The New Chicken
Jennie Grant, the City of Seattle, and the Greatness of Goats
all photos by Kelly O
Jennie Grant founded the Goat Justice League in 2007, after she was outed for keeping two goats, Brownie and Snowflake, in her Madrona backyard. Grant collected 1,000 pro-goat signatures and took on the city council, championing the right to own goats in the city and Seattle's "urban farm" movement. (In the process, Richard Conlin got castrated—more on that to follow.) Keeping a few chickens in the backyard isn't uncommon these days; Seattle Tilth holds a City Chickens Coop Tour every summer. With goats, Grant explains, you get a cost-effective milk supply, fertilizer, and a friend, all in one cute package. But don't goats eat aluminum cans and smell really bad? Aren't they evil and/or just plain dumb? Grant wanted to set the record straight on a few misperceptions, as well as explain that a Nigerian Dwarf is not something you find in Lustlab.
Why are people so freaked out by goats?
[Sigh] I think goats started to get a bad rap in the 1930s, during the Dust Bowl and Depression, when farmers left for the cities. We were transforming from an agrarian society to an industrialized one. Goats became déclassé.
Why was legalizing dairy goats in Seattle an important issue for you?
I think it promotes local food security—it's like asking, "Why garden?" And personally, I wanted access to fresh milk for my family. I can use only so much, but my philosophy is that I can either breed a dairy goat—which can live happily in my backyard as a pet—or have a factory farm breed a cow. If I breed my goats once a year, I'll have milk for the next 12 months. I make chèvre, mozzarella, yogurt, butter, ice cream, soufflés with my eggs and cheese. [Female dairy goats (does) must be bred and give birth to baby goats (kids) in order to produce milk. Uncastrated males (bucks) can be smelled into the next county and are ornery as hell. Castrated males (wethers) end up as pets or on the grill at barrio backyard barbecues.]
Goat people have a reputation for being... kind of weird. Not that you're weird or anything. But why goats?
I grew up in the suburbs of Northern California. I've always had dogs [Grant also founded the Pug Gala, which 15 years later is said to be the world's largest gathering of pugs—so big, it's held in an airplane hangar in Sand Point], but I dreamed of owning a cow someday. I didn't like store-bought goat's milk, but the first time I tried it fresh, I realized I needed goats. I got my goats in 2006, after asking my neighbors if I could try it out. They enjoyed them; whenever they'd have dinner parties, I'd get all of these people coming over to see my goats. Then someone reported me, so I founded the Goat Justice League.
I hear Richard Conlin is responsible for reclassifying the law [City Ordinance 122508] to count goats as "small animals," just like dogs and cats, and that he got a lot of shit for it.
Well, the media denounced his efforts as "silly and trivial."
Did they have a point?
Is it silly and trivial to own a dog? Goats don't harm other creatures; they're intelligent, curious, and affectionate. They don't birth litters, so overpopulation isn't an issue. They provide a nutritious product [goat's milk is also more digestible than cow's milk]. To Conlin, this was a constituent issue and a matter of supporting localized food production.
Then you named one of your newborn kids after him. How did he feel about that?
I think he was honored. When I took the goat in to be neutered, the vet said, "It's not every day I get to castrate a councilman!"
What are the regulations on owning goats in Seattle?
You're permitted three small animals, so you could have a dog or cat and two goats. Goats desperately need friends, and a dog won't do. Kids must be castrated and dehorned at six weeks, and males sold after 12 weeks. They must be "mini," meaning any purebred standard breed [such as a Nubian or Saanen] crossed with a Nigerian Dwarf [a small breed of West African origin].
So they're the new backyard chicken?
Currently, only a few major cities allow goats, but the movement is growing [Conlin himself reports that at last count, Seattle has around 150 goat residents]. It's funny—goat people have this reputation for being slovenly, but a lot of the owners I know are Martha Stewart types who have created what I call "stylish urban goat living" in their gardens.
What's next on your agenda?
Recently, I wrote Michelle Obama about getting goats to go with the White House organic garden, as a show of support for local food. I haven't heard back yet.