This Little Goat Lived in the City

GoatsFor a while, chickens were all the rage. You could get a coop, install it in your backyard, buy a couple of quality chicks, and presto: fresh eggs for life. (Or for as long as you could stand the clucking and pecking that comes with any kind of chicken ownership.) But because nothing is stable and everything shifts, we're here to bring the news that chickens are a little bit yesterday.

The new urban animal? The friendly goat.

A couple of people around the country have taken it seriously enough to not only try their hands at goat-raising, but to set their experiences in virtual stone. Welcome to the world of goat blogs.

Let's take a run through the two reasons for raising goats: pets and milk.
The Dervaes family runs the Urban Homestead, a practically self-sustaining home in Pasadena, Calif. In a 66-by-66-foot plot, the family--dad and three kids--produce 6,000 pounds of food per year, divided across 350 different vegetables, herbs, fruits and berries. And then there are the two goats, Lady Fairlight and Blackberry, which the family has been raising for three years. The Dervaeses keep these goats more for pleasure than for work (they point out, a few times, that goats actually have to be bred in order to give milk, which would seem like something of a duh but that seems to be misplaced in goat-raising enthusiasm), but they would give milk if properly bred.

Most helpful is the Goat FAQ, which covers such questions as "Do goats smell?" (Answer: no, although uncastrated male goats do); "Do they eat everything?" (Surprisingly, no! They are quite particular); and, most important, "Are they legal?"

In Pasadena they are. In Seattle, they weren't.

Jennie Grant runs the Goat Justice League, an organization she founded in Seattle in order to allow her to keep her own goats, and to facilitate others who wanted to start keeping animals in their backyards. Grant is hilarious on her blog--giving family members titles like "Sr VP in charge of all two men who think it's a good idea to keep pet dairy goats"--but deadly serious when it comes to the awesomeness of keeping goats. It started when she tasted a friend's fresh goat milk and realized that what we think of as goat milk flavor is actually supermarket-induced gaminess. "I just happened to have this piece of property behind my house that was a little too shady to grow anything," she says. "It was perfect for goats." Eventually, all of her neighbors signed off. Then a faraway neighbor's kid got sick, blamed the goats, and the health department got involved. Turns out the city of Seattle had some very old rules about just where farm animals could be kept. "And that's how the whole goat legalization thing started," Grant says.

In 2007, she got the law changed, thanks in part to an understanding councilman and a whole lot of supportive signatures. And, thanks to her efforts, Grant now keeps in touch with around fifty fellow Seattle-based goat owners, people who, she says, "get together every month and talk about their goats." Grant does see a movement to keep pgymy goats, as pets, but says she isn't interested. "I want to legalize animals that are useful to people," she says.

Legality varies from state to state, but what's clear from Grant's experience is that, if it's illegal, it shouldn't be that difficult to make it legal. So, if you're looking for either a pet to round out the dog/cat/gerbil collection, or feel like making your own goats' milk yogurt, it might be as easy as buying a goat from a farmer and it might be as hard as changing the law. Either way, you'll be showing up your chicken-keeping neighbors, twelve-fold.

(Another great urban farm blog that features our friend, the goat: The Itty Bitty Farm in the City)

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