Your goat herd will last only as long as your fencing. Some goat breeds are more determined escape artists than others, but ALL goats will push their boundaries. If they can see out and get out, then freedom will be theirs.
When we first got goats I thought back to what my Popaw used to say about goat fencing and laughed while shaking my head in agreement. When he was asked by a young farmer how to test his fence to see if his goats could get out, this was his response:
“Fill a cup up with water and go stand by any point in the goat pen that you want. Pour the water onto the fence. If the water can flow out … so will your goats.”
I do not think that advice was either what the young farmer wanted, expected, or even found useful. But, I sure did. It was because of my Popaw’s long ago conversation that I was determined to teach my growing goat herd to free range. We live on a 56-acre farm where the barn and our house are a half a mile uphill from where the secluded county road meets our even more secluded farm road. Not everyone has the luxury to free range the way we do, bolstered in large part by our barn and home location. But, even if you can free range the way I do, there is still a need to have a goat-proof pen and/or stall to quarantine sick goats, to use as a nursing stall for multiple weeks, and to put the goats up safely at night to protect them from predators.
There are two crucial components to consider when deciding what type of fencing to use for a goat pen and the special goat short-term areas I noted above. A fence must do two things perfectly well: keep the goats in and keep predators out. Neither are easy things to do depending on the escape habits of your clever goats and the type of predators you face in your area.
The first part of goat fence pondering involves garnering an in-depth grasp of the predators that are lurking in your area and would like to have your adorable little goats for their dinner.
Some goats and dogs live perfectly well together – either forever or until they do not. Even if you do not have dogs that does not mean one will not wander onto your property, especially if you live in a rural area. A seemingly docile dog can kill a goat in under three minutes if the goat mistakes its curiosity when it comes too close and horns the canine. Keeping goats that have been disbudded will not necessarily prevent a dog attack and entirely removes a goat’s only self-defense tactic – one that can buy precious moments to alert you to the carnage and run to the animal’s aid.
These are perhaps the top most common predator of all goat breeds. Not only will a coyote quickly kill a goat kid or a nursing mother, but they are capable of taking down even a full-size Billy goat in minutes. Keeping miniature donkeys in your barnyard or the same pen as your goats will offer the herd an increased measure of protection. Some farmers and ranchers keep mini donkeys just to protect their more valuable livestock because the donkeys consider kicking and chasing coyotes an exciting full-contact sport.
While a fox is far more likely to invade a chicken coop for an easy meal, these slick predators will also attack – and kill baby goats and even mature miniature size goats. It would be rare for a fox to attack a mature standard size goat, but a desperately hungry fox will try to bring down the larger creature. The most substantial threat a fox will pose to your goat herd occurs during the kidding season. The baby goats make a lot of noise and will attract a myriad of predators into the barnyard. Sometimes, a fox will skip the kid because there’s less of a meal payoff and take down the larger nursing nanny goat because she will be far less likely to fight off the attack in her weakened state – especially because she will be far more focused on keeping her kid out of harm’s way than herself. A fox, unlike most predators, can become prone to killing for sport and not just meat, making them a consistently deadly threat even when a wild small game is in great abundance in the woods and on your land.
These once highly vulnerable predators are becoming a significant threat to farmers, homesteaders, and ranches. and you should certainly take protecting your goats from these predators seriously. Unlike the fox, coyotes, and several other major goat attackers, bobcats hold a protected status and are not considered “nuisance predators” in any single state. A nuisance predator can be legally killed if it threatens livestock or crops, without any season, permit, or similar legal restrictions. Bobcats are nocturnal hunters, any goat that is not locked up inside of a secure pen or stall from dusk to dawn might not be eagerly awaiting feed from when it’s time for turnout in the morning. Goat kids, pregnant and nursing nannies of all breeds, and miniature goats are the most vulnerable to bobcat predators – but a hungry bobcat surely will attempt to take down even the largest and meanest Billy goat it happens across while hunting.
The population of this goat and general livestock predator were on the decline, but in recent years conservation efforts have paid off and den numbers are soaring in some regions of the United States. After much wrangling by farmers and ranchers desperate to save the livestock they rely upon to put food on their own tables and pay the mortgage, it is now legal to shoot wolves that threaten or attack livestock in a handful of states. Wolves are fully capable of and prefer to attack larger livestock like cattle and horses, but will not pass up an easy meal if they can get to your goats.
- Predatory Birds
Both eagles and hawks consider goat kids to be on the menu. It is illegal to kill either predatory bird – doing so carries stiff fines and potential jail time. An eagle with its 8-foot wide wingspan is capable of carrying off a goat kid in about the time it takes to blink an eye, it is also strong enough to carry off young miniature goats, as well. The only way to protect goat kids from predatory birds is to keep them in a covered nursing stall with their momma and transition them to an outdoor pen with a covered portion set aside for them until they weigh over 5 pounds.
