You’ve got to be kid­ding

Why goats are the new dogs.

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - By Claire Irvin

No, we weren’t de­lib­er­at­ing over a cavapoo­chon, a cock­apoo, or a schnoo­dle. Our toss up was mini laman­cha, Nige­rian dwarf or pygmy. Maybe even a minia­ture silky faint­ing?

We’re talk­ing goats. That’s right: goats. Be­cause goats are very much in vogue at the mo­ment – you can pay to take them for a walk (but­ter­cups.org.uk), go to one of the many goat yoga classes pop­ping up across the coun­try. You can even try pygmy goat Pi­lates (pi­late­sat­tic.co.uk). The num­ber of peo­ple own­ing them as pets is on the rise, par­tic­u­larly minia­ture breeds; and al­though there are no of­fi­cial fig­ure on own­er­ship in the UK, the num­bers are thought to be around 25,000. From Jan­uary to Au­gust this year, the Pygmy Goat Club (pygmy­goat­club.org) saw its big­gest growth in mem­ber­ship since 2009, by 25 per cent to 400 pet goat own­ers.

Goats, it seems, are ‘the new dogs’. Like dogs, they love com­pany – yes, yours, not just other goats’ – and are su­per-re­spon­sive to hu­mans, which makes them great fun to be around. Cu­ri­ous, cute, cud­dly. Even sci­ence agrees: two stud­ies by Queen Mary Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don found that goats are as clever as their ca­nine coun­ter­parts and can read fa­cial cues, even dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween smi­ley and frowny faces.

They are rel­a­tively easy to keep, too. You’ll need to clean them out reg­u­larly and feed and water them twice a day, but, if dur­ing the week you don’t have time for more than a quick cud­dle, they’ll keep each other com­pany un­til such time as you do.

They are even good for your men­tal health – Lainey Morse, who orig­i­nally kick­started the whole craze for goat yoga on her farm in Ore­gon in 2016, has cred­ited her goats with help­ing get her through Sjör­gen’s syn­drome, an im­mune-sys­tem dis­or­der. ‘It’s re­ally hard to be sad and de­pressed when you have baby goats jump­ing around you,’ she says. Un­less you’re plan­ning to breed them and house a vir­ile male, which give off a po­tent musk, they don’t smell, ei­ther.

Goats came on to our radar when our then eight-year-old daugh­ter fell in love with a friend’s full-sized va­ri­eties. Two years and an aw­ful lot of re­search later, her pas­sion re­mained undimmed and we had to con­cede that this wasn’t just a fad. With around a quar­ter of an acre of out­side space go­ing spare, we gave in. But as with dogs, size and breed were the first con­sid­er­a­tions. While space wasn’t an is­sue, po­ten­tial es­cape cer­tainly was, and we baulked at ‘jumpy’ breeds, such as the Nige­rian dwarf. In­stead, we plumped for pyg­mies, as they would give us all the per­son­al­ity and fun we were af­ter, with­out nec­es­sar­ily be­ing able to clear a 6ft fence. At ma­tu­rity, they stand be­tween 16 and 23 inches tall, which is the size of a large dog.

As for how many we needed to buy, we were quickly in­formed that goats are herd an­i­mals and get de­pressed on their own. I was ner­vous about hav­ing a pair – what if some­thing hap­pened to one and the other was left on its own? My hus­band agreed to three.

To buy a goat, first you need to find a breeder. My first call, to the Bri­tish Goat So­ci­ety (british­goat­so­ci­ety.com), was friendly but fruit­less – they don’t rec­om­mend breed­ers. They did, how­ever, sug­gest I join Face­book’s Goaty Friends page, where my ‘look­ing for rec­om­men­da­tions’ post threw up Black­wa­ter Al­paca & Pygmy Goats (black­wa­t­er­al­pacas.co.uk), owned by pygmy ob­ses­sives Claire and Glenn. The cou­ple orig­i­nally ran an al­paca-trekking busi­ness from their ru­ral small­hold­ing in Es­sex, and added pyg­mies to the farm a few years ago, then started breed­ing. They now have a herd of nearly 80, some of which they take out to visit care-home res­i­dents and lo­cal schools. I was told there were no baby goats avail­able due to high de­mand, but in­stead asked if I wanted to join a wait­ing list of around six months. But a few weeks later, I got the call. ‘We’ve got four ba­bies for you,’ said Claire. I didn’t hes­i­tate. ‘We’ll take them all!’

