Are goats for me?

Brownie cleans up her new kids, Rosie Fluffy Socks and Phyllis Schulman. Brownie was an extremely fine mother. She passed away in 2010, but her kids and grandkids live on working as family dairy goats or Rent-a-Ruminant. Rent-a-ruminant treats its employees well and offers a generous health care and retirement package. The goats who work for Rent-a-Ruminant love their work.

Keeping dairy goats is a thrill. You get to witness the miracle of life. You get to actually milk an animal. You get to carry a full bottle of milk into your home twice a day and you get to spend time with goats and they are often up to interesting and entertaining things (when they aren’t napping or eating).

But, goats aren’t for everyone and there are a few very important things to keep in mind. Here they are, in brief bullet form:

  • You MUST get two goats. One goat will be lonely and stressed and act out in ways that you could not imagine but that you can be assured will cost you heart ache and money! Think incredibly inventive escapes. Think — your neighbors brand new BMW, jumped all over and dented. Think prize rose bushes — eaten in one gulp. Plus, stressed goats are much more likely to get sick and make noise. Goats are herd animals and require the companionship of another hooved animal, preferably a goat. DO NOT expect your dog to provide adequate companionship. Goats and dogs can get along, but they rarely form a strong bond.
  • Goats are NOT going to mow your lawn. Goats are primarily browsers. This means, that unlike sheep and cows, they prefer bushes to grass. It also means that rather than giving your lawn a beautiful manicured look, they will devour your rare Japanese maples and rose bushes and leave your lawn looking like Rod Stewart’s hair stylist is your gardener.
  • Keeping goats involves UNRELENTING work. Every morning and every evening, you will need to head out to your milking area and milk your goat. This doesn’t take much time, and you don’t have to do it at exactly the same time every day, but you CAN NOT skip a day. Some people milk their goats only once a day after the goat is past the peak of her lactation. This is fine, although it does result in getting only half the amount of milk you would get otherwise and it still means you cannot take even a single day off. Also, don’t assume a neighbor kid can milk your goat when you go away. Milking a goat takes practice and patience. If you can find a neighbor adult who really wants to milk, DO IT. But, it’s a special sort of person who is willing to take the time to learn. Getting proficient at milking takes about a week of practice, morning and evening and it’s unbelievably frustrating at first. Even if the goat is an angel on the stand, the motion takes many weeks to truly master.
  • Because goats eat primarily leaves and other low calorie foods and because they give lots of calories in the form of rich milk, they eat an incredible volume of food. This ends up costing about $75 per month for a pair of goats, but more importantly, it requires a lot of lugging. You will regularly need to deliver to your goat yard large bales of hay and 50 pound bags of alfalfa pellets. This means, you’ll need to be in good physical condition to keep goats or alternatively, have enough money to pay someone to lug for you.
  • Goats will NOT magically clear your yard of blackberry bushes. There are always newspaper stories about goats doing land clearing. These stories are true, but they inevitably forget to mention that the goats come with a handler who, as the goats defoliate bushes, clear the bramble away. Goats do not eat the thorny branches of blackberry. If a human handler didn’t help, the goats, unless they were truly starving, would not plow through the prickers to get to the remaining foliage.

Keeping goats is far more work than keeping chickens, but it’s work that some people enjoy. If you are a reliable person who enjoys spending time outside doing physical work in your garden and who loves spending time with animals, it’s possible that goat keeping would be right for you.

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