When my husband suggested we buy a goat, I talked him out of it. From all I'd heard, a goat would be more trouble than it would be worth. They escape all the time. They eat everything they shouldn't. They get into all kinds of trouble. I knew a woman who had a goat that was always getting out and loved to climb on cars, leaving roofs and hoods covered with hoof-shaped dents. What would we do with a goat anyway?
A few years later, after having "goat sat" for a neighbor's dairy goat when they were out of town, I discovered milking a goat wasn't difficult and the milk didn't taste bad. I'm not sure what tipped me over the edge from goat-free to goat-blessed. I remember our two daughters wanted a goat, (They wanted at least one of each type of animal in existence.), and we agreed that IF we got a dairy goat, we'd all take turns feeding and milking it. For some reason, my husband didn't try to talk me out of it.
As I write this, we have four goats, all female, and I think three of them are pregnant. We've had milk goats for about five years now, and I plan to be an eccentric little old lady one day, surrounded by my little flock of goats, maybe playing a set of pan pipes. Okay, so they do escape occasionally. And okay, they do eat things they shouldn't, like my flowers, the tiki torches, tar paper, and black plastic. And, of course, I've had to put a good fence around the vegetable garden. But they haven't climbed on the car! What well-behaved goats! Okay, there was the time Rosie rejected her newborn kid, and it refused to take a bottle, and the only way to feed it was to hold Rosie still by clamping her neck between my knees while the kid nursed, and Rosie repeatedly poked my thighs and rear end with her horns. I didn't realize how black and blue my hind parts were until I put on a swimsuit and everyone said "WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU ?!". But they do give rich milk which makes excellent cheeses: Feta! Chevre! Fromage Blanc! Camembert! Yum, yum! What good goats. Never mind that they love to bite through the headphone wires on my walkman. They are very nice goats!
According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, "The domestic goat, Capra aegagrus hircus, is a subspecies of the wild goat of south-west Asia and eastern Europe. Goats are one of the oldest domesticated species. Female are referred to as does or nannies, intact males as bucks or billies. Castrated males are wethers, offspring are kids. Goat meat is sometimes called chevon."
There are different breeds of goats. Some, such as the Nubian and Alpine, are bred for milk production. (My goats are mixtures of Nubian, Alpine, and Pygmy.) Some breeds are nice and meaty like the Boer, some produce fiber for spinning and weaving like the Angora, and some breeds fall down a lot! The Fainting, or Myotonic, goat suddenly faints when startled thanks to a condition called congenital myotonia. It's not really a true faint, but a muscular phenomenon. Shepherds often kept the goats in with their flocks as insurance in case of predator attacks. The theory was that as predators attacked a flock of sheep, the goats would become startled and faint. As the predators focused on an easy meal of fainted goat, the sheep would make their getaway. Not good news if you were one of the goats but downright dandy if you happened to be a sheep. The fainting goat is still popular. They're less prone to climbing (and therefore escape), they're more muscular than their non-fainting relatives (and thus make a better dinner), and they are good breeders.
Here are some resources if you'd like to learn more about nice, well-behaved, good goats:
Goat Husbandry by David MacKenzie.
A reference for the serious goat owner. The information is presented in a rather dry manner, but is very useful. The topics covered include: Control and Housing of Goats; Principles and Practice of Feeding; Selection of Breeding Stock; Breeding Problems; Disease and Accident; Milking and Dairy Produce; Meat, Leather, and Fleece; Goat Farming Systems; Crops for Goats; Goats for Export; and Harness Goats.
Goats of the World by Valerie Porter.
Over 300 breeds and types of goats are described and pictured. Chapters feature the wild relatives of the goat and trace its domestification. Detailed descriptions of every goat breed and type are arranged by geographical regions. Superb illustrations.
Raising Milk Goats the Modern Way by Jerry Belanger.
Jerry Belanger's practical guidance has been indispensable to new and prospective goat owners for over thirteen years. Provides clear, practical instructions for breeding, kidding, feeding, milking, housing, and all the basics of goat care.
Your Goats: A Kid's Guide to Raising and Showing by Gail Damerow.
Explores the fun of raising goats. Discusses selection, purchase, housing, feeding, health, behavior, breeding and showing. Also available as an eBook.
Children's Books on Goats
Caper the Kid by Jane Burton.
Photographs and text follow two young pygmy goats as they grow, learn, and play during their first year of life.
700 Kids on Grandpa's Farm by Ann Morris.
Grandpa has 700 kids--goats, that is. A lively photo essay about life on a dairy goat farm.
Fias Co Farm has lots of good information on raising dairy goats, cheese making, recipes, and natural holistic pet care.
Information on over 100 breeds of goat (with photos for most) from Oklahoma State University's Department of Animal Science. Includes the Saanan, Nubian, Angora, Boer, La Mancha, Peacock, and Booted Goat.
Virginia Tech's goat info page. Although some of the links on the page are inactive, there are still many useful links, including the American Dairy Goat Association, various breed organizations, goat supply companies, information on raising goats, plants poisonous to goats, goat farms, and more.
The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company has everything you need for learning how to make tasty cheeses from goat or cow milk, and all the supplies you'll need to get started.
Locally, Westmoreland Berry Farm has goats that go overhead on walkways that you can feed. (Plus, it's now strawberry season!!)
Photos appearing with this article are supplied courtesy of the Criscuolo-DeButts family.