For the Love of Goats
Do you want dairy goats but don’t have a farm in the countryside? It is possible to have goats in many cities, but there are a few unique challenges. In today’s episode, I’m talking to Glenna Rose of Vancouver, Washington about the Nigerian dwarf dairy goats that live in her backyard and provide her with milk that she uses to make ice cream, cheese, and more.
We talk about fencing, housing, milking, birthing, and how to handle neighbors who want to feed your goats or who may worry about your screaming goat in heat.
Glenna has Nigerian dwarf goats, which are a great choice for dairy goats in the city because they are the smallest breed of dairy goat, weighing about half as much as standard sized breeds. Although they don’t give as much milk, their butterfat averages about 6.5%, which is about twice as much as the larger goats. That means your cheese yield with their milk will be almost twice as much.
Although Glenna originally got goats because her adult son thought he had become lactose intolerant, goat milk contains lactose. Many people don’t realize that there is a difference between a lactose intolerance and a milk allergy. Lactose intolerance means you can’t digest the sugar in the milk. An allergy means you are allergic to the protein. Although all milk has lactose, the protein of each species’ milk is different. That means that someone with a cow milk allergy may be able to consume goat milk. But if you have a true lactose intolerance, you can’t consume any animal milk.
You can visit Glenna and her goats on her blog.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Standlee Premium Western Forage, maker of my goats’ favorite alfalfa pellets.
Listen right here by clicking on the player above, or on your favorite platform:
Deborah Niemann 0:23
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another episode. So last time, I was talking to someone who had goats in the city as pets. This week, we are gonna continue that conversation with someone—a friend—who has goats in the city for dairy. So right off the bat, I would like to welcome Glenna Rose of Vancouver, Washington. Thanks so much for agreeing to be here, Glenna.
Glenna Rose 0:50
Oh, thank you. And good morning. Good afternoon to everyone.
Deborah Niemann 0:54
Let’s get started with you. Basically, just tell us why you decided to get goats.
Glenna Rose 1:01
Well, it was a two-part thing. My middle son, in his 40s, thought he was lactose intolerant. And at the same time, the city was updating their livestock codes. And I volunteered for the committee, because I didn’t want our chicken variants changed. And at the meeting, one of the people brought up the fact that people could have two Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats, a half a dozen hens, and a garden, and produce most of their food on a city lot.
Deborah Niemann 1:28
Glenna Rose 1:29
That was pretty eye-opening.
Deborah Niemann 1:31
So how did you go from there to, like, actually deciding to get the goats?
Glenna Rose 1:35
Well, the first thing I did was post on a local homesteading-type group: “Does anyone have Nigerian Dwarf goats? Because I would like to come and visit.” And a person responded, and I went out and fell in love. If anyone does not want to have goats, don’t go near them, because they’ll steal your heart.
Deborah Niemann 1:55
I can agree with that.
Glenna Rose 1:58
Well, she didn’t have any for sale right then, but I decided that day that when I bought, I wanted to buy from her. So, I held out and did.
Deborah Niemann 2:08
Okay. And then what did you do to get ready? Did you talk to your neighbors and ask them about it or anything like that?
Glenna Rose 2:18
Well, actually what I did—and this is going to sound a little self-serving on your part, but it’s a fact—I had found your “ning” website—
Deborah Niemann 2:27
Glenna Rose 2:28
—your goat group, and I went there, and I read through the archives. I spent hours and hours reading through the archives to make myself familiar with all of the aspects of it, good and bad. And I found that to be the most valuable thing I could have done, and I recommend it to other people. Everything there is factual. It’s very direct, and you do an excellent job of monitoring, so everything stays super positive.
Deborah Niemann 2:56
Well, thank you. I’m glad that you found it so helpful. And, can you tell us a little bit about your backyard, and how it is set up, and how it works for goats?
