Everything you need to know to raise dairy goats including housing, fencing, feeding, disease diagnosis and treatment, breeding, milking, dairying, and cheese making is all included in Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats (Storey Publishing, 2017). Authors Jerry Belanger and Sara Thomson Bredesen see dairy goats as a great choice for the small or backyard dairy farmer. Goats require a smaller investment than cows and produce milk that is great for making delicious fresh yogurt and cheese.
You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats
Fencing is probably more important — and more difficult — with goats than with any other domestic animal. One professional fence builder said his way of testing a fence for goats is to throw a bucket of water at it. If the water can go through, so can a goat. Goats will jump over, crawl under, squeeze through, stand on, lean against, and circumvent any boundary that is not strictly goatproof. Even if it is goatproof, they’ll spend time trying to figure out how to make it fail. Fencing is important not only to keep goats in, but also to keep stray dogs and other predators out.
With goats, a little fencing goes a long way. In most cases, if you have only a couple of goats, you won’t want to think in terms of “pasturing” to any great extent. Goats won’t make good use of the usual pasture plants, grasses, and clovers. They prefer browse: trees, shrubs, and brush. Goats that are fed at the barn will probably ignore even the finest pasture, although they’d be delighted to get at your prize roses, specimen evergreens, and fruit trees. For many people, protecting valuable plants like these is the main reason for good fences! Goats also like to jump on cars and other machinery, so make sure vehicles and goats are kept apart.
We’ll talk more about pastures and pasture fencing later. For now, let’s focus on the exercise yard. A small, dry, sunny yard adjacent to the barn is all you need, ordinarily, and you’ll probably want one of these even if you pasture your animals. The exercise yard fence will take more punishment than the average pasture fence, because the goat confined to the smaller space will have more time and opportunity to investigate and beat on it. The cost per running foot will be higher in the yard, but the amount of fencing used is much less.
Good fencing is obviously a necessity for goats. And while fences do require an investment, the newer types make it much easier and more economical to allow goats access to larger yards or pastures. First, we’ll discuss the fences to avoid, followed by the ideal types and some practical alternatives.
For various reasons, these fences are not recommended.
Woven Wire: This type, also known as field fencing, is less expensive but has drawbacks. If your goats have horns, they’ll put their heads through the fence and then be unable to get free. Worse, they’ll stand on the wire, or lean against it, until it sags to the ground and they can nonchalantly walk over it. Even with close spacing of posts and proper stretching — a crucial part of building this type of fence — woven wire will soon sag from the weight of goats standing against it and will look unsightly and eventually be useless. However, woven-wire fencing can be useful when combined with electrical fencing.
Rail Fence: For many people, the picturesque board or rail fence comes to mind first, but it won’t work for goats unless it’s all but solid. They can slip through openings you wouldn’t believe. Don’t take the chance.
Barbed Wire: It’s awfully ugly stuff around tender-skinned, well-uddered goats. And it doesn’t impress them anyway. Some people use barbed wire, often because they feel it deters predators. Far more would suggest getting rid of it.
Picket Style: Another nasty trap for goats. With a picket-style fence, there’s a very real danger that a goat will stand against the fence with her front feet, slip, and impale her neck on a picket or get it caught between two.
Here are better, safer options that work.
Chain-Link: This is the ideal goat fence for a small place. However, like most ideals, it may simply not fit the budget.
Stock Fencing: A very good and somewhat less expensive alternative to chain-link is stock fencing, often called hog or stock panels. It is made of welded steel rods in 16-foot-long panels of 3-foot or 5-foot heights. The ideal is 13-wire combination fence sections that are 5 feet high and have narrower spacing at the bottom than at the top. They do a better job than the standard livestock panel at keeping small kids inside. Attach stock fencing to regular steel or wooden fence posts. They can be connected to each other with small cable clamps, or make temporary pens by connecting them together with electrical zip ties that can be cut loose quickly when you are finished with them.
Sheep Stock Fencing: Regular stock fencing has one problem: horned goats can get their heads trapped between the rods of the wider openings. A newer and better version has smaller spaces (about 4 inches) between the rods. This makes it more expensive, but it’s much safer for your goats. This type of fencing was designed for sheep, and unfortunately, it isn’t available everywhere.
Electric Fencing: This should be used much more than it usually is for goats. They must be trained to respect it, but once they know what happens when they touch it, it’s possible to fence even large areas at low cost. Train the goats in a small area. Until they get zapped once or twice, they’ll be trying to crawl under, jump over, and just plain bust right through. Unlike other livestock, a goat will jump forward when it gets a shock.
Stand by during the training process to toss the goat back in the pen for another training session. With a good hard shock supplied by a low-impedance New Zealand–style charger, or fencer, it usually takes only one reminder for a goat to learn which side of the fence is home. Do not assume they will quit looking for ways to escape, though. They have an uncanny sixth sense about electricity and will test the fence again when they think the power is out. Most likely, the older does will send a kid to test the fence while they stand back and watch. You might want to use sturdier (and more expensive) fences for smaller yards, but electric fences are ideal for larger areas such as pastures.
You can also use electric fencing in tandem with woven-wire, or field, fencing. Place a strand of electrified wire just inside the woven wire, at about goat-nose height. This combination makes a very good goat barrier: the electric fence keeps the goats from reaching the field fencing, and the field fencing offers more security than the hot wire alone.
New Zealand–Style: A fencing system that has become widely popular was developed in New Zealand for managed intensive grazing. Fences can be charged with a 12-volt battery and energizer, a plug-in energizer, or a solar-powered energizer. The most important thing is that the system is very high voltage — 5,000 to 7,000 volts — for a fraction of a second. It won’t do serious damage to the goat or predator, but it leaves a lasting impression. The fence itself is usually high-tensile wire supported by wood corner posts and fiberglass spacers. The charger is a little pricey, but the fence is less expensive per foot than any other option suitable for goats. One option for creating a temporary fence is plastic step-in fence posts, a reel of polywire (a thin plastic cord braided through with seven or nine strands of wire), and a solar charger. Some companies also make an electrified woven netting for temporary fences. Goats can be turned into an area to browse without your having to build a permanent fence. Be sure to train your goats to this type of fence, and watch carefully for the first few days to be sure nobody gets snagged in the soft netting.
Excerpted from Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats, © by Jerome D. Belanger, photography by: © essphotographer/iStockphoto.com, © My Lit’l Eye/Alamy Stock Photo, © mackoflower/123RF, © Philip Game/Alamy Stock Photo, used with permission from Storey Publishing, 2017. Buy this book in our store: Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats
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