You’ve probably grown up thinking goats are some of the most durable animals, what with eating tin cans and all. But don’t let those images from childhood cartoons fool you. They require just as much TLC as any other pet and, no, they do not eat tin cans.
Kat Mendenhall lives in Georgetown with her husband Marty, two livestock guardian dogs and 12 goats. That’s right, 12. They moved to Georgetown 11 years ago and after a few months of getting acquainted with their new surroundings, decided to bring goats in as part of their family. They were given two retired goats from a friend and, much like how many others may view them, she thought of the goats just as livestock.
“Turns out, I built a bond with them,” Mendenhall said. “We really cared about them and didn’t treat them like just breathing lawn mowers.”
But, how can a goat be a pet? Apparently, the same way any animal is a pet, just with slightly different guidelines.
Mendenhall described how she makes beds out of straw for the goats, so they do not have to sleep on the hard ground. They absolutely love their bedding — both the feel and taste.
“Now every night I have to give twice as much straw for bedding because they eat half of it,” she said.
Again, like any other pet, goats will get sick and need to be taken care of. A goat veterinarian can be harder to find than a dog/cat veterinarian, so it is important to make sure you find a good one, even if you do learn how to perform some things yourself. Mendenhall said her husband learned how to trim the hoofs of the goats (which is required every couple of months) as well as how to take their temperature and administer their shots.
“A good first aid kit is essential,” Mendenhall said. “Have a good kit and know what you need instead of having a sad experience and not having what you need to help fix them.”
As herd animals, goats do not want to do anything that will draw a predator to their herd. It is important to truly get to know your goats and pay attention to all the little things. They will do anything they can to make sure that you don’t see what is wrong with them if they are sick or hurting, because any sign of weakness is likely to draw a predator.
“You have to really be attentive and know your goats and know what’s going on,” Mendenhall said.
Maybe their eyes look a little different today? Maybe a goat who takes his treat from you every morning didn’t take it today? It’s the little things to pay attention to.
Think you’re ready for a pet goat now? Not so fast. Make sure you have a few more of these bases covered before you make that commitment:
• First, you want to invest in a livestock guardian dog to protect your goats against predators. Mendenhall has two Akbash breed dogs to protect her pets. These are not like other dogs you may own as pets. They are not high energy and do not play catch — they are working dogs.
“I remember when I would give [our dog] Buddy his dinner after dark he wouldn’t eat it,” she said. “After a while, I finally realized that it was because if he was chewing and crunching his food, he wouldn’t be able to hear if there was a problem and if a predator was approaching.”
The older goats in the herd will teach the guardian dogs how to respect them and with most livestock guardian dogs it is simply a matter of instinct when it comes to protecting the goats. The dogs will mostly sleep during the day as they are awake and guarding at night.
• Second, never have only one goat at a time. They are herd animals and do not function well alone.
• Third, make sure you have very good fencing.
“Goats are very destructive and people don’t realize that,” Mendenhall said. “They like to lean on fences, they love rubbing against them, and they will rub and push until it is destroyed. Take a look around and think to yourself, ‘What can they get into?’ or ‘What can they chew?’ because, odds are, they will.”
You will also want to put good fencing up around any trees that are within reach of your goats as they love to strip the bark off of them.
• Lastly, don’t buy-in to most of the myths you have likely heard about goats over the years. They are not indestructible and cannot eat just anything. They do not eat tin cans; rather, they enjoy the paper labels on cans. They are not living, breathing lawn mowers and should be taken care of as any other pet would be. If you would buy dog food for your dog, you should make sure you pet goat has brush and straw to eat (and access to blackberry bushes and poison oak bushes if available). Don’t worry, the poison oak doesn’t hurt the goats — just make sure you don’t give them any big hugs after they’ve been snacking.
The only other advice Mendenhall suggests is for you to love your goats and show them the attention any pet deserves and they will shower you with affection right back.
“How can you not love someone who loves you so much? That’s why I hold them in such high esteem,” she said. “Goats are just magical.”
Mendenhall has even turned her love of goats into storybooks. She has written several stories featuring goats as the main characters and each leaves readers with a heartfelt moral. Local illustrator Bob O’Hara designed the artwork for the stories and they can be purchased on Mendenhall’s Website imgoatie.com.