A happy pet goat in a backyard perhaps in Eugene

Bring Goats, Chickens, and other Barnyard Friends to Your Backyard in Eugene

Imagine waking at the crack of dawn to the melodious sound of chickens clucking and goats bleating.

You might think that you’ve been carried away overnight to a farm somewhere, but think again. You’re still in Eugene, and those sounds are coming from your own backyard. As a bonus, you’re about to enjoy the freshest milk and eggs you’ve ever tasted.

These days, it’s all too easy to draw a sharp line between city life and country life. We’re not going to get into the politics of it, but suffice it to say, the lifestyle of your typical city-dweller is quite different from life out on a farm. Even in a small city like Eugene, it can be easy to get lost in the bustle and lose touch with the earth.

At the same time, locals certainly pride themselves on their connection to the land. For Eugenians, there’s a definite earthiness to go along with all the stereotypical hippie spaciness. The multitude of vegetable gardens you’ll see in the spring and summer months make it pretty obvious. And then, of course, there’s the urban livestock.

We’re not talking about cows, of course. Eugene regulations are pretty permissive compared to most other cities. Still, in the interest of maintaining positive relations among neighbors, homeowners are limited to chickens, domestic fowl, rabbits, miniature goats, and up to one small pig, not to exceed 150 lbs. (Click here for specific regulations.)

So, what is like to try and keep small livestock within Eugene’s city limits? Read on.

Adventures in Goat Ownership

We caught up with Far West neighborhood homeowners Leah and Darren R., who recently entered a goat share agreement with another household. Under the terms of the share, their three miniature Nigerian goats–a mother and her two kids–trade homes every month.

Goats don’t vacation well, obviously, and they’re a fair bit higher maintenance than, say, a cat or a goldfish. Having a share system therefore allows each party to plan vacations for the appropriate time. It also prevents burnout: goats can be quite demanding, as the protagonists of our story found out rather quickly.

Thanks to an online community of goat enthusiasts, information is readily available, but learning to milk Holly, the mother, was a process of trial and error.

Spending an hour-and-a-half every morning hand-milking was an unpleasant prospect. So the two did some research and put together a mechanized milking device. They also fashioned a milking stand with a stock for Holly’s head, placing her feeding trough under the stock then locking her in when she goes for the food. 

Holly’s patience for milking and propensity to try and kick off the milker varies from morning to morning. Anise-flavored goat snacks provide additional enticement if she’s getting antsy.

But trying to wean Goose and and Marsha–the two kids–from their mother’s milk has proved a steeper and ongoing challenge. Online forums suggest taping the mother’s teats and covering the tape with Tabasco sauce, but the kids have been undeterred. When separated from their mother, they bleat with crescendoing intensity. 

At the moment, Darren and Leah are keeping their goats in a small enclosure. Once they’ve finished fencing in their backyard, however, they plan to give them free reign.

Goats are renowned for their prowess at weed control, happily munching away at blackberries, thistles, poison oak, and more. Just be sure to protect plants that you don’t want eaten, and do some research on plants that might be poisonous to goats. Don’t expect them to mow your lawn, either: they’ll eat grass in patches, but the result will likely be less than pristine.

We haven’t yet mentioned the poop–there’s a lot of it–or the goats’ persistent habit of trying to eat your clothing. In spite of these challenges, Leah and Darren and other Eugene goat owners clearly relish their opportunity.

Chickens and Rabbits and Pigs, Oh My

Keeping chickens in an urban setting is nothing new, and it should come as no surprise that plenty of Eugene homeowners have taken to it as a way of enjoying fresh eggs and regular backyard entertainment.

Each hen will lay an average of six eggs per week. With Eugene homeowners allowed six adults per household, that’s enough eggs for you, your family, and maybe several of your friends. Chickens are relatively low-maintenance, but be sure to enclose them every night: Eugene’s raccoon population is in on the trend, and they’ve been known to take advantage of poorly-secured birds.

Rabbits and pigs are closer to traditional pets like cats, dogs, and hamsters, and they can be kept either outside or inside. Both rabbits and pigs love to dig in the ground: that’s good news is you’re planning to plant a garden and bad news if you’re trying to maintain an immaculate lawn. Note that pigs can and will dig under fencing if food sources are lacking.

Consider keeping rabbits indoors at least at night. Even if you’re keeping them in an enclosed pen (larger dog crates can be a good choice), rabbits can literally die from fright upon the sight of a predator.

Eugene’s weight limitations mean that larger pig breeds are off, but plenty of smaller breeds fall within the 150 lb allowance. Stereotypically, pigs love mud baths on hot summer days, and this is actually rooted in fact. But a kiddie pool will definitely suffice.

Needless to say, you should do your homework before you go out and bring home any of these animals. Most importantly, have a good understanding of what it takes to care for them. Make sure you know people who can care for your animals in your absence. Connect with other animal owners in your neighborhood for tips and community.

Finally, talk things over with your neighbors before you take the plunge, especially when it comes to potentially noisy animals like goats or chickens, or potentially smelly ones like pigs. Generally speaking, happy animals make for happy neighbors and a happier household.

If you’re thinking of taking the first step toward having your own backyard barnyard by moving to Eugene, then take a look at everything else the area has to offer. With all of the hard work you’ll put in taking care of your animals, you’ll want to kick back and relax a bit too.

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