Pet Goats: 8 Things You Need to Know

Goats are probably the second most common barnyard pet with chickens coming in first. Although I jokingly refer to goats as vegetarian dogs because of their friendly nature, their needs are very different. For years I’ve been responding to emails and blog comments from new goat owners whose problems could have been avoided if they had the right information before they bought their first goats. Here is what you need to know before you make the commitment to become a goat owner.

Goats are long lived

The oldest goat on my farm right now is 16 years old, which is a little on the older side, but it is not unusual for goats to live 12 to 15 years. I have heard of one occasionally surviving to 18 or 19. Becoming a goat owner is not a short-term commitment, and it is not always easy to find a good home for unwanted goats.

Read more: How long do goats live?

Goats are herd animals

Herd animals live in groups in nature. That means you can’t have just one herd animal, and other species don’t count. So, it’s not a good idea to have a pet goat with a sheep, a cow, a horse, a rabbit, or a chicken. Yes, people have asked me to sell them a pet goat as a companion to all of these other critters. They simply do not speak the same language. Sure there are a few success stories out there, but I have heard far more horror stories from people who bought one goat. Lone goats are the world’s best escape artists, and they will find holes in your fence that you never knew existed, and then they can tap dance on your car, poop on your front porch, get into your horse pasture and get kicked through the air, or wander into the road and get hit by a car. If you are still tempted to buy a single goat, read this.

Wethers make the best pet goats

Many people ask me if they should get bucks (male goats) or does (female goats) if they do not want to breed goats. The answer is neither.

Intact bucks pee on themselves, and they may even pee on you if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, they are not messy. They actually have amazing directional control, and they will pee on their faces during breeding season. They will also butt heads with other bucks, even when does are not present. One year we finished breeding early in the fall, so we put our bucks across the creek, far away from the does, hoping that would curb their head butting and help them to focus more on eating. It didn’t help.

Female goats come into heat about every 21 days if they are not bred. Some does are quiet. Some does scream like the world is coming to an end. If you have a breed that only comes into heat in the fall, you may only have to deal with this for five months or so. However, if you have a breed that comes into heat year round, your neighbors may be hating you every 21 days.

Wethers are castrated males, and reputable breeders will castrate the goats before selling or offer to castrate them for you at no additional charge if they are too young for castrating before the sale. Good quality bucks cost hundreds of dollars, so reputable breeders don’t sell them with their testicles intact for $50 to $100. Not only are wethers cheaper than bucks and does, which can be bred, but they are also not hormonal. They don’t pee on themselves or fight as much as bucks. They don’t come into heat and scream like female goats.

Buy goats only from reputable breeders

Even if you only want goats as pets, it is a good idea to buy goats from reputable breeders or responsible owners. They will be able to answer all of your questions about feeding, housing, and general goat care.

When you buy from a reputable breeder, they will have already disbudded and castrated the baby goats before selling them. They should also have tested their herd for diseases, such as CAE, Johnes, and CL.

If you are buying baby goats that are bottle-fed, they should have been bottle-fed for at least a week before you pick them up. Some of the most frustrating emails I get are from people who purchased kids that have been nursing for their entire life and are pulled from their mother the day of the sale and are sold as bottle babies. Of course, the kids have no idea what to do with the bottle and just scream like they’re being poisoned.

Kids should be nursed for a minimum of two months before being sold unless they are well established as a bottle-feeding baby. Ask the seller to give the kid a bottle in front of you, and if the kid does not grab the nipple and start sucking with no help, do NOT take it home. Having helped many new goat owners who have unknowingly purchased dam-raised kids and tried to switch them to a bottle, I can tell you this is not an experience you want to have.

I’ve heard the saddest stories from people who bought goats at sale barns. Many people take their problems to sale barns to get rid of them. This means you could wind up with a big vet bill or a dead goat or two rather quickly. Even if someone takes healthy animals to a sale barn, it could pick up a disease, such as Johnes, from a goat, sheep, or cow at the sale barn. If you are there, you could get Johnes on your shoes if you step in the manure of an infected animal, and then you could bring it back to your farm and give it to your goats, sheep, or cows.

