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Goat owners sing the praises of friendly, gentle animals

Miniature goats are intelligent, curious, great for weed control and make great pets, goat owners say. A measure proposed in Rio Rancho would require them to be dehorned, which some say isn’t necessary and could hurt the animals. (Zita Fletcher/Rio Rancho Observer)

Miniature goats are intelligent, curious, great for weed control and make great pets, goat owners say. A measure proposed in Rio Rancho would require them to be dehorned, which some say isn’t necessary and could hurt the animals. (Zita Fletcher/Rio Rancho Observer)

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — There has been much discussion in recent weeks in Rio Rancho about the pros and cons of owning pygmy or Nigerian dwarf goats.

A proposal before the Rio Rancho Governing Body would permit residents in R-1 (single-family residential) zoned district to keep up to three of the miniature goats, so long as the animals are dehorned and male goats neutered. The governing body approved the first reading of the changes last month.

But how many Rio Rancho residents actually have firsthand experience with miniature goats?

The Observer recently visited the New Mexico Pygmy Goat Club in Corrales to find out more about the animals. As one might expect, club members didn’t hide their passion.

“It’s a pure joy to own them,” said club president Renee Furst. “They don’t require as much care and are just as loving as dogs.”

“I grew up with them,” said longtime goat owner Jessica Jillson. “They’re the best for kids because they’re little. They stay small. They’re calm. They’re pretty low maintenance. You can housetrain them.”

The small goats are considered prey animals, meaning they’re more apt to be scared than aggressive.

“I’ve never actually had a goat be purposely aggressive with me,” said Dina Garcia. “If you’re keeping an intact male, there’s more of a chance of it, but it’s very rare. Aggression isn’t an issue.”

There’s plenty more upside to the animals, according to club members.

Pygmy goats can sleep in doghouses and travel in dog crates. They enjoy having other animal companions. They are curious, intelligent and can be trained. They will chew on all plants – including flowers – but they are very useful for weed control.

The animals primarily eat hay and alfalfa. They like to climb, but they can only do so with the aid of stepping stools. They cannot jump very high since they are small and have short legs.

Club members say for grooming the goats should be regularly trimmed – not shaved.

“They’re gentle,” said Robert Stettler, another longtime goat owner. “If you pay attention to them and give them attention, it’s not a problem.”

Castrated males (“wethers”) make the most gentle and ideal family pets, club members say.

With or without horns, all goats have hard heads and can butt people, so head-butting play should be avoided, while doing things like hand-feeding them can encourage gentle behavior.

Rio Rancho’s proposed ordinance would require all small goats to be dehorned, something that was influenced by regulations in Seattle, San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., according to Assistant City Manager Peter Wells.

“In the research staff did when tasked with these proposed ordinance changes, it was noted that goats can be very rambunctious and especially so in a confirmed urban setting,” Wells said in an email. “The dehorned requirement is to protect them as intact horns can get stuck in fencing, etc., which can lead to goats injuring themselves. Also, concern was specifically raised by an elected official during the past discussion of these proposed ordinance amendments about potentially allowing animals (with horns) in residential areas.”

Both male and female pygmy goats naturally have horns, which are part of the skull and in close proximity to the brain and eyes. They are not hollow or solid bone, but are full of blood vessels and nerve tissue and regulate body temperature.

There are three main types of methods for removing horns:

  • Disbudding is the most common method. It is cauterization – literally burning the growth cells from the skull with a searing hot iron. The procedure can only be performed on baby goats (kids) that have not yet grown horns, and usually must be done when they are two to three weeks old.
  • An alternative to disbudding is the application of “castration bands” – tight bands fastened around the horns to slowly slice the horns off as they grow. It is believed to be extremely painful for the animal. An alternative method involves using acidic paste to kill the horn cells. As acid paste is extremely corrosive, it is not only painful but can be dangerous.
  • If the horns have already started growing or are mature, surgical procedures must be used for removal, requiring cutting open the skull and/or sawing the horns off. They, too, are very painful procedures, which result in blood loss and open wounds. It is known to be a traumatic experience that often causes health problems, such as infections, brain and skull damage and personality changes.

Club members have their own opinions about dehorning.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, have a breeder do it,” said Sandy Jillson.

Garcia said she has a doe with horns. “She’s never used them on me, but they can get rough with each other,” she said. “They can get stuck in fences.”

Stettler said horns, with the amount of blood flow in them, act as a radiator and can keep the animals cooler, especially in the summer.

“They’re natural, they look good. It’s really a personal owner decision. … We’ve never had a wether or doe with a problem with horns,” he said. “As far as making it a requirement, I don’t see it being any safer. Ours are in pasture and so its (horns are) a protection against predators. If you want to talk about the goats’ safety, well, then, leave the horns on.”

Goats, including the pygmy and Nigerian dwarfs, also would be permitted on lots of at least one acre in E-1 (estate residential) zones under the proposed amendments to the city’s animal ordinance.

A second reading for final approval of the amendments is on the governing body’s agenda for Wednesday.

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