Getting Started with Goats as Pets
Best Goats for Pets and Keeping Them Happy and Healthy
Reading Time: 7 minutes
In recent times, all kinds of people are discovering the benefits of keeping goats as pets. We are charmed by those lovable caprine personalities! However, as for all pets, prospective owners need to be aware that you need more than just love to guarantee their happiness. We need to know how to look after them properly. This is essential for their health and welfare and our enjoyment of their company.
Do Goats Make Good Pets?
Reflect deeply on why you want to keep goats as pets: will their behavior and needs will fit into your lifestyle? Are goats good pets? Despite media coverage of how intelligent and people-loving goats are, we must not consider them a dog substitute. Dr. Christian Nawroth has studied goat behavior for many years. He observes that “… goats are unlikely to thrive in a dog environment as they have different needs and motivations than our canid friends.” He explains that goats and dogs have evolved to live in different environments, and that goats need the company of their own kind.
Indeed, a single goat will not thrive living in the house with only dogs and/or humans as companions. Firstly, caprine behavior urges goats to forage and explore for many hours a day. This natural instinct suits their life at pasture where they must seek out large quantities of vegetation. Enclosure within a home will lead to them breaking into forbidden areas, climbing on furniture, and nibbling things they should not. They may end up chewing cables, butting and breaking fixtures, opening doors, cupboards, containers, and so on. As well as being frustrating for their owners, this activity can be dangerous for the goat through injury or consuming unsuitable food.
Secondly, goat digestion is suited to the slow breakdown of tough vegetation and cannot cope with high-carb snacks or meat. Ingesting human or dog food can make a goat seriously ill. Young goats copy the behavior of the animals they grow up with, which is useful in the field, but can be disastrous for goats feeding beside dogs. I know of a house-goat who ate her canine companion’s food and became critically poisoned.
Thirdly, goats need other goats as constant companions. A human, however dedicated, will never be able to spend all her time with her goat. A goat should never be left alone, as he would suffer enormous stress. Goats have evolved to feel safe in a herd and vulnerable when alone. The best companions for goats are members of their own family or goats who they have grown up with. This is because goats repel strange goats, considering them rivals, and it is very stressful trying to introduce a new goat to the herd.
Consider the Pros and Cons of Goats as Pets
Sadly, many pet goats have ended up in animal shelters when well-meaning owners discovered that they could not cope with their pet as he grew older, larger, and more unruly. So, it is important to know what to expect from your goats.
Goats will not mow your lawn, as they prefer to browse for different plants and favor brush, trees, and weeds—but also your roses, apples, bark, vegetables, and many things you don’t want them to eat.
Most goats have horns, which they use with gusto to fight, play, and whack against objects. This means they can be destructive, dangerous to children and adults who have not yet learned to handle them, and even injurious to each other in tight places. Some people choose to dehorn their goat-kids, but this removes one of goats’ natural tools for thermoregulation and body language.
What You Will Need for Having a Goat as a Pet
It is absolutely essential to read up on goat care and suitable facilities before welcoming goats. Use reputable websites, books, and veterinary guides. Get to know some goats and have a go at caring for them at a local shelter or farm. You will learn a lot about their character and basic needs. I found volunteering at a goat sanctuary very helpful before taking on my own herd.
You will see examples of the facilities you need to provide, and hopefully get to try some basic healthcare routines, such as hoof trimming, FAMACHA testing, and dosing. If you do not know how to do these things, make sure you find an experienced mentor to show you. A good relationship with a veterinarian is also essential.
Consider the commitment you can give. Goat keeping is time consuming on a daily basis and long term, as goats live about 15 years, and it may be difficult to take holidays if you cannot find a suitable sitter.
Finally, you need to prepare their accommodation in advance, ensuring that you protect any areas you do not want goats to enter with sturdy fences at least four feet high.
