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New Kids on the Block: Why Goats are Cropping Up in Suburban Backyards

Just because you live in the city, or the ‘burbs, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a few perks of farm living. You might harvest rain water, grow fruits and vegetables, or even raise a few chickens out back.

But some homeowners are taking urban farming quite literally, and are introducing goats into their yards.

Can you keep goats and stay in your neighbors’ good graces? Are goats right for you? Let’s break down the backyard goat trend, and help you decide.

What’s the Appeal?

There are different reasons why people are drawn to raising goats, but according to Jennie P. Grant, author of the book, “City Goats: The Goat Justice League’s Guide to Goat Keeping,” there is a primary driver.

“Most urban farmers are in it for the milk,” she explains.

Indeed, dairy goats can offer an ample supply, producing up to a gallon of milk a day for nine or 10 months out of the year, according to the American Dairy Goat Association.

Backyard goats are also prized for their meat (there’s an eager base of consumers driving demand for it, says The American Boer Goat Association) and their hair (the University of California Small Farm Program says angora goats are the “most efficient fiber producers on Earth”).

And, according to Grant, there are increasing numbers of people raising the animals because they like to have them around.

“There are lots of people who want to keep goats as companion animals,” she says. “They simply want them as pets.”

Are Goats Right for You?

If you think you need a goat in your life, make sure you understand what you’re getting into first. For instance, you can’t have just one goat. Goats are social animals, so you need at least two, says Grant. “One goat will be lonely and stressed, and will act out in ways you can’t imagine,” she explains.

Goats also require daily care. If you’re keeping dairy goats, you’ll have to get out there and milk them daily – you cannot skip a day, cautions Grant. Also, because dairy goats only lactate after having a kid, you’ll likely have to breed them each year. Then there’s basic care like trimming hooves, getting goats wormed and other hygiene tasks.

It’s also important to put your expectations in check. Goats aren’t going to replace your lawn mower, because they prefer brush, twigs and leaves to grass, says Grant. In the winter, you’ll also have to supplement their diet with hay and alfalfa; expect to shell out about $75 a month to feed a pair of goats, Grant says.

How to Get Started

Once you’re decided, there’s still a bit of work to do before you buy a goat. Start by checking local zoning regulations to see if they are legal, and then ask officials about any other ordinances that might apply.

Even when goats are allowed, there are typically specific rules to follow. The City of San Diego, for instance, only allows miniature goats, requires that you keep two of them, and it restricts the sale of milk, cheese or other food products from your goats.

Next, decide on your purpose. Are you looking for milk? Meat? Or a companion? Your answer will determine the breed. The Goat Justice League offers recommendations (think small and quiet) that are suited for urban environments.

And, finally, be sure to get the right setup in place. The City of San Diego requires a shed with access to an outdoor enclosure of at least 400 square feet, and a 5-foot-tall fence that prevents goats from climbing out – because that not only makes for happy goats, but for happy neighbors, too!

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