Here Are Some Mistakes To Avoid On Goat Farm

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Last month I discussed what I think is one of the biggest mistakes a new producer can make, starting out with less than the number of animals their property will support. This month I will discuss some other common mistakes I see new producers make.

Do not assume that your property will support even a single goat. I don't care how much acreage you have or how thickly vegetated it is, it still may not be suitable for goats. If the vegetation consists mostly of toxic plants and/or plant types that goats don't find palatable, your herd will not do well. I recently saw a photo of some goats in the SE standing belly deep in tall fescue. They were all thin with hollow flanks. They might as well have been on an old asphalt parking lot eating the few weeds growing in the cracks in the surface.

In general, goats prefer to eat weeds and brush rather than grass, and tall fescue is one of the worst grasses for a goat. They don't like it, and most varieties have an endophyte that is toxic to them. I recently sold these goats to other producers in Arkansas and Arizona where they will have heavy brush and alfalfa stubble respectively for their new diet. The group that went to Arkansas gained over 15 pounds the first few weeks they were there. The Arizona group was shipped just prior to me writing this column so it is too early to say how they will do, but I am confident those goats will be in much better condition in a short time.

The first thing a new producer needs to do is make sure that their property is actually suitable for goats. If you are not an expert on plants get an extension agent out to look things over and tell you what you've got. Extension agents in a lot of areas don't know much about goats, but they will know about the plants you have and whether they are toxic or not. Armed with that knowledge you can contact some of the people who know goats and find out if the plants on your property are suitable for goats.

Now that you know your property will work, you need to get it fenced. If you can make the place water-tight you should be able to keep your goats in. Actually, I haven't found it that difficult to keep goats in under typical commercial conditions. If you are not overstocked/overcrowded goats are usually pretty respectful of a fence. You run into problems when the stuff on the other side of the fence looks better to eat than what you have on your side of the fence.

The bigger problem is keeping them from getting stuck in the fence so you don't have to spend your entire life removing goats from the fence. I have found a hot wire run about a foot to 18 inches off the ground 8-12 inches inside the fence to be effective in keeping the goats from sticking their head through the fence or rubbing on the fence. I use some wire standoffs with pinlock insulators on the ends that twist into the fence to accomplish this. They are manufactured by PEL (part #PI-63) and Twin Mountain Fence (800-527-0990) distributes them. These may be installed on net wire/field fence, barbed wire or high tensile wire.

Many properties are already fenced with 4 or 5 strands of barbed wire. By using the existing barbed wires as ground wires and adding steel high tensile wires connected to a charger between them mounted to the posts with insulators, you can quickly and economically make this type of fence functional for goats. Do not use the aluminum wire as it tends to stretch and sag and is easily broken.

Alternatively, you can use net wire or field fence with the single hot wire on a standoff I discussed above. Make sure you get the 1047-6-12.5 or 1047-12-12.5 fence. That type of fence has horizontal stays that are a couple of inches apart at the bottom and about six inches apart at the top. That will prevent your kids from wandering off and/or predators from crawling in through the fence. The types that have eight inch by eight inch holes will allow goats and predators of considerable size to get through. I use that size of an opening in my creep gates for the kids, and weaning size kids can make it through them.

The middle number in the model number describes the spacing of the vertical stays, either six inch or 12 inch. Some people recommend the 12 inch stays on the theory that the goats can get their heads out of it instead of getting stuck. In my experience the goats will get stuck in both, you just need to choose which size goat you want to catch. The six inch vertical stays are too close together for the mature does to get their horns through, so they don't get stuck in it. The kids and yearlings have no difficulty whatsoever putting their heads all the way through the openings and will get stuck almost every time.

Go with the 12 inch vertical stays and the kids and yearlings can get their heads out, but the older does will get stuck. The 12 inch stays also allow predators of considerable size to go right through the fence. My perimeter fence has the 12 inch stays and I have witnessed my neighbor's Labs go right through it like it wasn't there. Fortunately, my LGD's kept them from hurting my goats, and my neighbor is doing a better job of keeping them on his property. If I had to do it over again I would use the six inch stays with a hot wire like I have around my pens and along the river.

The final number represents the gauge of wire used. It comes in 12.5 gauge and 14 gauge wire. The top and bottom strand are heavier gauge in both models. I recommend you use the 12.5 gauge wire. The 14 gauge wire is not heavy enough to restrain goats. I have witnessed them putting their head through the openings in the 14 gauge fence, and then pushing until the wires broke or stretched enough to let them through. This is less of a problem if you also use a hotwire, but a goat or deer may still run into the fence while being chased and go through. That doesn't seem to be a problem with the heavier wire.

If you don't live near the property where your goats live, I highly recommend that you construct a storage building or barn that is climate controlled with power and water. I recently did this at my ranch and I don't know how I got along without it before. I now have an area to store my feed where birds and rodents can't get to it; I have a place to store my meds and supplies that don't have to be refrigerated instead of hauling them around in my truck everywhere; there is a refrigerator for refreshments and the meds that have to be kept cool; I have a source of clean, cool, freshwater to drink on hot summer days; a blender to prepare milk replacer; a microwave oven to heat up lunch and other items; counter space to work on projects; a sink to wash up in after working; a hot water heater; and a clean, dry, warm/cool place to get out of the weather and relax. I built it myself and the materials and equipment for the entire project were only $4,960.37 for a structure with 180 square feet inside and a 150 square foot covered slab next to it for storing equipment. The additional cost for the electricity during the hot summer months was only about $10.00 per month.

If you live in an area where weather conditions are harsh do not neglect to provide your goats with adequate shelter. This isn't necessary everywhere, but if you live in an area where it is very cold and snowy or large hail is common, you should provide appropriate shelter for them.

This covers some of the more common mistakes I see new producers make with regards to their facilities. I have made some of these myself. There is no sense in you learning the same thing the hard expensive way.

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This page updated 11/11/01

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