Photograph by Jonathan Willis
“Goats like to climb,” Erika Slusher says as her 4-year-old pygmy goat, Daisy, hops up and down on a section of tree trunk, one of several stumps set up as a playground of sorts in the pen. Meanwhile, Daisy’s brother Casper is hamming it up at the fence, angling for some treats after taking a break from his romp with their 9-week-old boxer puppy and knocking around the grain bowl. Clearly, there’s no shortage of personality. “They’re playful and affectionate,” says Slusher. “Kind of like dogs—they know who their people are.”
The Madeira family’s venture into goat keeping started with involvement in 4-H, specifically at the request of their now 14-year-old daughter Avery, who shows the goats and—bonus—is responsible for much of the upkeep. The goats need hay and fresh water every morning and evening, with grain once a day and a third water refill in the summer; a bi-weekly enclosure cleaning (“We shovel everything out and dump that on the compost pile. It’s surprisingly not stinky,” Slusher says) with fresh cedar shavings for bedding; monthly hoof trimming (a three-person job); and an annual selenium shot.
The Slushers also keep chickens, rabbits, and maple trees (for syrup) in the lush backyard of their restored 1800s home, which still feels very much “summer retreat” and not at all “working farm.” The animals reside along the side yard, the goats in a fenced-in area attached to the kids’ old playhouse. A foolproof enclosure is imperative; goats are masters of escape. “If they can get out,” says Slusher, “They will come straight through our dog door into our house.”
→ Goats are herd animals. You must have at least two. They can actually die from loneliness if kept solo.
→ If you’re in it for milk and cheese, you will need to regularly breed a female dairy goat (Avery suggests floppy–eared Nubians) in order for her to keep producing. You’ll also need a milking rack.
→ Goats are natural brush-clearers–they love snacking on honeysuckle and poison ivy—but with that benefit comes a warning: watch your flowers.
→ Be sure zoning code and neighbors are welcoming, and know who will care for them when you go out of town.