Glenna Rose 3:07
Well, I have a city lot that is an oversized lot for our area—it’s 100 by 145 feet—and the back half of it is sectioned off for the goats. And I have six-foot chain-link fence around the entire backyard, so fencing is not an issue. And there are padlocks on the gate, so curious children can’t come in to pet the pretty goats. And we built a barn. And I built a 12-by-12 barn—did a lot of research into what I wanted. And basically, they have a whole section of the backyard that’s theirs. Not that they don’t escape into the main yard sometimes. But that’s a human error, not a goat thing.
Deborah Niemann 3:49
Right! Yeah. And a six-foot chain-link fence is an excellent fence for goats. That’s one of the few things—
Glenna Rose 3:58
You can’t get any better.
Deborah Niemann 3:59
Glenna Rose 4:00
You cannot get any better.
Deborah Niemann 4:02
That’s one of the few things that goats really cannot get out of—unless you give them a launching pad. So just don’t put anything close enough to the fence that they could use as a launching pad to go over. And you’re gonna be in great shape with a fence like that. What do you do during kidding season, when your goats are kidding, in terms of the housing?
Glenna Rose 4:22
Well, I have… My barn is set up so I can section off a quarter of it. It’s 12 by 12. And I section off a quarter of it just for the doe that’s expecting. So, I try to space them out, so no one’s going to need the kidding area themselves. On her due date, or just before her due date, she’s confined to that area as much as she objects. I have cameras in my barn, so that I can monitor them from the house if I’m not out there. And my camera is both audio and visual. And I highly recommend that, because, during kidding season, you can become an absolute nervous wreck running back and forth.
Deborah Niemann 5:02
Yes. I always tell people they really need to have a way of monitoring their barn, because I’ve just heard so many stories of people, you know, say, “Well, I was just out there 15 minutes ago! She must have kidded, like, the minute I left.”
Glenna Rose 5:14
Well, one of my does did exactly that. I spent the—because she was due—I spent the night with her. I napped in the straw that night. It was around 6:00, I decided—6:00 am.—I decided to go in. And I sat down for a little bit, and I heard her give one little baa on the monitor, and went right back out. She was delivering her first—fifth child. Fifth kid. She had delivered five babies in that 25 minutes I was gone.
Deborah Niemann 5:50
Yeah, they can be very amazing.
Glenna Rose 5:54
It matters to keep a close watch on them.
Deborah Niemann 5:57
Do you have any issues with noise and the goats disturbing your neighbors, or your neighbors… Because some—I have heard of people, like, the police were called because they thought they heard a person screaming next door and it was actually the goat.
Glenna Rose 6:10
I have not had myself, because my goats are quiet. And I highly recommend that people, especially people who live in town, only buy goats that are dam-raised. Because my observation is that bottle babies have a tendency to be more noisy. In fact, most of my neighbors did not even know I had goats until they physically saw them. And I think that says a lot for how quiet they are.
Deborah Niemann 6:35
Glenna Rose 6:36
Now. When one’s in heat—my original doe, who I refer to as my senior doe, screamed her head off for three days. I actually put a sign on my fence, because people were concerned about her.
Deborah Niemann 6:50
Glenna Rose 6:51
That said, “Don’t worry, she isn’t injured. She isn’t ill. She just wants to go visit her boyfriend.” And it was interesting to watch people’s reactions. Some would laugh, and some would look at her like “you poor little thing.”
Deborah Niemann 7:08
That’s great. I like that. That’s a really good idea.
Glenna Rose 7:13
Well, they do sound like they’re being murdered when they’re in heat and being very vocal.
Deborah Niemann 7:18
Exactly. And that’s why I tell people if you just want pets, then get a couple of wethers, because otherwise they’re going to come into heat every 21 days. And some of them may be quiet, but some of them may not. And do you really want to listen to a goat screaming her head off every 21 days? Most people don’t.
Glenna Rose 7:37
Well, and this one… This one, when she was in heat one day—she always picked the same corner, which instinctively, I guess, I have no other explanation—was the closest spot in our yard to her boyfriend. And one day, she’s standing out there yelling, and a large Labrador Retriever was being walked on the other side of the fence, or the other side of the street, and she just went crazy.
Deborah Niemann 8:02
Glenna Rose 8:03
Until he got in a position that she could smell that it wasn’t a goat. So, a good doe in heat can be very interesting.
