Good fences and good gates make good goats
So you’ve figured out how to move your goats, now how do you get them to stay in one place? We’re back with advice from fellow author and goat expert, Gianaclis Caldwell. She knows just how sneaky goats can be, so take her advice when considering the various options for fencing to keep your goats happy and healthy.
The following excerpt is from Holistic Goat Care by Gianaclis Caldwell. It has been adapted for the web.
Rare is the goat farm that won’t need fencing, yet it’s common to see farms where this part of the equation looks as if it were an afterthought. Goats have a reputation for escaping from fenced areas, and if you’ve been keeping goats for a while, you know it’s true. I don’t consider it escaping, though, because goats will just as quickly “escape” back into their pen if they so choose.
Goats are small, clever, and curious as well as eager to venture out and find the foods or environmental stimulation they crave. To a goat, an inadequate fence is simply a challenge to overcome rather than a barrier to respect. Because goats are also wary of danger and of straying too far from the safety of the barn, once they’re outside a fence they’re unlikely to venture far. They may, however, do their best to make a culinary visit to your heirloom rose garden; check out the tap-dance suitability of your redwood deck; or play an energetic game of king of the mountain on the hood of your neighbor’s classic car. To avoid these headaches—and, more important, the risk of injury to goats that get stuck while trying to push through or under a fence—it’s important to design fences with goat behavior in mind.
Choosing the Right Style of Fence
Goats enjoy poking their heads into and through any space they think they can fit. Because of the triangular shape of their heads, they are often able to push their heads through an opening, but then cannot extract themselves quite so easily. The situation is even more complicated when a horned goat gets its head stuck. (Grazing specialist Mark Kennedy refers to this situation as “coyote fast-food restaurant.”) Often, a fence has to be cut or taken apart to release the entrapped critter. Because of this, openings in fences should either be small enough to discourage goats from attempting to thrust their heads through, or large enough to allow goats to move their heads through easily.
As you’re making choices about fencing materials or assessing your existing fencing, consider whether there will be young goats in the mix. Young goats with their mothers are less likely than adults to try to leave an enclosure. But if they can easily fit through a fence, they might decide to come and go. Before long, they will be in the habit of squeezing through the fence openings at will, and as they grow, they will eventually be at risk of getting stuck. The bottom line is, no matter how well you have designed your fences, it’s also a must to keep a proper set of wire cutters on hand!
In addition to sticking their head into any hole through which they think it might fit, goats also love to use any type of resilient vertical surface as a scratching post. Chain-link fencing and woven wire fencing (also called field fencing) are perfect surfaces to rub against. If used in an area where goats spend a good part of their time, the fencing will soon become stretched, worn, and weakened. Goats also like to place their hooves on fencing so that they can stretch their necks up to eat low-hanging branches or simply so they can see farther. (Because of their cloven hooves, goats are quite adept at standing on narrow surfaces.) This places a lot of strain on the parts of the fence bearing their weight. If goats don’t ruin a woven wire or chain-link fence by rubbing on it, they will by standing on it.
Setting Fence Height
Goats are good jumpers, and the younger the goats, the more they like to leap (both disposition and body mass have something to do with this). In areas where jumping is likely, such as over a fence that is meant to protect a garden or to separate bucks from does in heat, make sure the fence is tall enough to prevent the goat from even attempting to jump over. A 4- to 5-foot (1.2–1.5 m) fence is satisfactory for most goats. A 3-foot (0.9 m) fence is usually tall enough to contain adult Nigerian Dwarf or miniature goats. To be safe for all ages and types of goats, I recommend a 5-foot (1.5 m) fence, particularly in areas where they spend a lot of time loafing, rather than foraging or grazing.
If a fence is too short, a goat might not only jump but—even worse—jump and get a back leg hung up in the fence, snapping the bone. I’ve witnessed this kind of accident, and believe me, it’s a sound you won’t forget. Even with your best-laid plans, however, every once in a while a goat will be born that seems to be part deer and able to leap out of almost any pen, especially when it’s young, light-bodied, and full of mischief.
The best fences for smaller goat pens and paddocks are panels made of rigid steel rods welded into place, creating a structure that can hold up to all of the abuses and challenges goats provide. Hog panels are one example of this type of fencing. These panels have a grid pattern with smaller openings toward the bottom, and they are about 3 or 4 feet (1–1.2 m) tall. Another example is security or horse panels, which are 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and have openings that are only 2 inches wide by 4 inches tall (5 × 10 cm). Of course, both these types of fencing are also the most expensive, but it’s likely you’ll never need to replace them.
