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Installing safe, escape-proof goat fencing can be a big hurdle to overcome and should be one of the first steps to complete before bringing goats to the homestead. When I first got my three Nubian does, I thought that a three-and-a-half-foot, field-type fence would be adequate, due to their small size. Needless to say, I thought wrong, and my goats were more than happy to point out my mistake! Many escapes and ineffective patch jobs later, I finally caved and invested in some proper fencing. Had I done it right the first time, and expected the goats’ behavior, I could have saved myself a lot of headaches.
The fact is just about any animal, sufficiently motivated, can and likely will get out. Goats in particular are very curious, intelligent, and driven to fulfill that “grass is always greener on the other side” drive. If they can, they will escape! If you want to maintain good relationships with the neighbors, keep your goat safe, and save yourself some unnecessary worry, invest the time and money in a solid fence the first time around, and be sure to provide toys, climbing structures, and a proper shelter to keep them occupied and happy.
The importance of proper fencing is not just to keep the goats in, but also to keep predators out. Mountain lions, bobcats, and dogs can pose a serious threat to an unprotected herd, and even the most pugnacious of goats will be helpless against them.
Fencing In Bucks And Horned-Goats
Successfully fencing in your goats will probably be a lot harder if you have buck and/or horned goats in your herd. I don’t have any myself, but I have heard plenty of stories from the neighbors. For one thing, certain types of fencing can be dangerous to goats with horns, which can become tangled in the wire. Goats can also be crafty with their horns. One neighbor said that a buck of his figured out how to pull electric wire down using the tips of his horns without seeming to get shocked. I’ve also heard that goats can use their horns to pry off boards on a fence. If you do have horned goats, it’s a good idea to make the bigger investment into high-quality fencing that’s safe and effective against those horns.
Goats need space to graze and play, but unless you feed them exclusively off pasture, these animals do not need a huge fenced-in area.
Take into account the breed and size of the goats your herd. Small goats like the Pygmies and Nubians can crawl under or in between wires, while the larger goats can scale fences of four feet or more. When I rebuilt my goat pen, I made it five feet high. No problems so far, but a part of me is still expecting to see one of the buggers running around loose any day.
Types of Fencing
There are many types of fencing and fencing materials out there, and each has its pros and cons. Below are some of the most popular types of fencing for goats.
Cattle and hog panels: Some of the cheapest fencing, these can be very effective for the right goat herd. Cattle panels are larger, about five feet high, with six-by-six-inch squares, while hog panels are only three feet high with squares starting at six-by-six at the top and getting smaller towards the ground. Both types are durable and can be used with hotwire. Some drawbacks: horned goats could get tangled in the fence, and many goats, even the little guys, would have no trouble bounding out of a three-foot-tall fence.
Chain-link: This is probably the most expensive fencing, but it is also arguably the most durable, effective, and easiest to install. For smaller goat pens like mine (sixteen feet by thirty feet), it can be a great option, but for large areas, it just isn’t financially feasible for most.
Woven wire: Also known as “wire net,” this is the most common type of fencing for goats. The wire mesh is generally four feet tall and is often topped with a couple strands of barbed wire. Also very expensive, another drawback is that horned goats may get tangled in it.
Electric: When used appropriately, electric fences can be very effective, but you need to introduce you goats to it properly. It’s often used in conjunction with other fencing to discourage climbing, rubbing, and jumping. It’s also relatively cheap, at only a fraction of the cost of the more expensive fencing. It can be set up in a number of ways, including alternating both hot and ground wires in the bottom third of the fence. This is where goats test the boundary the most, and it seems to make the fence more effective.
Electric fencing requires some upkeep, and many types are available, so choosing the right setup can seem daunting at first. All electric fences should have a good grounding system to keep the charge consistent and should be powered with a charger that provides enough power to deter goats.
Solid fence construction is not a step to be skimmed over. No matter what fence you use, make sure it’s properly installed, with variances in the terrain and all possible weak spots taken into account.
Even the most durable, well-built fence will get some wear and tear, especially from goats. Electric fencing is especially in need of regular checks and maintenance. If any of the wires aren’t hot, or aren’t holding a charge consistently, the goats can – and will – find the weakness and exploit it.
If your goats are like mine, and they enjoy breaking down every barrier you put up in front of them, the idea of tethering them to a strong stake seems like a very attractive solution, and I’ve certainly seen plenty of houses around here with goats securely staked outside. (It’s also very common in other parts of the world.) However, it is not a good long-term solution. Goats can get into a lot of trouble when left tied up and unsupervised, and they are basically live bait for any predators nearby. They could tangle up in the line and get injured or choke themselves in a panic. I may try to stake one or more of my goats to help clear some brush that’s getting unruly, but only while I’m there watching them.
Some dos and don’ts that I’ve taken away from my experience and research so far:
- Do take the time and expense to install a sturdy, durable, and goat-appropriate fence, complete with goat-proof locks.
- Do construct safe fencing before bringing home new goats.
- Do inspect and maintain your fencing regularly.
- Do remain vigilant and patient – remember these are smart and curious animals, and they might outsmart you sometimes
- Don’t use cheap, inadequate fencing.
- Don’t leave an unsupervised goat tied up.
- Don’t leave an electric fence uncharged for long periods of time – the goats will figure it out.
- Don’t forget to reinforce and lock the gate every time you open it.
- Don’t be surprised if the crafty buggers still manage to find a new escape route.
While we can’t completely control their behavior or prevent all accidents from happening, these animals are under our protection, and we need to take responsibility for their safety to the best of our ability. Happy, safe, and productive goats are the reward for all the planning, expense, and hard work it takes to contain them.