This is the first blog post in a four-part Grazing Goats Article Series.
There’s a popular saying, if a fence can’t hold water, it can’t hold a goat. While it’s true that goats are more challenging to fence as compared to other livestock, it isn’t as big of an issue as what some might think. However, the right type fence, energizer and training is important. It is often one of the most common barriers for raising goats – having the right fencing.
When we decided to raise goats, we knew that fencing was important, and it needed to be done right. Our perimeter fence specs were developed by a USDA – NRCS conservationist / grazing specialist with some consultation from a well-regarded fence installer who has experience with fencing goats and sheep. We didn’t want to lose our goats, nor did we want to be in a situation where we weren’t on good terms with our neighbors.
Our goat perimeter fencing is about 47 inches high and is high tensile woven wire with a strand of hot high tensile wire about 6 inches above the woven wire to keep predators from jumping or climbing over and keep the goats in. At the bottom, a few inches below the woven wire and a few inches above the ground is a strand of barbed wire to deter animals from digging under, specifically our livestock guardian dogs and predators, like coyotes. Fence posts are spaced about 16 feet.
The woven wire opening is 6 inches wide and starts at 3 inches tall openings. Each opening going up to the top gets a little bit bigger, with the top opening at 7 inches tall. The majority of our goats are horned. On occasion some of our younger goats will get their heads stuck in the fence, trying to eat grass outside the pasture. Usually if there’s enough to eat in a paddock (a section of the pasture) this isn’t an issue. Older goats typically can’t push their heads through since their horns are large enough to stop them. If a goat continuously gets stuck, we may put a “crown” on her head temporarily to help train her to not stick her head through. This is a piece of flexible pipe about 8-10 inches long and then duct taped to the horns. If the goat tries to push her head through the fence to eat, the pipe will stop her. It’s a safe way to train her to stop this habit. Goats that are stuck in fences may be more susceptible to predators or bullying from more aggressive goats.
Traditional high tensile wire can be used as well. It’s recommended that if you go this route to use a 5-wire set up. According to Randy Cutler of Cutler Fence, who did our fencing installation, goat and sheep fence should be 36-48 inches high with the bottom wire at 6-12 inches above the ground. Woven wire should be 14 gauge, with the spacing at 4x4 inches up to 12 inches between the verticals.
Our pasture gates are traditional pipe gates with cattle panel mounted on them with hose clamps. We’ve found this option to be more durable than the gates with wire mesh built in.
Do our goats get out? On occasion a kid might sneak out through a fence opening, between a fence post and a gate, or under a gate. But, as soon as they sneak out, their moms are calling them back and back they go.
Since we practice rotation grazing, we use portable fencing to divide our pasture into paddocks. The first few years we used electronet fencing from Premier 1 Fencing (ElectroStop 10/42/12). It worked well. However, we were grazing three different groups of goats and our pasture was old overgrown CRP land with lots of brush and trees. It got to be cumbersome to move that much fence and it would often get tangled on brush or tree stumps. The last three years we’ve been using Gallagher’s Smart Fence and I love it. It is easy to put up and take down. It’s also easy to transport. I can put several fences in the back of my gator, along with other grazing gear and there’s no issue with the fencing getting tangled.
To create paddocks, we have a short temporary fence set up running down the middle of the pasture built with t-posts and step in posts strung with poly wire. Then, we set up two Smart Fences running from the perimeter fence to the center temporary fence to create the paddock. Then an alligator clip connects the portable fence to the top hot wire on the perimeter fence.
Our energizer is located our barn and is a M1500 Gallagher (15 stored joules, up to 160 miles, 900 acres). We had a M120 (1.2 stored joules, up to 15 miles/60 acres), but upgraded it this grazing season so we could continue to run more portable fencing and keep the fence hotter.
The video below is one I made a few seasons back explaining the Smart Fence and why I like to use it on the farm with our meat goats.