Housing for pet goats

No, your pet goats cannot live in your house. Although my daughter had great luck teaching baby goats to pee on a towel, they also thought they should pee on the bathroom rug and any clothes left on the floor. And there is no teaching them to poop outside. They just let the poop fly whenever the urge strikes.

Although it is not true that goats eat tin cans, pet goats do like to taste everything just to be sure they aren’t missing out on anything awesome. That means that electrical cords are a real danger to them, as they could electrocute themselves. Some pet goats have been known to eat plastic bags, which can cause an obstruction, which will cause death.

They also love to eat paper because they are browsers, which means they prefer to eat trees and bushes rather than grass. And paper is made from trees, so it’s basically like us eating fast food. It’s not really real food, but paper tastes similar to their favorite food, so they’ll eat it. My daughter used to joke that someday she would have to honestly tell her teacher that her goat had eaten her homework.

Goat housing does not have to be fancy. If you only have pet goats, a three-sided shelter works well in most parts of the U.S. Although our does come into the barn every night for milking in the evening and morning, our bucks live in a three-sided shelter, and we are in Illinois. We only bring them into the barn if we are expecting a blizzard or temperatures below zero. The open side of a three-sided shelter should be open to the direction opposite the prevailing winds in winter. In Illinois, that means the shelters are open to the south because most winter winds are blowing from the north. 

Pet goats do NOT need a heated or insulated shelter. In fact, if you put them in an insulated shelter, you could kill them with your “kindness.” It is impossible to keep ammonia levels from building up to dangerous levels in an insulated shelter. And you cannot count on your wimpy human nose to let you know when it is a problem. Ammonia can start to damage lungs before the human nose can smell it. So, if you smell ammonia, it is already beyond dangerously high.

Goats in winter stay warm because they grow a thick coat of cashmere. If you have ever had a cashmere coat or sweater, you know how warm it is. This is why goats look fuzzier in winter than in summer. They also stay warm by cuddling up with each other, which is why it is important that they never be alone.

Using straw as bedding is also much warmer than shavings. Availability of straw or shavings can vary depending upon where you live, but if it’s cold in your area, and you have straw available, it is a better option for insulating goats from the cold ground and helping them to stay warm in winter.

Feeding pet goats

Wethers are very easy keepers. They just need pasture or browse (bushes) in summer and grass hay in winter if the pasture is dead and frozen. No alfalfa, please. It is too high in calcium, which can lead to zinc deficiency. Wethers also do not need grain, which is high in phosphorus and can cause urinary stones.

One reason female goats don’t make the best pets is because if they are not being bred, they may have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. About 12 years ago I sold three does to a teenage girl, and she kept in touch with me all these years. She had an ongoing struggle keeping those does from becoming obese, and they were only eating pasture and hay.

Other than plenty of clean water, the only other thing goats need is free choice goat minerals. Do not get minerals labeled “for sheep and goats” because it will not have enough copper in it to keep goats healthy, so be sure to get one that is labeled for goats only.

Here is more information on what goats eat.

Fencing for pet goats

If you have four or less goats, you don’t need an elaborate fence. You can just put together four 16-foot livestock panels, which can be moved around the yard as temporary fencing. Rotational grazing is actually a great way to utilize pasture, as well as control internal parasites in goats because the goats are constantly leaving their toilet behind them as you move the livestock panels to new areas.

In this podcast episode, we discuss everything you need to know about using electric netting for rotational grazing.

Find a goat vet

Although pet goats are very healthy animals when given proper care, and many will never need to see a vet, you should be sure you have a goat vet in your area in case of emergency. It comes as a surprise to many people that most vets do not see goats. Two-thirds of vets limit their practice to companion animals. Even vets who will see goats may not have a lot of experience with them. It is not unusual for goat owners to drive an hour or two to see a vet with goat experience.

