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Backyard Goat Dreams

Small spaces do not have to deter owners
from life with dairy goats

By Tim King

Moving to a little place in the country where a few animals can be kept is a dream shared by many people. But for someone not quite ready to make that move, it just might be possible to bring a little country (and a goat or two) home to the suburbs, sometimes even to a backyard in town.

With less than one acre, Ann Stanger, who lives in a subdivision near Jacksonville, Arkansas, found a way to live her dream, owning and caring for four goats: a milking Nubian doe and Saanen dairy doe, and two Nubian/Boer crosses.

“I don’t live in town but live in a small subdivision on about .9 of an acre,” Stanger said. “I actually have about three quarters of an acre fenced off. Part is the front yard which has no livestock on it so I would guess my pasture area is about one-half an acre.”

The fact that Stanger lives in an unincorporated subdivision may be an important consideration for those who live within a town and are considering getting their own livestock. Many towns and cities have restrictions on livestock, but some do not. It is important to check this out, usually through the city office, clerk, or city manager, before buying and falling in love with a special caprine. Ordinance rules for Davis, California, for example, show specific rules against having livestock in city limits.

According to Davis city ordinances available online, “it is unlawful for any person to keep or maintain within the city, or permit to be kept or maintained upon land belonging to such person, goats, …except as specifically permitted under provisions….” In Davis, goats are not specifically permitted. In other words, if there is no exception made for goats (as there is for swine), then they are not permitted.

Sometimes special exceptions to prohibiting rules will be made on appeal, especially for someone who needs dairy goat milk for the survival of a child or health reasons, i.e., lactose intolerance. In Arkansas, Stanger, however, had no such restrictions.

“When I bought this place many years ago it was without any restrictions,” she said. “I keep it clean and do not keep bucks here so there is no smell. The loose roaming dogs are more of a problem in this sub-division.”

Dogs can be a great threat to goats kept in or near city limits. Becky Curtis, Luray, Virginia found this out first hand when she lived in town with her goats on a very small acreage.

“All of my goats were killed by stray dogs when I went to the beach or I probably would still have them,” Curtis said. “I had someone watching the house and they left the goats out and then came back to feed. When they came back they caught the dogs in the act. It was horrible.”

Fencing options in town or lotted suburbs need to protect the goats from dogs as well as prevent the goats from escaping. Stanger chose to put up a sturdy fence made up of four-foot chain link and five-foot welded wire. Though a bit expensive it did the job of keeping out domestic predators and keeping in the dairy goats.

Curtis, originally a horse-woman, installed a board fence adequate for horses. She quickly found out that goats need a more secure style of fence.

“I had four-board fence but that didn’t work too well for the goats,” she said. “I got American Wire and went over the fence with that. They had a really nice expensive fence, but it worked.”

Stanger and Curtis struggled to provide adequate housing in the small space their places had available.

“The biggest thing I dealt with was having only one stall (12×20) and a small pen for my goats,” Curtis said. “I felt bad that they didn’t have much room to move. I had a 6×12 hay room with square bales stacked. I would let them in there to play and climb on the bales. They loved that.”

Stanger had more shelter options, but finding the right fit was still a struggle.

“I have two barns, actually loafing sheds,” Stanger said. “One was originally for my Saanen show does and the other was built for a chicken house. The roof needed replacing on the big barn and since I only had a few goats we reworked the chicken house for the goats. I am in the process of buying a 10 x 12 portable building, which is built kind of like a playhouse, with a front porch and house door with windows so I can put a 110 AC unit in it. I will floor it with linoleum and eventually put insulation in the walls and tile board on the walls. It has a loft so I can store things from my house there as well.”

Though she has plans in place for a new milk room, Stanger has for some time and continues to milk her dairy goats in her kitchen.

“I just keep the floors swept and mopped so no grain is left to draw in mice,” she said. “It is just me here and it’s what keeps me happy. The manure goes on my container vegetable garden. I drink and use a lot of the milk and so do my grandkids. They prefer it to cow milk. My hobby is cheese making so that takes a lot. I make soft cheese, Ricotta and mozzarella. As soon as I can I intend to buy a cheese press and a small refrigerator so I can make some aged cheeses as well.”

Curtis had a slightly different milking set up for her small city farm. “I just tied my doe to a fence post, sat on the ground and milked her into a saucepan,” she said. “She gave enough milk for twins (she had twins—a doe and buck—every single year) and enough for me to have a glass or two each day. I would take chocolate chip cookies when I milked her sometimes. I’d milk her into the glass and have milk and cookies right on the spot. I often shared my cookies with her. But I was told not to let her have her milk, even out of a glass, because sometimes they learn to turn around and milk themselves from the smell and then they drink all the milk.”

As a novice goat owner, Virginia-based Curtis said she had to learn some things about goat-keeping the hard way.

“When I first started I didn’t know where to get hay. At that time I got my hay from Southern States,” she said. “It was absurd, but I didn’t know any better at the time. I was feeding three horses and my goats on it. The going price for hay back then was $1.50-$2.00 a bale for good quality hay. I was getting medium hay for $4.15 a bale. Live and learn, right! Once I learned, I found a lot of farmers don’t want to mess with small loads, but normally if you volunteer to pick it up and tell them that you can come at any time that’s convenient for them, they’ll work with you. It’s a lot easier if you have a place to store a pick-up load or if you prepay for hay and pick it up as you need it.”

Stanger prefers to buy a hay mix in 50-pound bags. She also handles her breeding slightly differently than did Curtis, too. She keeps her buck at her daughter’s farm and sends her does there during breeding season. Not keeping a buck on her property is one way she aims to keep her neighbors happy. Both breeding and odor in a populated area might be offensive to some neighbors, she said.

Close neighbors can be a blessing and a bone for those who want to keep goats in city limits or suburbs. Curtis spent some time educating potentially difficult neighbors about goats and it helped her avoid problems later on.

“My next door neighbors had seven kids and the kids came around all the time,” Curtis said. “But I never had a problem with them. I let them play with the goats and they listened very well and were very gentle. I know a lot of people have problems with neighborhood kids tormenting their animals, but I was lucky. These kids were very well mannered. Of course who knows what they would have done if I hadn’t taken the time to show them the goats and teach them a little about handling them. Now they actually have four pygmy does and a pygmy buck of their own, so maybe the time I spent with them taught them a love for goats.”

Neighbors, housing, cleanliness, regulations, and fencing are all important issues to consider when thinking about back yard goat raising. But with persistence and creativity goat lovers may be able to bring a little country to town.





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