Goats: Money can't buy their milk and kisses

   The number of Seattle homeowners with miniature goats in their backyards is rising, and so are the reasons why. 

Do you love your steaming cup of coffee in the morning? Thank goats. 

As Ethiopian legend has it, a herder named Kaldi found his goats eating waxy leaves and red cherries from what is now known as a coffee tree. He plucked a cylindrical berry from the tree, popped it into his mouth and began dancing on a coffee-buzz high. 

And everyone knows what happened next: The beans went global.

In Seattle, coffee has always been a staple. Miniature goats, on the other hand, are a recent addition. 

Jennie Grant, the pioneer behind the Seattle goat movement, appealed the law and lobbied to redefine miniature goats as small animals. Under the previous law, farm animals were not allowed on properties smaller than 20,000 square feet. But, as of 2007, the city code classifies miniature goats not as farm animals, but as small animals that are similar to dogs, cats and potbellied pigs. 

Now, more than 40 goats are registered in Seattle, according to the Seattle Animal Shelter database. The maximum number of goats allowed per property is three.

A go-to animal

Grant has two pet goats, Snowflake and Eloise, that she milks at her home in the Madrona neighborhood. During peak lactation, Grant can get up to 6 cups of milk from them each day.

“Peak lactation is at 8 weeks, and from there, it goes down to 2 cups of milking,” said Grant, who has encountered few problems with her goats. “My neighbors really like them; everybody smiles. There have been cases in the city where they can be noisy, but then again, so can dogs.”

And just like dogs, they need to be licensed, leashed on walks and the males must be neutered. In addition, all goats must be dehorned, and owners are required to receive permission from the city to graze their goats outside of their backyard. Failure to do so can result in a $125 citation. 

The restriction is to protect sidewalk gardens and park vegetation, according to the King County website. 

For owners who are allergic to dogs but have large backyards, miniature goats may be the next go-to animal. Meg Diaz, a goat owner in Madison Park, bought her miniature goats precisely because her daughter is allergic to the most common of household pets — a tragic blow for an aspiring farm girl.

“He is much more like a dog,” said Diaz of her goat Olive, a male companion to her other goat, Abelard. “They are interested in being with you, but they are not interested in pleasing you. Dogs really want to please you; goats, not so much. But he does love to be petted.”

And while dogs may not attract much attention, goats are still novel enough to stop people in their tracks: “Some people definitely take it as evidence that we’re hippie freaks,” Diaz said.

Useful pets

Despite the occasional odd look, most people seem content with having miniature goats as part of the city.

Lacia Lynne Bailey, a permaculturist who studies sustainable agriculture, owns dairy goats in Ravenna and is an avid believer in green living. 

For Bailey, goats, which can live up to 15 years, are a way of having sustainable dairy in the city.

“Money can’t buy my milk,” said Bailey of producing goat milk. “I know what’s in it; I know what’s not in it. I know they got a kiss the last time they got milked. I know that none of their kids suffered. I know what’s in my milk — literally, karmically, everything.”

But owning a goat for local dairy isn’t as simple as buying one.

“The genetics of your goats really matter a lot,” Bailey said. “I wanted goats with genetics that could do what is called “milking through,” which means you don’t have to breed them every year.

“I didn’t breed her mom last year,” Bailey said, pointing to one of her goats happily chomping on some knotweed. “Her mom has been milking for 19 months now. Her grandma has been milking for three years this month.” 

And miniature goats have proven to be useful companions — not only for producing milk but also for removing invasive weeds.

“Goats are another tool in the toolbox,” said Craig Madsen, owner of Healing Hooves, a vegetation-management business that has 240 to 260 goats in Edwall, a 35-mile drive from Spokane. “There are several reasons that goats work well on weeds and brush.”

Some of these include enthusiastically doing jobs most people would find painful.

“Goats have a small mouth and prehensile lips to manage the thorns,” Madsen explained. And they eat plants that are difficult to remove, like poison ivy. 

Plus, goats can access steep sites ravaged with weeds and brush, they are a low-impact animal on the soil and they are a greener solution than herbicides.

These are also the reasons why Bailey takes her goats to clear noxious brush from her local p-patch. And while definitely not a coffee substitute, goats sure can cause a buzz. 

“People laugh,” Diaz said. “It’s a funny pet to have.”

[[In-content Ad]]