Keeping goats in can be a challenge for the farmer! They don't just have to be kept behind fences, they sometimes have to be individually restrained for various procedures, the flock has to be yarded from time to time and the goats have to have secure shelter and housing to protect them from the elements. All this can be difficult, but fortunately, dairy-type goats generally adapt well to life on the hobby farm. Sheep facilities are generally suitable for them, although adaptations are beneficial and effective shelter is imperative. Here we discuss these issues - physical restraint, shelter, housing, mustering, fences and yards, and mixing goats.
Restraint of individuals is best by an arm around the chest and an arm around the back of the goat. If the goat can be coaxed against the wall of the yard with its rump in a corner, a hand under the chin is often enough to provide good restraint. The goat's head is pushed up if the goat moves forward and this prevents it from barging forward.
Goats must never be physically hit or hurt in any way during handling, dogs shouldn't be used unless the dogs are quiet and the goats are accustomed to them, and electric prodders must never be used. Goats are sociable animals and they should not be isolated unnecessarily.
Good shelter is really important for goats, especially dairy goats. They really don't like being cold or wet and they are very susceptible to hypothermia, especially if they are thin or very old or very young. Unlike meat goats, dairy goats don't have plenty of muscle and fat under their skin to help keep them warm, and unlike fibre goats, they don't grow an insulating layer of fibre to protect them from cold weather. They must have enough shelter to keep them comfortable in cold wet windy weather.
In summer, they must have enough shade to prevent sunburn and heat stress on hot days.
The best form of shelter is a shed that is wind and waterproof and well-drained, with a dry base and bedding such as straw so that the goats can rest comfortably. The shed must be cleaned out regularly, as it's not much use if the bedding gets wet and dirty. Sprinkling the floor with lime after cleaning can help keep it smelling fresh and prevent flies from breeding in the litter.
Wooden slats can make a suitable floor if the slats are close enough to prevent toes from becoming trapped but far enough apart to allow free drainage.
Hay racks can be made from a wooden frame with vertical wooden slats fixed firmly to the wall within easy reach. However, if the gaps are too narrow, heads and feet can become trapped. Common sense design is important.
In the paddocks, natural shelter like banks and windbreaks that provide effective shelter at stock level can help protect goats against showers and breezes but artificial shelter such as huts, sheds, or a barn is still necessary for bad weather.
Unweaned kids that are being hand-reared should be housed in a well-ventilated building that is wind-proof and water-proof with no draughts. The house will be warm enough for the kids if you can sit there comfortably in your shirt sleeves.
Dry bedding is important, and the house should be cleaned out regularly to keep it comfortable and hygienic. Ventilation must be good. If ammonia builds up to a level at which it irritates your eyes and nose, the goats will be suffering too.
Individual covers can be useful for kids and adult goats that are weak. However goats with covers are very likely to be bullied by other goats, kids with covers on can be abandoned by their mothers, and loose covers can easily become tangled. If covers are used, very good supervision is needed.
Herding goats can be a bit like herding cats, and it is necessary to be patient and to move them quietly and slowly. A food incentive in the yards can be a help. It's best not to use dogs unless the goats are accustomed to them and the dogs stay back and are quiet.
Fences and yards
Dairy goats are generally much easier to keep in than feral goats, but goats of all types need good fencing to contain them. Because they are so intelligent, they can find their way out of many enclosed spaces unless the enclosure is made 'goat-proof'. Some goats are good at jumping and will soar over the average stock fence. It requires ingenuity to keep them in if they are determined to get out. The best solution is to provide them with compatible companions and sufficient feed, water, and shelter for them to prefer to stay in! Wooden neck frames and dragging ropes can cause more problems than they solve.
Electric fences and electric outriggers can be very effective, but they must be well-positioned and maintained, and well supervised. They shouldn't be used near very young kids, because they are not well coordinated enough to avoid shocks and can die a horrible death if they become entangled.
When goats are yarded and pressured they are more likely to bully their flock-mates, and if bullying occurs, it takes good supervision to prevent injuries. The time in the yards should be minimised and any bullies removed.
Yards can be dangerous if there are protrusions that can cause injuries or gaps where feet or heads can become wedged. Try to remove potential hazards. For example, block the space above hinges on gates. Always watch yarded goats carefully to prevent accidents.
Be aware that lead-based paints and tanalised wood are poisonous when eaten by goats.
When any goat is introduced to an established group of goats it will be challenged and will have to establish its place in the group. The bullying can be very aggressive and lead to broken ribs and distress, especially when goats have horns. Plenty of space (by keeping mob sizes relatively small) and good supervision are needed to prevent injuries, and this is particularly important when introducing young goats for the first time.