Although they are traditionally thought of as a farm animal, 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 partner of the same kind, and they need a large 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 23 inches tall at shoulder; Boer breed buck can grow as large as 300 pounds; smaller goats are 45 to 60 pounds; pygmy goats are 15 inches at the shoulder and 35 to 45 pounds
Life Expectancy: 15 to 18 years in captivity, with some living much longer
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. 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. Pet goats tend to like attention, petting from their owners, and even eating out of your hand. They can get jealous and moderately aggressive if one goat is favored over others.
Housing the Goat
Goats are best suited to rural farms or homes with acreage. A large amount of space (a 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 4-5 feet high is also a necessity for all goats, as they are very agile and good jumpers.
The living space needs areas that provide part sun and part shade, as well as protection from winds. Goat shelters or barns should ideally be draft-free. This sleeping area will provide cover and protection from predators and extreme weather. 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 and potentially trying to climb through. Inside the enclosure, a mother goat (doe) will need a smaller stall if she is raising baby goats (kids).
Food and Water
Despite their reputation, goats are picky eaters. They prefer to eat food that has not been soiled or fallen on the floor. 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.
Is It Legal to 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.
Purchasing Your Goat
Obtain your 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 committing to getting pet goats, think about whether you can meet its needs. Goats can make great pets for energetic owners, and you can even have fun naming them.
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