Why not keep goats?
In truth, I didn’t actually want to get a goat at first. There seemed to be so many reason not to that I never really considered it an option. Goats smell like… goats. Their milk also smells like goats. And goat cheese has the same goaty taste – a taste that lingers indefinitely. Goat meat probably tastes like goat. They have weird eyes with letterbox pupils, something they only share with octopi (which are proper creepy) – it makes them look evil. They eat everything, especially all the things you don’t want them to eat. They butt, they try and jump on you, they’re stubborn. And did I mention that they smell?
I chose instead to get a cow.
Now I should point out that this was back in 2007 and, at the time, I had a field to work with. It was only 1.7 acres, but that was a sufficient size to at least consider putting a cow of some description on.
And then, in spring 2008, I posted a question on the River Cottage forum asking what animal would help to keep weeds under control – the field being inundated by this time with thistles, nettles and docks. One person suggested I get a donkey, but you can’t milk or eat a donkey. Well, you probably can, but… no. Everyone else suggested I get goats.
So began my investigations talking to goatkeepers, sampling various goat cheeses, milk and meat, even spending time with some goats. And, one-by-one, all my negative assumptions about goats were dealt with and destroyed. Well, almost all of them. I still cannot abide goat cheese, at least not the kind that people seem to love so much at restaurants. Here are my findings:
Goats don’t smell bad. Except for billy goats, of course. And that’s where the idea that goats smell comes from. To make themselves as attractive as possible for the lady goats, they pee into their own mouths and then bite it into their hair, where it ferments. Thankfully the does and young goats do not adopt the practice of wearing ‘Eau de Rotten Goat Urine’. They only start to smell if you don’t muck them out often enough.
Fresh goat milk doesn’t smell ‘goaty’. I tried the stuff in cartons from the supermarket…….. and it was fine. And I’ve given goat milk to my family and friends (often unknown) and no one’s ever complained. Well, there was one complaint from my wife, when she accidentally put milk on her cereal that was still warm from the udder, but that was more to do with the surprise than the flavour. I would describe goat milk as similar to cow milk, only creamier and slightly more savoury.
Fresh goat cheese doesn’t taste ‘goaty’. The strong stuff you get in restaurants, with the taste that lingers for far too long, is specifically designed to taste extra-goaty. It’s made from the milk of goats that are bred to produce strong-flavoured cheese. Also keeping milking goats near billies is said to produce strong smelling milk / cheese. However, fresh goat cheese made from normal milking goats with fresh milk has a very delicate smell and tasted, and is arguably more creamy that cheese made from cow milk.
Goat meat doesn’t taste ‘goaty’. Although the eating of goat is huge in other parts of the world, it’s a rarity in England. I’m not sure if it’s just gone out of fashion, like eating rabbit, or if it never was popular, but it’s hard to come by unless you know people who keep goats. I have eaten a lot of goat meat and it really isn’t goaty at all. It doesn’t have any unpleasant flavours, in fact, unlike lamb, which does have a slightly ‘sheepy’ taste, which is not to my liking. It’s also very lean compared with pretty much any other meat with the possible exception of rabbit. If I had to describe goat meat, I’d say it was like a beefy kind of lamb. Delicious!
Goats aren’t evil. It was those eyes that did it for me. And, I think, the association with medieval ‘devil’ pictures, which were basically stolen from the Greek images of Pan. In fact, once you get used to them, goats are actually quite attractive creatures and are very endearing. And kid goats are crazy cute!
Goats don’t eat everything. Much to my surprise, in fact, goats are very picky eaters. For instance, if grass has been trampled, they won’t eat it. If their food is not in a clean container, they won’t eat it. If some of their hay drops from the rack onto the ground, they won’t eat it. Fussy! They do however like to test most things to see if they’re edible – especially anything well off the ground, hence tales of goats ‘eating’ people’s washing. They don’t eat washing – they just give it a little chew to see if it’s worth eating.
Goats are playful. Of all the animals I’ve ever kept, goats are the most friendly and playful, and are certainly the best company. They may butt and try and jump up on you, but it’s usually only part of a game, and a way of showing they like being with you. They all have distinct personalities and are genuinely funny. Sometimes they can be stubborn, even deliberately obtuse, but that’s just part of having a personality.
Having done my research, then, and had all my misconceptions blown away, I decided that I would keep goats. And they turned out to be the perfect not only for my smallholding but also for my microholding.
Next time: Preparing For Goats