Ask a seasoned goat farmer about fencing and the conversation likely will go something like this: “Put together something that will hold convicts: 8-feet tall, electrified on top, with no gates. When you think it’s perfect, toss a bucket of water at it. If it won't hold water, it won't hold a goat.”In all seriousness, anyone who has had goats knows they're curious, impetuous, devious and above all, smart. Personality traits that when combined, give rise to the ultimate escape artist. There isn't a fence made that a goat hasn't tried to dig under, scale over, pry up, burrow through, push down or simply consume. And most succeed. Frank Morris may have escaped Alcatraz, but he had nothing on goats.
To successfully contain these horny Houdinis, you'll need to out-think and out-maneuver them. And it all begins with a good plan.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.
Confucius no doubt had a goat.
Planning involves deciding where the fence will go and what type of materials to use. To start, you'll need to prepare a scale drawing of the area.
Obtain an aerial photograph of your property. This can be downloaded from GoogleEarth or may be available through your local Natural Resources Conservation Service or Farm Service Agency offices.
Mark the boundaries of the proposed fenced area. To keep goats' hooves healthy, fence out ponds and low-lying areas prone to flooding. Also, if possible, fence out any favorite trees.
Plot the fences and measure the length. Be sure to plan for any gates, gateposts, corner posts and braces.
Now that you've developed a fencing plan and have accurate measurements, you'll need to select and acquire materials.
Avoid the temptation to cut corners on planning, installation or materials. If there is a weak spot in your containment system, goats will find it before you do.
Field fencing is woven and galvanized steel that comes in rolls 300-feet long. It's varies from 32 to 47 inches in height. For goats, a 4-foot fence is generally high enough, though for Nubians or particularly nimble goats, you may want to go to 5 feet, or add a strand or two of wire to discourage climbing or jumping.
Goats have a dangerous tendency to stick their heads through wire mesh. Some goats can pull their heads back out; horned goats generally have a harder time maneuvering free. And while trapped, they become bait for predators. Mesh that is 12.5 gauge and 4-inches square is ideal for goats. It's strong enough to withstand aggressive rubbing, too small for adults to squeeze their heads through and the best option for keeping predators out.
A cheaper route -- as it cuts out nearly two-thirds of the wire -- is 12-inch square mesh, but this is not ideal for smaller goats. Field fencing designed for horses, with 4-inch vertical mesh, also works well. Anything with 6-inch or 9-inch square mesh, often marketed for cattle, should be avoided.
Utility panels are 16 feet long and made of welded steel vertical stay wires and horizontal line wires. Because they utilize heavier gauge wire -- generally 4- or 5-gauge -- panels do not require stretching and will not sag.
Some manufacturers market panels specifically for goats with 4-inch squares. Hog or traditional feedlot panels, with 3-by-8-inch rectangles at the bottom and 6-by-8-inch rectangles at the top, work as well.
If you plan to have kids -- goat kids that is -- you can reinforce panels or field fencing with a short strip of smaller-mesh, smaller-gauge chicken wire or field fencing.
Some goat owners swear electric fencing will contain goats, as long as they've been properly trained. Others have witnessed goats callously push through a fence that would stop an elephant in its tracks. If you choose the electric route, whether for interior or perimeter fencing, select a charger that packs a powerful punch: 10 kV or 10,000 volts, preferably battery operated or a plug-in unit. While solar chargers provide backup in case of blackouts, they have a slower recharge rate that many goats will exploit. A good grounding system is also essential: Place three ground rods 10-feet apart at the controller.
When selecting ground rods, avoid mixing metals as it leads to weak shocks and corrosion. Use galvanized ground rods and ground wire, or use copper wire and rods mounted to a brass connection.
Use thick wire strung tightly. Staff at the E (Kika) de la Garza Institute for Goat Research at Langston University in Oklahoma recommend placing strands at 6, 13, 21, 31 and 43 inches from the ground. Be sure to remove all weeds that touch wire.
Fencing, Posts and Corners
Mount fencing to 7-foot posts, spaced 8 to 10 feet apart. If using T-posts, they should be pounded well past the 'V'. Wood posts should be set at least 2-feet deep. Don't scrimp on staples. If you're not using panels, be sure to stretch the fence tight. If you've opted for electric, only use high-quality insulators.
Corners and brace assemblies, essential for keep wire fencing taut and taking the strain off gates, should be placed on the outside of the fence, or your goats will use them as ladders.
They say a burglar knows your home's weak points. Well goats know that gates are your pasture's weak point. Each time you go through the gate, they're watching and learning how you operate the lock. And they can learn to unlock every latch, hook, eye-bolt, lever, chain or snap, as long as they can reach it. So be sure latches are up high, and preferably on the outside of gates. Some suggest using a padlock or combination lock, but also warn not to let the goat see the combination.
Inspect your fence line often. Reset or replace any loose or damaged posts. Check for holes in or under the fence. If one goats finds a hole, you can count on the whole herd getting out.
A Note About Horns
Horns are nature's multitool. Even a goat with average intellect learns how to use them like the claw of a hammer to uproot poorly set T-posts, or pull up wire fence that hasn't been placed snug to the ground or stretched tight. Goats also will learn they're poor conductors of electricity, and will use the tips to pull electric wire out of the way.
For goats who perpetually get their horns stuck in fencing, some swear by the tough-love approach: Use duct tape to mount a 10-inch section of PVC pipe between horns. They may look silly to their friends, but quickly will learn that they must operate their horns responsibly.
Barbara Cozzens has been writing for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in publications of the Nature Conservancy, the World Bank Group, National Geographic Society, Duke University and others. Cozzens holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Colgate University and a Master of Environmental Management from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.