Fencing Large Areas
In larger permanent pastures and enclosures you can use woven wire, high-tensile hot or electric wire, or a combination with woven wire below and hot wire above. You won’t see multistranded barbed wire in use very often for goats, because they are not as pain-motivated as sheep and cattle and are therefore less likely to respect barbed wire and more likely to challenge it. When choosing perimeter fencing, think about the following:
- Is the space large enough, with enough feed and activity options to keep goats busy so that they don’t need to challenge the fencing? If so, then the fencing can be less substantial.
• Are there other animals (including pet dogs) that might enter the pen and frighten the goats so that they might run through the fencing? If so, then barbed wire or hot wire that they could get tangled in is not a good choice.
• Are there predators that you can keep out by choosing the right fencing? If so, then use that style of fencing, even if it costs more, to avoid the financial hit and the heartache of losing animals to predation.
• Are there livestock guardian animals (llamas or donkeys) that need to be kept confined with the goats? If so, the fencing will need to be taller than one for goats alone.
The guidelines for openings in the fencing and height of the fence stated earlier also apply to perimeter fences. It’s important to monitor the integrity of pasture fences. They should be inspected regularly for compromises from downed tree limbs, large animal damage (in our part of Oregon, elk are notorious for their ability to plow through almost any fence), and even vandalism by people, including those hiking or on horseback.
The most affordable and effective choice for fencing of rotational and temporary pens is almost always electric net fencing. This wonderful option provides incredible flexibility when the fences are used and maintained properly. For permanent paddocks, woven wire and high-tensile hot-wire fencing are also good choices.
There’s a bit of an art to choosing the right setup. I found this out the hard way by spending money on several rolls of electric net fencing only to discover that most of the year our soil is too dry and our goats too lightweight to properly “ground” themselves and feel any shock from the fence. It’s never encouraging to see your fence being towed up the driveway by a couple of goats who have become entangled (calmly and harmlessly). You have several options when it comes to making sure that electric fencing is effective.
Pick a time when the ground is wet for training goats to respect an electric fence. That way, they will be sure to ground easily and feel a shock. Once the animals have had that experience, they will rarely try to challenge the fence in the future, even at times when it isn’t providing adequate shock.
Choose the right charger with enough power to provide the right amount of shock. Ask an electric fencing dealer for help in this decision, because there is danger to unwary humans from hot-wire fences and increased liability with increased fence strength.
Consider “positive/negative” fencing (also called wire return or ground wire circuit), which includes grounding (negative) wires in the fence. Most net-style electric fences are made with positive wires; the earth serves as the negative “ground.” With a positive/negative fence, the animal will receive a shock anytime it touches a positive and negative wire on the fence at the same time, even if the animal is far from the fencing ground rod. Net or strand fences can be configured as positive/negative.
If you’re using high tensile (HT) fencing, provide enough wire strands to also create a physical barrier (nine strands over a 4-foot/1.2 m span is usually enough for goats). Five strands are sufficient for adult goats in situations where there is no risk of predators attempting to enter the enclosure or kids trying to leave the pen.
Space the strands properly, with the wires closer together toward the bottom. For example, wires in a six-wire fence would be spaced (starting from the ground up) 5, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 inches apart (13, 13, 15, 18, 20, 23 cm).
Energized wires should be placed so that two are close to the ground (where animals are more likely to challenge the fence), one is at the top, and one is in the middle. The remaining gaps can be filled with non-energized wires.
Make sure that fences are not being negatively affected by contact with weeds, grasses, or branches. These can cause fences to lose efficiency, and can drain the battery of battery-powered types.
There are many combinations of fencing and energizers and it’s important to choose the right combination when investing in electric fencing. Take some time to go over those options with a representative from one of the companies selling these supplies. Be sure to describe fully the conditions of your land, what you’ll be using the fencing for (permanent paddocks or rotational grazing), and your expectations.
There are two great secrets for designing gates in a goat pen. First, set up frequently used gates to swing inward only, if possible. This allows you to “sweep” goats away as you enter. It also makes it very difficult for the goats to force a gate open outward if it is accidentally left unlatched.
Second, if you frequently move goats into and out of a certain holding area, be sure to include more than one gate into that area. Reserve one of the gates for human traffic only. Remember that goats are creatures of habit. If their habit is to go through a certain gate to visit the lush pasture, then every time you open that gate, they are likely to assume they should pass through it. This creates problems if you need access to the pen to bring in a tractor or wheelbarrow, for example. As soon as you approach the gate, the goats will run to it, blocking your way. However, if there’s a gate they never pass through, they are unlikely to show interest when you approach that gate. American poet Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” I say, “Good fences and good gates make good goats.”
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