Whenever I can't buy something that I really like, my first inclination is to figure out how to make it. This holds true for goat's milk. I would love to have a goat. Fresh goat's milk is a revelation—better than any other milk I've ever tasted, and it's slightly sweeter and actually easier to digest than cow's milk.
The idea of having the capability of making goat cheese and goat milk soap at any time completely mesmerizes me too. But I also love having a yard with a nice garden, and I don't want everything in it grazed down to nubs by greedy ruminants (I don't think goats ever feel full). And contrary to popular belief, milk goats also need a regulated diet, with grass and hay; otherwise, the milk can take on an off, or sometimes "goaty" flavor, depending on what they've been eating. I think the answer for me might be a goat share or co-op, where the goats are kept on someone else's lot, and all interested people would share the monetary responsibility and the work, along with the milk. Keeping farm animals in the city sometimes means making creative compromises.
But, while traveling on the West Coast a few years ago, I got a new idea to mull over.
Novella Carpenter is an urban farmer in Oakland. She lives in the upstairs unit of a double, next door to a vacant lot that she has turned into a garden. Over the course of the last nine years there, she's raised bees, rabbits, ducks, turkeys, and two pigs, chronicling most of the lessons she learned in her book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.
After I read Carpenter's book, I went to her blog and discovered that she had started raising goats in her back yard since the book was written. So, I contacted her when I was in the Bay Area, and she was ridiculously pleasant about letting a total stranger visiting from New Orleans come tour her garden lot and her backyard, and take notes on her backyard goat management.
She's found the perfect goats for a smallscale setting; they're dual purpose for meat and milk, and they are small—Nigerian Dwarf goats. Okay, hold on. I know what thoughts immediately spring to mind—I thought it too before I saw the goats myself. Any time the word "dwarf" appears in the title of an animal breed, images of pot-bellied pigs and miniature horses come to mind—sometimes, cute animals are just for companionship. But Nigerian Dwarf goats were specifically bred to produce lots of milk, and survive on less food than a standard-size goat that could eat me out of house and home. They are very efficient creatures that can provide milk, and don't need ample pasture to roam or graze.
And as an added bonus, the goats themselves are quite personable, and are hilarious to watch. Novella's goats spend their days running up and down the staircase in her tiny backyard, climbing up onto anything that is taller than them, then jumping off.
For the last two summers, I've spent time on a ranch where I got to milk the goats every morning. I had ample amounts of milk for drinking fresh and for experimenting with making cheese and soap. This summer, I didn't go, and quite frankly, I miss the milk. I miss the goats and their individual, quirky personalities too, which got me to thinking about the Nigerian Dwarf goats again, and the possibility of a goat-share. They're small enough that maybe, just maybe, I can figure out where to put them where they won't be disruptive. And they're cute enough that maybe I can convince some other people that city goat husbandry could be fun.