Like wolves, bears prefer larger prey than goats but will not skip taking the easy prey when they are either hungry or young and separated from their mother. If a bear attacks your goat herd, expect to not only lose more than one but find nothing more than blood-stained grass where you expect your meat and dairy producers or farm pets, to be roaming. Building a fence to deter bear attack is an expensive endeavor, but if you keep goats in bear country it will have to be factored into your budget if you do not want to lose every goat you purchased in a short amount of time.
- Mountain Lions
Unlike their other big cat peer, mountain lions (cougars) do not hunt only at night. A goat’s horns will be no match for a mountain lion, not even a young one, With these predators becoming slightly more commonplace in rural areas do to an encroachment upon the cat’s habitat, erecting a goat fence that will at least deter an attack is highly recommended. Adding a miniature donkey and livestock guardian dogs to your herd to facilitate an increased level of protection will also be worthwhile.
Goat Fencing 101
Going into this article you likely already knew that keeping goats in was going to be a tumultuous task and now you know that keeping predators out to keep them alive can be a daunting chore as well.
If a goat finds a makes a hole and gets out, the rest of the herd will find it and make it larger and more difficult in the process. When you are erecting a goat pen you must keep in mind their ability to climb, possible predator attacks, and the durability of materials used. An electric fencing component and can and should be a part of a goat pen project, but absolutely cannot be the only type of enclosure material used.
While there is no magic ticket that determines the right kind of goat fencing for your herd or terrain, there are some key aspects that will help prevent great escapes and carnage.
Any fencing with openings larger than four inches is essentially a goat killer. Most goats can push their head through such an opening but cannot get it back out because horns get stuck. An immobilized goat is nothing more than a bait for predators. Once a goat is stuck in a fence, it will frantically rip, pull, and struggle to get free, either injuring or hanging itself in the process.
Some goat keepers maintain going larger than 8 inches in openings on metal fence panels is safe because a goat can free its own horns. I disagree. A horn can still get turned and stuck and the larger openings are big enough for kid killing predators to squeeze through. Only use high tensile fencing of this type, commonly referred to as hog panels or cattle panels, if wood plank fencing and – or electric fencing will be placed on either side to keep goats off of this sturdy barrier and predators out. A miniature goat kid can easily squeeze out of such a wide opening.
A goat fence must be at least 34 inches tall to keep kids and miniature goats inside and 47 inches tall to keep standard size goats inside. If the goat can get a hoof hold on the fencing at any point, it will climb up and over. A six-foot tall chain link fence has unfortunately been used by novice backyard homesteaders and folks who keep goats as pets. When enclosed in this type of fencing the goat will either escape or get a leg broken when it slides through the fencing while trying to climb out.
The goat pen fencing must include corner and support posts that are durable enough to withstand extensive and consistent pushing upon by big and strong Billy goats as well as being used as a horn and body scratchers by the entire herd. I recommend against using metal T-posts on goat pens. They simply give too much over time, especially when exposed to freezing and thawing of the ground as well as drought conditions.
Use sturdy wood corner posts made out of hardwood, like locust, hickory, or oak. The posts should be larger than four inches in diameter for fence panel support and 10 inches in diameter for corner post and gate supports.
Place a wood post every six to eight feet along all sides of the goat pen leading to the corner posts with the recommended size of fence staples pounded in firmly.
Goat Pen Gate
A gate should be built out of hardwood or be a small livestock metal gate. Always use at least one two-step lock on the gate to prevent the goats from nudging it open and to deter predators.
Goat Fencing Materials
A three protective layer is the best route to go when setting up a goat pen that will be most likely to keep a predator out and a goat in. A wood fence with slats that are positioned no more than three inches apart will deter climbing. Some goat keepers do not like using a wood fence because their goats live entirely in the pen and the wood deeply constructs their view.
If you choose not to use wood for this reason or budgetary ones, opt for high tensile 12 and a half gauge metal livestock panels, instead. Remember, carefully read or measure the openings in the panel fencing.
Regardless of the base layer of fencing, stringing electric line fencing or barbed wire – or both, to create up to three layers of fencing between the goat herd and predators, is a safety must.
Goat Pen Or Stall Topper
If you want to deter climbing or flying predators and cover the top of the goat pen, the thickest gauge bird netting you can find is the way to go. A bobcat or mountain lion could easily chew or clay through bird netting over time, but this layer of protection will thwart their efforts at grabbing an easy meal. The bird netting will not likely support the weight of a clawed predator and the animal knows that and will avoid climbing out on top of it for fear of becoming tangled and dropping inside – which neither the predator nor the goats want to see happen.
When enclosing a stall for nighttime shelter, quarantine area, or nursing stall, using hardware cloth to cover all open sides and tops is a far more sturdy option than bird netting and covering such a small space will be economical enough to purchase the metal rolls of rabbit hutch wire.
The success of your meat and goat operation or the lives of your farm pets will depend upon how well they are protected from escape and predators. Before you buy a single goat, make sure your budget can satisfy their fencing protection needs, otherwise, you are opening yourself up to a monetary loss of all the animals and senseless heartache.
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