A goat-keep­ing course is a good idea to en­sure you re­ally know what you’re get­ting into. We signed up to one run by Claire and Glenn – our fel­low stu­dents were a group of school­teach­ers plan­ning to keep goats for their pupils, an­other fam­ily, and a re­tired cou­ple. There was a lot to take in. Fenc­ing: a min­i­mum of 4ft high, with no holes or means of es­cape. Hous­ing: we needed some­thing with enough room for the chil­dren to play and pet them even in bad weather, and that we could se­cure overnight. Hus­bandry: trim­ming their hooves ev­ery four to six weeks is just the start... En­ter­tain­ment (or what Claire calls ‘en­rich­ment’): goats love salt licks, scratch­ing posts, and things to climb and jump off. And of course, food: a ba­sic diet of hay and clean drink­ing water should be sup­ple­mented with 2-8oz goat mix ev­ery day.

There will be some phys­i­cal graft, too. Think erect­ing a se­cure fence will be the big­gest job? Think again. We had a shel­ter to build, bales of hay to col­lect and store, and bags of feed to schlep around. We had four lit­tle lives to en­rich. Lucky for them the chil­dren had grown out of their wooden climb­ing frame. Old trac­tor tyres were ac­quired (not as easy as you might think), and thanks to my handy brother-in-law, cut in half and set into the ground. Friends came to in­spect the goat house and wanted to move in. My hus­band, who had faced ridicule when he first pre­dicted an in­vest­ment of sev­eral thou­sand pounds, sud­denly started to look like the Mys­tic Meg of the goat world.

‘En­rich­ment is re­ally key,’ stressed Claire. ‘Spend lots of time with them – once they are liv­ing with you, you’ll be their herd.’ As with dogs, it’s also worth re­mem­ber­ing they aren’t just for Christ­mas. A goat’s of­fi­cial life­span is 10-15 years, but they can live much longer.

Like dogs, goats love rou­tine and are so­cia­ble, in­quis­i­tive and come when you call their name (when it suits them, any­way). Food is a big driver, and they will be all over you at the first sniff of a treat, but will stay for a pet or a back scratch. They are pretty easy to train, and can be walked on a lead. They also love a chat (it might be just me, but there are times I’m sure they are an­swer­ing back).

Un­like dogs, they don’t need reg­u­lar walks. In fact, plans to take them down the Fox & Duck or on the school run were in­stantly shelved when we saw the amount of pa­per­work in­volved. Be­fore you even pick up your goats, you’ll need to have a County Par­ish Hold­ing (CPH) num­ber – a rel­a­tively sim­ple process of on­line ap­pli­ca­tion. Then there are sev­eral other ad­mi­nis

‘They’ll eat your shoes. They’ll es­cape. They’ll drive you mad with the noise.

You’ll con­stantly be clear­ing up poo. Don’t they smell?’

tra­tive stages, in­clud­ing trans­porta­tion doc­u­ments when you take them from one home to the next.

If you want to walk your goat pub­licly, you’ll need to do so on a set route agreed by De­fra, un­der a Walk­ing Li­cence. (Tori Spell­ing ob­vi­ously didn’t need one when she was pic­tured in LA walk­ing her pet Totes Mc­goat.) You should also make sure you won’t en­counter dogs off the lead – loose dogs can cause a goat ex­treme stress and phys­i­cal harm. While our goats were be­ing pho­tographed for this fea­ture, along­side their neigh­bour Bobby the dog, who they rub along with very nicely on op­po­site sides of the fence, they were all un­der con­trol and never within touch­ing dis­tance.