Watch for the next blog post on fence training goats in this grazing goat series. Sign up for our online community here so you don’t miss the next post and to learn more about what we do on our farm raising goats for meat.
On the farm we work to be as low stress as possible when it comes to handling our meat goats. It’s easier on their health and for us as farmers too. One of the best goat handling tools we’ve added to our management system is a crook. Yes, that’s right a crook.
We use the Kiwi Crook from Premier 1 Fencing. It looks like a long fiberglass cane, with a traditional crook opening for the head at one end and a self-locking lever to catch a leg on the other end. It’s named “Kiwi” since it was created by a New Zealand sheep family.
You might wonder how is the low stress? If you don’t have a formal animal handling setup designed to move animals through safely and calmly, you’re in a situation where you are catching your goats by hand. The first one or two might go ok, but after that the rest of the goat herd will likely catch on to what you’re doing. Then you’ll be in a “goat rodeo” situation where the goats will be running away from you, causing them stress and putting yourself at risk for falling, tripping or getting charged by an animal. Using crooks greatly reduces the stress put on the herd since you can quickly catch the goat at a distance. As soon as I have the goat, I’ll release the crook and then work with the goat from there.
We use the crooks on pasture and also in the winter in our barn pens. They’re handy for quickly catching a goat that might need to be given a closer look over for health reasons or even treated depending on her symptoms.
We like them so much, we have two crooks, a his and hers. That way if my husband is helping me out with some animal health work, we both can work quickly to catch the goat(s) we need to work with. I even gave one to a fellow goat farmer friend of mine as a wedding present.
While in the future I would like to set up a formal goat handling facility, this crook will still be useful when I need to work with an individual goat here and there, especially while out on pasture.
If you're interested in learning more about more of my favorite goat things and how we’re raising meat goats on pasture, join our online community for raising goats for meat here.
Here's quick overview of the components of our goat pasture. During the summer our meat goat herd is on pasture 24/7 using rotational grazing practices.
What would you like to know more about raising goats on pasture? Let me know by commenting below or sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll share more on what I'm doing with our goats in future blog posts.
If you're interested in learning more about our goat pasture management and rotational grazing, join our online community here to get updates on what we're doing on the farm grazing meat goats on pasture.
If I'm introducing a new series in my blog: My Favorite Goat Things. It's a way to feature resources, tips/tricks and other tools of the trade that I use as a farmer who raises goats for meat. Here's my first #MyFavoriteGoatThings - Enjoy!
One of My Favorite Goat Things: Holistic Goat Care by Gianaclis Caldwell
When it comes to goats, there’s not much research, health care products, equipment, reference books, or even veterinarians who have basic knowledge about or are willing to work with goats. Goat producers usually put on their “goat glasses” and adapt sheep or other ruminant information to manage the health needs of their herd.
That’s why Gianaclis Caldwell’s book, Holistic Goat Care, is such a welcome resource. The book is a comprehensive guide to raising healthy goats, and solving health issues that arise. It’s well suited for both the new and experienced goat keeper, and covers all types of goats. Topics include:
Caldwell presents the content in an easy-to-read manner that flows well, whether one reads the book in its entirety or uses it as a reference guide. Throughout the book, she blends her practical experience with goats with science-based information. Caldwell also takes a broad holistic approach to health care for goats.
While the goat resources that do exist touch on many of the same topics, most do not have the depth of this book, nor recognize holistic management practices.
Since there are few veterinarians in our area who are knowledgeable on goats, I’ve added a goat veterinary textbook to my stack of resources. While Holistic Goat Care doesn’t dive deep into veterinary medical speak, it is a great resource for goat producers. It is much easier to read than the veterinary textbook, and explains terminology and practices for those who may not have formal training or background in animal science. The book also includes a variety of supply lists, check lists, terminology, signs/symptoms, resource lists, photos, troubleshooting guides, A-Z list of disorders, and a glossary. Additionally, the value of the content is more reasonable—about $40 versus $100 or more for a textbook.