What Your Goats Need to Be Happy and Healthy
All goats of any type or breed have the same basic needs. We have already mentioned COMPANY. Having a single goat is a no-no! A group of two or three friends or relatives is ideal. As their owner, you can build a relationship of trust through gentle handing and positive reinforcement training, which will make handling easier and safer for you all. You must also gently habituate your goats to any unusual changes to their routine, such as visitors, dogs, or outings.
A SUITABLE ENVIRONMENT includes a dry shelter with elevated areas to jump or rest upon. Partitions within the shelter help give individuals privacy when they need it. An outdoor area for exercise is a must for physical and mental health.
Ideally, three goats would have an acre of land to explore and forage with a variety of plants (grass, bushes, trees) to meet their nutritional needs. In practice, smaller areas can be made suitable if they include playgrounds designed for goats. These typically include platforms, cable spools, large plastic drums, trees, fallen trunks, rocks, mounds of earth, and tables, for example, and must have plenty of room for goats to run around and avoid each other when necessary. My goats’ paddock is around 4800 sq. ft. (450 m²), although they have additional pastures. Recommendations such as 20–50 sq. ft. (2–4.6 m²) per goat are minimums based on dairy conditions where 50 or more does share a barn or run. But if you have only three goats, this is going to be a very small area indeed, and would result in boredom and fighting.
Similarly, an empty pen with no stimulation will lead to boredom, frustration, and bad behavior. Goats being highly adventurous and nimble, all housing, fences, and equipment must be regularly checked for safety, removing sharp edges or loose components that could end up being consumed.
Nutrition and Health
FEEDING must be appropriate for the species, which should be at least 70% long fibrous vegetation (grass, hay, leaves). Pets that are not pregnant or lactating should not be given cereal or manufactured feed destined for working farm animals, especially wethers (castrated males). It does not harm to give a little cereal by hand as a treat. Otherwise, I recommend meadow hay and pasture containing multiple species of plant for a varied diet. Also, supplement with tree branches and brush. Be sure to learn which plants are poisonous (for example, most ornamental garden plants, rhododendron, and laurel) and remove them or fence them off securely.
Goats eat approximately 3.5% of their body weight in dry matter (roughly 3.75 lb./1.75 kg for a 110 lb./50 kg goat) per day. During winter, rainfall, and when pasture is low, you will need to supply this in hay. Hay is about 85% dry matter, so you are talking 4.4 lb. of hay per goat per day. And then there is wastage from when they drop hay on the floor and trample it. My four pet goats get through a small bale (approx 20 lb./9 kg) per day between them in winter, probably half that in other seasons. Clean water daily is essential, as is salt and normally mineral licks.
Best Types of Goats for Pets
Any breed of goat can make a good pet if they are raised by humans who are kind. Socialization with humans should begin as early as possible, even while the kid is on the dam. It is not necessary to raise kids on the bottle, but just to be there from the start and interact with kids gently. Kids all start small. So, you need to be aware of the breed and parents’ size to assess how big your goats will grow. Their size will determine how much space and feed they will need.
Pygmy goats as pets are popular due to their small body size and fun nature. However, they can be very good at escaping enclosures by climbing and squeezing through gaps. Myotonic goats are gentle and less agile due to their stiffer musculature, making ideal pets for children. Wethers make good pets as they are not prone to hormonal surges; by no means take on an entire buck. My own pets are retired milking does, who are well accustomed to people and very affectionate.
I did not start out with goats as pets—they were my milkers—but how you grow to love them!
—Nawroth, C. N., 2019. Despite All the Media Fuzz, Goats Are Not the New Dogs. Companion Animal Psychology.
—Harwood, D., 2019. The Veterinary Guide to Goat Health and Welfare. Crowood Press.
Lead photo credit: Vadim Fomenok on Unsplash.
Recommended reading: The Backyard Goat: An Introductory Guide to Keeping and Enjoying Pet Goats, from Feeding and Housing to Making Your Own Cheese by Sue Weaver.
Originally published in the 2022 special issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.