By: Rebecca Horwitz
Originally Published in the March 2012 Issue of Country Wisdom News.
One of the beauties of living in Ulster County is that many of us enjoy the experience of raising animals right in our own backyards. My neighbor down the street has hens in her average-sized, fenced yard; others have rabbits in a hutch; and a former neighbor of mine in Clintondale raises two affectionate goats that my children were fond of visiting when they were tiny.
The first resource I consulted about raising goats was online. A PBS station in Atlanta, Georgia produced a series of programs on what you might call backyard homesteading, including an entertaining video called “Chicks in the City (City Chickens and Urban Goats),” which you can find on YouTube.
“Goats, I’ve learned, are very curious and mischievous animals,” says Joaquin of Atlanta, who learned to make sure his fencing was strong and gap-free after one of his adventurous animals decided to take herself on a walk in his urban neighborhood. People keep goats as pets, as all-natural lawn mowers, and as milkers.
Just why should one consider drinking goat milk as opposed to the more commonly consumed (in the US) cow’s milk? According to numerous health sources, such as The World’s Healthiest Foods website, as well as a Columbia County goat raiser I spoke with, Elaine Rider, goat milk is more digestible than cow’s milk and is often tolerated by folks who are unable to drink cow’s milk. Babies who can’t digest formula made of cow’s milk are often able to drink it made with goat’s milk, although a pediatrician should be consulted in such cases. (Of course human breast milk is ideal, when this is possible). Calcium-rich, goat’s milk has many of the same nutrients as cow’s milk. However, goat milk is just not as likely to be found in your grocery store’s dairy section. So, if you’re ready to try adding goat’s milk to your diet, you can either try looking for it in health food stores, or buy yourself a couple of milking goats.
Elaine Rider, who has years of experience with goats, told me that she raises four goats on her one-acre plot. She keeps them both for showing in fairs and for milking, and with the milk she makes cheese, soap and lotion. She adds various herbs to the soaps and lotions, and finds these applications of goat milk to be very good for the skin. And, she adds, “It’s nice having fresh milk.”
Caring for goats doesn’t require a huge amount of space. Rider has a small barn with a fenced yard for hers. Since the goats do love to browse and eat shrubs, her son sometimes takes them out to graze at the edge of wooded areas on her property. They are fed hay, grain and water twice a day, and milked twice a day.
If you are keeping females—called does—for milking, then you will have your goats gestating and birthing kids. The gestation is five months, and Rider doesn’t milk during the last two months. The kids are sold in the spring, although she occasionally keeps one. Rider and her family have enough experience to handle the “kidding” themselves (so that’s where that word comes from!). They also give the necessary shots themselves. But for those just starting out, vets may be needed during kidding time, for shots as well as for providing the health papers that you’ll need to show goats at the County Fair. Country vets do make house, or rather barn, calls, but if you can get your animals to the vet yourself, it’s a big savings.
Now for the best part of goat-keeping: the goats themselves! Like humans, they are social creatures and should be kept in pairs or groups. They each have their own distinct personality, showing marked preferences for certain people, says Rider.
“They make great pets. My brother had two for packing and would take them hiking with him and they would carry the packs. Goats are very surefooted and love to climb rocks.”
How’s that for another great reason to try goat-keeping? If you’re not so interested in having them as milkers, you can still enjoy goats as the great companions and weed-eaters they are. A final word of advice: know your breeds, as there are lots. Visit different farms, says Rider, to check out whether you prefer Toggenburgs or Nubians, just for two examples. Know what you’re getting into. Then enjoy the adventure!