Although they are traditionally thought of as farm animals, goats also make good pets. A perennial favorite in petting zoos, their curious and friendly nature makes them fun companions. There are over 300 distinct breeds of goats, but the dwarf or pygmy goat varieties are most commonly kept as pets. Goats are one of the oldest domesticated species around the world, and they are still raised for their milk, meat, fur, and skin. Goats are herd animals, so they need at least one goat partner, and they need a large fenced yard in which to roam. For these reasons, goats require an advanced level of care.
Common Name: Goat
Scientific Name: Capra aegagrus
Adult Size: 16 to 35 inches tall at shoulder, 35 to 300 pounds (depending on breed)
Life Expectancy: 15 to 18 years in captivity
Can You Own a Pet Goat?
Check the zoning regulations in your area to ensure that pet goats can be kept within the town or city limits. There may also be restrictions regarding goat size or weight. Also, some municipalities regulate how close animals can be kept to dwellings or neighboring properties. If you are in close proximity to your neighbors, check that they will be tolerant of pet goats as these animals can be quite loud.
As long as goats are kept in clean, spacious conditions with access to fresh water and proper food, there is very little question about the ethics of keeping them. Goats have lived as domestic animals in the company of humans for thousands of years, so they are well suited to the role.
Things to Consider
There are over 300 breeds of goats in the world, and they come in all sizes-some with horns and others without. Different goat breeds have different temperaments as well, so it's a good idea to research these factors when choosing which breed to buy. Consider which breed would best suit your home environment and your family.
You must be prepared for a long-term commitment when keeping goats. They need attention like any other pet. You must also consider who can look after the goats when you are away.
Goat Behavior and Temperament
Goats are herd animals, so they should never be kept as solitary animals. A pair (or more) of goats will make a good addition to the right family. Most pet goats tend to like attention, petting from their owners, and even eating out of your hand. Try to give your goats equal amounts of affection because they are intelligent animals that can get jealous and moderately aggressive if one goat is favored over others.
Goats are best suited to rural farms or homes with acreage. A large amount of space (a big yard or pasture) will be necessary, depending on the breed and number of goats. If you live in a city, bylaws may prevent you from keeping goats as they will likely be classified as an agricultural species.
Smaller breeds of goats, such as the pygmies, need at least 135 square feet per goat. Larger standard goat breeds, such as Nubians, need twice that much space per goat, so plan accordingly. The square footage of the space needs to be multiplied by the number of goats you have, since they need room to move around each other. Enclosure fencing of at least 4 to 5 feet high is also a necessity for all goats, as they are very agile and good jumpers.
The living space needs areas that provide both sun and shade, as well as protection from rain, snow, and wind. Goat shelters or barns should ideally be draft-free and have doors that can close to protect the goats from predators at night. If the enclosure or barn has windows, they should be higher than the head of the tallest goat when standing on its hind feet. Otherwise, the window should be covered with bars to prevent the goats from putting their head through the window or trying to climb through and potentially hurting themselves. Inside the enclosure, a mother goat (doe) will need a smaller stall if she is raising baby goats (kids).
Specific Substrate Needs
A simple dirt floor works well in goat bars. If your barn has a concrete or wood floor, consider adding rubber mats that will be more comfortable for your goats.
What Do Goats Eat and Drink?
Despite their reputation, goats are picky eaters. They prefer to eat food that has not been soiled or fallen on the ground, so use an above-ground feeder. Though they tend to browse on grass, weeds, and shrubs, the standard backyard will not have enough foliage for a goat's entire diet. Supplement their diet with hay, grains, and greens. If you are going to keep goats near gardens, be sure to avoid planting roses and other toxic plants, such as azaleas, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and ferns.
Goats eat a large volume of food every day. Be prepared to haul heavy hay bales. They also require high protein grain and supplemental minerals, especially copper. This is often provided as a loose powder or as a compressed brick salt lick. Goats also need plenty of clean water, freshened daily. Consult with an exotics or farm animal veterinarian on the best foods for your goat; do not assume that foods labeled for other barnyard animals are safe for goats.
