Guest post: Keeping goats in Seattle

Bonnie here: Jenni Pertuset, who’s posted previously about the Crown S Ranch in Washington State, recently met a goat owner who could use some help from fellow Seattle residents. Read on to find out how a small urban farm is butting heads with city regulations.

Jenni (pronounced like Jenna) lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter, and dreams of having her own urban farm. She helped create Seattle’s first meat CSA of pastured beef, pork, and poultry from Crown S Ranch, and she continues to help coordinate the program. (If you’re in Seattle and want to say hi, you can find her lending a hand at the ranch’s booth in the Queen Anne Farmers’ Market today, Thursday the 6th.)

Jennie Grant’s goats are outlaws.

That Snowflake and Brownie are clean, quiet, and gentle wasn’t sufficient to convince Seattle that they’re pets, and rightly so – these are productive, working animals. (Well, one of them is – the other she hopes to “freshen” (breed) so it will begin giving milk this year.)

Still, Jennie did try, since you can’t keep farm animals on your Seattle lot unless it’s 20,000 square feet or larger —and who has nearly half an acre in the city? Jennie’s Madrona neighborhood lot is less than a tenth. Small as it is, it’s a thriving urban farm, with several laying hens, two dairy goats, and a vegetable garden.

The goats and chickens are tucked into a clearing in the hillside thicket behind Jennie’s house. To find them, you walk out her daylight basement, through her terraced garden, and down a long flight of steps built against a retaining wall. Her goats aren’t “pastured” (for lack of a better term, since goats browse on woody plants in addition to grazing the grass and legumes that make up a pasture) though neither are they crowded. Their pen feels comfortable even with four humans — two adults, a 7-year-old, and a toddler — visiting the animals.

The fence that keeps in the animals also encloses a milking shed, a chicken coop, a compost drum, a feed storage box, and a blackberry vine feeder. Jennie ingeniously rigged up the feeder from two pieces of fencing hinged at the bottom and clasped together at the top with a bungee cord. She stuffs it daily with brambles collected from people happy to have help disposing of them. The feed storage box contains the goats’ supplemental feed of alfalfa pellets and hay, and also provides Brownie with a climbing structure.

The pen isn’t visible from the road, from the neighbors’, or even from most of Jennie’s house. So how did the city find out about them? A distant neighbor who had never seen the goats overheard her talking about them at a party —and turned her in. When the inspector told her she couldn’t keep her goats, Jennie approached city councilmember Richard Conlin and asked whether he could help her persuade the city’s Department of Planning and Development to allow her to keep the goats. The only way for her to keep them, he said, was to get the code changed.

Conlin took on the project, and his legislative assistant Phyllis Shulman drafted an ordinance (PDF) that would allow Seattlelites to keep miniature goats provided that the goats are dehorned and the males are neutered. The code reclassifies miniature, dwarf, and pygmy goats such as Jennie’s mini La Manchas as as small animals, rather than farm animals, a distinction that would cause the city to count the goats among the three small animals permissible on a city lot of less than 20,000 sq ft. The code seems not to define “small animal,” though the requirement of licensing dogs, cats, and potbellied pigs – a list to which goats are added under the current proposal – suggests that those are the animals included in the count. Bees and “domestic fowl” are also allowed (roosters presumably too, since the code doesn’t specifically exclude them), though counted separately.

The Seattle City Council will hold a public hearing on the goat ordinance at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 18 in the council chamber on the second floor of Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Avenue. To testify in person, sign up during the half hour prior to the hearing on the sheet outside the chamber. You can also provide written comment, by mailing Councilmember Conlin by 5 p.m. Monday, September 17:

Councilmember Richard Conlin
Legislative Department
PO Box 34025
Seattle WA 98124-4025

Councilmembers can also be contacted by email. So far they’ve received a dozen messages, according to Jennie: ten in support of the ordinance, and two in opposition.

The city has agreed not to take action on Jennie’s goats until the council has considered the ordinance, after which she will know whether she can keep them. These goats may be law-abiding soon. You can visit them while they are still outlaws at the Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair this Saturday, September 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Meridian Park in Wallingford.


3 Responsesto “Guest post: Keeping goats in Seattle”

  1. Tea says:

    You know, I think I may have seen these goats. I saw a brown goat when I was driving in Madrona one day–I was delighted and took it as a sign that Seattle was a fantastic city.

    Now, off to email Councilmember Conlin and tell him so. Thanks for sharing this story.

  2. I am so glad someone has taken up this issue and I will be down at the coucil chambers tomorrow testifying in favor of goats. I too have an “urban farm” with three laying hens and a small herd of rabbits. I would love to add goats but the limit of three animals means I can’t unless I give up the rabbits.

    I also think the limit of three chickens is rediculous. Ten laying hens can live happily in a 10 ft by 4 ft pen if properly managed. I even raised a batch of 25 pullets and cockerals in that size pen, slaughtering the cockerals at fryer size. Chickens help recycle food waste and produce eggs, meat, and fertilizer. I feed my chickens organic chicken feed pellets, organic animal-feed grade grain, and food scraps, and allow them to forage.

    My rabbits are in cages with wire bottoms so their manure falls through into worm beds below. The chickens scratch up the manure, eat some of the worms, and do a great job of controlling flies. The rabbits eat weeds from my garden along with as much blackberry leaves and grass as I have time to cut for them. I also feed organic grain and alfalfa pellets and hay.

    We are paying our tax dollars to subsidize dogs (how many off leash parks does the city have now) and we allow cats with are notorious predators of songbirds. Both animals can harbor diseases that are harmful to humans. Dogs can be dangerous. I had a neighbor cat that would come over to my house and “spray” my back door at night and create an odor so noxious it would wake me up and I’d have to wash things down with enzyme deodorizer (which I had to purchase and keep on hand for that purpose) so I could get back to sleep.

    If we allow and even encourage dogs and cats in the city and tolerate their waste, noise, smells, etc., we can surely make room for more useful, productive, cleaner, lower-input, eco-friendly animals such as goats.

    I disagree with the requirement that goats be dehorned. That should be up to the owner and the purpose of the goats. Dairy goats are usually dehorned so they won’t injure each other. But horns are the goats defense. If they are attacked by a dog (and I have had packs of dogs come into my yard and try to get my rabbits), they need to be able to defend themselves. We do not require dogs to be de-fanged or cats to be de-clawed. Why should we require goats to be de-horned?

    In summary, I believe the city should do more to encourage the keeping of useful animals such as poultry, rabbits, goats, bees and other useful critters, and discourage the keeping of dogs and cats, which are high input, unproductive, damaging to ecosystems, and dangerous.

  3. Patrick says:

    I think this is great. I’d love to borrow Jenni’s (or some other neighbor’s) goats to chomp on the weeds in my yard. I don’t need the rent-a-goat herd of 270 goats in my 0.1 acre lot. I love the sounds of the chickens waking up in the morning. I hear it all over Rainier Beach.