Deborah Niemann 8:12
That is interesting. Oh, my goodness. You know, it’s funny that you mentioned that you suggest that people get dam-raised goats, because so many people think you have to get bottle-fed to make them friendly. But, when they are bottle-fed, they also think that you are mom, and the only goat that I have ever had returned, like right off the bat, was this woman who bought a doe and a wether. And the very next morning, I got a phone call from her; she was in tears. She had not slept all night. And her neighbors were hating her at this point. Because the doe was actually bottle-raised. And apparently, the doe never stopped screaming all night unless she would go out to the barn and sit with her. Which kind of blew me away. I had never heard of that happening before or since. But it just really went to show how, you know, getting a bottle baby is not always the right thing to do. Like, there’s a downside to everything, and every goat is different. And like this woman, like, she had—it was one of those places in the country where people have, like, about five acres apiece. So your neighbors were not that far away from you. And—
Glenna Rose 9:37
Deborah Niemann 9:38
—So, it was not a good thing to have a goat screaming all the time.
Glenna Rose 9:43
Well, my experience with a bottle-fed baby was one of the quints that was extremely small; she was less than two pounds when she was born, and I supplemented her with the bottle, but I left her with mom and the other goats. However, she got to associate me with the food. And she was a yeller, right up until the day she left. But the bad part was not only was she vocal, but she was teaching the others to be vocal. So, I had a real problem developing there. But when she left, some of the others kept being vocal for a couple of days, and then they stopped. But that was very clearly the difference between bottle-fed and dam-fed. And she was actually with her mother, and eating from her mother also, but she still looked at me for that extra food and attention.
Deborah Niemann 10:31
Now, one of the things that some people may not know if they’re totally new to this idea, is that if you want a goat to make milk, it has to have babies. And it’s not a one-shot deal; it’s not gonna make milk for the rest of its life. So, you will have to re-breed it, you know, somewhere between every year to every 2 or 3 years. And so, you are on a very limited amount of property; you also have city ordinances to deal with it say you can only have a certain number of goats. So that means that you have to sell your babies. And so, what does that look like for you? Like, how do you find the buyers? And how do you feel about having to sell the babies and everything?
Glenna Rose 11:12
Well, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to sell the babies. And there’s no two ways about it. And I’m grateful I live in town, because if I lived in the country, I would have never sold any. And that probably is not a good thing. What I have done is, once I realized after the first year—because I still at breeding time, I had a lot of milk. And I just decided to see if she could milk through. I have one goat who, unfortunately, lost her babies at birth because of a huge mistake her mama person made. And she was well into her third year when I dried her up. And the only reason I dried her up was because my husband was ill. Now, she did not—her little body wanted to keep producing milk; it took me over 3 months to dry her up. And I finally just had to stop milking entirely. And that was very eye-opening. I think that little girl would still be giving milk. Now, her sister—her older sister—also milked through two years. So, I really think if you have a goat from a good dairy background that you have a really good chance of having them milk through and only breeding every 2 or 3 years. But, of course, it’s gonna depend on the goat.
Deborah Niemann 12:31
Right. That’s one of the things that I’m experimenting with now is to see… I’m trying to see if I can make all of my goats—if they will all milk for 2 or 3 years.
Glenna Rose 12:41
Well, another thing about the milk—and this is a major reason I decided to do this—is that every time you have a goat kid, there’s risk. And the fewer kiddings they have, the less risk there is. And I personally feel it’s much easier on the goat’s body to keep making milk an additional year than to grow babies that year.
Deborah Niemann 13:04
In fact, one of the funny things is if people ask me if there are any disadvantages to goats milking through, what we’ve seen is that after about a year, the goats start to put weight on. So, sometimes they can get a little overweight. And you need to—at least I have with the goats here—we’ve had to try to cut back on the amount of grain that they get, so that they don’t get overweight. Because then, if they get overweight, they may have trouble getting pregnant in the future.
Glenna Rose 13:35
Well, and that would be a real consideration in town, too, because they have a tendency to get overweight in town because they don’t run around as much as if they were out in a field.
