t sell her my baby goat, demanding to know how I could refuse sale. My answer? Because I can. Because I get to choose what homes my goats go to and, frankly, people with that mindset would be much better off with a Chihuahua. Or a plant.
- Goats really don’t belong in suburbia. The rise in popularity of backyard chickens has resulted in a huge number of people determined to take things a step further. Unfortunately, goats just aren’t suited for people’s backyards. A tiny fenced enclosure will be reduced to mud in a matter of days, and you’ll be left with unhappy, chronically ill goats who ingest parasite eggs every time a blade of grass finds its way through the hardpack of manure. Suburban goats also tend to get very bored, since they can’t roam and browse and explore the way they need to, and they get into trouble. The damage a bored goat can do to a property, especially your generic suburban McMansion and the manicured yards that usually surround it, is astounding. They’ll climb on cars, break windshields and eat wiper blades. Even the smallest breeds can cause large dents in a vehicle. The beautiful landscaping? consider it eaten. A roaming goat that causes property damage or a car accident will do so at its owner’s expense, as homeowners insurance rarely covers livestock, especially if your property isn’t specified as agricultural on your policy.
- Goats escape. There’s an old saying, that a fence needs to hold water if its going to hold a goat. Agreed, 100%. We’ve had 80lb goats find their way through a hole the size of a roll of toilet paper, and over the top of our 5ft fence. Our tiny Nigerian Dwarf buck Bombur holds the title of supreme ninja in our herd and has bypassed any and every gate, fence, panel and enclosure we’ve tried to contain him with. A goat that is bored, lonely, hungry or just ‘the adventurous type’ will find a way to get out, period. Horny bucks are notorious for tearing down fences (sometimes sustaining major injuries) in order to get to does in heat. Rounding up and re-containing the escapees can be a daily job and it gets old really fast.
- Goat vets can be hard to find. Very, very few general practice veterinarians are trained to care for caprines. Even most equine (horse) vets don’t see goats.
- Goats are living beings, not a status symbol. Fifteen years ago it was potbelly pigs, ten years ago it was teacup dog breeds. Five years ago it was backyard chickens. Now goats are the trendy animal accessory, and that really isn’t a good thing. As cool as it would be to launch a YouTube channel featuring daily commentary from Joe Hipster and his pet goat, complete with matching beard and man-bun, it still doesn’t mean its a good idea. Unless Joe Hipster happens to live somewhere that has the acreage and accommodations to keep his pet goat (and several buddies for him) healthy and happy, as well as the patience and knowledge and everything else said goat would require of his human, then Joe Hipster really doesn’t need a goat. The fact that an animal is in vogue doesn’t change the basic necessities of the animal. If Joe Hipster is that set on flooding Instagram with #GoatSelfie and #Twinning photos, then he could always go spend an afternoon with someone else’s (properly cared for) goat instead of expecting an animal to magically change its nature in order to boost Joe’s social media cred. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if the goat Joe poses with decided to rip out his nose ring mid-selfie at the indignation.
If you love goats but don’t have an ideal environment to keep your own, go visit someone else’s herd. Commune with some new cloven-hoofed friends and then go home to your McMansion with your landscaping left untouched. Take some pictures, bring some animal crackers, wear shoes you can wash and live it up for a few hours. Goats are intelligent, endearing, amazing creatures that have something to teach pretty much everybody, but they do things their own way. In order to share your existence with a goat (or twelve) you have to be willing to accommodate them; they will never accommodate you. It’s just not in their nature. Part of loving them is accepting them, in all their weirdness and annoyances and aggravation, exactly as they are.