Goat Lessons Re-Learned

DSC_0347Warning:  Goats can be addictive.  I’m serious here.

Once you’ve welcomed these capricious creatures to your farm, once you’ve witnessed their silly antics, once you’ve given them head rubs and hugs and hung out with them in a sunny pasture while they lazed around you chewing their cud (or kept trying to squeeze onto your lap)–there’s a good possibility you’ll be hooked for life.  And if a time comes when you find yourself goatless again, as my husband and I did when our first two goats grew old and passed away several years ago, your farm will feel strange and empty and sad.  You’ll find yourself checking Craigslist for goats, perusing goat rescue sites, looking longingly at other people’s goats, hoping you’ll stumble upon a lost goat while out walking your dog and it will follow you home and no one will claim it when you put up “lost goat” signs.

Until, finally, you can’t take it any longer–you MUST get new goats.  In our case, five bouncing, bottle-fed young wethers (neutered males).  By the way, when we set out to the dairy farm to “just look” at the kids they were selling, we had no intention of buying five goats.  Two perhaps, or maybe three.  Did I mention that goats can be addictive?  Try resisting a passel of fluffy, frolicking, toyish bundles of pure joy.  I’m just amazed we didn’t return home with, like, twenty.DSC_0369

And so last summer we welcomed Augustus, Tiberius, and Maximus, stubby-eared La Mancha/Nigerian Dwarf crosses of medium stature.  And then came Thor and Loki, two diminutive and impossibly adorable Nigerian Dwarf boys.  Thus began the fun and games, the hard work and some important lessons about goat ownership re-learned.  Such as:

Goats crave companionship.  Unless you plan to live outside with it 24/7, a solitary goat will be a sad and lonely goat.  While these social creatures can certainly bond with horses, sheep, and other animals, they seem happiest hanging out with members of their own species.  As for us, we enjoy watching our goats interact with each other-running races, butting heads, playing “king of the spool,” and more.  This time around we also soon learned that bottlefed goats become very attached to their humans and can be very vocal when demanding attention.  Apologies to all of our neighbors within a two mile radius.

Goats are intelligent.  I don’t want to start a who’s-smarter-than-who kerfluffle, but I do think it’s safe to say that goats are brainy beasts.  Ours quickly learned to come trotting when their names were called (better than most of the dogs we’ve lived with), and have speedily embraced some tricks like “shake,” “rear up,” and “give a kiss.”  What’s more, they can spot an open gate in the blink of a goat’s eye, and seem to know exactly how we work the gates to their paddock.  Which brings me to the following point:

Goats are escape artists.  Goats require secure fencing, both to keep them safe from predators and to prevent them from escaping out onto the road–or wandering over to nibble your neighbor’s fruit trees. Indeed, to be on the safe side we’ve actually double-fenced a large portion of our property.  Be aware that any gates will require goat-proofing:  a latch that merely needs lifting is child’s play to these wily animals.  We use hefty dog leash snaps to help secure the chains around our herd’s gates.  Though they often nibble at these, they haven’t figured out how to open them.  Yet.

Goats are picky eaters.  That old farmer’s tale about goats gobbling tin cans?  Definitely a myth, although they might mouth the can and eat the paper label.  In fact, goats are notoriously picky and wasteful eaters who will spurn hay they drag onto the ground and–ick!–step on.  That being said, don’t feed your goats moldy or dirty hay, and be aware that a number of common plants–including rhododendron, yew, and foxglove–can be deadly to them.DSC_0379

Goats need daily care.  Goats kept on small farms where forage is limited (and sometimes nonexistent during part of the year) require daily feedings and a quality diet that includes fresh water, clean hay, and often grain.  Goats must also have protection from predators like coyotes and wandering dogs, as well as shelter from the elements.  Our goats stay safe at night–and take shelter during the day–within two modified horse barn stalls bedded with straw.  You’ll also need to give your goats regular hoof trims, yearly vaccinations, and put them on a deworming schedule.

Goats are affectionate.  While it’s true that some goats can be aggressive and dangerous, or aggressive at certain times (think bucks in rut or females in season), our wether boys have been a delight so far–fun and affectionate, with nary a mean bone in their body.  Towards humans, that is.  Though they often skirmish with each other over food or to work out their pecking order, ours have never tried to butt us, and we’ve been careful not to encourage this.


Are you thinking about developing a goat addiction?  Or do you already have one?

Thanks for reading!








  1. awritersalchemy · · Reply

    My friend Ellen Felsenthal has a goat rescue, and makes the same claims! http://www.ellenfelsenthal.com/pages/barnyard1_07.html

    1. What a wonderful thing to do! Thanks for the link and for reading!

  2. carolmerit · · Reply

    Love your blog!

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Thanks very much–glad you liked it!

  3. Don’t forget that goats are the king of the herd when it comes to weed destruction!

    1. You’re so right, Judy, I forgot to mention that! Our goats love blackberries, dandelions, thistles, and more.

  4. Ah yes! The love hate relationship! I love their precocious attitudes, hate their creativity at finding weaknesses in our fences! Had 19, pared down to one billy that hangs with our sheep. I wish hubby would have kept that female (like I had asked). C’est la vie. 😊

    1. They are creative, aren’t they? We’re currently working on escape-proofing our little herd’s night quarters. The walls aren’t that high, and I know it’s just a matter of time before they figure out how to break out. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Cori MacNaughton · · Reply

    We have two wethers, Hope and Semafor, and Semafor quickly earned the name “Houdini” for all of his many and varied escapes. They are sweet, hilarious, and I can’t imagine life without them. 😉

    Our fencing leaves a lot to be desired, though we’re working on it, so we tether Semafor to a large truck tire that he can drag around a bit, but it keeps him in roughly the same place where I left him. Hope doesn’t get tethered because he always stays right with Semafor.

    Happily we have a sound barn and they share a horse stall with deep straw bedding.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Cori! I can’t imagine life without our little herd either 🙂 Fencing is a never-ending chore for us too (seems like we finish one section, and then the next one needs replacing)…but I worry about tethering, since it leaves the goat pretty vulnerable if a wandering dog or a coyote comes by.

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