If you want to try raising livestock with your children, miniature goats are a good option because they are small enough for kids to handle.
Q: I want to try raising livestock for the first time and want my younger children to be involved in the process. What species and breeds would be good to start with?
A: If you don't have chickens yet, they're a great livestock choice for children—just be sure you choose a breed noted for easygoing roosters or stick to a flock of hens. A nasty rooster is never fun (our Buckeye roosters went to new homes when they kept spurring Mom and Dad's legs), but little people can be seriously injured by a rooster's sharp spurs. It doesn't take much wing power to fly as high as a preschooler's face. Ouch!
For that matter, it's best not to keep intact males of any livestock species when children are involved because we males sometimes have strong, hormone-driven urges and we act before thinking. This can be dangerous for a small child. Even a gentle and mannerly yet studly guy, like myself, could accidentally bowl over a child during breeding season. And some intact male animals are downright ornery. You might be able to handle them, but little kids? No way.
As far as a species to start with, you might try miniature goats. Properly socialized goats love children, and miniatures are small enough for most small children to handle by themselves. Some miniature breeds, like Nigerian Dwarf goats and slightly larger but still small Kinder goats, give a lot of milk. If you really want milk, plan on milking the goats yourself if your older children can't devote time to it twice a day, at the same time of day, for many months. Although they're not technically dairy goats, Pygmy goats also give a decent amount of high-butterfat milk. Pygoras are another small breed, but they’re bred for cushy fiber instead of milk. Gentle full-sized goats, like us Nubians, as well as any socialized goats, are fine around small children, too; however, don't choose goats with horns. Horns are beautiful, but it's easy for a horned goat to hurt a child (or an adult) by accident, just by moving its head in the wrong direction at the wrong time.
Miniature horses and miniature donkeys are good with small children, and kids can drive them! Just make sure to choose well-behaved, well-trained individuals for your farm.
A gentle miniature milk cow could be a fine investment, both for the milk it gives your family and the enjoyment it brings your children. Miniature Jerseys are old-style, very small Jersey cattle; they're rare but it's worth the search to find one. Dexters are another small, docile breed that gives rich, tasty milk, and their calves can be raised for beef. Miniature Zebus are another possibility; some are as small as 34 inches tall when measured behind the hump, but fanciers say they're a little more reactive than some other breeds. Choose calm individuals when buying cattle that will be handled by children.
What you probably shouldn't do with small children is get involved with any type of reactive livestock, large or small, unless the children are old enough to look out for themselves if something goes wrong. For instance, my mom loves sheep. She raises a miniature breed called Classic or Miniature Cheviots. They're sweet and gentle, but all sheep instinctively run when they're frightened—sometimes blindly. It's easy to be run over by sheep—especially when you're only 3 feet tall! There are exceptions, and you might find some, especially in sheep that were raised as pets. But for the most part, wait until your kids are older before you expect them to handle reactive species. Getting hurt, even by accident, is just not fun.
About the Author: Ozark Jewels General Martok, who describes himself as "a really studly Nubian buck," lives with his family and friends on a small farm in the Arkansas Ozarks. Read his blog, “Mondays with Martok,” for a peek at their daily animal activities.
Have an animal-related question? Send it to Martok at firstname.lastname@example.org, and include “Ask Martok” in the subject.