Dwarf Goats & Chickens: Whitney Nolen’s Backyard Urban Farm

Whitney Nolan and partner Jessie Adkins never run out of fresh eggs. And since they added Nigerian dwarf goats to their standard-sized backyard, they’ve got plenty of milk, cheese, and yogurt. A teacher at St. Francis school, Whitney loves to teach the sustainable lessons she learned as a child. I grew up out in the country kind of in Robstown, Texas on four acres. And I used to do FFA and my brother and sister raised pigs, and then I started raising goats. I decided that when I came to Austin if I ever had property, I wanted a garden and I might possibly want chickens, but I definitely had more knowledge, background knowledge, about goats. I didn’t know that you could actually keep them, so when I got involved with the Funky Chicken Coop Tour, the last stop on the very first tour I went on had goats, and I think I had goats within six weeks. I built this whole thing, it was attached, and I was ready. Whitney’s first project was to build a raised vegetable bed, now corralled against eager foragers. And then after that, my neighbor on this side, he actually had two birds and he was the one that said, “You should get some chickens”, and since I was a teacher, we wanted to hatch eggs in the classroom, so I remember I hatched my very first baby chicks and raised them in a brooder and had them in a backyard. – When she added chickens of her own and got involved with the Funky Chicken Coop Tour, she built secure, larger housing. So what’s the rule for raising livestock in the city limits? – You can have an unlimited amount of chickens. However, roosters, you know, as far as noise complaint, if someone complains just like they would on a dog three times, you could potentially get ticketed and asked to get rid of the bird. So coops for chickens have to be 50 feet from every neighbor’s dwelling, and then if you have miniature goats, you can have one to six, and their pen just needs to be 50 feet from every neighbor’s dwelling, just like the chicken coop. So a regular goat can be almost double that size, like an Alpine or a saanen can be pretty tall, and they give a lot more milk. However, as far as an urban farm in your small family a Nigerian dwarf is going to appease all of your needs very easily. They give me a gallon a day, and that’s plenty of milk for me and all of my neighbors too. And I’ve raised the black one. She was a bottle baby. The other one was a bottle baby as well. I adopted her later when she was probably a couple years old, but as far as the bottle babies, once you bottle feed them, they think you’re mom. They’re the sweetest.
They need proper pens, so I decided to build this roof over the entire thing so that their coop area or pen area didn’t get wet and soggy when it was nasty outside.
And then you avoid stinky. You put down fresh hay every few weeks, and then after that compacts and compacts for a few months, then you rake the whole thing out, you can compost in your gardens and then spread new hay. I feed them cayote creek grain from Elgin, so it’s all organic, non-gmo, so my milk is completely organic, and that’s what I want. Fresh Plus gives me vegetables. If you go on the weekends or kind of mid-day – if there’s any vegetables that are bruised or any fruit that’s bruised, they’re going to throw out, they’ll give me all of that for the birds. Also I have a friend that worked at Thundercloud, and they would used to give me their excess vegetables. I try to put it out – yeah, so people know. And then I have two local, in-the- neighborhood kind of family brewers that are brewing at home that bring me their spent grain as well.
– Running bamboo’s a yummy snack, much appreciated by neighbors who love the natural control. – That’s a great fiber source, and I don’t have to see them as much coastal or alfalfa because I have all that bamboo that they just keep down. I get a little sprigs that grow back, especially after a good rain, and they just take it out for me. I offered the neighbors to let the goats come over, help their’s out.
– Of course, goats like to eat lots of things, so vegetables and fruit trees must be protected.
– If you had an empty yard with just two trees in it, and you’ve got goats, they’re going to strip your trees, you know? But if you have a huge yard with – I mean not huge, but if you have a yard where you have plenty of things in it, they’re interested in everything, they’re not going to pick on one thing. – And baby goats, like any youngster, really go for a backyard slide. The babies will slide down, the moms won’t slide down, yeah. The babies are fun. I mean they’ll try to run up too. I trim their hooves every few months, but I have a ramp inside the coop right here that is shingled, so it keeps their hooves down a little bit. I milk them once a day when they’re in milk, but you have to bring a stud in obviously to get the milk. I’ve probably breed them every year and a half to two years. I’m able to milk them up to almost a full year. I have this little mesh filter that I’m going to put over this, and it comes in like a pack of 300, so it will last forever. And then I screw that little thing over top of the metal piece to allow the milk to strain through and put it over my widemouth jar, and then pour the milk in to strain through the little filter. If you want pasteurized milk, I do flash pasteurization. You bring it up to 165 degrees just for about 15 to 30 seconds, and then you ice it immediately, let it cool down, filter it, and then it’s good to go to put your fridge. I’m very particular about fact that my milk is sweet, and it doesn’t taste goatee, it doesn’t taste like the milk that you would go and buy at the store that is labeled goat milk. I have a scooter, and it has a cooler for the seat, so I used to fill up growlers. I have some friends that are in the brew industry and I’d fill up growlers with milk and then make my little milk rounds in the neighborhood and give away the milk, like the milkman. So I can make tons of different things with my milk. I make soap, but I also make yogurt. This is yogurt from the goat’s milk that I made with a sous-vide. You can just leave the water – you put your sous-vide on and have the water temperature heat up to a certain temperature that stays constant for about five hours, and you add your yogurt culture that you want to mix in with your milk, and then you’ve got yogurt. And then I also make cheese with my goats’ milk, and so this is a ricotta that’s been made from goats’ milk that’s great to spread on crackers. In summer, Whitney continues teaching her St. Francis students in her backyard. All of my students that have me all year long know that I have this urban backyard or urban farm backyard, and so I offer an urban farm camp called Veg Hog Farm Camp, and they come for a week to two weeks and I teach them how to milk the goats and make homemade ice cream and teach them how to take care of the chickens and what you need to look for when you’re raising chickens and the things that you need to provide for the chickens and goats. I teach them how to pickle. I teach him how to garden. I talk to them about keyhole gardens, particularly because of our dry and hot weather, and then I also teach them how to macrame. They tell their parents it was their favorite camp ever and, you know, they’re sent to all kinds of camps: sport camps and, I don’t know, art camps.
I love art camps too, I teach art, but they come to my camp, and they love it, and not just because they love animals, but they love seeing where everything comes from, how it comes, how it works, and then getting to take care of it and feeling responsible. I think that’s important. After I became a member of the Urban Poultry Association of Texas, I’m in the urban poultry meet-up in Austin, then I started the Austin Backyard goat meet-up, and so I have about a hundred members. There’s not as many people who own goats in Austin right now, but it’s obviously growing. I think a lot more people have chickens, and they start there because it’s a smaller – it seems like a smaller number, but as long as you have a good setup, goats can be easy too. But they can go to my meet-up, they can also find me on Facebook, Whitney Nolan. Yeah, my meetup, I stud out my studs sometimes. I have people that rent out their goats for weeding purposes, and I have friends that get on there and learn all the information. They’re able to ask all the questions needed to answer anything that comes up. A lot of them start with a goat book, but they realize that, I mean, just asking people that have had the experience is really best.

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