Goats Become Latest Battle Over Urban Animal Raising

The battle for urban backyard goats has proven itself to be a bigger challenge than that of the urban chicken, because — no pun intended — goats are a whole different animal.  Often seen as more of a disturbance, goats’ larger size, noisiness, stench, and impressive ability to chew through just about anything haven’t exactly won them the same popularity of their smaller, fresh egg producing, seemingly more manageable counterparts.

But these differences haven’t stopped some urbanites like Heidi Kooy, a goat keeper who commented in a recent New York Times article, “I think we need to relax our cultural walls that relegate agriculture to the country, and that includes small livestock. It’s part of re-envisioning food production in the urban landscape. You just have to keep things clean.”  Kooy uncovered a San Francisco health department clause stating that each household is allowed two goats.  Similar laws have been discovered, much to the dismay of some neighbors and public officials, in other cities like Berkeley, CA and Portland, OR.

In Seattle, pioneer Jennie Grant established the Goat Justice League and successfully convinced city council to legalize goats.  Charlottesville, VA also won the right for residents to keep goats after starting their own Goat Justice League.  Emboldened by Grant’s achievement, other major cities like Detroit, MI and Washington D.C. have asked her for advice on how to overturn their own city’s ban on goats.

Books like Lisa Taylor’s “Your Farm in the City:  An Urban-Dwellers Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals” and Novella Carpenter’s “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” have inspired many an urbanite to try out raising animals in their own backyard without perhaps knowing exactly what they are getting themselves into.  That’s why places like Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley (where Carpenter teaches) and Tierra Soul in Portland offer classes on urban goat keeping.  The objective of these workshops is to be explicit about the not so glamorous side of goat raising, in hopes of deterring those folks who aren’t quite prepared to take on the surprisingly time-consuming responsibilities.  These include livestock veterinarian visits, providing a constant source of high-nutrient hay, trimming horns and hooves, plus the twice a day milking sessions that help to keep goats happy and healthy.

More importantly, these animals are incredibly gifted jumpers, chompers, and climbers, so one must be dedicated to maintaining a safe and secure area for the goats inhabit without them destroying your property.  As one goat aficionado, Jules Dervaes, pointed out to the New York Times, “I’ve lost a citrus tree, a mango tree, wood off the house, five or six brooms.  We’ve had to protect our investment more than we ever did with chickens or ducks. In a city, where there’s not much forage and your place is compact, man, they can go through the trees and bushes like nothing.”

Those who dare take on the care of goats tend to look at these furry creatures in more of a glass-half-full kind of way.  The diehard fans emphasize the redeeming qualities of goats such as the fact that they can serve as great weed eaters, thus doing less environmental harm than say, chemical fertilizers one might spray on their backyard weeds or the gas it takes to run a weed whacker.  And let’s not forget the dairy lovers, who by keeping goats are taking the “eat local” mantra to a whole new level.  For them it is easy to brush aside whatever nuisance others might consider goats, just for the taste of their own homemade goat cheese, yogurt, ice cream and raw milk.

For more info, visit Dervaes’ Barnyards and Backyards, a resource and community for urban homesteaders, and keep an eye out in April for the release of “The Backyard Goat,” an introduction to feeding, housing and making your own cheese from goats.

Related 3P Posts:

The Ultimate in Eating Local — Backyard Chickens!

FDA Reports Alarmingly High Levels of Antibiotics in Farm Animals

Lesley Lammers

Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.

13 responses

    1. The Dervaes’ are shutting down websites, books, blogs, school, library programs, facebook pages, etc…that have deal with the idea of “urban homesteading” and “urban homestead” since they have trademarked those terms.

      They trademarked a lifestyle and now you should be raising your goats (and everything else) based on their ideas (not!)

  1. You might have asked Novella Carpenter of Ghost Town Farm in Oakland, for input on urban goats. It’s lamentable to include mention of the Dervaes family in any article promoting the interest of food production in urban areas. Not only is the family undermining the movement they claim to have invented, but their goats are entirely unproductive. Their goats are pets, not livestock. Novella Carpenter’s are productive animals.

    Otherwise, good article.

  2. Yes, it’s too bad the author quoted from the infamous D family.
    This article is mostly a re-telling of the New York Times article though, which I thought was a disappointing article. Both of these make goats out to be a bad idea in the city. ANY animal can be a bad idea (even dogs!) if you don’t take care of them properly. Frankly, the line about goats being loud and stinky, etc, reminds me exactly of what people say about chickens (they’re loud, they stink) before the chickens move in and they realize it is not true!
    Did this author (or the NY Times author) actually visit the homes of people with goats and find out if the places were indeed noisy and smelly? I myself have visited goat-keepers in Portland and Seattle and found both places to be very nice – not stinky or noisy at all.
    Long live city goats!

  3. Interesting set of comments. It does seem a bit absurd to have trademarked a term as generic as “urban homesteading”, and to pursue people who use it seems like good people fighting good people. Weird.

  4. Nice post. I have now been inspired to write about urban homesteading until my keyboard no longer works, and pity the fool that sends me a nasty-gram saying I’m using a “trademarked” term. Boo!

    We have a friend who has 2 goats, but he’s in Ojai and has 15+ acres . . . they are wonderful animals, but the foremost rule, common sense, applies. You’ve got to have the space and time to take care of these animals. I suppose goats would be good to have so if the DuFus family or whoever they call themselves send you a nasty letter, you could file it by feeding it to your goat.

    And for more silliness, check this discussion out: http://hexemausfarms.com/the-most-embarrassing-family-in-homesteading-history/

  5. I appreciate the comments and thank you for informing me of the controversy surrounding the Dervaes and trademarking of ‘urban homesteading’, an issue of which I was previously not aware. I think that knowledge on urban homesteading should be easily shared and widely accessible to all who are interested in raising their own animals and growing/preserving their own food.

    As to Aimee’s comment, I have worked with goats myself on a farm, and while they are hard work and can sometimes be rambunctious, they are generally friendly and well worth the effort. My aim was not to speak against the concept of urban goat raising, but rather to explain what opponents argue are the cons and what proponents say are the pros. I say to the aspiring goat keeper, more power to you!

  6. Goats can be kept in backyards and need to be in pairs as they are herd animals.  One potential problem is that goats come into heat (or oestrus) every few weeks during the breeding season (autumn and winter) and some can be very noisy at this time calling out to attract a male for 24- 48 hours. . So either have very forgiving neighbours or send the female away to get mated the first time she comes into heat. Once pregnant – no more heats and no more noise.

    1. I don’t know if you need paired goats. When I lived in a tiny hamlet, we had two nannies who trimmed the grass, but they were bred previously. You do have to move them around on their tethers so make the tethers quite long. They will handily recycle trimmings from your garden and kitchen.

  7. You should read a book I read about the new ecological farming in Africa. So many animals are raised in the largest cities there, you wouldn’t believe it–even cattle and milch cows.

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