Monday, March 8, 2010

a few words about goats and fencing

This post is in response to a reader's questions - my answer just ended up being too long to post in the comments section, so I thought I'd flesh it out even a bit further and make it a regular post.

The fencing we use for our goats is actually not field fencing, but rigid livestock panels (sometimes called cattle panels). We've used field fencing before and greatly prefer these. They're very rigid, so they never bend or sag no matter how often the goats lean/stand on them, and that also makes them very fast and easy to put up. They come in 16-foot lengths, so you just determine how many you need, sink some posts, and wire the panels to the posts. And you're done! The rigid panels are also sturdy enough to hang feeders and such from them. They go up so quickly and easily, in fact, that it's not out of the question to pull them up from time to time and move your pens around. If you don't mind leaving sets of posts in place, that makes it even easier - simply remove the wire holding the panels on and move them to another set of posts and wire them on to those. I must admit that I have no experience keeping goats fenced with rolled field fencing. We use that for our dogs (but if I had to do that over again, I'd use panels there too). The goats like to stand on the fence, rub their flanks along it, push on it, and so forth, and I just think they'd bend it pretty badly out of shape in short order. If you must use field fence, fortifying it with a strand or two of electric would likely prevent them from doing these things.

The goats we keep are purebred Nubians. They are extremely sweet and VERY melodramatic and needy (which some people might find annoying - we don't mind). Nubians are also notorious for being very vocal - they will talk to you, cry to you, yell at you...constantly. They are highly emotional creatures and never miss an opportunity to, uh, emote. We keep them close and they get a fair amount of attention, and as such they have NEVER tested the fence - not once. The only times they've ever gotten out were times when something startled them so much that they jumped, and landed on the other side. When that happens, they want nothing more than for someone to let them back in! As with anything, though, your results may vary. I've seen other breeds of goats that are were also very sweet, but I have only ever owned Nubians, so I really can't make any reasonable comparison between breeds. I will say that we find them delightful, very loving, largely well-behaved and a joy to keep.

On the subject of horns, I strongly recommend hornless goats no matter what sort of fencing you go with. We have a doe who was improperly disbudded and now has one full horn and one short horn-nub. She's very gentle, and has never intentionally hurt us, but we'll accidentally catch the business end of that horn from time to time, and believe me, it's not something to take lightly. Once she turned her head quickly while I was sitting next to her and I caught that horn right between the eyes - it cleaned my clock, folks.

Patience, the uni-horn. She's not fat, she's really preggers.

Some people feel that letting them keep their horns gives them an extra edge against predators, but having spent time with these animals, I don't believe that it would ever amount to a real advantage. If faced with even the possibility of a threat, my goats will flee. They will run willy nilly around the yard trying to get away from whatever the Scary Thing is. If they were ever faced with a predator that wanted to have them for dinner, those horns would be very little deterrent, if any. On the contrary, they tend to get hung up in fences, tree branches and the like, and can prevent them from escaping a predator if they're stuck. What we've learned from having a horned goat is that horns aren't necessarily as scary as some people like to paint them, but it's in everybody's best interest to remove them just the same. I can't think of any good reason not to disbud.


  1. I had not thought of using cattle panels to fence the entire thing. What we've been planning is as you suggest, field fencing with a strand of electric. Will have to weigh the cost.

    Excellent write up on Nubians. My experience is with Toggenburgs, which aren't common in the part of the country I now live. Mine did have horns, but they were allowed to freely roam the 40 acres we lived on. We have smaller acreage now, and closer neighbors, so that idea is out.

  2. Thanks Leigh - I hope that helped. I have no experience with Toggs. No one has them where I live either.

    Cattle panels do cost more than field fence (although I don't know how it works out once you add the electric). We decided that they were worth it, however, given the extreme ease with which they go up. We're not fencing really large areas, though. We let them work a really small area, then move them.

  3. Tara,
    what do you use for a gate with the cattle panels? These sounds like a great idea (although I'd also have to look into how to get 16 foot pieces that don't bend hauled home) but I can't think of any type of gate to use. Also, from the looks of your photos, you just use the green garden stakes shoved into the ground? I was thinking you'd have to set in big fence poles, but if the garden stakes are good enough, then I'm sold!

  4. Nancy, they DO bend! (although not easily) The kind folks at the store will bend them over in half (they sort of bow up into a teardrop shape) and tie them together before loading them in your truck. BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL when untying them - hold tightly to the rope, because they will WANT to flatten out - they're sort of "spring loaded"!

    We use 6 foot t-posts, and we use a t-post driver to pound them pretty deep into the ground, so they're pretty stout. We've used all sorts of things for gates. For permanent gates that we'll use a lot, my husband builds them out of wood, puts on handles and latches, etc. For permanent gates that are used infrequently, we've actually cut a "gate-sized" piece of cattle panel and just used that (with a carabiner clip to close it). If it's a movable pen, such as this one, we don't do a gate at all. We just left one end of one of the panels unattached - didn't wire it to the post. We put two carabiner clips there instead and just go in and out from that point. The panel will flex just enough to make a makeshift gate. I hope that makes sense, Nancy - if not, catch me in the forum and I'll explain further, or post pics.

  5. Makes perfect sense. Thanks for explaining!

  6. Cattle panels are great to use, but can get expensive. I use the ones I have in ditches and water crossings, the rest of the fences are woven/barb combo.
    As for horns, I have seen first hand how a goat will defend herself and her kids from preditors with her horns! I never disbud and can't think of a reason I ever WOULD! To me, a goat is WAY easier to handle, work, and control if you have the horns. I have polled does (a couple even are naturally polled), and horned goats.
    I guess we can chalk it up to differences in what we have experienced!

    It all boils down to - horns or not - goats are wonderful people to have around!

  7. Enjoyed reading about your fencing ideas. Although the cattle panels are great and we use them for catch pens, we use field fencing which works well for us. You are right about the Nubians - very needy. They never fail to let you know that they depend on you.

  8. What an exciting experience!/Hilarious! Delightful! True!/wonderful stuff! thank you!
    Fencing Post

  9. Cattle panels rock! My current doe pen is pipe frame with cattle panel welded to it.....NOTHING can break through it... in fact, I bet I could even house buffalo in there if I was so inclined.... I've expanded, so now the boys will get the girls old pen, & the girls will get feild fencing with 3 strands of hot wire....certainly not ideal, but no fundage left for panels right now, but I have 3 rolls of field fencing...

    I agree 100% on horns. I will not own a horned goat.....especially in cattle panel fencing......its so rigid, horns get stuck & I've seen many goats doe this way :( We disbud, and I added a polled doe in hopes for some natually hornless babies :)

    I agree on the emotional bit with Nubians too..... I have an Alpine who I swear is a Nubian in disguise, she is quite vocal about everything :)

    Oh, and your preggers girl.....even if she weren't pregnant you wouldn't call her fat......Around here we call it "well conditioned"...... I have one fat, *ahem*, well conditioned girl here who loathes the word "fat" and prefers an alternate

    Beautiful goats BTW. I doubt there is anything much cuter than Nubian babies with those ears!