The price for an equine of all ages, breeds and sizes continues to climb. Adding one to your family as a companion for your horse also doubles all your equine expenses. An alternative is to pick another species to be your horse’s buddy. Goats win hands down.
If you’re not familiar with goats you are in for a surprise. They’re not smaller versions of calm, quiet cows. They are more like oversized vegetarian Jack Russell terriers – tons of energy and personality. They climb, run, buck, rear and head butt. They are both escape artists and masters at breaking into things.
Male goats particularly can be aggressive, even when castrated. They are also not the slightest bit intimidated by humans (or much of anything for that matter) and this combination can make the goat an excellent guard animal. They will even attack and rock unfamiliar cars. However, if you have an aggressive goat you won’t be immune. A favorite trick is to ambush you when you’re out in the middle of a field and have no weapons to defend yourself. Unless you are looking for a guard dog alternative acceptable to your insurance company, get a doe.
Goats are very independent, which is another way of saying that pleasing you is not a priority. Stubborn is also an understatement and rather than just planting themselves like a mule they will put up a good fight. Force never works but goats are intelligent and very trainable. Positive reinforcement in the form of treats or treats plus clicker training will get the job done. Goats will lead with a collar, come when called, accept being tied and stand for routine grooming and hoof care. They can be trained to pack and even pull a cart.
There are many pluses to goats. Their feces are like rabbit pellets making it very easy to clean up after them. There are no diseases or parasites that goats and horses have in common. They don’t take up much room and can share your horse’s stall. They will come with you on cross-country rides (but can get under foot when tagging along in the ring!). The goat will do just fine with hay and whatever else she chooses to graze or browse.
It’s imperative to keep the goat away from your horse’s meals and grain storage areas. They will literally eat themselves to death. Too much grain leads to a painful bloating that will kill them if not caught and treated in time.
Most horses will form a very strong bond with a goat but they have to be introduced slowly. The horse’s first reaction will range from suspicion to sheer terror. Keep the goat in an adjacent stall or pen, let her roam the barn aisles. Once your horse extends his head to make physical contact you can bring them into direct contact in a paddock or large stall, keeping a watchful eye in case the horse initially panics or tries to drive off or hurt the goat. Before you know it, the two will be tightly bonded.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD