If you’re looking to add a few goats to your backyard, goat breeder and soapmaker Shea Rolnick suggests that you consider how you would handle the following scenarios.
Imagine you’re returning home from a long day of work, and your goat not only breaks from its pen to greet you in the driveway but jumps on the hood of your car. Or what if your small goat herd ravishes through your tomato plants before you pick any for yourself?
“Would you be angry or think it’s funny,” Rolnick asked. “Because if you have goats it’s likely that at some point that will happen.”
People choose to raise goats for several purposes, whether it’s for milking or shaving for their fiber or slaughtering for meat. But even for those folks who just want to raise a small number of goats in their backyard as pets or as a means of weed control, there are many factors to consider before making the commitment.
Rolnick began raising goats six years ago and fell in love with their quirky personalities, along with the joy and routine that caring for them brought to her daily life. Starting initially with two male goats, Rolnick has since grown her herd to 12 goats for purposes of breeding and milking. Rolnick uses her goats’ milk to make soap that she sells through her business, Knotty Goat Soapery. In the time she has spent raising and breeding goats, she’s learned what type and how many goats is right for her lifestyle, questions that prospective owners will have to answer themselves.
The first thing that someone should consider when adding goats to their animal profile is that, like any other animal, you need to be sure you have the time and ability to take care of your goats on a daily basis, according to Colt Knight, state livestock specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
“Like any [animal], goats need to be cared for every day, whether there is 3 feet of snow or it is 95 degrees out,” Knight said.
This daily care requirement, unlike cats and dogs, also requires frequent visual check-ins to make sure the goats, which Knight likened to escape artists, haven’t broken from their enclosure.
When it comes to numbers, goats are an animal that does better with a buddy, Rolnick said, so three is a good number to start with. That way, if one goat becomes sick or is not a good match, there will still be two to keep each other company while you seek to find a third. Rolnick’s first two goats were not a good match for her, and she ended up having to find them a new home.
When choosing a breed of goats, you need to take into consideration what purpose you want the goats to serve. If they’re simply going to be pets, Nigerian dwarf or pygmy goats are a good selection given their small size and playful personalities, Rolnick said. For milking goats, Rolnick suggests saanens because they produce a sweeter milk for drinking. However, while breeds have generalized characteristics, individual personalities may vary.
The first two goats Rolnick purchased ended up not being the right fit for her because they were friendly but too pushy, and as someone who was caring for the goats on her own she didn’t want to be pushed over when going to bring the goats hay. She was able to find a new home for the male goats and replaced them with two female goats that were smaller and whose personalities better fit what she could handle.
“You have an idea what you’re getting into when you get a certain breed, but then each goat will still have their own personality,” Rolnick said.
For space requirements, goats require a pasture area and at least a three-sided shelter or small barn where they can be protected from the elements. Knight recommends that indoors, goats have about 15 square feet per animal, and that in the outdoor pasture two to 10 goats can comfortably reside in 1 acre.
Goats are ruminant animals, meaning they are able to digest cellulose such as grass, hay and weeds, Knight said, which makes them great animals for clearing land or pasture. Rolnick also suggests, if possible, including a small forested area within the pasture since goats enjoy chewing on tough roots and bark. A sturdy wire, woven or electric fence are best to surround pasture with since goats a prone to escaping, Knight said.
On a daily basis, goats require 24 hours access to fresh water and hay, as well as a mineral feeder. For pet goats, replenishing the feed can be done once a day. Goats that are pregnant, as well as milking goats, require more hay and a grain feed is often incorporated during the late stages of pregnancy.
While there is a great deal to consider before choosing to raise goats, Rolnick said the benefits of having their presence in her backyard have been well worth the commitment.
“My favorite part about having the goats is that it doesn’t matter how bad my day is, if I go outside and just spend a little bit of time with the goats, my day is instantly a little bit better,” she said. “If I sit down, one of them will come over for a neck scratch, somebody will come and nibble on my ponytail. They’re so inquisitive and the love spending time with me. They make every day just a little bit better.”