Theodore is a goat – and a hero. But if you’re one of his 6,816 followers on the Riley Farm Rescue Instagram account, you already knew that.
He recently helped save another goat, Clarabelle, when she got stuck on the wrong side of a fence by running up to the owner’s house screaming for help.
His feat was praised by his followers online. “Such a great goat,” one commented. “This doesn’t surprise me at all,” another remarked. “Humans are the slow ones in the fields of kindness, intelligence, compassion and intuition.”
Theodore is a bone fide internet star, and he’s not alone. His account, along with the likes of Puget Sound Goat Rescue and Goats Gone Grazing Acres, is just one of many featuring goats and their escapades that have captured hearts worldwide.
Combined, the three have more than 87,800 followers on Instagram and their posts get hundreds of likes and comments from an active community.
The goat trend has taken Instagram (and the rest of the Internet) by storm. People are spending weekends doing goat yoga (“goga”), and the New York Times has coined 2017 “The Year of the Goat.”
There are so many accounts sharing goats’ everyday adventures now it can be hard to keep track. In addition to the three mentioned above, Goats of Anarchy, Freedom Farm Animal Rescue, and Happy Little Goats are all incredibly popular.
But despite what you see online, bringing goats to the Internet is way harder than it looks.
Adorable photos are hard work
For starters, goats can be really difficult photo subjects, as Sarah Klapstein, who helps run the Instagram account for Puget Sound Goat Rescue in Washington state, reveals.
“They love to run right up to the camera or be underfoot at all times.”
“They love to run right up to the camera or be underfoot at all times so it’s often hard to photograph them,” she said. Some, however, are “total hams” for the camera – which is pretty obvious once you start scrolling.
That sentiment is echoed by Marla Riley, founder of The Riley Farm Rescue. Followers of the farm’s page fawn over the goats – Theodore, Clarabelle, Winston and Oliver, who all have unique, “silly, lovable personalities.” Photos of Theodore and Clarabelle together especially tug at the heartstrings – the two are affectionately called “the happy couple.” Riley said they are “for sure” a bonded pair, and always need to be around each other. They’ll even call out to one another when they’re separated.
Self-described “crazy goat lady” Jessi Pottebaum, meanwhile, owns a goat farm and runs the Instagram account Goats Gone Grazing Acres, which has around 32,000 followers keeping up with her farm’s 34 goats. She said her goats have become used to her being around, which makes it easier for her to capture photos of them playing or dressing up in costumes.
“She gets sassier by the minute.”
On Goats Gone Grazing Acres, you can also find snapshots of goats enjoying popsicles, or bouncing around. One of the goats, Poundcake, appears particularly playful in lots of shots.
“She gets sassier by the minute,” a recent post reads.
But the popularity of this trend has been both a blessing and a curse, according to Barbara Jamison, founder and director of the Puget Sound Goat Rescue.
Owning a goat is even harder work
The online popularity of the goats has led to a surge in applications for adoptions, Jamison said, but many prospective goat owners don’t have the right setup. “We struggle constantly with trying to educate people on what they need to do,” she said. Followers see cute, funny videos of goats online and assume all goats act the same, which is resolutely not the case, she added.
Jamison started Puget Sound Goat Rescue in 2002, and each year the volunteer-run farm rescues more than 200 goats. Their Instagram page has nearly 50,000 followers, and tons of photos and videos of their lovable rescues relaxing in the sun, eating, and of course, jumping around.
But it isn’t all fun and games. It’s a commitment. “You can’t just come home late one day,” Riley said. “[There’s] no room to screw up or be late ever.”
Jessi Pottebaum of Goats Gone Grazing Acres agrees. “I’m pretty sure that a lot of people think that I just sit out in the goat yard all day and let the kids play and sleep on my lap,” she said. “Yes, that is part of my job, but it’s a small part.”
“It’s a lot of work, but the smiles, laughter, and love that they bring make it so worth it,” she added. She and her husband were woefully unprepared to be goat owners, and she hopes anyone inspired to follow their footsteps does their research. “Don’t be like us … read books, visit farms, talk to farmers. There’s a lot to know. They’re not dogs,” she said.
“I have mixed feelings on the trend,” Puget Sound’s Klapstein says. Yes, it is great that people are often getting to see how personable and loving and fun goats are but it can also lead to misconceptions about goats like they are house pets, or you can have just one, or you can have them in your backyard.”
Real talk on life with goats
According to the American Goat Society, 15,000 square feet is the minimum space recommended for goats. Fencing is super important, too, and so is making sure that goats aren’t overcrowded in their living spaces.
Having the right fencing and proper shelter isn’t the only hard part, though. Just getting the goats is emotionally taxing, as many come from auctions where they’re left outside with no food or water all day.
“It’s a lot of sadness, especially when you’re taking an animal from live auctions,” Riley from Riley Farm Rescue said. “They’re not in good condition.”
Klapstein and Jamison both pointed to the way that Puget Sound tries to show this less glamorous side of running a rescue on their Instagram account. They even sometimes post live video of rescues at slaughterhouses.
“I do try and share the not so glamorous side of rescue work on our Instagram from time to time,” Klapstein said. “The fight to save goats who are sick or who come to us in such poor condition, the heartbreak that we can’t save them all, what we see and experience at our slaughterhouse rescues, that it’s not all cute baby goats being bottle fed.”
All the goat owners are thankful for the attention their Instagram accounts have helped garner. Not only has it helped them find a place within the goat community, but it’s also helped them create a support system.
“The impact that social media, especially Instagram, has had on our rescue is amazing,” Klaptstein said. “Not only has it increased awareness about us and the work that we do, it has greatly increased our donor base.”
Pottebaum, like others, said she’s been able to connect with other farmers through Instagram. She’s also used Instagram a bit to sell farm merchandise, like t-shirts, and calendars. “Running a farm is expensive, so these are just a few of the ways we make a little extra money to feed all of those mouths,” she said.
At The Riley Farm Rescue, a similar feeling abounds.
Riley said one of the benefits of being on Instagram has been the outpouring of support for her efforts at the rescue. Most recently, the rescue has been raising money for a mini-barn for the animals through the sale of items such as socks featuring Theodore and Clarabelle. They also recently raised money for Theodore when he had to undergo surgery for a urinary blockage.
“We don’t break even ever, but we do it really because we just love animals,” Riley said.
So enjoy the hell out of this trend. Scroll, Like, and share away – but think twice before you get your own goat.