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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Right now my farm is somewhat like a teenager. It’s not quite to its full size, which at times can mean growing pains and even awkward situations (think of grandma giving you an XL shirt to “grow into”).
As my herd of goats grows, I’ll need more options for housing our breeding animals year-round. I have drafted expansion plans for our barns. But, I also need to consider how the pasture can be used in the winter as well. This is due to having multiple groups of animals over winter, which include our (1) breeding bucks, (2) breeding does, and (3) doelings kept for breeding, but not old enough to breed. And, then in January, the (4) dairy buck kids arrive. They need to be in separate groups because of their size difference, safety, and to prevent any unplanned breeding. This year the current barn space should be okay. It’ll be tight, but okay.
However, this is why I’m planning ahead for using our pasture over winter primarily for our bucks or older animals. Goats are fairly hearty animals as long as they have access to shelter to keep them from getting wet. I’ll be adding a tree line windbreak along our west pasture to provide more protection from the elements through the winter months.
This recently I started working on the actual windbreak layout. It’ll be two rows of Colorado Blue Spruce trees along the north end of the pasture. The trees are spaced about 15 feet apart in each row, with the trees off set in the second row, also 15 ft from the first row. Since there’s a field driveway that goes past the corner of the field, a small section of the windbreak will be one row to allow for hay equipment access to the other field. The spacing is based on recommendations for livestock windbreaks from my county NRCS conservationist and also account for ease of mowing around the trees, especially when they’re young, and still having access to maintain the fence line.
The trees are transplants and are 1 ½ - 2 feet tall and have a growth rate of 1-2 feet per year. This is why it’s important I get these trees in the ground now, so they’ll start being useful in a few years. I’ll plant them this fall and will put mulch around the base to help with moisture and weed control.
A typical day during our grazing season (when animals are out on pasture full time) includes at least one to two pasture checks to make sure the goats are doing ok, the water tanks are still being filled by the automatic floats, the fence doesn't have any issues, check if the mineral needs to be refilled, monitor the grass/brush consumed and anything else that might catch my eye. Depending on my time, I will often walk out to do to checks. We currently have three groups in three different pastures: our does and doelings, bucks and bucklings, and our dairy buck kids. If I'm a little tight on time or have my two year old with me, I'll take our Gator out. I love to walk. It's peaceful. It's me time, well more like me and the 70+ goats time. Yesterday during pasture checks I took out the Gator and stopped to catch this quick video of our dairy buck kids and donkey in the "bonus" pasture.
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.