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Enrichment: The Spice of Life

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We have two baby Nigerian Dwarf goats here on the homestead and I never thought that two pint sized goats would be, combined, one of the biggest forces of nature I’ve encountered.

On the day we got them, I thought the goats were broken. They stood in their new pen, just staring at me. Creepy. But as the days, then weeks, went by, their personalities flourished. Rocky Road, although smaller of the two, is vivacious and cunning. Butterscotch, although vocal, is extremely cuddly and I’ve taken several naps with her by my side.

I was scared to get goats, scared of messing things up, scared that they’d escape, scared that they wouldn’t like me. However, they’ve been nearly perfect pets and I owe it all to enrichment.

Enrichment is something that’s rarely considered in animal ownership. Even at my previous pet store job, I was met with slight confusion when I brought up snuffle mats or puzzle feeders as a possible solution to separation anxiety or dogs that love to scarf their food. Just as it can with dogs, I’ve found that enrichment keeps the goats busy, burns some energy, and keeps them happy with their pen. They have big wooden spools, stairs made of pallets, an obstacle course made of tires, a trampoline, a brush attached to a fence post, and most recently, a see-saw I made of a 2″x6″ and a log. Every evening, almost at sunset, they get a sudden burst of energy and utilize almost every single thing I’ve given them.

Most pet owners feel hesitant about providing enrichment, simply because of cost. Some dog puzzles can be upwards of $30 each and puzzle feeders aren’t as cheap as a metal bowl. However, barring the splurge purchase of the trampoline, almost every enrichment item in the goat pen has been either cheap or free.

But surprisingly, their favorite item isn’t the spools or the trampoline, but large cardboard boxes I had chucked in the pen after a delivery. They’re obsessed. They lay in the box, push the box, jump in and out of the box, or stand on top of the box and yell about their victory. When I clean their pen, I hide treats under the flaps of the box, so they have to forage for them.

Keeping animals isn’t easy, but I’ve found that the smallest things can bring about some of the largest improvements in quality of life. Animals are incredibly intelligent and it’s a gift in itself to see the gears turning, trying to figure out an obstacle. When our responsibility to our animals is to give them a good life, a little enrichment can go the mile.