Deborah Niemann 13:46
I am so glad you mentioned that, because actually somebody bought a goat for me who lived in the city of Chicago. And the first year, she brought the goat out for breeding—no problem. But then the next year, when she brought that—she wound up bringing that goat out, I think, three times the next year, and the goat never got pregnant. And the goat was very overweight. And I think it’s because, you know, she had this tiny little Chicago backyard, and one of the things that… I think that goats get bored, because I’ve seen this with other people, and when they’re bored, they make noise, and then to make them happy, people feed them.
Glenna Rose 14:26
Deborah Niemann 14:27
So, it seems that people—with goats in the city, especially—that they may have problems with them getting overweight anyway. Have you had any issues with that?
Glenna Rose 14:38
My goat that I mentioned was in her third year of milking has always been overweight. And I didn’t realize at the time why, but she was a single, and her mother had incredibly rich milk. And there were no other kids for her to play with. So she started out with lack of exercise that most kids would have gotten, and she has always been overweight. In fact, this is something that contributed to her problems when she kidded. And she’ll… She can’t be allowed to breed again because of things that went on then, which is heartbreaking, because she’s an extremely good producer. And she’d make an absolutely wonderful mother; she would let the other kids nurse her, even though the mothers didn’t like it. The mothers would butt their kids away from her. But overweight is an issue. And I think that people need to be aware of it. And don’t be like me. I always thought my goats were skinny; my goat care person that would come and say, “No, your goats are heavier than they should be.” And I still thought they were skinny. But then, if you look at a Jersey or Guernsey cow, she looks skinny. She doesn’t look like an Angus. So, it’s a mindset in what is healthy-looking for your animal. And, of course, scales would help. Face it: We feed them too much.
Deborah Niemann 15:58
Right. Do you find yourself doing that? But, you said your goats are pretty quiet. So you’re probably not feeding them just—?
Glenna Rose 16:05
No, I don’t… I don’t feed them during the day; they get a bedtime treat. They each get a cup of alfalfa-type pellets, quarter cup of sunflower seeds, and a few slices of organic banana. So, in that regard, I probably overfeed them.
Deborah Niemann 16:20
Glenna Rose 16:21
But the rest of the time, they have their hay and whatever grass they eat in the yard. And their section of the yard is allowed to grow, so they have grass to eat.
Deborah Niemann 16:30
And that is a perfect segue for me to talk a little bit about today’s sponsor, which is Standlee Premium Western Forage. One of the products that they make are alfalfa pellets, and timothy hay pellets, and then a mix of a grass and alfalfa pellet. And those are really nice when you can’t find enough hay—which sometimes people in the city can’t find enough. Or, if you’ve got a goat on the milk stand that eats a little faster than you can milk, you can throw some alfalfa pellets in there to slow her down, because she can have all the alfalfa she wants, but not such a good idea to have all the grain she wants because that could cause digestive upsets. So, I’ve been using Standlee Premium Western Forage alfalfa pellets and hay pellets for well over ten years before I even thought about becoming a brand ambassador for them. And I just love their products so much. And that’s why they’re a sponsor of today’s episode.
Deborah Niemann 17:24
Now, I know you don’t have a huge barn or a milking parlor or anything like that. So, what do you do when it’s time to milk your goats?
Glenna Rose 17:33
Well, going back to the milking parlor—you’re right. I don’t have one. However, my middle granddaughter and I built a milk stand from plans we found on the internet. Now, I milk the goats outside, which sounds terrible, but it really isn’t because they’re protected from the rain and the weather. And I cannot stress enough how important it is to have absolutely clean conditions, regardless of where you milk. And I feed them grain, with sometimes pellets in amongst the grain to slow down their eating if they’re eating too fast. And they’re perfectly happy with that. They’re in a stanchion, so they can’t move around. They know they’re going to get extra treats, so they’re very cooperative. And that matters, too. A happy goat is an easy-to-milk goat.
Deborah Niemann 18:19
Is your milking stand sitting, like, on your back porch, or…? Because you said it was protected from the rain.