I especially liked the feed choice section, which includes information about pasture, grazing, browse, and forages. Other feeding options were covered, but since I practice rotational grazing, I really appreciated the information in this section.
I also liked the information on the role of minerals, vitamins and supplements, covered both in the feed choice and nutritional needs chapters. The book covers how minerals interact with each other, their impact on a goat’s development, signs of deficiencies, risks of an overabundance of minerals, and approaches to supplement for minerals.
The step-by-step instructions on how to do your own fecal float test to look at parasite loads are good, too. She includes a supply list and instructional photos. There isn’t any information on what certain parasite eggs look like. However, that information is easily accessible online or through a consult with your vet.
I never want to lose one of my goats, but I also recognize the importance of continuing to learn how to care for my livestock. Over the years, I’ve had our veterinarian out to the farm to do necropsies. While observing live animal behavior and symptoms can help us draw conclusions to why a goat may have an ailment, it doesn’t always tell us what is actually happening or why. Necropsies have helped answer these questions and as a result I’ve made some adjustments on feeding and management practices. It’s not always feasible to get a vet out to our farm or bring the animal into the clinic. This guide helps solve this challenge by providing clear instructions on doing a necropsy.
If you’re getting started with goats, the first part of the book includes a variety of information on goat behavior, fencing, feeding, animal handling tips, and so on.
While this book isn’t a substitution for veterinary care, it is a very comprehensive holistic health care reference that all goat farmers should consider having on their bookshelf. You can find it on Amazon.com or other retailers that carry books.
If you're interested in learning more about more of my favorite goat things, join our online community for raising goats for meat here.
This book review originally was featured in Midwest Organic and Sustainable Educational Services (MOSES) Organic Broadcaster newsletter, November/December 2017 issue. Farmers can subscribe to mosesorganic.org/sign-up/this newsletter for free at https://mosesorganic.org/sign-up/.
You don’t know how many times this winter (now spring) I’ve been asked, “How’s kidding going?” Each time I explain that we don’t have any babies yet since we’ve moved kidding to later in the season. We’re set to kid in early April and then have the last batch of kids in May.
We’ve kidded and worked with baby goats in January through April, with both babies born on our farm and bottle babies we’ve raised since they were only a few days old. The first few years raising goats we didn’t own a buck and our breeding schedule worked around the farm where we rented a buck. We’ve also bred for earlier in the season (anytime between January and March) because that seems to be what most farms do in our area. So why not do the same? And, with raising bottle babies, we of course were on the schedule of the dairy farms we worked with.
There are many reasons farms kid earlier: raising for the show/fair kid market, having kids be at market weight in the fall, renting bucks like we have done, seasonal milking, and so on.
Here are three reasons why we’ve moved to late season kidding:
If you’re interested in learning more about what we do on our farm raising goats for meat, join our online community here.
Some days on the farm it feels like I’m winning and other days not so much. This one is a win.
Earlier this month I found this wether, whom I call Kevin (all goats that look like this one are called Kevin on our farm BTW), with his front two legs caught in the crotch of a tree. After I pulled him out I realized his legs were sprained, swollen and he was too sore to walk on his own. He also was too big for me to carry out with 50-60 of his closest friends at my feet. So I pulled him out on a sled and set him up in a recovery pen in the barn and gave him some TLC. Slowly he’s been regaining strength in his legs and using them. In the last week he's been gingerly using his front legs instead of moving around on his knees,
Today I moved him to our group pen in another barn with a handful of our goats that aren't on pasture. Right away he was busy "facing off" with another wether trying to establish his place in the pecking order in that group of goats. That's another good sign. While he has lost a lot of conditioning, but I’m grateful he’s progressed as he has.
