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Goats Getting Comfortable in Spokane Backyards

More than 30 people in the city of Spokane are certified to raise goats, after the city council approved an urban farming rule one year ago. City-dwellers are raising chickens and roosters, too, and code enforcers say so far, so good.

Credit Paige Browning / Spokane Public Radio
Spokane Public Radio
Katie Swagerty takes young Jensen through hurdle-jumps in her backyard.

You know the stereotype of goats.

Loud, smelly, quick to escape fences. But so far those problems have been manageable, thanks to education and owner creativity. I went to a backyard farm in northwest Spokane to check it out. Janice Swagerty actually teaches the certification class for goat owners through WSU county extension.

Swagerty: “It’s cumulative, so what I have is two goats, three chickens. I could have two more chickens.”

Out front it’s not obvious she raises livestock, except maybe the raised garden bed. She tells me "those weeds that look tall right there are totally on purpose… I give them to the goats every morning.”

She has taken this first year to work out the kinks, alongside Pat Muntz, who oversees urban farming at the county extension.

Muntz: “We kind of learned together because she had farm experience and I’m not an animal expert by any means."

Credit Paige Browning / Spokane Public Radio
Spokane Public Radio
Janice Swagerty milking their goat Missy in the pen.

If and when there is an odor, noise, or other livestock problem there are basically three groups who enforce the rules: the city Code Enforcement office, SCRAPS animal control officers, and of course, neighbors. Let’s start with code enforcement, where Suzanne Tresko is a supervisor.

Tresko: “I can’t recall getting a complaint on a loud goat. Only the rooster, and it’s not necessarily that it’s loud, it’s just doing what roosters do, too early in the morning.”

We’ll come back to roosters and other animal laws in a moment. Tresko says they do receive complaints about urban animals, but not a big volume. She says people have had concerns about animals getting loose or someone raising too many, but overall goats have been well received.

Tresko: “Who knew, it’s kind of fun, it’s interesting the care and concern that people have for these animals out there. I’m really happy to see that there hasn’t been a lot of push back on it.”

Code Enforcement regulates how people follow the city ordinance. Per Spokane city law, residents can raise one small goat, sheep, or pig per 2,500 square feet of land, and one chicken per 1,000 feet. So, if you have a 5,000 square foot total lot you can have five chickens, or two livestock, or a combination like Janice Swagerty. You can raise a rooster or peacock if you live in a residential agricultural zone.

SCRAPS monitors animal welfare, and got trained this May on goat and livestock specifics. Pat Muntz says they look for proper fending, shelter from sun or winter cold, the size of pen, etc.

Muntz: “It is all complaint driven… so in a sense that’s good because we put our city employees out where we need to but we’re not creating a whole new layer of bureaucracy to manage the system.”

Then to the neighbors…

Swagerty: “The first goats we had were way too loud, they were like four month old babies and we had just two babies, possibly it could have been different if we had an adult and a baby etc, etc.”

Swagerty is among city farmers who have received complaints, but says she has found solutions to the problems. First, they had to buy several different goats before they found quiet ones with good temperament. Then, neighbors next door complained they could smell the pen, especially on windy days.

Swagerty: “I felt so bad. And they were so patient with it, although John yelled at me once. He said I just can’t take this anymore, haha. So I was just left ignorant because of the way the wind blew.”

So, she moved the pen to the other end of the yard and now when the wind blows, the odor is in her yard, not next door. She says in the end, "it took us six goats to get two, that’s what worked for me, and Of course now I’m in the class saying, listen to my experience, haha.”

Now there’s a nice balance in her backyard: three egg-laying hens, a doe who produces a gallon of milk a day, a male kid.

Swagerty; “So I feed milk to the dogs, we drink the milk, and we make cheese.”

And the kid can do tricks. Daughter Katie Swagerty has reigns and a couple of pull carts. Katie has the young goat to jump small hurdles, and pull a cart. He’ll even pull it down the street with Katie sitting inside.

Swagerty: “So, some people are really excited about it and when Katie’s walking the goats or having the goat pull the cart, she’s like ‘I was at the park and there was a two car traffic jam.”

She says that’s key to raising urban livestock: getting the neighbors involved.

Swagerty: “Talk to your neighbors before you get the goats, you haven’t just temporarily gone insane, its actually legal now. Almost no one on my block knew goats were legal.”

Suzanne Tresko at code enforcement said the same thing.

Tresko: “I would say most of the complaints that we get in are just from neighbors not knowing what’s going on. So if you’ve got chickens, talk to your neighbors and give them a dozen eggs now and then. “

The next goat certification class will be July 15th at 6:00 pm at the WSU County Extension. People need to sign up in advance. And Muntz says they are waiting for enough people to call about sheep or miniature pigs before they can offer those courses.

Copyright 2015 Spokane Public Radio

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