What’s it Like to Own a Goat?
Purchasing a goat is not something you should do on a whim. They are definitely not something that should be purchased as a gift for someone who didn’t ask for them and prepare ahead of time for goat ownership. Goats can be a lot of fun but they have a very curious nature and lots of instincts that are very different than typical pets like cats and dogs.
Goats are prey animals, which means their first instinct is flight and fear. They will jump fences and escape any way possible if they feel threatened or if their goat needs aren’t being met. If your goats are happy, they will be less likely to escape and cause problems (like jumping on your car).
Here are some tips about goat behavior that may help you decide whether you want a goat and how you can best set yourself up for goat success!
Goats are hard on fences.
Goats, while smaller than cattle, are hard on fences in their own way. They like to scratch on fences, they will push against them to get that oh-so-delicious blade of grass just on the other side, they will get their heads stuck, they will get tangled in netting, and they will stand up on them with their front legs.
We prefer t-posts and cattle panel for our main fencing choice, with wooden posts at both ends of every gate. For regular-size goat breeds, you will need three t-posts per panel, one in the middle to prevent it from bending when they push against it.
You can train goats to electric fence but it’s important to be cautious and aware that goats can and do get tangled in electric fencing. When they get caught, they freak out and struggle to get out, which gets them more tangled. Goats have died from this, so it’s important to weigh the risks of electric with the benefits and make the right decision for your goats. Electric fence training is important to do with supervision until you’re certain that your goats are aware of and understand the boundaries. Putting them out in electric fence and immediately leaving is definitely a no-no.
Tip # 2
Goats are browsers like deer, not grazers like cattle.
Goats prefer to eat high up, especially if they get to stand on something (or someone) to reach it! They naturally want to strip bark from trees, eat the foliage off of every branch they can reach, and graze just the tops of any weeds and other plants in a field. They don’t like to eat a pasture down to the ground, but will if they have to. In addition to destroying a pasture, this can also lead to heavy parasite loads and illness.
If possible, hang their hay feeders high up so that they have to raise their heads in order to eat. Don’t let them graze a pasture lower than 4″ and wait until the plants are at least 12″ before you put them on the same pasture. Give them access to woods and browse (wood, leaves, weeds, etc) as much as possible, this is their natural diet.
Tip # 3
Goats always need loose minerals made for goats.
In nature, goats have access to lots of mineral sources. Bark from trees, rocks, water from mineral-rich streams and lakes; you get the picture. In the barn, the majority of the goat’s mineral needs are going to be met through loose minerals that are provided free choice.
At the local farm store you may see loose minerals labeled for sheep and goats. If at all possible, we recommend NOT getting minerals for goats that are labeled for both species. Goats require significantly higher copper than sheep (so much so that goat mineral will cause copper toxicity and death if sheep consume it) and any mineral blend meant for both will result in copper deficiencies in your goats.
Loose minerals can be as high as 1500 ppm of copper, while full feed (grain, for example) sources should only contain up to 20 ppm of copper.
Goats like to lay on and jump on things. Don’t fight it, plan for it!
Goats are natural climbers. And natural jumpers. They can scale fences if they want to, in remarkable ways. So don’t fight this instinct, instead, make your barn a goat paradise. It doesn’t have to be a lot of fancy building, either (unless you want to!). Have any spare beams, boards, or cement blocks lying around? Goats love to stand elevated on anything, especially if it makes noise.
Platforms are the goat paradise. Look up “goat playground” on Pinterest to see tons of creative ideas, some elaborate and some simple. By giving your goats natural and planned out places to express their instincts, they will be less likely to
Goats thrive on routine. Create the routine you want, right from the start.
When you first get your goats or when you’re starting a new routine with them, you should expect some (rather vocal) dissent on their part. Goats thrive on predictable routines and any changes to that routine will result in some disgruntled goats. After a few days of consistency, they will calm down and get used to their new routine.
To reduce stress on the goats and stress on you, make the routine that you start with your goats one that you can handle long-term. Feed the goats at the same times every day so they know when to expect their food. Don’t always bring treats for them unless you are planning to do that every time you see them forever. If you want to treat them to an animal cracker or a banana once in a while, that’s totally fine and a great way to befriend a skittish goat. But if they expect a treat every time you visit them, they will be searching for it nonstop until they get it.
You don’t want your goats to drive you crazy because they don’t have the consistency that they crave. Keep it consistent and start your routine today.