From their wild ancestors, domestic goats have inherited a desire and aptitude for climbing. In the absence of sheer cliffs and rocky ledges, goats will look for the next best thing to scale, and often that includes the barn roof or the hood of your car. With some simple and in many cases recycled materials -- among them wooden cable spools, tree stumps and decking boards -- you can build a multilevel playground that provides ample opportunity for exercise and satisfies your goats’ instincts to climb, jump and play; all of which lead to happier, healthier goats.
A Happy Goat is an Enriched Goat
In a 2001 study published in the Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, scientists compared weight gain of goats housed in traditional pens to those housed in pens that were enriched using old tires, wooden railway sleepers and PVC pipes. The results were unmistakable: Goats in the enriched pens were healthier. Eighty-three percent gained weight and a third less stopped eating. In her publication on goat enrichment, research veterinarian Dr. Sara Savage suggests, “somewhere in the evolutionary development of (domestic goats), curiosity and play drive emerged as positive forces for survival.”
Like their wild relatives, goats are sure-footed climbers and use multiple levels and heights, not only to explore their environment, but to establish hierarchy. Fulfill your goats' instincts to jump and climb using items to create vertical structure: a pile of large rocks, halves of wooden barrels, large tree stumps of varying circumferences and heights, palettes covered in plywood and/or old wooden cable spools. Connect them together using bridges or ramps; 5/8-inch decking board works particularly well. On steep surfaces mount small strips of wood to help goats grip. Savage writes that toys and furniture not only provide exercise, but they can reduce bullying within a herd. Furniture doesn't need to be limited to the outdoors. Install raised platforms or benches inside your goat's abode. As a finishing touch, mount push broom heads to shelter walls or posts for goats to groom or scratch. Bottom line, you don't need a general contractor or second mortgage to satisfy your animals' inner wild goat, but you can take inspiration from those goat owners who have gone to amazing lengths trying.
Golden Goat Bridge
Wood carver Chris Lubkemann has raised the bar in the art of turning old cable spools into goat playgrounds. With names like the "Golden Goat Bridge," "the Goaterhorn" and "Mount Goatarest," Lubkemann's structures provide ample opportunities for his small herd of pygmy goats to run, jump and play. Nearly everything is built using recycled materials -- from the nearly 40 cable spools obtained from his local electric company, to the bridges and ramps made from scrap lumber. Lubkemann places different sized spools on top of one another, screws them together for stability and connects them to other spools with ramps and bridges. He’s even painted the structures to resemble their counterparts. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania farm -- and its resident mountain climbers -- have proven to be a popular tourist attraction.
Put the “wow” in your goat playground with a signature theme. You’ve heard of surfing dogs, well Double Durango Farm outside of Atlanta, Georgia has surfing goats -- minus the waves and water. The farm’s herd of Nigerian dwarf goats hang 10 on real surfboards mounted on wood posts. A bamboo tiki hut, complete with a thatched roof, adds a finishing touch to this uniquely themed playground. Even in their landlocked state, the farm's owners found used, cheap surfboards on craigslist. In Long Island, New York, Catapano Farm’s goats enjoy a nautical themed playground, complete with a multistory ship. Michael Catapano, a former medical doctor and co-owner of this award-winning dairy, attributes the success of his artisan cheeses to having happy, stress-free animals. If you’re not feeling particularly creative, borrow some ideas from companies that build custom and theme playgrounds for nongoat kids. From many of these companies, you can order specialty pieces, including rock climbers, concrete boulders and log balance beams.
If the Pritzker Architecture Prize were awarded for significant contributions to goat playground design, it likely would go to David Johnson of Friday, Illinois. Johnson built a brick “goat castle” for his small herd of Sanaan milk goats. The 31-foot turret is constructed from hand-poured bricks. The base, six floors and 276 spiral staircase steps are made of poured concrete. Johnson used a steeply pitched copper roof to discourage bird roosting. He power washes the floors and stairs every six months to eliminate manure buildup. The structure is one of only three such goat castles in the world, the others in Portugal and South Africa. With a considerable amount of time, a degree in medieval architecture, roughly 5,000 bricks, a crane to lift the roof and, most likely, Johnson's phone number, your goats just might occupy castle No. 4.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: The Goat Domestication Process Inferred from Large-Scale Mitochondrial DNA Analysis of Wild and Domestic Individuals
- The Enrichment Record: Kidding Around in the Laboratory Animal Facility - Goat Enrichment
- Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture: Lot-Fed Goats - the Advantages of Using an Enriched Environment
- LancasterOnline: The Golden Goat Bridge
- Double Durango Farm: Goat Milk Stands and Playgrounds
- Special Fork Blog: Goats on Boats
- Farm Show: 31-Ft. Goat Tower Keeps Animals Fit, Happy
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.