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