Animal House

Chickens, rabbits and goats, oh my!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When my boyfriend first suggested we set up a chicken coop in our backyard a few years ago, I was reluctant to give the go-ahead.

Even though we have a double lot with lots of space for hens to roam, I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility of caring for the feathered fowl. He cited bug eradication, free manure and, of course, the promise of eating farm-fresh eggs on the regular. Eventually I caved, and a week later we had a flock of baby birds rustling around under a heat lamp in the spare bedroom.

Fast-forward three years—almost to the day. Although we lost a couple of the members of our flock to a mysterious disease this past winter, we’ve been eating the best eggs I’ve ever tasted since the day the first speckled orb appeared in the henhouse. This coming weekend, to ensure we have backup eggs if the remaining chickens kick the bucket, we’re planning on getting a few more.

Although I’m happy we have a vibrant urban farm, I wish someone would’ve told me chickens are a gateway animal. I’m referring to the fact that, in addition to the hens, my fella has also talked me into raising meat rabbits in the backyard. While that’s a whole other torrid tale, suffice it to say that although we’ve been successful in raising rabbits for food in the past year, there have been a few hiccups—including escape, incest and overpopulation—along the way.

I’m more than content with the animals we already have, but every once in a while my fella longingly talks about his desire to add goats to the mix. And, while I listen carefully to his arguments—things like, “They’ll eat the blackberry bushes!” and, “We’ll have fresh goat milk!”—I’ve remained steadfast in my refusal.

I was hesitant to tell him that goat advocate Jennie Grant is going to be in town April 27 to share tales from her book, City Goats: The Goat Justice League’s Guide to Backyard Goat Keeping. But then I went to Grant’s website, and realized that keeping goats isn’t quite as easy as raising chickens or rabbits is—and even that responsibility is bigger than I’d like some days.

“Keeping goats is far more work than keeping chickens, but it’s work that some people enjoy,” Grant writes on her website, “If you are a reliable person who enjoys spending time outside doing physical work in your garden and who loves spending time with animals, it’s possible that goat keeping would be right for you.”

The “work” Grant refers to is manifold. First off, she stresses that unless you want to house a goat who is likely to be constantly freaked out because he or she doesn’t have a friend, you’re going to need to get at least two goats (inventive escapes, rose-bush murders and car-denting are examples she gave of lonely goats who act out).

Additionally, she points out that goats are not actually going to mow your lawn or “magically clear your yard of blackberry bushes.” They’re more likely to devour shrubs, and won’t eat thorny blackberry branches. If you want them to eat your blackberry leaves, you need to separate the foliage for them. And if you have female goats, you have to milk them every morning and every evening, without fail. Oh, and you must also learn how to milk those goats.

“Keeping goats involves unrelenting work,” she reiterates. Of course, it’s work she’s come to love, and now that it’s a part of her daily routine, she can’t imagine life without the animals.

I can, though, and I’m prepared to defend my position. In fact, if I ever come home to find a goat peeking at me from the backyard, I’m tying it to the tree in the front yard and putting a “free” sign on it. I swear.

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