Please do not try to talk your dog’s vet into seeing your goats. As a vet said to me many years ago, they won’t be doing you any favors by saying yes. And based on stories I’ve heard of dog and cat vets treating goats, I’m glad that my dog’s vet refused to see my goats.

For more information …

Check out my podcast episode, “Thinking of Getting Goats?

Here are 8 things all goats need to have.

It is also important to realize that not all goat breeds are the same, so it’s important to choose the right one for you and your farm.

Of course the information in this article is only the beginning. You need to educate yourself about goats before buying them so that you can give them the best possible life and save yourself a lot of heartache and vet bills at the same time. You can learn more by visiting my Goat Guide for Beginners, which lists a couple dozen articles about all facets of goat care. My book, Raising Goats Naturally, was revised and updated in 2018 with the latest research and has 300+ pages of information.

Nigerian Dwarf Goats is my online forum filled with friendly goat owners who are happy to help others and talk goats. Thrifty Homesteading is our Facebook group where we talk about all things related to homesteading, including goats and other livestock. Feel free to click on over and say hi!

If you want to learn even more, check out my Goats 365 membership program at the Thrifty Homesteader Academy

What to know before buying goats for your homestead

50 thoughts on “Pet Goats: 8 Things You Need to Know”

  1. My daughter and I are thinking about get dairy goats (possibly miniatures as we don’t need a lot of milk) after we have homesteaded for a while (when I retire). Your note about a goat vet was very interesting. I am not sure if there would be a goat vet anywhere near where we are planning on moving to. Is there some place on line where we can search for a vet goat in the area we are interested in? We are planning on buying land in West Virginia (mid-Northern part). We would not be getting goats right away – we need to build infrastructure first, get chickens and have them for a while before we expand into goats. :o)

    Reply
    • I would just use Google and search for “large animal vet in …” your city. If you have a vet school near you, that is usually a great option.

      Reply
      • I got a goat for Christmas but I can’t have him his a baby goat 3 to 4 week old trying to find a new home for him can anyone help me find a home for him I got him in my house he still drinking milk in bottles.

        Reply
        • This is so sad! No one should give people living animals as gifts. First I’d suggest returning him to the breeder. A reputable breeder would want the kid back. But if this was not a reputable breeder, perhaps you can find someone in a Facebook goat group who can take the goat. It needs to be someone who already has goats so that the kid will have a goat friend.

          Reply
  2. Thank you for this helpful article! We have heard conflicting info regarding allowing goats to pasture over leach fields. We are starting a small farm on just under 3 acres and will be fencing off the leach fields (built in 2002) to keep the 2 horses we are planning to rescue from walking over them. Evidently the owners 10 years ago allowed their horses to graze there. We don’t want to take the risk of damaging the underground pipes with larger animals but would love your opinion about smaller goats since we have somewhat limited space:)

    Reply
    • Definitely no cows or horses as they leave huge hoofprints when it rains. We put our goats and sheep on our septic field, and we’ve had no problems. They are not any heavier than a human.

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    • You cannot simply mix together a few grains at home and expect to get a balanced diet. Most of those wind up being way too high in carbs and fat and not high enough in protein, so they don’t support lactation — and remember that milkers are the only ones that need grain. If you have pet goats, then pasture, browse, and a good grass hay is all they need.

      Reply
  3. We have our 3 young (4 month old) goats in a fenced in hillside which is covered in brush, mostly small trees and tons of honeysuckle vines. We were hoping they would clear the brush, however they have really only been eating the green stuff (leaves) and leaving behind anything woody. They pretty much cleared their area of leaves in under a month and I have already had to expand it for more leaves. I was not sure if they would start to eat the vines when the leaves were gone, but they didn’t seem to want to. Will they begin to eat the twigs and vines as they get older or should I expect to always be left with these?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • They are so young right now I would not expect them to eat anything woody yet. As they get older, they will eat smaller limbs, and they’ll strip bark. But they can’t eat larger branches. This will kill the bushes as they can’t survive without leaves. Stripping bark all the way around also kills trees.

