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GOATS AS PETS

By: "Gary Pfalzbot"
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So you want a goat for a pet? Surprisingly enough there are not a whole lot of books or articles written on this subject so I figured it was a task I would take on myself to enlighten those interested "would be" goat owners. Especially since I have had a number of people ask me how goats are as pets. Well, to begin with, let's look at a couple of different things one must consider with having a goat as a pet.

Photo Courtesy Robin Cotten, ©2000

One must first define the word "pet" and determine what the word means to them and what they want from the pet. If you are looking for a pet that sits in your lap while watching TV, a goat is not that kind of pet. If you want a pet that fetches the evening newspaper, again, a goat is not that kind of pet. If you are looking for the type of pet that you need to pay very little attention to and feed perhaps once a day, a goat is not that kind of pet either. If you are looking for the kind of pet that you can housetrain or litterbox train, well, from my experience, a goat won't be that kind of pet as well.

A goat as a pet primarily means that you are willing to let it be the type of animal it is. An outside animal that you cannot neccessarily have sleeping on the bed with you each night (though some report that their children make a practice of this). A goat basically needs the outdoors to be within it's natural elements. Having a goat indoors can pose many problems, to include that your favorite piece a furniture may become a "rip and chew" party. Of course cats and dogs are reknowned for this as well but they appear to be a bit more trainable to discourage that type of undesireable behavior.

For the most part (at least in my opinion), a goat has basically only a few things on their mind; eat, drink water, sleep, play and reproduce. And taking up the greatest percentage of that time is eating. Most goats will eat several times a day, stopping only to rest and letting their rumens process the food. An hour later they are back at it again. So to have an "outdoor pet" of this type, you must be willing and able to provide the proper food and nutrition at all times for your goat just as you would any other pet. And the water is important as well. Never deprive a goat of water. One must either have an ample field or pasture for the goat(s) to browse in addition to supplementing the diet with nutrients not readily available such as hay and alfalfa.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Gaspard, Rainbow Acres, Mora, Louisiana.  2000

A Word Or Two On Water - Ask yourself, will you drink a glass of water that looks mucky and yucky? Answer is probably no. Goats (as well as alot of other animals as pets) prefer clean water too. It does not neccessarily have to be sparkling fresh (although it's not a bad idea), but it should be pretty clean. Lots of harmful bacteria and organisms thrive in the mucky and yucky water. This is what makes goats a bit different than dogs or cats. Dogs and cats can survive on mucky and yucky water. Goats might survive on yucky water (if they have to) but they certainly will not be as healthy as they should be.

More On The Subject of House Training - while it certainly may not be practical to let a goat in the house, many people do. It basically depends upon your lifestyle. A goat has to use the bathroom perhaps more frequently than other pets. Whether or not they can be trained to do so according to your needs is debatable. However, training a goat is not entirely out of the question. I refer here to the case of Pavlov's Salivating Dogs. The dogs knew that if the bell rang they were about to be fed and salivated in anticipation. The same holds true for goats (minus the salivation); they know and anticipate if you are going to feed them goat treats. They will respond to food. They will also negatively respond to commotion and loud noise by bolting and running (minus the Fainting Goat breed). If a person were to work consistently one on one with a goat, perhaps it can be trained to a point to use the bathroom in a specific area rather than at will. However, it must be stressed that taking time to do so might greatly reduce the pleasure factor you will dervie from having a goat as an indoor pet.

"So my pet goat is not going to be a house pet. What does that mean?" Well actually it means quite a few things. You certainly will want to have a place to keep your goat that will be his or her home. Having a goat outdoors is easier as it sounds as goats tend to wander around a bit. Not to say that a goat will run away from home. But a goat (or herd of goats) will tend to always be on the hunt for new and tastier food. They rarely stay in the same place for more than a minute or two as food dominates their movements. While it is true that goats eat "alot" of things, they won't eat everything. Goats too have limitations on what they can and cannot eat. Your neighbors garden as well as yours is certainly not excluded.