Glenna Rose 18:25
Yes. Outside my house, on the kitchen side of the house, which is the direction the barn faces, I have a large overhang. And it’s back under that where it’s protected from the rain, and the positioning protects it from wind and so forth as well.
Deborah Niemann 18:40
Okay. So it works during the winter, too, when it’s cold out?
Glenna Rose 18:43
Yes, it does. Yep.
Deborah Niemann 18:45
Glenna Rose 18:46
I don’t have Illinois winters, fortunately.
Deborah Niemann 18:49
Yes, you are very lucky. And I’m jealous. So, what do you do then, once you have the milk?
Glenna Rose 18:57
Once I have the milk… I’ll back up here a little bit. I milk into the milking container, which for me is a 16-ounce stainless steel cup, similar to what’s used—well, it is actually—from espresso machines. And I absolutely love it, because it fits very nicely under the short goat. And, of course, the teats from the Nigerian Dwarfs are not very far off the ground. And I can go ahead and milk however much I want. And I have a jar at the scale with a filter on it that I pour the milk into as I’m milking. So, if a foot gets in it, I don’t lose it all. And then, after it’s in the house, I immediately pour it in—filtered again—into its storage jar, which I have sitting in ice water. And I keep that in ice water until it’s thoroughly chilled, and then I put it in the refrigerator. At one time, I was setting it in the freezer for half an hour, because I had read that was good. And my son pointed out something to me, that the process of osmosis works much better if I put it in ice water. And he is totally right. It cools down much faster. The faster you get it cold, the better the milk will be.
Deborah Niemann 20:14
What do you think has been the biggest challenge for you having dairy goats in the city?
Glenna Rose 20:20
People wanting to feed them.
Deborah Niemann 20:23
Glenna Rose 20:24
I’ve put signs on my fence: “Do not feed them.” I’ve explained why. And I have found the children are the ones who respect it. I’ve caught children telling adults not to feed them. I had a tragedy last year, where someone fed one of my does—who was expecting—something over the fence, through the fence, and I lost her. I went out the morning of January 2. And she was laying there dead. She had bloated.
Deborah Niemann 20:56
Glenna Rose 20:57
And we did a necropsy. The vet could not find out what caused it. He said it’s a very small amount; we’ll do it. We sent the tissues to the lab; we never did find out what killed her. But I had one person—an elderly woman—who felt it was her duty to feed my goats treats. I told her repeatedly not to do it.
Deborah Niemann 21:19
Glenna Rose 21:20
And I’m absolutely certain it was something she gave her. But that’s probably the worst thing. And, if there were a way for me to section them off, where somebody would have absolutely no access from outside the yard, I would do that. That was heartbreaking. This was a doe—an excellent dairy doe. Beautiful confirmation. I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better doe. And I would not have sold that doe for less than $1,000.
Deborah Niemann 21:47
Glenna Rose 21:48
And that may sound very expensive to some of the people that are listening to your podcast. But, as you and other serious goat people know, that’s not a bad price for a prime doe.
Deborah Niemann 22:01
And it’s kind of ironic, because so many people think that “Goats can eat anything, even tin cans,” which is absolutely not true. But, they can sometimes—I mean, they will actually sometimes eat something that makes them sick. There was somebody on Facebook several months ago who had a goat that got very sick, and they took it to the vet, and they cut open its stomach, and discovered that it had eaten… Oh my gosh. And this goat was in the house, and this is why you don’t have goats in your house, because this goat—in its rumen—it had, like, hair ties and little plastic toys… I mean, the list of what was—the list of stuff that this goat had eaten was just astonishing to me. And… It’s like, “No!” You—like, just because they eat something doesn’t mean it’s not going to kill them.
Glenna Rose 22:58
Well, I tell people: “A goat will taste anything.”
Deborah Niemann 23:01
Glenna Rose 23:03
But they’re very picky eaters. But sadly, a taste can cause their death.
Deborah Niemann 23:08
Yes, that is also very true. Is there anything else that you feel that people should know before they get goats in the city?
