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Urban goats for organic raw milk in a San Francisco backyard

Heidi Kooy lives in a fairly dense part of San Francisco- her row house touches her neighbors’- with just 1000 square feet of backyard, but she manages to squeeze in an organic garden, fruit trees, chickens, and, most recently, a pair of goats.

When she began her experiment in urban farming, the goats were really an afterthought. “I was obsessed with having a chicken for a while… and so I told my husband we were going to get chickens and he said ‘Ew, chickens smell. I want a goat’. And I said, ‘well you can’t have goats’. So I went forward with my chicken idea and then later I thought, well I wonder if you can have goats in an urban backyard.”

Kooy did some research and found a San Francisco Health Department clause that allows for “two female goats for family purposes”. Two years ago she bought two Nigerian dwarf goats and today, they provide anywhere from 1 to 3 quarts of milk per day for her family (drunk as raw milk and used to make cheese).

Other aspiring urban farmers are in Seattle, Portland (OR) and Berkeley (CA) are finding it’s legal to raise goats in the city, provided they’re not males and that they’re disbudded. And interested urbanites in Detroit and Washington D.C. are trying to overturn their cities’ bans on goats (like Seattle’s Goat Justice League did in 2007).

She loves her fresh goats’ milk, but Kooy admits the price is steep. The goats themselves usually cost about $500-600 each and then there are the vet bills and stud services (to keep them lactating). Plus, you need to milk them once or twice a day, every day.

Urban goat owner Novella Carpenter of Berkeley, CA warns her students in her Urban Goats 101 workshop: “No one should enter into goat husbandry without full knowledge that goat ownership is an all-engrossing hobby that will suck up your time and money.” She estimates that if you calculate time and money spent, a quart of milk would cost about ten dollars.

Kooy’s goats have cost her money in damage to her yard and house. And besides the daily milkings, she takes them a mile away (often by car) to a nearby park to exercise.

“The amount of work that I put into this, it’s much easier for me to go get some silly job and go over to the big-name box store across the street from me. It’s a much better deal for me to go over there and buy my cheese for $5, for a brick, rather than spending 2 days making cheese from my own goats’ milk that I had to milk the goats 4 times to get enough milk to produce it. It doesn’t make any kind of sense on any level except that I now know what goes into it and i appreciate where my food comes from a lot more and I appreciate what farmers do.”

In this video, we visit Kooy at her Excelsior District home in time for her morning milking.