Common Health Problems
Find an exotics or farm animal veterinarian who will be available to serve your goats. Goats are susceptible to a number of infectious and chronic diseases. Vaccinations and routine preventative treatment for worms and other parasites are necessary for all goats, and you should consult local veterinarians regarding what is required in your area.
Common goat diseases include:
- Caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE): Similar to AIDS in humans, this is an incurable disease that affects the goat's immune system. It is also highly contagious to other goats.
- Caseous lymphadenitis (CL): This is a disease that forms pus pockets called abscesses around the lymph nodes. When these highly contagious pockets burst, they infect other goats.
- Coccidiosis: This is a parasite that infects the intestinal tract of goats (and other species) and causes diarrhea.
- Bladder stones: Similar to humans, calculi (stones) can form within the goat's bladder and get stuck in the urethra. This can block urination and be deadly. These stones are often a result of a dietary imbalance.
- Sore mouth (orf, scabby mouth, contagious pustular dermatitis): This is a disease that causes blisters in and around the mouth and nose of a goat. It is caused by a virus and can be passed on to humans.
- Enterotoxemia: A bacterial imbalance in the goat's rumen, it's preventable by vaccination. It can be caused by sudden diet changes or anything else that may cause a digestive upset.
- G-6-S: This genetic defect in Nubian goats will cause a Nubian or Nubian cross to die young
As long as goats have adequate space, they will run, jump, and get all of the exercise they need naturally. Goats love to climb, and they will appreciate a rock pile or even playground equipment to test their skills.
To keep your goats' coats in tip-top condition, brush them with a dog brush or horse curry comb. Brushing will help them shed loose hair as well as dirt and burs they may pick up while roaming their field.
In addition to brushing, it is very important to keep goats' hooves trimmed. If they don't run around on rocky ground all the time, goats' hooves will grow like human fingernails. If they get too long, they can curl or crack, causing pain and increasing the odds of infection. Goats' hooves should be trimmed every six to eight weeks. If you're unsure of how to care for your goats' hooves, contact a farrier or your veterinarian for assistance.
The smallest goat breed in the world is the Nigerian dwarf goat. Females (does) are only about 17 to 19 inches tall at the shoulder, while males (bucks) are about 19 to 20 inches tall. At the opposite end of the size spectrum, the Boer goat is the largest breed. On average, they are about 30 inches tall.
Pros and Cons of Keeping a Goat as a Pet
Goats are fun! They enjoy interacting with humans, are easy to feed, will eat weeds, and don't take up too much space. The potential negatives of owning goats generally involve noise (goats bleat loudly when they want attention) and upkeep, like regularly trimming their hooves. Does are easier to keep than bucks because intact male goats tend to be rather stinky, and they are persistently in pursuit of does, which can be annoying and stressful for your herd.
Purchasing Your Goat
Obtain goats from conscientious breeders who practice good preventive healthcare. It is always best to visit the breeder so you can observe the conditions their goats are kept in; ask to see test results for CAE and other diseases. Prior to bringing home pet goats, think about whether you can meet the needs of a whole herd, or even two of these lively animals. Goats can make great pets for energetic owners, and if you decide to become a goat owner, begin the journey by picking out the perfect names for your new friends.
Similar Pets to the Goat
If you are interested in other barnyard animals, check out:
Do pet goats come when you call them?
Most goats will happily come running (and bleating) when you call them, especially if you reward them with tasty treats like fresh carrots.
Do female goats have horns?
Not all goat breeds grow horns, but in those that do, females do have horns. Generally, female goat horns are much smaller than males' horns, which may grow straight upward or curve into large spirals.
What is the friendliest goat breed?
Almost all domestic goat breeds can be very affectionate and enjoy human company. A few of the most popular companion goats are Pygmy goats, Nigerian dwarf goats, Boer goats, and LaMancha goats.