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Since we brought our first goats home and started sharing their photos and stories here, we've heard "I want a goat! Do they make good pets?" from several folks. And certainly, we appreciate the appeal of caprines - they are full of personality, can be affectionate, and can produce milk or meat, if you so desire. We've offered some information and advice in those individual conversations, but I think it's about time I also talked about this here on the site. Goats absolutely have unique needs, so if you are starting to consider bringing them into your life, there are some things you need to know.

  1. Determine if goats are even allowed on your property. Some urban and suburban areas are now allowing for keeping a few hens for egg-laying, but that does not mean that the ordinances allow for a goat. And even if it's not officially clarified on the books, and you are thinking, "better to ask forgiveness than permission," you should really check into how your neighbors are going to feel about it. If they are opposed to the idea, they might be inclined to try and intimidate or harm your goats over the fence.
  2. Yes, I keep using the plural, goats. You really shouldn't have a goat, you should have goats. These are herd animals who will not thrive if they are the only goat on a property. So you need to be able to take on at least two, and provide them the space, feed, health care, and attention that they need.
  3. Do not purchase an intact buck. Bucks can be sweet some of the time, but when they are "in rut" and wanting to breed, they are aggressive, stinky, and can be dangerous. I still have a scar on my leg from last year's breeding season when the buck on our property rammed my leg. And he didn't have horns, either. It just goes to show they don't need those to defend themselves! Your best bet gender-wise for pets is to get neutered males - wethers. They have a very sweet disposition. But, make sure that wethers have been fixed at the proper time - right around the time they start to go into puberty. Wethers are at risk for urinary calculi, which can kill them, and if they are neutered too young, they are at even higher risk for this problem. But if they were neutered properly, the risk is much lower. By purchasing wethers as pets, you will probably be saving them from going to the slaughterhouse to be used as meat, too.
  4. Another important point to consider is the fence. There's an old saying that goes, "If it won't hold water, it won't hold a goat." If you only have a 3' cyclone fence, rest assured, your goats will find a way to climb it. And a split-rail or post and rail fence is essentially just an unspoken challenge to your goat to show off their limbo skills. You need to have a multi-wire electric fence, or a woven wire fence in combination with a hot electric wire on the top and bottom. Oh, and make sure that those grid openings on the woven wire fence are not too big so that baby or adult goats can get their head stuck!
  5. Disbudding. You do not want a horned goat. Repeat after me, you do not want a horned goat.  Horns will result in injuries to you, that goat, the other goat(s), other pets, children, neighbors, the postal carrier...you do not want a horned goat. Period. So do not purchase adult goats who have horns, because they would have to endure a painful, and possibly life-threatening procedure to have those removed. The proper method is to have the baby goats disbudded by a qualified person within two weeks of being born. So make sure that the goats you buy are already disbudded.
  6. You do, however, want a bottle baby. Meaning, that the goat was fed by a human with a bottle. This makes them much more cuddly and friendly toward humans. Additionally, it is a safeguard against certain caprine diseases that would otherwise have been passed along through the mother's milk if the kid had nursed from her.  Usually bottle babies are weaned by about eight weeks of age. Should you get them while they are still feeding from the bottle? I would advise against it, if you are getting them strictly as a pet, and particularly if you have a full-time job. You are going to have a hungry, needy goat as soon as you get home and are probably feeling a bit hungry and needy yourself! Let the farmer wean the goat before you take it on.
  7. Feed. You are going to need to provide your goats with plenty of fresh forage (if you have the property and tall grasses available), good quality hay, and fresh water.  Do not believe someone if they say "Goats get the water they need from the plants they eat." No, they do not. We're going to assume you have wethers (neutered males) and so they do not need grain, as it will encourage those urinary calculi I mentioned earlier. Do not make the mistake of thinking you are getting goats to mow your lawn. They are not designed to graze low to the ground like sheep. Goats are meant to reach across (at head height) or up for food, not down. Grazing grasses that are shorter than 6" tall also means that there is a higher load of parasites, which are a huge health risk to your animals. Make sure you are able to get good quality green hay for your goats - this is not the same thing as straw! Hay is dried grasses, like Timothy, Alfalfa, etc. Straw are the hollow stalks that are left over after wheat or oats are harvested, and do not have the same nutritive value. You use straw as litter/bedding, not food, although, don't be surprised if your goats munch on some of it. They're just being goats. It's like junk food and they figure they are sneaking some on you.
  8. Parasite controls. Goats are vulnerable to many parasites. The best medicine is prevention, of course, but you will need to be prepared to treat them for any infestations they might suffer. Don't encourage them to graze close to the ground, try to keep deer out of your area (they bring meningeal worms, which won't hurt them, but will gradually paralyze and kill your goats), and don't let goats graze on dewy grasses - let the sun dry those up.  Depending on your access to a large animal veterinarian, you will probably want to learn how to perform injections on your goats in case they do get parasites.
  9. Do you have a large animal veterinarian willing to travel to your location, or will you need to bring your goat quite a distance to their location? If so, do you have the means to transport them there?
  10. Housing - do you have a safe place for your goats to sleep at night, lounge during the day, and be protected from the elements in severe weather? Even if you are in a relatively suburban area, remember, coyote populations are found everywhere, and because of all of the urban sprawl, their traditional home and hunting grounds have shifted around. They are adapting to urban environments- they've even been a problem in big cities, like Detroit! And oh, by the way, they think goat meat is delicious. So you need to protect your goats from predators at night. Heck, your neighbor's dog might get a taste for goat. You just never know. Keep them safe.
  11. Capricious. Are you familiar with the term? It means given to whimsy, and sometimes erratic. And it is derived from the word “caprine.” Which means goats! So be prepared to have a pet that may not always agree with you on what it should be doing. The more time you spend with your goats, the better socialized and friendly they will be, but it's fairly unrealistic to expect that you will walk them around the neighborhood on a leash like you might a German Shepherd. Be realistic about your expectations with your goats.
  12. Go to a reputable breeder for your goats. Goats can have diseases that you do not want them to have. You don't want to form a bond with your goats only to discover that someone sold you some goats who are only going to live for a few months. Check to see if your state has a goat owner association, and get in contact with them for a list of breeders.
  13. Don't think because you've read my post, you are now an expert on pet goats. Pick up a copy of Cheryl K. Smith's Raising Goats For Dummies and read it at least once before you actually put the wheels in motion to bring home some goats.