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  4. I was wondering if you have any information on goat lice please.
    With the warmer weather now here, my goats seem to be rubbing a lot. I have checked in their fur and did I bit of research and I think they may have sucking lice?

    Reply
    • Goats actually have more problems with lice in winter. If they do have lice, you should be able to see them if you pull back the hair and look at the roots. You should see little crawly things. It might take a few seconds of staring to see them moving. If they do have lice, the best treatment is to use dog clippers and just clip all the hair. If the lice have no place to hide, they leave. You can also use pour-on dewormers such as Eprinex.

      Reply
  5. We live in San Diego where we have coyotes and raccoons. If we get dwarf goats, will they have to be locked up at night to keep them safe?

    Reply
    • Raccoons will leave goats alone, except for the tiniest kids. However, coyotes and dogs will kill goats. They need to be kept safe from dogs and coyotes at all times. A good fence is worth its weight in gold. Goats also need a shelter where they can be out of the rain and wind.

      Reply
  6. I’m in the process of gathering information about raising Nigerian Dwarf Goats, and just love the questions and answers. There is SOO MUCH to learn, it’s exciting to have a lot of answers at my fingertips! Thank you for helping us beginners!

    Reply
  7. Hi Deb. I agree with all your info, with the exception of one item. I hope that I fall into the catagory of reputable breeder, after 20 years and your statement of a ‘reputable breeder will have the bucks castrated before selling them’ leaves a lot of room for discussion.
    I accept deposits on bucklings at approximately 2 weeks old with the knowledge from buyers if they are keeping these little rascals as pets or breeding stock.
    I educate my ‘pet’ buyers in the processes available for neutering, the cost for vet castration, or banding whichever route they choose but stress to them that the longer they can wait (window of 12 weeks to 6 months) the better opportunity for their urethra to grow.
    I would hate to fall under your cloak of an irresponsible breeder, as you have a significant following of new folks clinging to every word you write and consider them ‘the gospel truth’.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • If you discuss all of that with your buyers and give them the option of bringing the kids back to you for castration at no additional charge, that’s awesome, but I have received far too many emails from people who were sold intact bucks and then spent $150 each for vet castration, sometimes even more disbudding (another $50 or $100), and then the goat has some health issue and the person doesn’t want to go to the vet again because it’s getting too expensive for them.

      Reply
  8. wondering if i shoukd take my goats off grain completely…i have 3 does
    they arent being milked just pets and one wether. the girld are very fat. they get orchard and pasture otherwise

    Reply
  9. Thank you so much! We just bought two wethers from a rodeo and we’ve put them in a weedy pen to clear out the dry weeds (which they are doing a fantastic job of)! They are sweet and friendly, and I went to the feed store to get some hay and the lady tried to sell me all sorts of grain and multi animal minerals. I waited until she walked away, grabbed a bag of goat mineral supplements, a tag for a bale of hay, and sped home to look on Pinterest!! Found your article and now I feel good with our decision. The previous owners took good care of them and just gave them pasture hay, free range grass, and minerals. We live in the desert and grass isn’t plentiful, so the hay was a must!!
    What do you recommend about deworming?? I’m thinking I’ll have to buy your book as I love the easy and concise way you’ve presented the facts here. THANK YOU AGAIN!

    Reply
    • Current research says that you only give a dewormer to goats when they are sick. All goats have worms, but as long as they are otherwise healthy, it doesn’t bother them. Wethers tend to be very easy keepers and may never need a dewormer in their lives. Since they have no stress (not making sperm, growing babies, or making milk) they usually have very few problems. Actually one of the biggest problems is people killing them with “too much love.”

      If you get my book there is info in there about nutrition, as well as parasites (24 pages) and 300+ pages of other info.

      Reply
  10. Thank you for providing the information you do. I am constantly reading and researching info as I plan to buy land in 1 1/2 years and get 2-4 wethers. I saw the question above and didn’t think it was fully answered, so want to re-ask. If there are coyotes, etc in the area, do you think it’s reasonable to put goats in a closed barn overnight? Thank you.

