Fencing

Before you buy goats, you’ll want to have a minimal infrastructure in place – a fenced “home” area and a good shelter.  It’s fine to build the rest as you go, just be sure you have a solid place to bring them home to.  Goats are much harder to keep in when they first arrive and don’t feel at home.

When we consider how to fence the holistic herd, consideration should be given to not only keeping them safe, but also to creating a place where they can enjoy spending time.

If it’ll hold water, it’ll hold goats. -Anonymous

That’s a saying I’ve heard as long as I’ve had goats and for some goats, it is absolutely true.  I once had a pet wether named Clyde (he was a buddy to Bonnie, of course) who couldn’t stand to be away from humans, so he would jump every fence ever put before him.  I once watched in horror as he scaled up a 6’ privacy fence to escape.  Nothing we had could keep him in and I finally gave up on him when, out of desperation I tied him to a cinder block in his pen so we could go to town and came home to hear how the neighbor had rescued him because he’d managed to jump anyway and nearly hang himself. Side note: never tether a goat to a cinder block, we got very lucky there!  Another side note: Clyde is exactly why I don’t do bottle babies.  That needy personality drove me nuts!

These days, I have more than 20 goats and with the exception of one determined buck during breeding season, everyone stays put.  The does’ 5-acre pasture is bordered in one stretch by mere 3’ field fence and they don’t ever stray.  A lot of your fencing needs depend on the terrain, size of the pasture and what type of goats you intend to keep in.  Try to give them a place they can be content in and they’ll be less likely to try to escape.

Fencing Facts I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Here are some basic considerations and expectations for goat fencing before we move on to specifics.

  • First, goats who want to get out are very tenacious about achieving their goals. They will go under, turn sideways and wiggle through, jump cleanly over or scrabble up the side of the fence.
  • Until 6-9 months old or so, Nigerian Dwarf kids can fit through the 6″x8″ spacing on a cattle panel. As newborns, they can fit through 4″x4″ spacing.
  • If on a hillside, they will reach through to eat what’s on the other side and eventually erode the bank until they can climb under the fencing and escape.
  • They’re notorious for figuring out how to “grin and bear it” when it comes to electric fencing.
  • Their lips are extremely nimble and they can often open latches you wouldn’t expect them to. We use carabiners for most gates and that works well.
  • Lastly, whether in or out of the pen, if your goat can reach a tree, it will eat all the bark off of it until it is dead. Protect your tree with some sort of fencing around it that prohibits their mouths from getting anywhere close.

Types of Fencing

Let’s talk about a few of the most common fencing types that work well for goats.  From zero-cost pallets to cattle panels, there are fencing options for virtually every budget.  At our place, we have a perimeter of mostly 4’ field fence with wooden posts and railroad ties.  It was here when we bought the place and works great.  We use cattle panels for all the interior cross fencing because they’re quick and easy to put up and not terribly difficult to move around should the goat mistress change her mind a few more times. 😅

Pallet Fencing

I did a write-up on this at my farm blog so feel free to read there for more info on how to put a pallet fence together. Pallets can often be acquired at local stores for no cost. Tied with baling twine, you can put up sections of fence with only the cost of gas to get the pallets. Most pallets are a standardized 48″ tall by 42″ wide, so 5 pallets can create 14′ of fencing with no need for posts.

Pallets work best on level ground but because they are small, they can be stair-stepped up or down to accommodate hilly ground. If you can stabilize them, they’re a great option where your ground is too rocky to put posts.

Field Fencing

While field fencing is one of the lower cost options for building fences, it takes longer to put up and requires more planning with corners and gates. If lumber prices stabilize near where they were before 2020, I think field fencing is an overall best pick for longevity and cost. Available in multiple heights, I recommend no less than 4′ and ideally 5′ if you have the budget for it.

The person who built the fence at our place had a brilliant method of keeping field fence tight – he strung one strand of barbed wire above the field fence and used wire to tie the barbed wire to the top of the field fence. Tightening the barbed wire will snug up the entire fence and prevent it from sagging like field fence is wont to do.