In June a quick, yet proving to be damaging, storm ⛈ went through. Since then we’ve been having electrical issues on the farm: stray voltage around the barns, metal in the barn carrying an electric current, issues with our electric fence, blown surge protector on fencing system, and even a goat that was either struck by lightening or grounded out a lightening strike by sheer bad luck of circumstances.
The other night we had our electrician out to troubleshoot and he was able to find the source of the issue: the wiring to the auto feeder was likely damaged during that early summer storm and was the cause of our issues. Luckily we aren’t using the auto feeder this time of year so he turned off the breaker and will return to make the fix.
Nearly a week ago we hosted a pasture walk on our farm to share our grazing practices and how we raise our goats on pasture with fellow graziers and goat farmers. Thank you to River Country Graziers (including Kevin Mahalko for leading the discussion), Wisconsin Farmers Union and the Indianhead Sheep and Goat Breeders Association for coordinating the event. And, thank you to my State Senator Patty Schachtner and Representative Rob Stafsholt for attending as well.
As a grazier with four or so years of experience, I was able to share how we’ve gradually renovated our pastures, set up our fencing and water system, practice rotational grazing, and manage our goat herds in a pasture-based system. I’ve always enjoyed attending pasture walks to see how other farmers are grazing and managing their livestock. It was humbling as a newer grazier to be at a point where I could start to share what we’re doing on our farm with others. Personally, I also appreciated the discussion and tips other graziers offered during the walk as well. I was able to take a way a few ideas regarding some of my current “challenges” as it relates to conductivity, grounding and hotness of the electric fencing and rotation timing.
I’m looking forward to taking in a few other pasture walks this summer, including others that are local and of course, other small ruminant graziers.
Thank you to Danielle Endvick, communications director for Wisconsin Farmers Union, for taking and sharing the photos of our pasture walk.
Last week this time I was halfway home from a three-day road trip with a long-time friend from college. While we went by several large cities (Madison, Chicago and Indianapolis) and took in regional chain restaurant cuisine like Steak & Shake, Chick-fal-a and Cracker Barrel, it wasn’t the typical road trip. We drove to southern Indiana, just north of Louisville, to pick up two new breeding bucks for the farm.
Why did I drive 600+ miles just for new goats? I’ve been growing my herd of Boer-Kiko cross meat goats and am wanting to continue to build the herd’s genetics for thriving on a pasture/brush/forage-based diet. While meat goats are growing in popularity in Wisconsin, there are not as many herds that raised predominantly on pasture, nor are there many Kiko herds. The bucks, from McGuire Family Farms, have a lot of potential for continuing to growing our herd in the direction that I’ve been taking it: raising hearty meat goats on pasture. These bucks’ background includes coming from a herd that is
In comparison, these two new bucks are larger than our current crop of kids, born roughly about the same time. I’m looking forward to seeing how my herd will continue to grow with these new genetics. I’ll plan to use these new bucklings to breed our yearling does that were born last spring.
With the addition of these bucks we will be retiring several of our current breeding bucks, both Boer and Boer-Kiko cross. If you might be interested in these bucks please contact me at email@example.com.
Lastly, I also want to thank Anna, Jr and Joan McGuire for their hospitality for also taking the time to show us around their farm, pastures and sharing their rotational grazing and goat management practices. You can learn more about their farm by visiting their website and following them on Facebook.
For our area farm friends/colleagues: We will be hosting a twilight pasture walk, Tuesday, July 24 at 6:30 p.m. Come learn how we use rotational grazing practices with our meat goats. The pasture walk is jointly hosted with the River Country RC&D, St. Croix County Farmers Union / Wisconsin Farmers Union, and Indianhead Sheep and Goat Breeders Association.
Please RSVP to at wisconsinfarmersunion.com/events or to Mary C. Anderson at 715-579-2206.
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats on pasture.
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Cylon (pronounced Si-lon) is the name of our township in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Sorry fans, our farm is not named after the robots of Battlestar Galactica.