Good Fences make Good Goats.
It’s been such a long time since I wrote a blog post, and so much has happened! We had a baby, calved cows, kidded goats, got crops planted in time despite a crazy wet spring, and we even picked up again on our various home projects. So, you would think that I have an awful lot of things to write about, and surely I would pick one of these momentous occasions to write about (I mean, we had a baby!).
You would think that. But no. I’m actually going to nerd out about something that is very near and dear to my heart: fencing! Even if you’re not in agriculture, you’ve probably heard the joke, “if a fence can hold water, it might hold a goat.” There is some truth to that. One of the most helpful things I ever read about keeping goats was basically: they don’t think they are much different than you. So if they see you doing something, they will try it. So, rule number one? RESPECT THE FENCE. Even if your fencer is off, don’t let those little caprine plotters see you stepping over the fence. Always use your gate, and don’t give them any big ideas about jumping over. Someone will probably still jump over, though. My best advice is to have rapid repercussions. When Ruby was a younger gal, she would jump over the fence like it wasn’t even there. So, she would get taken back to the goat barn to hang out, by herself, all day, while her friends enjoyed pasture. She hated it, but after two or three times, she stopped jumping. I can’t make her forget that she knows how to jump, but I can get her to understand that jumping over results in a crappy day. It helps that the other goats see this, too. They’re smart, even if they do some of the most frustrating things an animal can do (probably because they’re smart. Smart enough to wonder “what will happen if I stick my head in there?” but not smart enough to...stop sticking their head where they oughtn’t.).
Since we covered some real basics of Goat Manners 101, let’s jump back into fencing (pun intended). To be clear, there are many ways to fence, and many products to use, and you should definitely do your own research. I’m just sharing what works for us, and some of the tricks we have learned along the way (just about 5 years now).
We have a small goat barn that we DIY’d out of a carport (I’ll probably blog about that later). We made a good sized yard with a mix of sheep and cattle panels, as well as some electric fence in certain spots. We have permanent feeders in the barn and in their yard, and this is where they come in every night from pasture, as it’s safe and secure. During the day, we lead them out to different paddocks that they graze down. Our paddock fencing, therefore, needs to be portable and fairly easy to set up. We use the electric woven wire from Gallagher. Premier Fencing is another company with a great reputation.
Many people simply use the posts that are part of each roll, but we take it a step further to get a really tight fence. We have found that a sagging fence is basically just asking a goat to jump over it. We mow a path for the fence (wet weeds and grass can cause it to short out, especially in the damp mornings), then we set T posts in the corners. Depending on where we are putting the paddock, we can make some wild shapes with the fencing. Make sure you get a pvc tube to put over the T post, lest you short out the electricity, and use them to get your fencing nice and tight. This would also help deter predators, as a nice tight wall of electricity is surely more off-putting than a sagging one.
When one roll runs out and we join another to it, we use a “helper” post. This gives the fence added stability, and helps ensure a strong electrical connection when you connect your rolls. You can just clip the fence together, but we prefer to use electric fence wire on the helper post, and clip the rolls to that. Sometimes, your paddock will be an awkward size, leaving you with some of the roll left. When we first started, we would really stress about rolling the leftover up super tight and neat, so none of the metal spikes would touch the electric wires, and risk shorting it out. To circumvent this, we use a “foot”, such as a bucket lid, and set the remainder on that. You can use twine to tie it to your PVC covered T post, and that’ll work.
Not to toot my own horn (except, TOOT) but probably the best idea I ever had was the pallet gate. Set a T post to use as a hinge, set the pallet over it, and have it swing open. We set another T post to wire the pallet to when the gate is shut, as well. This means that 1) you’re not fumbling around with undoing part of your fence everyday 2) you’re not stepping over the fence and modeling bad choices for your little troublemakers 3) you have a lightweight, cheap, and durable fence gate. 4) most importantly: your gate is easily replaced if (when) your goats destroy it. Because they smash that which they do not understand.
To make it hot, you can get one of these little Gallagher solar fencers. They are fairly inexpensive, as far as fencers go, super lightweight, easy to set up and move (OK I realize I sound like Gallagher is paying me but they definitely are not. We do use their products, and have had great success with them), and will keep 3 miles of fence hot. That is more than sufficient for the paddocks we make at each time for our goats. The upfront cost of getting a good fencing set up isn’t cheap, but we have been using the same rolls, T posts, fencers, and PVC covers for nearly five years now, and they’re all still in great condition. They’ve more than paid for themselves. The rolls will get some wear and tear, but are pretty easy to repair, even if you do a redneck patch job like I do half the time.
It’s always best to introduce your goats to this when they are as young as possible. For us, their first instinct tends to be to nibble on it...which, as you can imagine, gives them a pretty good jolt. It doesn’t take long after that for them to learn to respect the fence. This method of fencing for the goats has managed to keep our herd safe, contained, and mostly happy. I say mostly because a safe and contained goat is not always a happy goat, they are usually at their happiest when running amok. You can’t win ‘em all.