Getting Your Goat

Urban goats are alternatives to dogs for some and milk-makers for others. Either way, the popularity of backyard goats -- legal in Denver -- is on the rise.
Few animals are woven into as many myths as the goat. That, along with the fact that they have a facial hairdo named for them, is an indication that humans and goats have a long history together -- 10,000 years, give or take.

More and more Denver residents are continuing this legacy. Dwarf goats, which stand about two feet tall, are legal in the city. All you need is a $20 livestock permit. And, of course, you'll need an enclosure. A six-foot fence is more than adequate. And you'll need a shelter. And feed (one goat eats about half a bale of hay plus some supplementary grain per week.) Finally, you'll need the willingness to take care of it -- or "them," if you don't want to be the one providing all the companionship for this social animal.

As Scott Sheppard, manager at Wardle Feed & Pet Supply in Wheat Ridge puts it, "If you pay a lot of attention to them, you can get by with one goat. If not, it's always good to have a second one."

Pets and producers
Heather Jimenez and her boyfriend keep four goats in their Denver backyard.
The big plus of goat-keeping: One Nigerian female dwarf goat produces about a quart of milk a day, and its high butterfat content makes it extra sweet and creamy and ideal for cheese-making, which helps explain why these animals have become part of Denver's urban agriculture scene. The downside is that these goats must be milked twice a day to keep producing. This commitment explains why some goat owners keep them not as milk producers, but merely loving pets.

The latter reason is the case with Heather Jimenez and her boyfriend, who last August added a Nigerian dwarf goat they named Qbert and -- about a week later -- Rocky, to their southwest Denver household.

"We have three dogs, and Qbert was coming in the house and cuddling up with our dogs," says Heather, who also has eight egg-laying chickens on the couple's 10,000-square-foot property. "It was fine until he started pooping in the house. We realized, 'We need to get him a buddy so he can stay outside.'" That's when they added Rocky.

"My boyfriend says if he'd known goats were this cute and fun, he would have gotten them instead of dogs," Heather says. "The goats will run up to you and stop short right at your feet, whereas a dog will run up to you and jump on you. And then they follow you around the yard, trot around right behind you. They're really loving. They really are."

Scott Sheppard of Wardle, where Jimenez and her boyfriend bought their goats, says the store sells about 300 Nigerian dwarf goats a year. As of mid-March they were priced at $160. Sheppard, who lives in Westminster, has had two goats himself for seven years, as pets, not milk producers, because he doesn't want to be burdened with milking chores twice a day.

"They've got personalities," Sheppard says. "Just like a dog, actually. A lot of people who are allergic to dogs will get a baby goat."

While he eschews the dairy aspect of goat-keeping, Sheppard does know how the process works. He explains a female goat can be milked after she's given birth and has nursed the offspring for eight weeks. Once the youngsters or "kids" are weaned, the adult female can be milked for the next 10.5 months before she must be bred again.

"Most people, if they're doing it for the milk, usually buy two, so when one of them is not producing, the other one is," Sheppard says.

Tales abound about goats being expert climbers and escape artists, but Sheppard and Jimenez both say that's not a problem with their dwarf goats, although both point out that it's a good idea not to put the goat's shelter near a fence, as the animal will climb on the shorter structure and make its way over a fence from there.

On the other hand, goats' reputation for eating anything seems to have merit.

"Definitely make sure wherever you're keeping them it's not around anything you don't want eaten," Jimenez says. "If you've got plastic tubs or building material around, you don't want that to be around the goats because the goats will go after it for sure. Otherwise they're really good. But they'll eat anything. As long as their area is for them and you have it built that way, they're really happy and content and very playful and loving and a lot of fun."

Goats 101Wardle Feed & Pet Supply in Wheat Ridge sells goats.

There's no shortage of goat sources in the Denver area, both to buy them or learn about them. Along with Wardle, goats for sale are regularly posted on Craigslist. There's also a year-round livestock exchange the first Saturday of every month in the parking lot of Earthdog Denver, a dog boarder and pet-supply retailer on 370 Kalamath St. The exchange often includes goats, though their presence is hit or miss.

"Goats, chickens, turkeys . . . I've seen peacocks, rabbits," says Earthdog Denver owner Trent Brocker. "There's no guarantee, but I have seen people bring goats."

Brocker says his experience with goats has been limited. "I had a friend who had a couple goats, and they gave birth to a baby goat," he says. "The only real issue he had was sometimes they'd get out of their pen and eat his garden. And also they are kind of loud animals. He would do it to get their milk, and he'd make goat cheese."

The City and Country of Denver also provides advice for keeping backyard livestock. Another source is The Goat Spot, a community forum for goat keeping. For a more first-hand experience with goats, there's Broken Shovels Farm, off I-76 and 88th Avenue in Henderson. This slaughter-free animal shelter and farm sells cheese and other goat products and provides a small farm experience for visitors.

This is a second in a series of stories exploring backyard animal husbandry in Denver. Read the first one, on chickens, here, and the third, on bees, here.

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Mike Taylor.

Mike Taylor is a freelance writer in Denver. He is editor of ColoradoBiz magazine and previously wrote for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Anchorage Times.
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