CHICAGO — Eric Staswick headed to his goat shed and entered to the sound of soft bleating.
“Hey, girl,” he said, leading a calm-eyed Nigerian dwarf goat named Claire onto a milking stand outside.
Claire contentedly munched grain as Staswick hooked her up to a milker, petting her back as the milk flowed.
So began a recent morning on the Staswick family farm.
It isn’t really a farm; it’s a house on a double lot on a side street in the Albany Park neighborhood.
A shed Staswick built in the side yard houses the family’s small herd of goats.
Raising chickens in the Chicago area is no longer uncommon. Staswick and his wife, Bethany, however, are among a small group of city dwellers who have stepped deeper into the world of urban livestock.
The Staswicks’ goats are thorough Chicagoans, down to their names. Following the tradition of naming goats according to a theme, they name theirs after Chicago streets.
The three kids — 3-week-old goats that are cute as plush toys but battle for spots at udders like prizefighters — whom Staswick let into the shed to join their mothers are named Foster, Ainslie and Argyle.
Keeping goats in Chicago is perfectly legal. There is no prohibition in the municipal code against keeping livestock animals, said John Holden, spokesman for the city’s Law Department. Theoretically, a modern-day Mrs. O’Leary could even keep a cow.
Livestock are covered under laws prohibiting cruelty to animals or excessive animal noise. Also, individuals are not allowed to keep or slaughter animals for food.
Still, goats are uncommon in the city, said Martha Boyd, program director of Angelic Organics Learning Center’s urban initiative in Chicago. For one thing, they’re a lot of work.
“There’s a lot of reasons people left dairy farms,” she said. “It’s very time-consuming.”
But it is also fun, a source of delicious milk and cheese and a source of delight to neighborhood children, say goat farmers.
“It’s an adventure every year,” said Carolyn Ioder, who has been raising goats at her Austin neighborhood residence for four years. In warm weather, she walks them down the alley to graze in an empty lot.
She knows of only four goat herds in the city.
The pros and cons of raising farm animals in the city were on view at the third annual Urban Livestock Expo on a recent Saturday at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.
The expo is an opportunity for people considering raising chickens, rabbits, quail, ducks, bees or goats to learn from people already doing so.
Goats raised for milk and cheese require far more time to care for than chickens, said Staswick, who raises both.
“You’ve got to be there (for milking) twice a day, every day — no exceptions,” he said.
“It’s a big thing to have a goat,” said Ioder. “It’s not like you just get a dog.”
In addition to time, there are many expenses, she said. The goats have to be kept supplied with food and water. They have to be fenced correctly. Their hooves have to be trimmed. And, “At kidding time, it can be very frightening,” she said.
One of her goats, Ava, was born with what is called wimpy kid syndrome — a condition that left the animal unable to stand or to eat or drink for her first five days.
Ioder stayed up all night with Ava, holding her up so she could nurse from her mother. Then she made splints for the goat’s legs out of popsicle sticks.
Now full-grown and healthy, Ava spotted Ioder standing outside the goat pen on a recent day, jumped up, hooked her front legs over the fence and nuzzled her.
“I’m like her second mommy,” said Ioder, 57, petting her affectionately.
The Staswicks got their goats in 2013. They already had chickens and Muscovy ducks, whose eggs they were enjoying.
Then Eric Staswick, 29, who is director of production at a small ad agency, started looking into goats.
“I found out that they were small enough to keep in an urban setting and that they have personalities,” he said.
His wife at first did not share his enthusiasm, he said, but during a conversation over dinner, fittingly at Girl and the Goat restaurant, she agreed to give the plan a try.
Bethany Staswick, 27, is now a fan, though the goats are not always fans of Bethany, at least when she takes over the milking when her husband is away on business.
They are used to Eric doing the chore. When she milks them, “They like to kick,” she said. “But they love me otherwise.”
They have five children age 5 and under, including two foster children, who all love the goats, as well as the cheese and yogurt made from their milk.
The goats are popular fixtures in the neighborhood. In warm weather, children walking to nearby Haugan Elementary School stop to watch them in the yard. The Staswicks’ next-door neighbors are so taken with the animals, Bethany said, that they take photos from their windows.
The Staswicks take care to keep their neighbors well-supplied with eggs.
“A common recommendation for anyone raising urban livestock is to bribe your neighbors,” Eric Staswick said.
Ioder, too, gives away eggs and cheese and values good neighbor relations. She has sold goats that bleat too loudly and keeps her herd small — she currently has seven goats.
Her next-door neighbor, 29th Ward Ald. Deborah Graham, is appreciative of her efforts.
The goats are “very, very quiet,” she said. “You may smell them before you hear them.”
And if there is an occasional barnyard smell, she said, Ioder quickly takes care of it.
Overall, Eric Staswick’s thoughts on becoming a goat farmer are cautionary.
“Make sure you are committed,” he said. “It’s not something to be entered into lightly.”