Electric fence is a must for keeping goats on pasture: keeping them and our livestock guardian dogs in, AND keeping predators out.
As good as electric fence is, it isn't foolproof. Sometimes it's not working as well as it could be.
The only way you might not know is if... hmm... a goat breaks out of your paddock fence, or you find one of your livestock guardian dogs roaming the whole pasture. Thank goodness for perimeter fence! (Learn how we use permanent, perimeter fence and temporary paddock fencing in this article).
So how do I know if the fencer is working like it should be? I will look at the fencer itself (see picture below) and check to see if it's fully energized, with the lights flashing all the way up to green. If it's not something could be grounding it out. But, do I always want to run back to the barn and troubleshoot? No.
So, enter in one of my favorite grazing / electric fencing tools -- a fence tester. I have the Fault Finder by Gallagher.
When I suspect the fence might not be as hot as usual, or not even on at all, I'll take out the Fault Finder and test the fence. It will show the KV running through the fence, and if there's a grounding issue it will point an arrow to direct you in the direction it's at. It gives me a general idea of where to check the fence to look for down trees, areas where deer may have knocked down the top high tensile wire and it's now touching the woven wire, or other issues. These tend to be my most common issues.
I also like to use the fence tester when I'm running more temporary fence than usual, or running temporary fence outside of our permanent fenced in pasture. These are instances where I want to be especially certain the fence is HOT. The more electric wire I put on my energizer, the greater odds it might drop the KV. Usually, in these instances, I might also need to do more trimming or knocking down grass and brush to make sure there's no other grounding issues, which impact how hot the fence is.
If you're going to use electric fence and graze, this is a tool to have. There are several options out there to choose from. I happened to use Gallagher's Fault Finder since I use a lot of their fencing products and have been happy with the quality and performance.
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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.
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Now that we’re into our second week of rotational grazing, I’ve take the time to get the Gator, my “grazing-mobile,” prepped for the season.
We rotate animals to new paddocks every 3-4 days. I like to have my go-to-supplies on hand so I’m not constantly running back to the barn or the shop for things, and then back again.
So, here’s what’s usually in my office-on-wheels:
This season I also spray painted some of the harder to find in the grass items blaze orange in the event I misplace something. I should be ready for just about anything when it comes to fence repair, waterline repair and working with my goats and guardian dogs.
During snowy, cold weather like this our young stock are tucked away in the barn. Part of our herd stays outside and does quite well. During weather like this or cold snaps we feed extra hay, which helps keep them warm, bed down the pasture shelters and the goats naturally grow a thick winter coat. I often find that our goats that live outside year round are healthier than if they were in the barn. I didn’t stay out long since I came out to check the goats and bottle feed a few babies.
Note: Our goats and guardian dogs always have access to shelter, water and food. If it gets too cold or too much snow they'll be moved into one of our barns.
When someone asks if we have pets, I’ll talk about our high maintenance house cat and even mention our affectionate barn cats. But it’s usually a few minutes later I’ll remember to mention my two dogs, Moly and Ruby. I often call the dogs my two best employees, because that better describes them than pets.
Moly and Ruby are both Great Pyrenes, a breed that falls into a group of dogs labeled livestock guardian dogs (LGDs), also a type of “working dog,” similar in nature to police canines, service dogs or herding dogs. The dogs work best in pairs and live with our livestock 24/7. It’s fascinating to watch our dogs work together. The other day while I was checking the pasture, Ruby was laying with the goats on a patch of old hay from their winter feeder. Moly nowhere to be seen. I called for her and a few minutes later she barreled full speed over the pasture ridge. She had been patrolling the north pasture but came back at my call. This is typical LGD behavior, where one dog will stay with the herd, while the other patrols the rest of the pasture. If one dog senses a threat or a disruption, it will bark for the other dog to join them or return to the herd. Rather than attacking, the dogs provide protection in the form of keeping predators at bay. On our farm predators include other dogs, coyotes, bear, wolves, eagles, hawks and even unfamiliar people.
When we have visitors on the farm, I’ll give them a heads up about the dogs and mention that they don’t behave like other breeds of dogs. They won’t come running up to be pet, nor want much, or any attention from people. The dogs are most comfortable with livestock, and that’s due to the breed’s characteristics and the fact that they’ve lived with goats since birth. Both Moly and Ruby live with the goats 24/7, 365 days a year. They don’t come in the house, we don’t take them on walks (except when we were doing some basic training) or take them on trips. In fact, I will schedule veterinarian farm calls for annual checkups to minimize stress on the dogs. The dogs are feed daily while we check the livestock and they always have access to shelter and water.
Aside from dogs, farms may choose to use other forms of livestock guardian animals, including llamas and donkeys. We’ve used a donkey in the past, but the particular one didn’t work out so he returned to my father-in-law’s farm. The dogs are more appealing for us since they do a better job protecting young livestock from areal predators.
The threat of predators killing livestock is very real, especially in northern Wisconsin. I know farmers who’ve lost calves and sheep to wolves and bear. On our farm we’ve taken measure to protect our goats with Moly and Ruby, our livestock guardian dogs, but also made a substantial investment in high quality woven wire fencing, which includes a strand of electric at the top to keep critters from climbing or jumping in and a strand of barbed wire at the bottom to deter digging under the fence. While we haven’t lost any animals, I know the likelihood of it happening is very possible
If you’re interested in learning more about guardian animals, here are some more resources:
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.