Keeping goats as pets/companion livestock is becoming ever more popular, and for good reason. Goats are curious, gentle, loving, and endlessly entertaining. Dwarf goats, like Nigerians Dwarfs, stay around the size of a large or very large dog, and have similar lifespans. They can easily be kept on less than an acre.
Neutered male goats, called wethers, are very popular as pets. They do not have a strong, pungent odor like intact male goats (bucks) do. They are in general, a bit quieter than female goats (does). Does go into into heat every three weeks most of the year, and many become very vocal during this time, which may be problematic if you have close neighbors.
Many people who choose to get pet wethers may have had chickens or maybe a horse before, but have never had ruminant livestock before. Ruminants are not difficult to keep, but they are very different than chickens, horses, dogs or cats. What they need to be healthy, types of illness they get, and their general care, is unique. With just a little preparation, it is easy to learn and provide what they need.
A quick list of "must haves" for keeping goats, with details provided below:
shed or barn of their own, minimum 6 x 8 for 2, 8 x 8 for three, three sided but better if 4 sides with a door and a window for ventilation.
Securely fenced area that keeps goats in and your dogs and the neighbor dogs out, at least 30 x 40 feet for 2 goats, and 40 x 40 or 30 x 50 for 3 goats.
Goat hay feeder/manger
Excellent quality grass hay, salt block, and goat minerals, even if they have pasture/browse.
Fresh, clean water always accessible, and checked and refilled at least daily.
Pine shavings or straw for bedding shed weekly
A basic book on goat health care.
The name and number of a veterinarian that treats goats.
Basic goat medical emergency supplies (list to follow)
Safe things to play and climb on inside their fenced area (which will entertain you as much as them!)
Fencing should be at least 4 feet high, and made of sturdy, woven wire such as 2x4 no-climb, field fencing, or chain link. Heavy duty cattle panels also work. Smooth wire, barbed wire, and electric string or tape are NOT suitable and will not keep them in. Electric net is dangerous and unacceptable for daily housing areas (they get tangled and get electrocuted, it happened to us). However, hot wire can be used to discourage climbing, and climbing over, the wire fence.
First thing to know, is goats are herd animals. Next thing to know, is they are very intelligent. Goats really do need other goats. Yes, we hear stories of a single goat seemingly doing fine with just humans or other creatures for companions, but this is an exception and rarely is the goat actually as happy as the humans think it is. Goats really need at least one other goat to make up a little herd. Goats are very smart and very social creatures, and they truly do need another goat to fulfill their social needs. Otherwise, they can develop undesirable or even dangerous behaviors (mounting or head butting) towards people, become destructive, and often excessively vocal.
Caring for goats, and especially pet wethers, is pretty simple. Basic needs include a three sided shed that provides protection from wind, rain, and snow in winter, and from sun and heat in the winter. A 6 x 8 foot shed is the minimum size for two Nigerians, 8 x 8 foot for three. Goats don't like to be out in the rain, nor should they. A wet goat often becomes a sick goat. In the Pacific Northwest, our climate is such they need a bit larger shed since they will spend quite a bit of time in it. It also needs to be large enough to feed them in it, unless you provide a covered and well protected area (like a covered patio, carport, or leanto off a barn) from wind and wet weather to access their hay feeder. Their shed should not be drafty, but also needs good ventilation.
Inside the shed, the floor needs to stay dry, as goat spend a lot of time lying down while digesting their food. A dirt floor, raised up a few inches higher than the outside, with several inches of pine shavings or straw for bedding, works really well. Horse stall mats, laid over dirt, gravel, concrete or wood and slightly angled to drain, also work extremely well, and provide additional warmth. Gravel or concrete by themselves, are not suitable flooring. Concrete is very cold and hard, and gravel is difficult to clean and uncomfortable to lie on. You will need very thick bedding - at last 6 inches - if your shed has either and you don't put mats over it.