Miniature Goats in the City
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Jenny Rose Ryan Goats aren’t just country creatures anymore. As interest in homesteading continues to expand, a growing number of Americans are bringing pygmy goats into their urban and suburban plots to live out their farming and animal-keeping dreams. Offering joy and fun to families and kids, plus options for industrious, inventive types, so-called city goats bring a touch of rural life to the daily grind.
Why? For fiber, milk and cheese, habitat restoration, and even for community building. The reasons for urban goat ownership are as varied as the lots where city goats live.
Think you have what it takes? If you have a decent-sized city lot, a bit of know-how about local zoning and space requirements, an awareness of goats and other livestock, and how to tend to their needs, then all you need is a bit of gumption (and, yes, some cash) to get your own goat pack going.
Before you start:
Small breeds are best unless you have the space.
Pygmy, dwarf, and miniature goat breeds are usually best for urban spaces because they require a smaller-sized enclosure. According to Barbara Jamison, director of Puget Sound Goat Rescue, goats need at least an eighth of an acre (about 5,400 square feet — a decently sized city lot), though you can get away with less if you create different levels and have things they can climb and jump around on. If you are in an unincorporated area along the outskirts, you may be able to have larger goats but also need to consider how happy they will be in a small space — or be ready to take frequent goat walks.
Know the zoning.
In-city building and land use codes will usually only allow small-breed goats, with annual licenses required. This is true in Seattle, where they must also be dehorned and male goats neutered. Check into your local codes before you get started, and make sure you have all licensing figured out and ready to go.
For Jenny and James in Burien, Wash., wanting goats led them to realize there were very few restrictions on their own suburban land. “It’s still a bit like the Wild West here, and that’s part of why we love it,” says Jenny.
Understand the commitment.
Goats aren’t happy alone, so always be sure you get at least a pair — two females or two neutered males. They require daily interaction and engagement to become as adorable as what we see on YouTube. They are a livestock animal, not a dog, so they can’t be allowed inside your house no matter how cute they are. They will chew on whatever they want and destroy everything.
Look for bottle-fed goats.
Bottle-raised goats have been socialized around humans and already want to please their keepers. When you are on your goat search, look for the ones who run up to you and look to engage with humans — this is a sign that they have been bottle-fed and raised to be the kind of goat who wants to hang out with people. (Puget Sound Goat Rescue currently has more than 110 bottle-raised goats of all shapes and sizes available for adoption.)
Ready your neighbors.
While codes may allow goats, it doesn’t hurt to do a little outreach to neighbors beforehand to make sure everyone is ready for the noises and smells — and to let them know about that great goat milk or cheese or yard waste cleanup you’re hoping you’ll be able to give them. Let them know your plans and why you’re doing it to help build support and make connections.
Prepare their habitat.
Goats will eat anything they can, so a sturdy fence that keeps them inside their enclosure is a given. Jenny experienced this when her duo of goat sisters, Apache and Space Invader, nosed their way out and had to be picked up down the street. Be sure they can’t reach any plant or young tree you’d like to survive since they’ll eat everything — including poisonous ones. Rhododendrons and azaleas are notorious goat poisoners.
The fence needs to be a good quality livestock fence, not chicken wire. Make sure it’s dog-proof, too. According to Jamison, more goats are killed by dogs getting through fences than anything else.
And they need a shelter — a small barn or shed that is big enough for them to stand up in. Jamison is quick to point out that a “dog house won’t do.” All goats need a space big enough to seek shelter from all kinds of weather. If it’s rainy, they need to be able to stay dry to stay warm.
Once they’re home:
Treat them well.
While our ruminant friends are tough-gutted, they are sensitive creatures when it comes to the comfort of their environment. If your urban area has a tradition for fireworks, for example, you may consider taking a little trip out of town with the kids. Jenny and James take their goats to her family’s property around New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July. “We say we’re dropping the kids off at grandma’s,” says Jenny. Her Nigerian dwarf goats are small enough to fit in large-sized dog crates for transportation.
Stay on top of vet care.
Regular care from a vet specializing in livestock is a requirement so that you can stay on top of vaccinations and ongoing health maintenance. Be aware that sometimes urban vets charge a premium for these types of services and may not even offer them at all; you may need to bring your goats to a more rural area for care.
Maintain a hay diet.
Bad goat behavior comes from bad human decisions like feeding them grain and treats, according to Jamison. “Goats do not need grain, and when they are fed it, they get ‘grain brain,’” she emphasizes. “Because they want grain and other treats, they will start these things we think of as bratty behavior.” These behaviors can be prevented by very rarely, if ever, feeding these kinds of foods, and especially avoiding feeding these things on a schedule your goats come to expect.
Originally published in the May/June 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.