There are also re­tail op­por­tu­ni­ties aplenty. As well as a hay feeder, there are col­lars, har­nesses and leads to buy (each of our goats are in­di­vid­u­ally colour co­or­di­nated). There are also bowls, buck­ets and salt licks to choose. And that’s be­fore you even start on their win­ter coats. Homestead Farm Sup­plies has in­tro­duced a ded­i­cated range of fun and fash­ion­able ac­ces­sories for pygmy goats. ‘How could you not fall in love with pyg­mies?’ founder and owner Matthew Tims says. ‘Ten years ago, we re­ally strug­gled to find sup­plies. Now, par­tic­u­larly in the past five years, we are see­ing un­prece­dented de­mand for ev­ery­thing from head­col­lars to coats.’

When ‘G’ day ar­rived, we were in­stantly smit­ten with Flash, Blue, Crum­ble Pie and Mag­gie. As I first took hold of Crum­ble Pie, she burped alarm­ingly. ‘There’s a lot more where that came from,’ stated Glenn mat­ter-of-factly. ‘You’ll get used to it.’ (Giv­ing off gas in this way is a sign your goat has a healthy di­ges­tive sys­tem.)

Driv­ing away was like leav­ing hos­pi­tal with a new­born. Life sud­denly felt that bit more frag­ile with th­ese four help­less lit­tle goatlings in our care. The first night, our hearts were in our mouths as we shut them up for the night, straw packed to the max (cre­at­ing the goat equiv­a­lent of a 2,500 pocket-sprung mat­tress, all nat­u­ral fi­bres, ob­vi­ously). I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the fam­ily to have a sleep­less night catas­trophis­ing. There might not have been cry­ing pup­pies in our house, but they still kept us up at night.

The next day, all my fears came true one af­ter the other as Flash pushed his head through the fence and couldn’t get it out, Crum­ble Pie de­vel­oped a lump where she’d had her vac­ci­na­tion, and none of them seemed to be eat­ing very much. The col­lars we’d bought (the small­est on the mar­ket) were way too big and I had to re­sort to or­der­ing emer­gency pre­ma­ture puppy ver­sions.

But it seems it doesn’t take long for goats to set­tle into fam­ily life. The daily care rou­tine is not only prov­ing great dis­ci­pline for the kids (the hu­man ones), but a shared ex­pe­ri­ence for all of us. There are, af­ter all, four new char­ac­ters to dis­cuss: who en­dear­ingly head­but­ted who, whose shirt got nib­bled, whose foot was licked – and who got a kiss. How shy Mag­gie is get­ting in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent, how bold Blue came and sat on Daddy’s lap, how Crum­ble Pie likes to leap legs akimbo off the tyre stack and how Flash just can’t get any cheekier. And, as with all new ar­rivals, poo up­dates to be an­a­lysed (neat lit­tle balls that pop out like Pez dis­penser sweets, since you ask and – the ex­cite­ment! – a great gar­den fer­tiliser too). Vis­i­tors can’t ac­tu­ally be­lieve how cute they are. Or how tiny. My friend bought them pretty ‘lit­tle’ cow­bells back from Aus­tria. ‘Will they fit round their necks?’ she pon­dered. ‘Aun­tie Jac­qui, they are big­ger than their heads and will deafen them,’ re­sponded my 10-yearold em­phat­i­cally.

There have been plenty of ‘new mum’ pan­ics, in­clud­ing sus­pected goat bloat (ac­tu­ally they just needed to burp). Claire and Glenn, how­ever, have been true to their word and are al­ways on the end of the phone with a ready re­sponse.

We are all, in case you hadn’t al­ready no­ticed, ab­so­lutely be­sot­ted. Even our tabby cat likes to saunter round and see what’s oc­cur­ring in the goat house. Oh and Bobby the dog, of course, who spends hours at a time star­ing long­ingly into their pad­dock, try­ing to work out what they’re about. I’m not sure who’s go­ing to tell him they aren’t ac­tu­ally fel­low dog­gies. Or when.

Or maybe we just won’t bother. There’s not that much dif­fer­ence, af­ter all.

Claire out for walkies with her herd

Top: Claire with Blue and Mag­gie. Above: Claire with her son Charley and daugh­ter Amelie with Mag­gie, Flash, Blue and Crum­ble Pie

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