Here I give some pointers on fencing, shelters, feed racks and enrichment, to help keep them safe, at ease and out of trouble, then legal requirements of ownership, and some tips on first aid supplies and veterinary contact.
Solid stock fencing
Goats need access to the outdoors and vegetation to lead fulfilling, healthy lives. Fencing is an essential feature to have prepared before your goats arrive. They are good at climbing, jumping and also rub and butt against posts. I recommend stout split chestnut posts 2m high at 2.5m intervals with wire stock fencing between.
Make sure fencing and gates reach the ground and there are minimal gaps around gates so kids can’t wiggle through. If you have thinner pine posts, you can run an electrified ribbon at the top to dissuade climbers, but be sure to provide separate scratching posts or brushes for goats to rub against.
Electric netting can be used to temporarily split up paddocks for pasture rotation. Preferably allow for at least 4 paddocks to be grazed for a maximum of 3 months each per year to allow the pasture to rest and the parasites die out. Beware that some electric fencing can cause issues with goats getting caught between wires, and the same happens frequently with barbed wire. Make sure there is no barbed wire in their enclosures and that electric fencing is safe for goats.
Tethering is unpleasant for goats and labour-intensive for you. Restraint by chains or ropes makes herd animals afraid, being naturally disposed to flee any danger; it puts them at risk from predator attack. They may also have difficulty accessing shelter and water if they become entangled.
Shelter and housing
Every field will need a shelter to enable goats to get out of the rain and wind, preferably opening south-east, with a solid wall to prevailing winds. Make sure the shelter is big enough for all goats to shelter in together with enough space to avoid flailing horns: allow 2m2 per goat. Two exits are preferable, separate huts or pens, or raised shelves to allow smaller or weaker goats to avoid harassment from stronger, bossier individuals.
Unless you keep hardy rustics, you’ll also need a draughtproof, dry, but light, airy building for stabling at night, during extreme winter weather, for milking and kidding. If the goats are family, they can share stalls. In open stabling, partitions and raised platforms enable goats to escape from aggressors. Partitions also help increase resting area, as feel safer resting up against a solid wall. If aggression is too high (for example, on introduction) or a goat needs seclusion (during sickness or kidding), you may need to keep a goat in a separate pen. If so, make sure she can see, hear and smell the other goats at all times, or she will become distressed. Pallets are ideal for making stall partitions!
During the first couple of weeks of life, a mother will periodically leave her kids hidden while she goes off to browse. Kids therefore feel safer if they have a box or stand to hide under. Older kids and smaller goats feel safer if they have a raised platform or shelf to escape the attentions of larger animals.
Goats naturally browse branches and leaves and are not adapted for eating from the floor. Consequently their resistance to parasitic worms is poorer than sheep and cattle, whose systems are better suited to grazing. Hay and forage must be therefore be provided from a rack or raised platform with gaps to allow heads and horns to pass through. Partitions between each goat prevents her from butting her neighbour out the way. A lid on the rack will prevent them from jumping into the rack and soiling the food.
As goats naturally pull plants while eating, a basic hay-rack will mean a lot of hay is spilled on the floor. The rack would also need to be long to allow all goats to feed at the same time without aggressive competition (60cm-1m per goat). Goats that cannot feed due to aggression from dominant herd-mates may suffer nutritionally. The trough with head-spaces stops spillage and prevents goats from aggressing their neighbours.
Make sure water points, troughs or buckets are positioned where they can avoid soiling from food rack and droppings.
Ideally your goats should be able to roam freely over varied terrain, but where land is limited, pen enrichment is important. Goats are naturally playful, active and inquisitive. Lack of stimulation will not only cause boredom, but lead to diminished health. Enrichment of their enclosures can be cheap and easy to provide. Goats need the following kinds of stimulation:
- social: through interactions with familiar animals of the same species and their owners;
- physical: through play, climbing and running activity, such as platforms, planks, logs, see-saws, tree-stumps, balls and hanging tyres;
- cognitive: through play, food puzzles and climbing activity centres made up from planks and frames;
- environmental: different levels, boxes, benches and partitions;
- feeding: hanging up branches, brambles and forage plants.
You can easily make up your own activities from wooden logs, stumps, planks, benches palettes, crates and barrels or rubber of plastic balls, chairs, bowls, containers and tyres. These YouTube videos may help give you ideas.
Read more? download here an article I wrote on this subject.
All goats must be registered in Europe, UK, USA, and many other countries. This applies to pet goats too. The idea is to prevent the spread of livestock disease or issues in the food-chain. In most cases, registering is an easy procedure and costs very little. It involves indicating your location, number of animals and keeping a record of animal movements and treatments, sending in a form detailing each transfer (often called a movement licence) and a yearly census, plus permanently marking each animal for identification. This normally takes the form of ear tags, a leg band, tattoo or bolus, depending on the state’s rules. In Europe, I opt for a leg band, as I find the procedure for ear tagging painful for the goat, and the tags often get ripped out on fencing. I still have to insert one tag by law, even with a leg band. Animal scientists recommend anaesthesia, but I still have not found a suitable product for desensitizing ears (suggestions welcome!)
Some countries insists on regular health tests or vaccinations by the local veterinarian. For example, in France our goats are tested for brucellosis every two years.