Goat Craze

The weather being nice I rode my bike to work out the Minuteman bike path yesterday; on the way home as I passed through Lexington center I saw a woman walking three dwarf goats along the sidewalk.  I didn’t get a good look at them so I don’t know if they were milking or just pets, but it’s neat to see agriculture returning to the greens of the revolutionary war.

What with the local food movement and the increasing interest in keeping chickens, goats and such at home, I wonder what the minimum requirements are for home agriculture that can actually reach an ecological break-even point.  For instance, if you have a little suburban backyard, graze some chickens/dwarf goats, and eat the eggs/milk, it’s not hard to imagine that this has overall less ecological impact per chicken than CAFO type operations, since presumably the manure will be well-dispersed and won’t ferment anaerobically releasing a bunch of methane, you probably will compost it and use it to grow vegetables in the front yard, etc.  On the other hand, the absolute direct biomass production of a small lot will be small relative to the needs of even a few chickens or goats, and so the aspiring small-lot farmer will end up buying in hay and grain to feed the critters; it doesn’t take too many trips to the farm store in the suburbs in an automobile to wipe out the ecological benefit in a strict climate-actuarial sense.  If I had to guess, I’d bet the break-even point comes when the majority of the biomass intake for the animal is produced on the premises, and the manure can be efficiently composted and recycled into the primary production (grass/grain).  Seems like this might be between a quarter and half acre lot for chickens, and around an acre for goats.

The indirect benefits may be more significant though – realizing how much grain/hay has to be lugged around to take care of a small herd of goats may encourage a line of thought leading to vegetarianism/veganism, and until boutique goat-kenneling operations are set up in trendy markets, people with goats may have a harder time jetting off for trans-oceanic vacations, leading to an unintended reduction in carbon footprint.

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