I have covered many, but not all of the points you need to review as you ponder bringing pet goats into your life. Have I discouraged you? Well, perhaps I've also saved you (and your family, and some goats!) a lot of heartache. If you really just want to spend some time with goats, check to see if there are any petting zoos or local farms that encourage “agritourism” in your area. Maybe there aren't – but perhaps you could travel a bit and find one, and make a little vacation out of it. Agritourism is a great way to go spend a couple of days on a farm and interact with the animals, without the commitment required to have those animals as your own. Check out the Agritourism World directory to search for these types of destinations.

We are far from being goat “experts,” but we have been fortunate enough to have met many folks with years more experience than our own from whom we have learned so much. Because we have this channel to communicate, I wanted to take this opportunity to share many of those things we've learned with anyone considering goats as a pet! If you have any questions, we'd be happy to answer them to the best of our ability. If you decide to get pet goats, please share your stories and photos with us, too!


This was originally published on our blog on 27 July 2011. Copyright Serenity Acres Now LLC, please do not republish without permission. Permission was of course granted to Homegrown.org because I posted it here. ;) Please check out our blog at http://www.serenityacresnow.com/ for more information and farm hijinx! 

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Comment by rachel whetzel on August 21, 2011 at 1:27pm

Good article... I wish that some of the opinion parts of it had been posted less as fact and more as opinion, like the bottle baby bit. Whether or not to buy a bottle baby is a matter of personal opinion. I personally can attest to the fact that dam raised babies are very friendly. There are just as many advantages/disadvantages to dam raising as there are to bottle feeding... so it's more of a personal choice and fit than it is one is better than the other.

I also wanted to mention that not all goats need electric fencing. I have Nigerian Dwarf Dairy goats, and they have never escaped their area fenced with only cattle panels. I use plastic bird netting at the bottom of the fencing to keep kids in, and it works. Some breeds though, have a higher drive for that grass on the greener side... so researching breeds and learning which ones have a knack for needing out is helpful when planning any fencing.

I love your advice to read up!! I've heard great things from some of the goat people I admire the most about Cheryl's book. I also recommend finding some good on line groups to join and ask Q of... there's a lot of information out there if you look for it. The trick is to be able to weed through it all and figure out what and how to apply it to you!!

Comment by Trase Passantino on August 21, 2011 at 2:51pm

Oh, I agree, Rachel, different strokes for different folks, for sure. As mentioned in the post - this is something I wrote up on our blog based upon our experience, and we make not claims to be the end-all, be-all experts in the field. I reposted it here to commence with participation on this site.

The reason I wrote it to begin with is that we had a LOT of folks asking us about getting a goat as a pet - not as farm livestock to produce milk or meat - and if that is the purpose for the animal, then I think that a bottle baby is going to meet their expectations in terms of the affection and interaction it is going to seek with humans. That's been true within our herd, anyway - our bottle babies are the ones who will always come to use looking for pets and attention first.  We've seen the same in any other herd we've visited, t0o. 

Also, we felt that if someone is looking for a -pet-, often they are on a smaller piece of property that is close to their neighbors - that held true for the folks on a couple of acres who purchased two wethers as pets from us this past kidding season. So in that sort of case, they are going to want well-enforced boundaries, not only for their goats, but to keep out potential predators like the neighbor's large dogs, coyotes, etc.

In our experience thus far, it hasn't been so much a matter of which breed likes to escape, but which individual(s) have that flair for freedom! (We have a very mixed herd of LaMancha, Saanen, Alpine, Nigerian, and Nubian.) It's great that your ND's have not busted through the fencing you have set up for them, though. Surely it is a matter of experimentation. But the folks asking us about goats as pets have not had experience with livestock, and so in their minds, a split-rail fence keeps all the animals in. We felt obligated to clear that up for them. 

We are also very lucky to have a local goat expert as a close friend. She's kept goats for 30+ years herself, she is a large animal vet specializing in caprines, and is often asked to speak on goats and goat reproduction at many conventions. She's reinforced a lot of these points with us - so that is where many of our opinions have formed. While some of these things are just opinions, her experience and success with her goats has caused us to realize that those opinions are well informed, and so we listen to them. :)  

Comment by HOMEGROWN.org on October 27, 2011 at 2:29pm
Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos of your goats, Trase! Consider submitting them in the First-Ever End-of-Season HOMEGROWN Fair.  All you have to do is edit the title to include “HOMEGROWN Fair Submission”.  Prizes awarded to the best of the best in all categories, including backyard livestock!


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