Uh oh. I think I just opened a can of worms.
Before you get too angry, let me clarify: I said goats are not pets. I did not say that goats cannot be kept as pets. But even if you own goats that you keep as pets…goats are not pets.
Goats are livestock.
I love my goats, as most goat owners do. I enjoy spending time with them and if I’m honest, I’d rather own goats than cats or dogs, if I were forced to choose. Goats can absolutely be wonderful companion animals or even therapy animals, and there are many people who own goats just because they like them. At the end of the day, though, how or why we choose to own goats doesn’t change the fact that goats are livestock.
Here are some cold hard facts about goats:
They don’t belong in your living room.
Would you keep a cow in your living room? A horse? What about a camel? Just because goats are smaller than other species of livestock doesn’t mean that they should live in your home.
Oh, I’ve had goats in my house before. I’m not saying they should never be taken inside for any reason. I’m just saying that goats deserve to live a life with more space and freedom than one cooped up inside a house. Also, if you value your breakable possessions such as those lovely ceramic candle holders you keep on your coffee table, goats are not a good choice to keep as inside pets. They will tap dance all over them. Goats like to climb, jump, be up high, rub on things, and chew on things. Your furniture is no exception.
(For the record, I think house chickens are pretty silly, too. Where is that poor chicken going to scratch for bugs, grit, and grass? How is she to take her dust baths? What exactly are you doing to keep that chicken poop from going all over your home and infecting your family with salmonella??)
Goats need a goat friend.
You see it all the time online. People think that their goat is happy in a single-goat home until suddenly the goat starts exhibiting troublesome behavior because it’s lonely and bored. Goats are herd animals. They need at least one other creature of their own kind. Look at herd animals in the wild, like bison, deer, and wild horses. Do you ever see them hanging out with coyotes or living on their own?
Goats are the only animals that can speak goat.
I won’t even go into the dangers of allowing goats to spend unsupervised time with any dogs other than the guardian breeds that have been developed for centuries to live with, and not eat, livestock. Dogs are predators. Goats are prey. It only takes a split second for the prey drive to be triggered in your dog, and they can and will seriously injure or kill your goats. I find that most people just don’t want to accept that Fido and Fluffy will happily attack prey species like rabbits, chickens, and goats, but it happens all. the. time.
Goats don’t really belong in the city.
This is a tough one. On the one hand, farm animals belong on farms. They need space to roam, they create messes not usually associated with pet species (there’s a big difference between mucking out a stall and scooping up a pile or two of poo each day), and they can often attract flies even under the best circumstances. It’s just the nature of the beast.
However, I also understand that goats can live happy and healthy lives in someone’s backyard. Although the ideal situation is for them to have the opportunity to browse on fresh plant life, that isn’t always possible even for goats living on acreage. My own goats don’t always have access to browse.
For those who want to feed their family goat milk or raw dairy in areas where it’s impossible to buy, keeping goats is certainly appealing. Goats are relatively quiet, not too messy, and only the intact males stink if you practice good hygiene in their living areas. There are absolutely valid arguments for keeping goats inside city limits under the right circumstances. I do have to ask, however, that when petitioning your city, please don’t argue to have goats reclassified as pets. Simply argue for a change in the rules that allows for small livestock such as chickens and goats.
Goats are high maintenance.
Oh sure, you get used to it after you own them for a while and it’s certainly not prohibitive. It all becomes routine. Still, goats have a certain set of particular needs that most pet species do not. I’ll just mention a few:
They’re escape artists.
If you’re milking them and they don’t have kids nursing, you have to keep milking them until you dry them off. You can’t skip a day.
They need mineral supplementation. These minerals can be toxic to other species.
They have sensitive digestive systems and are prone to bloat when their systems are upset by sudden changes in diet.
While there seems to be a small animal vet on every corner, and an equine vet in every town, it can be very difficult to find a vet who is experienced in the care of small ruminants.
They need their hooves trimmed regularly.
Goats are prone to potentially deadly internal parasites. They can also get lice or mites, especially in the winter.
And the list goes on.
Goats are edible.
Most animals are technically edible, but what I mean is that goats are commonly considered to be food in this country. When you get tired of your pet goats, or your city makes you get rid of them, or you realize they’re more work than you thought…chances are good that they may wind up on someone’s dinner plate. This is especially true of wethers, who don’t have a purpose that a breeding goat could not fill. You may be able to find a pet home, but it’s entirely possible that even if you do, that pet home will end up selling down the road as well. Trying to make sure that your “pet” goats don’t become someone else’s chevon when you can no longer care for them isn’t really possible. In addition, there will always be more male goats born than needed. If you’re considering breeding your goats, keep in mind that males can be hard to sell. You may end up either stuck with a bunch of male goats you don’t need or using them for meat either in your own home or someone else’s.
We all have those special goats we could never eat or sell for meat, but let’s call a spade a spade and a goat a goat. Goats fall under the category of food animals. This is because they are animals that produce food. Pets are animals that do not or cannot produce food (at least in this country). Therefore, goats are livestock.
As goat lovers, we should be encouraging people to recognize all the incredible potential behind goats.
That means we also should promote the consumption of goat milk products and chevon/cabrito! The better the market is for these items, the better the goat market will be in general. Excess goat kids will be easier to sell, and goat products will be easier to find.
There are many breeds of livestock that are in danger of extinction for the simple fact that no one wants to eat them. One reason I chose Nigerian Dwarfs back in 2008 is because they were also threatened by low numbers at that time. Thankfully, their populations have recovered. However, what often happens when a breed experiences a sudden boom in popularity is that the popularity eventually starts to fall again. The breeders who only got in it for the cash, or because it was in vogue, sell out. The market becomes flooded, because there are too many goats and not enough buyers. Difficulty selling forces some of the long-time breeders out of the business, and some leave just because they feel it’s time to move on. Suddenly the breed is back to square one.
Does anyone remember when ostrich meat was going to be the next big thing? Or designer dogs? What about emus? Llamas? I remember all of these, and there are even more fads that I’m sure my parents and grandparents can recall. I don’t want to see goats follow in the same footsteps as these predecessors. The fact is that goats are very “in” right now, and for good reason. However, their popularity among pet owners, breeders seeking to make a quick buck (no pun intended), and well-intentioned hobbyist may not last long term. After the new wears off, the only thing that will keep goats thriving will be their value as livestock animals.
So even if you own your goats strictly as pets — and it’s fine if you do! — remember that we should always be seeking to do what is best for the goats…not ourselves. Let’s not forget that these very fun, very cute critters are livestock. Most of them have a job to do.