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Keeping Goats on Your Farm (And Out of Trouble)

Keeping goats contained can be a challenge, but with just a little ingenuity and room in your budget, you can furnish the ideal setup for keeping your herd.

| July 2, 2010

  • goat fence
    Goats are both sweetness and shenanigans, loving and annoying, obedient and troublemakers — often within minutes of each other. But even with all the raw emotions that goats can bring out in their keepers, they still count as the most versatile of all farm animals.
  • Joy of Keeping Farm Animals
    Laura Childs’ “The Joy of Keeping Farm Animals” is a practical, thorough guide for anyone interested in having a backyard barnyard.

  • goat fence
  • Joy of Keeping Farm Animals

The following is an excerpt from The Joy of Keeping Farm Animals by Laura Childs (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010). In accessible prose accompanied by charming photographs, Childs discusses the basics of raising chickens, goats, sheep, turkeys, pigs and cows, offering valuable insights into the very nature of each animal. This excerpt is from Chapter 2, “Goats.” 

Whenever you need to set up an area for goats — inside or out — it is beneficial to remember the adage of a goat, “like a 3-year-old in a goat suit.”

If a barrier can be jumped over, an electrical wire reached, glass windows pushed upon, grain accessed or nails stepped on, it will be. Any object within reach will be challenged, broken, eaten, chewed, ripped, pushed or punctured by a goat. If you wouldn’t leave your 3-year-old nephew alone for 20 minutes in the shelter or hope to hold him with the fence you just built, it probably isn’t adequate for a goat either.

Goats won’t take up much room on your farm. Their housing requirements are nearly as casual as those required for chickens. In fact, a large shed will do just fine for a few goats. With just a little ingenuity and room in your budget, you can have the ideal setup for keeping goats.

There are two primary methods for housing and containing goats. The first is to pasture them and provide a poor-weather and bedding shelter. The other method, “loafing and confinement,” is to keep goats in a shed or small barn with a fenced yard for exercise.

The loafing-and-confinement system of raising goats is used mainly for dairy and fiber goats or by farmers who don’t have ample pasture. Sufficient room is provided inside and out but keeps high-energy activity to a minimum. Less energy expended allows for productive use of feed.

Laura Childs
12/10/2010 10:40:00 AM

Finally, there are those who keep dairy goats for the purpose of making cheeses. These goats have udders to protect and are fed and cared for very well - without the potential of spoiling the taste of their milk by ingesting wild onions, mint, etc., found on pasture. Many small dairy farms keep the healthiest and happiest goats - concrete pads and all - I've ever seen. I think it is great that we can all share out best practices and small farm strategies but I want to be careful to not alienate others for their situations and choices. We are all on a journey. Laura Childs

Laura Childs
12/10/2010 10:31:11 AM

Jan makes a good point about fencing. With the variance in the goat breeds (and how capable or interested they are in jumping or knocking over the fence), not to mention the personalities we find within any breed, EVERY farm has to find their best strategy for confinement for THEIR goats. Sometimes it takes a few variations on a theme to find one that works for you. I have seen goats test an electric fence repeatedly throughout the day and throughout the seasons. Yes they are smart - smart enough to know that sometimes the power goes out - whether trained on the fence or not. For this reason I never rely solely on electric. We have backup solar here but I still prefer a permanent/strand combination. Again, whatever works for YOUR farm. I want to address the 'wincing' some people feel about confinement sheds and concrete yards. I too have a compassion for animals and would love to see all animals roaming free, protected, and in lush fields but there are many situations where that is not an option and I wouldn't want to condemn another's desire to keep goats if that is all they could currently offer. Over the years I have seen people with a desire to keep chickens and then goats - but who lived in the city. They did so but within a few short years they were scouting country property to get back to the land and give their animals a 'better' life. I personally am proud of them.

Jan Steinman
7/10/2010 1:50:01 AM

Great info! But I think the section on fencing misses one key point: if you make it more desirable to be on one fence than the other, the goat will stay on the desirable side. This means a paddock system where you move them before they graze down their favourites will work with the simplest of fences. Keeping them moving before they over-graze an area also helps control parasites, which typically get passed to ungulates within a few inches of the ground. I'm a great fan of non-permanent solutions. It made me wince to read about pouring a concrete pad for your goats! Our goat shed is an old camping trailer we removed for free. When the goats are ready to be moved to a new pasture or paddock, we simply move their entire house! The same could be done by putting a conventional building on skids. We control our small herd with just two strands of "sometimes" electric, at knee and hip height. This is also very portable and easily re-configured. Goats are very smart, and quickly become trained to the electric fence -- then, it doesn't matter if it is on or off! I often string "dark" wire around areas I want to protect, and the goats respect it.

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