Not all pastures are created equal and that goes for pastures for goats as well. When I looked to find the best combination of pasture diversity for our farm and species of livestock, it was hard to find examples specifically for meat goats. I found some university extension resources on what works for goats, but it was pretty limited.
My overarching decisions have been based on goats’ dietary preference for about 20% forages (grasses/legumes), 20% weeds, and 60% browse (brush/trees/woody plants), according to the Pastures for Profit: A Guide to Rotational Grazing (Undersander, D. et al., 2002).
As a result, my approach for our goat pasture has been to use what works with our climate, as well as:
Pasture establishment, renovation and enhancement
Overtime our goats have helped us renovate our pastures, which were in CRP and then never farmed after that point. With grazing, we’ve reduced the scrub brush and helped bring back new plants from the existing seed bed. We’ve done some interseeding to add more diversity in grasses, legumes and forbs.
After that first season of grazing, it was impressive to see the goat’s work and the existing seed bed start to come back. The following year in areas that needed a little more work or were too bumpy from gopher mounds, we lightly tilled select areas of the pasture and planted seed with our grain drill. With light tillage, we were able to also maintain the existing species since the plants weren’t fully terminated with the light tillage.
Another year we were unable to rent a no-till drill, so I took a “no-till” approach to our grain drill. With the drill placed as low as possible, we planted into select areas of the pasture that was grazed low or areas we cut low for hay. Two seasons ago we rented a no-till drill from a friend to interseed into our pastures and hayfields. Surprisingly the modified “no-till” approach worked better in our pastures. Some time we’ll get our own no-till drill, but knowing that we have a good approach with the equipment we have makes it less of a priority.
We also work to enhance our pasture each winter with out-wintering our herd of goats. We strategically place round bales of hay on the pasture. Goats will eat all winter outside, rather than in the barn. The hay residue offers additional seed and the goats help fertilize the pasture. It’s pretty amazing to see how our north pasture has continued to improve simply based on out-winter feeding. A bonus is that we need to clean the barn less in the winter.
While I like to have a diverse mix of species, I’ve paid more attention to the legumes and forbs since the goats have a greater interest in those plants.
I’ve observed that goats tend to eat more legumes over grasses, based on both in the pasture and hay consumption. They’ll still eat grass, but we’ve focused on adding more alfalfa and clover to both our hay fields and pastures. Since our goats are always growing babies, lactating or growing for meat, they’re never in “maintenance mode.” More of a grass mix may work for goats with less demands on the performance of their bodies.
We’ve planted or I’ve observed these species in our pastures: white clover, red clover, sweet clover, alfalfa, chicory, plantain, birdsfoot trefoil, tall fescue, meadow fescue, Italian ryegrass, perennial ryegrass, Alaskan brome, meadow brome, Timothy, festulolium, orchard grass and more.
About special plant species
Since goats prefer forbs, as in weeds, chicory was an obvious choice to incorporate into our pastures. As a high-quality forage, it has good feed value for our goats on pasture. It’s also drought tolerant, we see it thrive mid-July to August, as the rest of our pasture species start to slow down in growth.
Chicory also contains tannins, which have the potential to have an antiparastic effect on parasites. An Ohio State University study with lambs suggests there might be evidence to support this idea (McCutcheon, J. et al., 2012).
As a bonus, its pretty purple flowers add to the overall aesthetics of our pasture.
It’s taken a while, but this little plant is starting to take hold in our pastures after seeding 3-4 years ago and naturally occurring in other areas.
While hard to establish, birdsfoot trefoil is a great legume to add to your pastures since it doesn’t cause bloat and has good feed value, according to a North Central Regional Extension publication.
Research is also being done to study the anti-parasitic effects of birdsfoot trefoil with the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) Project, “Forage-Based Parasite Control in Sheep and Goats in the Northeast U.S.”
Preliminary studies show improved resilience to barber pole worm for sheet and goats, but no effect on decreasing fecal egg counts. Those leading the study indicate more research needs to be done.
I chose to add plantain into our mix based on its ability to provide a number of mineral, including calcium, sodium, copper and selenium. Our soils are low in selenium and goats tend to need more copper than their small ruminant counterparts, sheep. This plant is one way to address these nutrient needs.
Why pasture diversity?
We aim to have a diverse pasture to balance out the forage availability throughout the entire growing season, from spring to late fall. Additionally, the diversity also helps maintain feed for our goats even when we are especially wet or a dry stretch. And, what if there are weeds in the pasture? I don’t care! The goats will eat them. That’s the same with trees and brush I don’t want to keep long term (some of the trees will stay for cover).
We have had good success with Prairie Creek Seed’s Diversemaster mix and blending in their Forage Feast (Chicory) and Tonic (Plantain). We’ve also used Forage First’s Alfalfa Hay and Pasture mix and Orion XL ladino clover (from La Crosse Seed), sourced through our local co-op, Countryside Cooperative.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Come along for a quick pasture check. Throughout the summer I do pasture checks at least 2x a day on our three herds of goats. I'm checking for animal health (does everyone look ok), water tanks, mineral feeders and the plant height and trample in the paddock to know when to move the goats on to a new paddock.
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.
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats on pasture.
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.