Although pygmy and Nigerian dwarf goats are often kept as pets today, anyone interested in adopting one should keep several important care requirements in mind. First, adopting just one is a bad idea. Second, although they are small, they need plenty of adequate pasture to be happy and healthy.
"They still need lots of space to stretch their legs and live in a group," Winchell says. "Their herd mentality means that they really need that social structure, and they have a social hierarchy."
In fact, if the interested goat-parent has enough space and resources, hosting a small herd is best. At Oregon Zoo, six goats has been a good baseline number to keep in the petting zoo. That allows for the goats to create their social hierarchy and for various generations to mingle. Just like children keep grandparents young, older goats engage differently when kids are present.
Pygmy goats are herbivores and require a nutritious diet. At Oregon Zoo, they eat a hay and pellet diet. Because goats are browsers — meaning they like to eat off plants — the horticulture staff cuts branches for them, and the goats enjoy pulling leaves to eat and gnawing on the branches.
"That's really important for their overall gut health," says Winchell.
In addition to this green diet, pygmy goats need a clean, fresh area to relax. Winchell recommends using hay or shavings for their bedding because it's easy to clear out and replace. Pygmy goats also need a place to shelter when the weather is bad, some sort of indoor area dedicated to them, and that should not be the garage and definitely not a spare bedroom in the house. Because goats cannot be housebroken.
"There is no litter training a goat," Winchell says. "We spend a lot of time cleaning for our goats." Like most hoofstock, they have no control over their bowel movements — they just go while they are walking around.
However, with a lot of training, pygmy goats can be taught to urinate on cue, Winchell says. It's one type of training they have implemented at the Oregon Zoo, where they have also taught goats to kneel, spin, stay and allow their feet to be picked up for hoof care. Winchell says that pygmy goats are smart and can learn a lot with positive reinforcement.
Speaking of hoof care, keeping hooves trimmed regularly and keeping vaccinations up to date are important aspects of having goats, according to Cassara. These may not be tasks your dog's vet can take on. Any backyard farm animal requires a vet who specializes in farm medicine.