Getting Your Goat
Goats are playful and engage in an extraordinary amount of “kidding” around, especially when young.
I have been thinking about keeping goats. My fiber artist friends would like me to get angoras so they can work with the fleece. My foodie friends would like me to get dairy goats so they can make cheese. Although fleece and milk are good reasons to keep goats, I am motivated mostly by the goat’s personality.
Anyone who has spent time with goats will tell you that they are remarkable creatures. Goats are intelligent, curious, sociable and fearless. Like dogs, they know their names, wag their tails, follow people around and appear to have a sense of humor. In fact, many people who live with goats will insist that goats laugh—or vocalize in a way that sounds like laughter—when playing. Goats also respond to human laughter with behavioral changes. If a group of goats acts out in front of people who laugh at them, the goats are likely to intensify their flamboyant antics. They seem to love an audience.
Goats have remarkable memories and are known to never forget a favor. Help a doe out of a tangle of fencing, and she’s likely to lick your hand in gratitude whenever she sees you. Goats also never forget a face, and studies have shown that they are capable of remembering more than 50 different faces over a span of several years. They are also very good at reading faces and are able to recognize and respond to a variety of human facial expressions, as well as tone of voice.
They are playful and engage in an extraordinary amount of “kidding” around, especially when young. Goat kids will run in circles, jump vertically in the air, leap over other goats, whirl in place, dance, prance and engage in all kinds of frisky play. (Watch the viral YouTube video called “Buttermilk Plays with Her Friends.” The footage depicts a charismatic kid named “Buttermilk” frolicking all over the place. It has been viewed over 11 million times because the little goat’s joy is truly irresistible.)
Of course goats aren’t all play and no work. They find clever ways to avoid doing what we want them to do, such as staying in their enclosures. As the consummate escape artists of the barnyard world, goats can figure out how to open gates by watching us. They learn how to flip hooks and slide bolts very quickly (so put the lock on the outside of the gate!). Goats like to mouth most everything, including your clothes, while you are wearing them. They can be stubborn, surprisingly picky and unapologetically self-motivated. In short, goats are a lot like people, which is why it is so fascinating and so much fun to spend time with them.
Keeping Goats Before you rush out and buy a herd, or even just a couple of adorable kids (a single goat will be lonely), do your research. Check your zoning and review local ordinances. Call your homeowner’s insurance company about liability, and make sure you have the space.
Depending on the breed, you will need approximately 300 square feet of dry, enclosed outdoor space and 30 square feet indoor space. Research the different breeds, spend time visiting goat farms and talk to the people who care for them. And then go get your goats.
American Goat Society americangoatsociety.com
American Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Association andda.org
American Dairy Goat Association adga.org
North American Packgoat Association napga.org
The Backyard Goat: An Introductory Guide to Keeping and Enjoying Pet Goats, from Feeding and Housing to Making Your Own Cheese by Sue Weaver
Belinda Recio, recipient of the Humane Society’s Award for Innovation in the Study of Animals, owns True North Gallery (truenorthgallery.net) in Hamilton, MA, where she exhibits art that connects people with animals and the natural world.