Caring for pygmy goats
There are various elements to caring for pygmy goats, including providing an appropriate paddock, accommodation, food, body care and goat-friendly toys. It's also useful to understand their habits, as well as how to make life easier for them during hot and cold weather, and how they can be protected from the noise of fireworks. All this info is provided below!
Please note the info below is not exhaustive; it's based on how Henry and Joey were looked after, and different circumstances may require different methods of care. If in doubt about the health of your goat and/or any urgent issues, contact your local vet and/or your local government agricultural department (DEFRA in the UK).
General info & health
- Owning and looking after pygmy goats is an interesting and rewarding experience, and it's good to become familiar with how to care for them before getting any of your own.
- In many ways, pygmy goats are similar to dogs - they enjoy human company, are playful, have routines and can be affectionate.
- Whilst goats sniff, lick, bite and butt lots of things, they don't eat everything - even if they chew something which isn't food, they’ll eventually spit it out. They're often fussy eaters and won’t eat food which they don’t like or is dirty!
- Pygmy goats are relatively small and are one of the smallest breeds of goat. Henry was 85cm (2'10") in length, 62cm (2') tall and 26cm (10") wide. Joey was slightly smaller and plumper!
- When pygmy goats are newly-born, they'll probably need vaccinations and may need to have these vaccinations updated in the future. You can also have pygmy goats castrated (removal of reproductive organs) and/or dis-budded (removal of horns) at birth.
- It's best to consult your local government department and/or vet to check the availability of vaccinations and other procedures in your area.
- Regular worming will be required during a pygmy goat's life, to ensure that internal parasites are kept to a minimum.
- Later in life, pygmy goats may lose their front teeth and will rely more on their back teeth, which wear down and re-grow. Occasionally they’ll re-grow awkwardly, meaning food can get caught in them and the goat cannot chew and swallow properly. An operation can usually fix this.
- Pygmy goats enjoy each other's company, and as such, they should ideally be kept in herds of 2 (or more) whilst they are growing up.
- They are cheaper to care for than other pets - for example, goat mix and hay is relatively cheap, especially when bought in bulk.
Pygmy goat paddocks
- Henry and Joey's paddock was about 50ft x 40ft in size, which is a suitably sized paddock for two pygmy goats, although a larger area would be fine.
- A paddock must be surrounded by a secure wire fence, which is essential to ensure no escaping takes place, as pygmy goats are inquisitive and adventurous, and love to try and escape! It's important to ensure the fence is safe and secure (e.g. there are no holes or pieces of wire sticking out).
- Henry and Joey had lots of benches and tables in their paddock, which they enjoyed climbing, sitting, sunbathing, playing and eating on.
- They always had access to grass in their paddock, which is an essential additional source of food.
- Trees also provide an extra source of food, as pygmy goats can reach on their hind-legs and eat the vegetation on the lower branches. Joey was shorter than Henry, and much to his annoyance, he could never reach the trees in the same way Henry could!
- It's VITAL to ensure any vegetation within reach of goats is non-poisonous.
- Bricks and wood were placed on the ground in areas which got particularly muddy, as goats hate to get their hooves muddy in wet weather.
Pygmy goat accommodation
- It's very important to provide a decent-sized, waterpoof and comfortable shed for pygmy goats, as it's their home! It's where they go when they eat hay, lick the salt/mineral lick, drink water, chew the cud, shelter from the rain, sleep and just generally relax.
- Henry and Joey's shed measured 10ft wide, 10ft deep and 6 feet tall.
- The shed included a window which allowed them to look out of!
- The half-door could be opened and shut (to allow human access) via a bolt. Henry and Joey would enter via the latter half of the door, which also benefited from an additional hinged flap to keep draughts out.
- The shed was lit at night using an externally-controlled internal light (with the cabling carefully protected and shielded to ensure it remained waterproof and goatproof).
- A goatproof CCTV camera (see picture on right) was installed in the shed, which was wired up to a TV in our house. This allowed us to keep an eye on the goings-on in the shed, and such an installation is particularly useful to monitor a poorly goat.
(The shed; the shed entrance (with door open); the hayrack in the shed)
Pygmy goat food
- Henry and Joey's daily feed consisted of a bowl of special goat mix; a large sack of which can be obtained from agricultural suppliers.
- The goat mix was also often supplemented with vegetables (such as sliced carrots and cabbage), to provide extra nutrients.
- Feeding unwanted food to pygmy goats (such as banana skins) is very sustainable, as otherwise this matter would be thrown away. Of course you must ensure the food is edible (i.e. it has no mould!), and if in doubt, don't feed it to your goat.
- The manure produced by goats, which is in a form of pellets similar to rabbit droppings, can be used as effective fertiliser for plants in your garden.