    Reply
    • If you have fencing that will keep out coyotes, which you should, then the goats do not need to be locked up at night. Our bucks live outside and go into a 3-sided shelter 365 days a year unless they are breeding does or we are having a blizzard. Coyotes hunt and kill during the day, so excellent fencing is required 24/7.

      Reply
      • Expanding on that, keep in mind that some coyotes can climb. I watched one scale a 6’ chainlink fence like it was nothing. Additionally, in California, our coyotes hunt and kill at night, too. They are most active just before dawn and the early evening hours after sunset.

        Reply
      • What do you consider “fencing that will keep coyotes out” ?? I lived in California and, I too, had trouble with coyotes. I watched a coyote scale a 6 ft. chain link fence like it was nothing, grab one of my adult geese by the neck and proceed to drag it back over the fence!! I was stunned, and if I had not responded very quickly, the coyote would have had a large goose for dinner!! Or, rather breakfast, because this incident happened at day break, when it was almost too dark to see!! The coyotes where we lived in the high desert, primarily hunted at dawn and dust. There were also many sightings of coyotes walking down the street during different times of the day! Coyotes are very adaptable which has allowed them to thrive for so many years even with human encroachment!

        Reply
        • Canines are very respectful of electric. We’ve seen footprints in the snow going up to a fence and then turning around. Something electric usually works. We have never lost an animal that was behind ElectroNet or a woven wire fence that had a strand of electric along the top and/or about a foot off the ground. They won’t even try to jump a fence after they get shocked because they don’t have a clue how electric works and don’t know that they won’t get shocked in mid-air if they jump.

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  11. I live in Illinois as well and am looking to get some goats! I would love to have a conversation about who you suggest buying from and other small details.

    Reply
  12. Great information , thank you.
    We helped out friends who breed goats by taking two bottle babies.
    A doe and a buck.
    The “plan” was to return the little fellas after they were weaned.
    Well….. they were named and we are attached to them and are keeping them as pets.
    We were going to castrate the buck but his testicles never dropped……..
    He is 8 months old and well into the peeing / blubbering that males do which is ok , but the problem is his aggressive head butting he gets into with us.
    Since castration is not a option is there any other way to reduce his testosterone?
    We read about flipping him onto his back when he is in “attack” mode which works but as he gets bigger that could be problematic.

    Thanks in advance for any advice !

    Reply
    • He can be castrated by a veterinarian, but since it would be real surgery, it could get expensive. If a buck’s testicles are not descended at birth, they are not going to drop. Bucks with testicles are usually butchered. They should NOT be used for breeding because the trait was shown to be hereditary more than 50 years ago. I would also suggest that your friend NOT repeat the breeding as they could wind up with more bucks like that.

      There is NO reason he should have become aggressive, even as an intact buck. In every case where someone has contacted me about an adult goat head butting humans it was because people thought it was “cute” to play head butt with the goat when it was little. Once you have started that “game,” the goat continues as he gets older because that’s how you’ve taught him to communicate with you. You should not even rub the top of their head when they are little because it sets them up for using their head to communicate with you. Goats should be scratched under the chin or stroked on the neck — never pet on top of the head. I never recommend throwing a goat on their back because you could seriously mess up their rumen and wind up with an emergency vet visit (or dead goat).

      I am also concerned that you have a doeling with an intact buck. Does should NOT be bred until they are at least 60% of their adult weight. Otherwise you could wind up with a c-section because the doe is not big enough to give birth safely.

      Reply
  13. Thanks for your reply, we will no longer flip our boy on his back to stop him from butting.
    Our vet told us he was not able to produce viable sperm as he undescended?

    Reply
    • Theoretically, the testicles hang down because they need to be cooler than body temperature. However, I never say never. The reason people butcher them or castrate them is because they will act like a buck. He will start peeing on himself and stinking as he matures.

      Reply
  14. Hi, thinking of getting a wether and a milk doe. Is this ok or will it drive either or both of them mad? Thank you xx

    Reply
    • That will work fine. And when you need to breed the doe again, the wether will let you know when she is in heat because he doesn’t know he is not a real buck.

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  15. Are 2 goats in a neighborhood (small town) doable on 1/3 acre? Ideally, I’d like a doe for milk. The other would be companion. Maybe a wether. Pygmy/dwarf breed. Working toward a farm and self-sufficiency but doing what I can toward that now where we live. Have a few ducks for eggs right now and large garden at my dad’s. He says no goats there tho

    Reply
  16. I am researching getting does for milk. My question is, is the milk production supply and demand or does it just dry up? I’ve read several articles about having to breed milk does but never found a real answer as to why.

    Reply
    • Both can be true. You DO have to breed them to get them to make milk in the first place — unless you have a doe with a precocious udder, which is not normal and not really desired. Depending upon the genetics, a doe can milk for two months or two or three years before you have to breed her again and start the lactation process all over.

      Meat goat breeds have not been bred for milk production, so they really just make enough to feed kids, and I’ve heard of some drying up as early as 2 months, which is really not good even for meat goats. Personally if I had a doe like that, she would be meat because her kids aren’t going to grow very big and healthy. Average dairy goats can milk for a year without having to breed again. Excellent dairy goats, on the other hand, can milk for two or three years. So, it is a combination of (1) genetics, (2) nutrition, (3) supply and demand.

      Reply
  17. I have a hodgepodge herd, One Nubian boar, one Saanen and one Nigerian. All females and all three yrs old. My Nigerian unfortunately lost her (bonded) sister three weeks ago and I feel like I need to get her another companion now since she is smaller than the other two and can sometimes be bullied. Should I get another female Nigerian about her age or a whethered male Nigerian. I don’t want babies just a compatible and balanced herd. I would appreciate the feedback.

    Reply
    • I would get a wether. Obviously you’ve been very lucky with your girls, or you would not even be asking this question. Some of them can be very loud when they come into heat every three weeks, if you are not breeding them. Standard size dairy goats usually only come into heat in the fall, but Nigerians can come into heat in other months also. I know people who have had to get rid of a female because of the noise if they had neighbors that were too close. It’s only for a day about every three weeks, but that’s bad enough for some people.

      Reply
  18. Does anyone have experience using wethers to browse/graze around a pond? It is mostly long grass with some wildflowers and mint mixed in. Will they graze close to the edge of a pond?

    Reply
    • We let our goats graze around our pond. Remember that goats are not actually grazers. They are browsers, which means they prefer small trees and bushes rather than grass. The goats definitely eat the grass, even if it is close to the water. In fact, they will even go into the water if they can reach leaves that are hanging over the pond! When I saw that, it really cemented the idea that goats are browsers! You know how they hate getting wet. They act like they’re going to melt if it just starts to sprinkle, but I’ve seen goats standing in water chest deep to reach leaves! Goats will eat your wildflowers, but I have never seen mine eat mint.

      Reply
  19. We have a disabled (his front left leg is completely contracted and needs removed) 2 month old pygmy goat. He is banded but hasn’t “lost” them yet. We were told he wouldnt do well with a “herd” d/t his leg. We have him inside with us and take him out frequently so he gets plenty of exercise. Anyway, do you have any tips or info on caring for a disabled goat? We are looking at getting him a freind in the near future, would another wether or a doe be better?

    Reply
    • You definitely want a wether. Does can get hormonal every 21 days if they are not bred. Some are mellow, but some get violent and start butting heads with goats around them, as well as mounting other goats, which this little guy does not need. I’d also suggest getting a kid that’s younger and smaller than he is so that they won’t challenge him in the beginning. And if they do, it’ll be humorous rather than horrifying. There could still be a little bit of head butting in the beginning, but it shouldn’t be bad if the new goat is smaller.

      Reply

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