In Praise of Goats

In Praise of Goats

When we moved to Wisconsin from Oregon, in search of a small farm of our own, an Oregon farm friend warned us: "do not be tempted by the goats. You'll want them, and they will ruin your life."

Strong words. Words to give a person pause. To be fair, they have a reputation. "A fence that will hold goats is a fence that will hold water." And if you don't have a fence like that, kiss your garden goodbye. They see your car as a jungle gym. And yet...

Goats are incredibly appealing little animals (see our Mother's Day YouTube video for some of the cutest goat antics I've seen). They've got loads of personality and they're incredibly curious which means that usually they want to connect with you (because what ARE you, you strange two-legged creature that doesn't gobble loads of hay or climb trees to reach the most succulent top leaves or make a hobby of escaping fences?). Sometimes this leads to them also peering into your windows like a creepy neighbor or following you through any open door right into your house (or following your kids, who don't notice, and ten minutes later you realize a goat has been in your mudroom having a great time with the crate of apples you just bought).

They're hardy and they eat things other animals won't touch (I mean this in a good sense: it's a myth that they'll eat tin cans but absolutely true that they'll eat your poison ivy to the ground). They'll avoid non-food items other animals swallow whole (cows will eat actual metal pieces because they eat such enormous amounts without chewing - in fact, farmers will feed the cow a magnetic bolus to stop the metal pieces they eat from causing problems). Because they browse in a somewhat restrained fashion, eating bits of this and that in small amounts at a time, mature goats rarely poison themselves by eating the wrong plant (watch the little ones though, who haven't learned restraint yet!).

AND they make milk! A word about goat milk: if you've drunk goat milk you bought at the store and thought - at best - "hmm, interesting," or at worst, "ptooey!", hold up. Pasturizing milk and sealing it up in a bottle or a sanitary package drastically changes the flavor. My husband and kids are, shall we say, discriminating in culinary matters. In fact, more bluntly, my husband was initially dead set against goats because goat milk was "nasty." Then he tried raw goat milk from the first LaMancha doe we brought home. Now goat milk is all he drinks. Seek out a local goat owner and ask if you can try the milk. You'll likely be pleasantly surprised.

Goats are also really good at converting non-usable stuff (weedy, brushy forage) into that very usable milk. Our goats turn our weedy wooded acreage into milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter and soap. Homesteaders are thrifty and resourceful people, and goats are thrifty, resourceful animals.

"But wait," you object, "Weren't you just last week fantasizing about replacing your goat herd with a single nice, placid dairy cow? One that doesn't slip through fences or puzzle out door latches or peer into your windows like a creepy neighbor? One that with a single milking produces gallons of milk, one that doesn't reduce you to tears once a week because of sheer orneriness?"

To which I reply, "I'm sorry for the things I said while I was trimming goat hooves, milking a first freshener, staying up all night with a goat who rejected her kids, or trying to teach a rejected baby goat to take a bottle. I stand by my positive statements about goats. And I add that goats will also teach you to have a sense of humor, because if you don't laugh, you'll cry."

Do you keep goats? What do you love best? What makes you cry if you don't learn to laugh? Tell us in the comments! And if you have questions about goat keeping send them my way at!

Photo: Astrid, with Lilly. Astrid is a Sable, descended from one of our 2021 does, Brigitta.

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