Pygmy goat habits
- Pygmy goats have many habits.
- For example, when they sit down, they often scrape one of their front hooves to ensure any thorns and dirt are removed before they settle.
- Goats also scrape their hooves and raise their hackles whilst playfully butting, in order to appear more threatening! They also tend to raise their hackles if they're excited or have just shaken their fur.
- If goats taste or smell something they're not familiar with, they'll curl their upper lip up for a few seconds in order to analyse the smell/taste and try and work out what it is; this is scientifically known as the 'Flehmen response'.
- Henry and Joey didn't share all the same likes and dislikes! For example, Henry hated having his back legs touched, but Joey didn't mind.
- Pygmy goats generally enjoy being fed treats, sunbathing and playfully butting; but they also generally dislike rain and sudden loud noises. There are of course plenty of other things that they like/dislike!
Pygmy goat body care
- During winter, pygmy goats grow a woolly fur vest beneath their fur, which keeps them warm.
- It starts growing rapidly (often within the space of a few days) in the late autumn when the first frost occurs. When spring arrives, they moult and lose their winter vest.
- With the help of grooming and rubbing themselves on the fence, their winter vest is gone by the summer months. During the moulting process, it's not uncommon for them to look a bit scruffy!
- It's often necessary to shampoo a pygmy goat in the summer (using a special animal shampoo) if a build up of dandruff has occurred during the moulting process.
- Photos of Joey being shampooed can be seen in the Photos section.
- Pygmy goats regularly need their hooves trimmed (once every 1 to 2 months), otherwise they will start skidding everywhere!
- In the wild, their hooves are worn naturally by rocks and rugged terrain, but when goats are kept as pets, it's necessary to periodically clip their hooves in the absence of rugged terrain.
- The standard method is to tether the pygmy goats to the fence, give them some greenery to take their mind off the trimming, and carefully trim their hooves using special trimmers.
Pygmy goat-friendly toys
- Henry and Joey often played with a small child's car I had when I was a child, which I reinforced and made goatproof.
- Videos of them doing so can be seen in the Videos section.
- They also used to play with an old toy scooter (which I'd also made goatproof) and especially liked butting its soft rubber tyres!
- They also had some old balls (as well as an old marine buoy) which they enjoyed playing with.
- Goats must always be supervised when playing, and all toys etc. must be removed from their reach when they they've finished with them!
- People often let off fireworks to celebrate various events around the year, including Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night (in the UK) and other events, such as Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately, as with many animals, pygmy goats are scared by the sound of fireworks.
- As well as going out to see Henry and Joey to comfort them if fireworks were being let off nearby, I wired up an old speaker in their shed, and ran a (low-voltage, goatproof and weatherproof) speaker cable to a stereo system in our house. They enjoyed listening to music as it deafened out the sounds of any fireworks and took their minds off them.
- They particularly enjoyed classical and jazz music, so stations such as BBC Radio 3 (a classic music radio station in the UK) often calmed them down. I even downloaded free pieces of jazz and classical music from the internet, burned them to CD, and played them via the speaker, which also helped to calm them.
Hot weather advice
- Pygmy goats are generally hardy animals and can adapt to hot and cold climates, but you can do your bit during to ensure your goats remain comfortable during weather extremes.
- Goats drink surprisingly large amounts of water, especially in hot conditions. Therefore it's essential that goats have access to clean, fresh, cool water, which is replaced regularly.
- Goats love sunbathing, but will also want to cool off in the shade, so areas of shade in their paddock are important. Water can also be placed in shaded areas to ensure it doesn't get warmed up by the sun.
- Opening the doors on the goats' living quarters will ensure it doesn't get too warm inside. They may well choose to sleep outside at night if it's warm enough!
Cold weather advice
- Any bowls of water that your goats have access to will freeze over in cold weather (even bowls in the goats' living quarters can freeze over), so it's essential you regularly refill the bowls with fresh water.
- Goats' winter vests will keep them warm, but you can also give some tepid warm water and food (such as vegetables) to ensure they're sufficiently warm.
- Ensure that any doors on your goats' living quarters are shut (but ensure there is still some ventilation). It may be beneficial to add extra pieces of wood to act as draught excluders.
- Piling up hay or straw near the door can also keep the inside warm. Placing bricks or gravel on the ground can help prevent pygmy goats from slipping around on the ice. Ice and snow should be cleared from a goats' paddock whenever possible.
- Be extra vigilant and make regular checks on your goats, to ensure they are not getting too cold.
- However, it's possible that on some nights, you may find your pygmy goats sleeping outside; this is quite normal, and is likely due to the fact that their winter vests mean it's too warm for them to sleep in their living quarters.