A sunny fall day in the neighborhood
Why Have Goats?
Goats are great to have around – they are friendly, funny, rewarding creatures. However, they do require a commitment of time, energy, and money, and are not a responsibility to be taken lightly. Sharing the workload within a neighborhood is highly recommended. This post is meant to give an introductory glance at the possibility of urban goats. Much more research is needed before actually caretaking for goats.
Goats are mainly kept for their milk (and cheese!) or meat. Goats offer other benefits as well. Goat manure is high in nitrogen, is relatively dry and ages quickly. As grazing, foraging animals, they also will eat back many of the plants of an area, and can be a useful tool in clearing invasives.
There are particular pros and cons to keeping goats in an urban setting. While not quite micro livestock, goats are close- and confer some of the advantages. They don’t need a huge amount of space. 12-25 sq. ft per goat of barn space is sufficient. They will be happy with as much grazing as they can get – and if it is supplemented by frequent outings even better! Goats also provide meat and dairy without the heavily trampling the land like a cow.
Goats, like any livestock, are extremely educational (and entertaining) to urban residents. It brings people, and especially children, closer to where food actually comes from, rather than the supermarket shelf.
A densely populated area also offers more possibility to share group responsibility over care for the goats (or chickens). Goats are a commitment – they require care once or twice a day, and there are always unforeseen issues that arise and demand attention. Whether a club, collective, or even interested friends and neighbors to call, it is nice to have help!
A big drawback to urban goats is the need to import their food. Without big pastures, goats need unlimited access to hay. They also need a protein-rich feed, which can be bought at feed stores or crafted from raw materials (grains, molasses, seeds, etc.). Unlike pigs or chickens, the specialized digestive system of a goat cannot adapt to a changing stream of compost and other waste products.
Depending upon your neighborhood, the biggest cons to keeping urban goats could be people and kids messing with them, or neighbors complaining about the noise and smell. Goats can be vocal – especially if they are hungry, want to be milked, want attention, or are under threat. On warm summer days there may be a ‘goaty’ smell in the air. Regular removal and composting of manure for fertilizing gardens will take care of this problem. As with most things, much drama can be avoided if neighbors in the immediate vicinity are agreeable. Talking with everyone beforehand is highly recommended. A secure fence and lock will also minimize trouble.
In our neighborhood, the goats have been fed plants that aren’t good for them through the fence and they have been taunted. That said, they are paid happy visits daily by people walking their dogs in the adjoining park, and are adored by neighborhood children.
What do Goats Need?
Access to clean water is important to all animals, and goats are no exception. Goats tend to muddy up their water, so it definitely needs to be changed daily, if not twice a day. When it is hot, and when they are in milk they need a lot of water – thirsty goats can easily suck up a gallon in no time. Water also needs to be kept unfrozen in winter months. If there is access to electricity, heated water buckets are available at feed stores. If not, boiling water can be delivered a few times a day.
Goats also need constant access to hay. The best type of hay is alfalfa and clover – rich in protein and calcium. Later cuttings are generally more nutritious. Goats are notorious hay burners which means they waste a lot of hay. They will pull hay out of the manger and drop over half of it on the floor. Once it hits the ground they rarely eat it. Supposedly, hay can be saved by building a manger that forces them to keep their head in the manger while they chew. I built one with a piece of 1/2 inch plywood I happened to have, using the plans from the Storey’s Guide (listed in references below). It helped for a little while. After the kids were born they began climbing up into the top of it, which was more than the plywood could handle. It is barely holding itself together less than a year later.
In addition to hay, goats eat a protein-based grain feed. Blends can be bought from feed stores, or organic feeds can be crafted with research into nutritional percentages of different seeds, grains, and molasses.
During growing seasons, it is great to bring goats greens to supplement their diet. Below is a list of good common plants and those that can be poisonous to goats. Green plants should be dry- eating wet plants can give goats frothy bloat, which can lead to a fast death.
In most places, goats need selenium because it has been depleted from the soil. Putting a salt lick with selenium and other minerals in the barn is an easy way to take care of the problem. Supplements can also be purchased.
****It is very important to take great care when adjusting a goat’s diet. A goat’s rumen and stomach is home to a specialized, balanced, and developed community of bacteria. Rapid changes in diet – whether amounts or types of food – can alter this bacterial community and cause bloating. A bloated goat’s sides are visibly inflated, and sound like a drum. A good squirt of oil down a bloated goat’s throat can help relieve the gas. Any changes in food should be made incrementally – including the increase for milking after kidding (start before the due date!) and with the joyous appearance of green in spring.
Surprisingly, goats can survive the frigid temperatures of the northern US without a heat source, as long as they have a space that is dry and not drafty. Put down a nice, thick bedding of straw for them to snuggle up in. Over time the breakdown of their poop will also generate heat. As mentioned earlier, 12-25 sq. ft per goat of inside barn space is fine.
An easily overlooked chore in the care of goats is trimming their hooves. Unless they have access to a rough, rocky yard, their hooves need to be trimmed every 2-3 months. It requires restraining the goat and clipping back the hard hoof with a strong pair of pruning clippers. There are guides and illustrations on websites and in books. Putting rough cinder blocks in the yard for them to climb on may buy a little time between trims. Untrimmed hooves keep growing and curl around into what is called ‘Turkish slippers’. Eventually it will affect their mobility.
Dairy: Nubian, Saanen, Oberhasi, Alpine, Toggenburg, and La Mancha
Milk and meat: Nigerian Dwarfs
Meat: Boer and Fainting Goats
Milk and mohair: Angora
Good Common Plants for Goats
Possibly Toxic Common Plants
- Bracken fern
- Pine needles
- Oak leaves
- After it has frosted dangerous levels of nitrates can accumulate in Johnson grass, sorghum, & alfalfa
Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats Jerry Belanger
Basic introduction, conventional methods.
www.fiascofarm.com Great site packed with information from a natural care perspective.
Home Cheesemaking Ricki Carroll Great first book, tons of recipes and descriptive, illustrated instructions
American Farmstead Cheese: The Complete Guide to Making and Selling Artisan Cheeses Paul Kindtedt Advanced, includes chemistry of cheese.