Field fence works well on uneven ground but has a tendency to bow up on the bottom if not secured – this can be an issue if you fence up to a hillside like we do. We try to keep animal traffic off the hill to prevent soil erosion, but in some areas the fence has pulled away from the hill anyway so we’ve used boards, metal studs and curved bits of rebar to stake down the curled up field fence.

As of this writing in 2021, 330′ of 4′ high field fence is $170 at my local farm store. Wooden 5″x7′ treated fence posts are $13.29 and 6′ metal t-posts are $5.19. Just for fun, as I’m revising this in 2022 I checked prices again. The same roll of field fence is now $215; wooden posts are $15.79 and t-posts are $5.69. Better get to building that fence! You can apply those figures for an estimate using the information found at Iowa State to figure out how much you’ll need.

High Tensile Electric Fence

Another option is high tensile electric fencing. It is economical, quick to put up once you get the hang of it and helps keep more tenacious critters–like coyotes and livestock guardian dogs–where they belong. The downsides, and the reasons I have avoided electric in the past, is the inconvenience to humans navigating around electrified fencing and my disinclination to be reliant on sometimes unreliable electrical power to contain my animals. The inconvenience factor is especially a consideration if you have small children, but many of us had encounters with electric in our youth and lived to tell the tale. 😂 I also don’t like using negative training methods and this can be traumatic for both goats and dogs to encounter.

Though non electric high tensile fencing is available, I don’t feel that it is a good option for either goats or livestock guardian dogs who are likely to try to wiggle through even small gaps between strands.

High tensile is probably the most flexible to install in steep terrain, though requires more effort keeping brush and grass cleared away for fire safety.

Cattle Panel Fencing

By far my favorite fencing, cattle panels are not cheap, but they sure are sturdy and easy to put up. Each panel is 50″ high by 16′ long and requires two metal t-posts. We use them for all interior fences. The largest squares are big enough for young Nigerian Dwarf kids to climb through, so in areas we’ll be keeping young kids, we use J-clips designed for making rabbit cages and clip 2″x4″ welded wire to the inside of the cattle panel. This makes a sturdy, impenetrable fence that holds everyone in.

If you’re buying cattle panels, research the brand you’re getting. We recently decided to spend more money to support our local feed store over the big corporate-owned feed store down the road and it was a disappointment. We spent several hundred dollars more without inspecting the panels first – I assumed they were all the same. These were much lighter weight and very flimsy compared to the lower priced ones from the corporate store. We have to be careful not to use them anywhere there’s actual pressure on the fence, like a moving gate or exterior fence where the animals might push hard. The ones we’ve been happy with have 5 gauge horizontal rods and 4 gauge vertical rods, Oklahoma brand.

The biggest con to cattle panels is their inflexibility on varied terrain. Long and straight, they will bow up and either become unsightly or unusable depending on the grade of hill you’re trying to fence. A workaround is to cut the panels into smaller sections and stair-step up or down the hill, but this will require more t-posts and greater expense.

Cattle panels currently cost $21.95 ($26.99 now in 2022) each and require two t-posts at $5.69 each, so come in at about $2.40/foot. As I write this with record lumber prices affecting wooden post costs, it actually costs less to build with cattle panels versus field fencing.

Electric Netting

Electric netting can be a great option if you intend to rotationally graze. It is easy to put up and take down, allowing you to keep your goats moving throughout the season. Premier 1 is a popular brand with a variety of options. It currently costs $135 for 164′ of this fencing. Depending on how many goats you plan to have, you can get by with one or two rolls of electric netting, making it a very economical way to get your goats out on pasture. Electric netting won’t work in winter if you get snow and bored goats on a dry lot would quickly figure out how to get through it, but it is one of the best options you can find for summer rotational grazing.

How Much Space Do I Need?

To determine how much space you need, first decide how you will manage your goats. Do you want them to pasture in the growing season or will they stay on a dry lot?

If pasturing, consider the type of land and pasture you have. We live on sub-irrigated bottomland and 20 goats can’t begin to keep up with their 5-acre pasture. About an acre of that pasture is dry and hilly and though the goats prefer to eat there, by July it’s completely used up and doesn’t grow back until spring.

Rotational grazing can help if you have moisture to help the pasture grow back.

