Pet of the Week: The pygmy goat

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The Independent Online

Who's this gruff little character? Not so gruff, actually. The pygmy goat is the diminutive cousin of your standard domestic goat. They are fun, friendly and easy to keep, for many reasons.

Such as ... Well, admittedly they are not ideal for urban living, but will happily dwell in a medium-sized suburban garden (see The Good Life). Females are called does or nannies, and males are bucks. Unlike domestic goats, which are usually kept as utility animals (ie, used for their milk and, perish the thought, their meat), the pygmy is kept for the amusement of itself and those around it. As a herding animal, they are best kept in a pair or more, indeed pygmy breeder Vivian McNeil only sells them in pairs. Not only do they enjoy human contact, but they have also proved to be good companions for other animals, such as sheep – but if they have horns, it's best to keep them separate from other beasts of the field.

Suppose we've got the space, what else do we need? Goats like shelter and, due to their rock-dwelling roots, they like to climb and jump up on things like tables. A shed should measure no less than 8ft x 6ft, which is adequate accommodation for two pygmies. The shed should house a rack for their fortnightly bundle of hay. Bear in mind that you should always buy either castrated bucks (wethers) or kid does, as an uncastrated goat can be somewhat tetchy.

I've heard that goats will eat anything Left to their own devices, they would probably eat the tyres off your car, so they need secure fencing (a 4ft high fence should contain the stumpy little chaps). Certain plants, such as rhododendron, laburnum and firs are poisonous to the goat, so you should avoid proximity to these plants. As a regular meal they should eat goat mix (widely available in country stores) and as a treat they will eat fruit and veg – many people feed them organic scraps from the kitchen, which does them no harm at all.

So how do we get started? Firstly, you have to be aware that your little herd is going to be around for at least 10-12 years, so be prepared for some commitment. They are utterly addictive to keep as pets, according to Vivian, so you may start off with just two, but the temptation to grow the herd is very compelling. A kid will cost around £125. In terms of feed and upkeep, they are cheap to keep – a 20kg bag of feed costs under a tenner and last for two months for two goats. But although they are low maintenance, they do require feeding twice a day, so bear this mind if you are keen on your holidays, and make sure someone can cover for you. For more information, contact Vivian McNeil through

Any interesting goat facts? The Italian word for goat is capra; a desire to change direction and a short attention span were traits always attributed to the goat, and as such the word capriccio, which means whimsy, developed. It is from this word that the English language borrowed capricious, meaning apt to change direction on a whim. Neither the animal nor the word has anything to do with Capri pants.