This being said, it's a good idea to have an area fenced where your goat or goats can freely travel. Fencing for goats is not an easy task either. Just about any goat owner you talk to will tell you. There's a definite trial and tribulation period one must endure to keep a goat sectioned to one area. Perhaps the best and most reliable fence is the chain link fence arrangement (certainly a very expensive arrangement as well). Many persons who raise goats not only for pets, but as a business have elected to use electric fencing, cattle panel, or hog wire fencing. Erected properly, these arrangements will keep your goat out of your neighbor's gardens and you in good standing with the city social club.

I'd like to point out as well to potential goat owners that while a goat can be easily trained to be led by a leash, tying a goat on leash and leaving it unattended is just asking for trouble. Every goat that I have ever owned or dealt with reacted negatively to being tied and either managed to wrap themselves in the rope, or let their dislike for being tied known by loudly bleating until they were let loose. So for all intents and purposes, let the goat roam free within the boundaries you set. While others may have had some amount of success with tying out a goat, my experience has led to tradgedy more often than not.

Just as dog is mans best friend, a goat can be a close runner-up. My wife and I frequently take our goats on walks through brushy areas. Our goats enjoy this immensely and make several stops along the way to see what there is to eat. If we decide to move on without our goats, they sense that they are alone and soon run to catch up to us. Perhaps this is a domesticated behavior from being continually handled. Not all goats will respond as such. The more you are with your goat(s) on a daily basis, the more they sense you are the master and they treat you accordingly. Many people use goats for hiking, placing a pack on their goats to do the work of carrying the load. Goats are extremely sure footed making them very suitable for this purpose. It is a great characteristic of goats that make them very good as an outdoor hiking buddy type of pet.

I should stress here that disciplining goats is not an easy task but I subscribe to the theory that just about any living animal is more apt to respond positively to positive behavior modification than to negative behavior modification. What I mean is that you should never strike your goats with a hand, foot or object. Likewise, throwing objects at goats in particular, is not recommended as it only serves to spook them and make them run. While I personally must admit to throwing a rock or two or at an unruly goat now and then, the result is never positive and thus the goat(s) never learn...they will soon be back to doing what you did not want them doing in the first place. We've obtained our best results by using a can of grain than we have by using any type of sudden action or movement.

When around your goat(s), be gentle. Don't move suddenly or make any unexpected motions. Use gentle, loving touch and your goats will respond better. I recently attended a goat and sheep show and the judges were impressed with the persons who showed their goats by using a gentle approach rather than the person who just "forced" the animal to bend to their will. Talk softly to your goats. I have found that if you give a goat a name, it will learn to recognize that name and though it may not always come up to greet you, it will turn it's head and look at you. It would be interesting to discover just what the intellengence quotient of a goat is. I personally believe that they have the capacity to learn a few words but again, one must be willing to invest time with their goat(s) to be able to produce noticeable results.

One of the most important issues regarding goats as pets is of a health related nature. It is imperative that you can devote a fair amount of time daily to just look at your goat(s), making note of their behavior and habits. Goats are very susceptible to illness and disease just as humans and require care thereso. Missing just a day of not at least looking your goat(s) over from a distance may be the difference between a live and a dead goat. Goats are very likely to appear fine one moment, ill the next, and on deaths door within a short period of time if symptoms are not identified and acted upon immediately. While this particular area may cause would be goat owners to not choose a goat as a pet, it should be said that the better care you provide for your goat, the less likely this will occur.

Persons considering a goat as a pet also must consider a few other things as well - primarily (and if the goat is not to be kept in the house) shelter for the goat. A goat needs shelter just like many other animals do. And while I could devote an entire article (coming later) to just goat shelters, I will paraphrase the subject by saying that one must keep their goat safe from rain and wind. When exposed to these elements, illness can rapidly set in on an unsheltered goat as a result.

Overall, having a goat as a pet can be very rewarding. Just watching your goat(s) browse contently is a sight that paints a thousand words. There is a certain peace and tranquility you will experience when watching from afar.

About the author: Gary Pfalzbot is the webmaster of GoatWorld. He has raised goats over the years, been involved with 4-H (as a young boy) and currently resides near Branson, Missouri where he and his wife Pam raise a few breeds of goats, mainly precipitated for the control of Kudzu vine.

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