The University of Illinois says on raising meat goats:

“Poor ground may support 2-4 goats per acre while better pasture may be able to support 6-8 goats per acre.”

This is a starting point, but of course “poor ground” in the humid eastern United States is going to be a lot different than, say, “poor ground” in Arizona.

I think we could easily keep 40 miniature goats casually rotated in our 5-acre pasture and probably closer to 60 if we intensively rotational grazed.

Whether pasturing or keeping on dry lot, you can start with a small holding area, a place large enough they could be content and not over crowded, but not so large you break the bank getting it fenced. A conservative estimate could be around 200 square feet per miniature goat and twice that for standards. Since you’ll be starting with at least two, that means you’re looking at around a 20’x40′ or 40’x80′ minimum size and that should not count the shelter space. While this size will work, I don’t feel like it is ideal. Part of our holistic approach should include seeing to the “happiness factor,” as I like to call the intangible increase in quality/vitality you’ll get from animals that are given the opportunity to be not just okay, but thriving and happy.

When we were on a dry lot, our herd of around 12 does lived full time in about 1/4 of an acre. Two bucks were quite content in a 50’x100′ run. I find it helps a lot to curb boredom by giving them climbing toys and a variety of sleeping options. They prefer to be outside in the heat of the day, so several shady places will be helpful too. Giving them an enjoyable living space is part of my responsibility toward them, so to that end I try to keep an eye out for fun toys, spools, bridges and other objects I can give them if they’re going to be in a more confined space.

Try to build as big of a fenced area as you can reasonably afford and you’ll have room to grow in the future.

Enrichment Ideas

In the wild, goats spend a large part of their day wandering from twig to branch, eating their fill and seeing new sights. Their domesticated counterparts generally don’t have that option and certainly don’t need to spend a lot of time finding food since we readily provide it, but we can work to enrich their quality of life by giving them things to climb, jump and play on.

The more time they spend grazing and foraging, the less they’ll need toys, but even pastured goats revel in play time.

Goats love to climb, especially when they’re young. Our summer shelter is only 4′ high and every season, all the young kids make a game of what we call “cloppy, cloppy,” bouncing endlessly along the roof to hear the fun sound their hooves make.

Even if you’re not ready for goats just yet, you can start now to keep an eye out for toys for your goats. Some of the best of these toys can come from scraps. Wooden spools, old tires and scrap wood can all be repurposed into goat entertainment and usually cost very little, if anything.

Plastic play yards like those in the picture are the best toys for goats. I joke that I buy more of those for my goats than I ever did for my four children. Designed for toddlers, they’re just the right size for goat kids of all breeds and even work well for adult miniature goats. Around our place, it’s kind of a rite of passage for young kids to finally be big enough to make it up the slide to the top of their favorite toy. Once they’ve managed to make it that far, they will slide down over and over again.

Extra lumber can be turned into bridges and ramps to connect various toys to each other. If you think of goats as like children but without hands, you can start to come up with all kinds of ideas for toys.

Another popular one around here was the small indoor trampoline I got when I decided I was going to get into rebounding, which was not nearly as enjoyable as I thought it would be. 😅 The goats loved it way more than I did and fought over who would get to bounce and nap on it. They eventually destroyed it, but they sure enjoyed it while it lasted. If I had a smaller herd and a larger budget, I’d invest in some pet cots for them to lay on.

Even a raised platform of plywood can be an endless source of entertainment for kids who love to hop. I’ve seen swings, old couches and even junk cars used as effective toys for goats. When we get our firewood delivered each year, it’s dumped off in a large pile and the goats have a blast climbing up and down. We only allow this with supervision though because piles can be unstable, but a stabilized log stack or pile is another sure-win idea.

In addition to things for them to do in the pen, consider taking a daily goat walk. Being herd animals, goats will happily follow their leader on walks once they’ve figured out the routine. If you have a couple of goats, you’re probably the leader. If you have a larger herd, find out who the leader is and put a leash on that one if it won’t follow you without. If you are walking on a road, everyone should be leashed. Then, head out to explore! You and your goats will benefit from the time spent together.

Continue the discussion in the Management forum.

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