Glenna Rose 23:18
Well, I think the main thing that people have to understand—and this would not be exclusive to the city, but more in the city—is you have to be willing to give the time and the energy. You have to be totally dedicated to taking proper care of the goat. And being aware this is a 10- to 15-year commitment. They’re not like dogs; you can’t go off and leave them in the care of a friend. You have to—someone has to be there to milk them. So, you have to be ready to give up vacations unless you have somebody reliable to be there to take care of them. But I think the main thing is: Be ready to be totally committed to those animals, because you must be.
Deborah Niemann 24:00
That is great advice. Yeah, I think there’s way too many people who think like, “Oh, I can just stick them out in the yard, and they’ll be fine.” I got a message yesterday, actually, from somebody who said, “Yeah, I want to get a couple of those—” or, “I want to get one of those little goats, so that I can put it out and let it run with my Jack Russells.” And I just about fainted.
I was like…
Glenna Rose 24:23
Okay. What I tell people like that is, “There’s two things you need to keep in mind. A goat is a prey animal.”
Deborah Niemann 24:29
Glenna Rose 24:30
“And a dog is a predator.”
Deborah Niemann 24:32
Glenna Rose 24:33
“Would you put sheep in with a lion?”
Deborah Nieman 24:36
Glenna Rose 24:39
It doesn’t matter how friendly your dog is. The dog is still a predator.
Deborah Niemann 24:43
Yeah. And that was what I explained to her. And she’s like, “Oh, thank you so much for telling me. I’m not gonna get them—” or “get one.” Because again, it was one, and it’s like, “No, no, they’re herd animals. So you can’t have just one.” So thankfully, she was very amenable to getting good information.
Glenna Rose 25:03
Well, when I bought my goat, because my goat was going to be kidding by the end of the month—my first goat—I only wanted to buy her. And my breeder said, “No, you have to have two. I’m sorry, but I cannot sell you a single goat.” And we discussed it in length. And she absolutely refused to sell a single goat.
Deborah Niemann 25:23
Glenna Rose 25:24
And at the time, I thought it was ridiculous. I mean, she’s going to be having her babies in 2 or 3 weeks. After having them, I understand why.
Deborah Niemann 25:32
Glenna Rose 25:33
Her being alone, coming from a herd, could have stressed her so much that she would have lost her babies. So, I am like you. I will not sell a single goat to a non-goat home.
Deborah Niemann 25:50
Glenna Rose 25:51
And I don’t care how much they think I am silly. Or how ridiculous I am. I care about that goat. And I don’t stop caring just because they left my property.
Deborah Niemann 26:03
Glenna Rose 26:04
They’re not a shoe or a wagon or a car. They’re a living, breathing animal, who I have watched be born, have babied, have fussed over. They’re practically the same as your child.
Deborah Niemann 26:18
Glenna Rose 26:20
So, if you’re not going to give my goat a good home, I don’t want you to come here.
Deborah Niemann 26:24
Yeah, that’s pretty much how I feel, too.
Glenna Rose 26:29
I think any responsible goat owner does.
Deborah Niemann 26:32
Right, exactly. Yeah, we’re not just trying to sell it to the first person that walks through the gate. Thank you so much for joining me today! I’m sure that you’ve provided a lot of really valuable insight for people who live in the city and are thinking of getting goats.
Glenna Rose 26:47
Well, I hope so. The main thing is: Buy quiet goats; visit the farm; listen to them. And the next thing is: Be prepared to give them all the care that they need and deserve.
Deborah Niemann 27:00
Yes. That is a perfect summary to end on. So, thank you again! It was wonderful having you.
Glenna Rose 27:09
And thank you for letting me share about my sweet little girls.
Deborah Niemann 27:13
Deborah Niemann 27:15
And that’s a wrap for today’s episode, which was brought to you by Standlee Premium Western Forage, the company that makes my favorite alfalfa pellets. Be sure to join us next week when we’re going to be talking to Dr. Steve Hart from Langston University about worms in goats. If you haven’t already, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss an episode. And you can always find the show notes at ForTheLoveOfGoats.com and visit with us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next week. Bye.