Fencing considerations for goats
Goats with horns and wire hog panels don’t mix. Inevitably, the goat sticks its head through the panel to reach a tasty morsel on the other side, and when it pulls back, its horns prevent it from pulling its head out.
During a presentation on Keeping goats in and predators out, Reid Redden, Texas A&M extension sheep and goats specialist, offers some fencing tips for producers with goats.
When considering woven wire or net fencing for goats, Redden said producers need to pick something with width spacing of less than 4 inches so the goat can’t stick its head through the fence and become stuck. “When picking out a type of fence for goats, remember they aren’t all the same. Net wire fencing can be cost prohibitive if you are planning to fence a lot of acres. It is a little more pricy than standard fence,” he said.
Some producers have successfully kept goats in with electric fencing. Redden said its a lot less expensive for the materials and cheaper to put up. The key is purchasing the right electric fence charger with the right voltage. “The trick is to get the correct fencing. You will need no less than five wires, and keep it extremely hot. Once the goat gets a sharp bite from the fence, it will learn to respect it. It is the same for predators. Once they get bit, they will stay out,” he said.
In many areas, ranchers opt for traditional barbwire fencing. Many of the fences are four or five wires, but Redden recommends at least five wires for goats, and notes that seven wires would be even better. “You could even add some electrified wires,” he said. If the fence is getting older, Redden said smooth wire or poly wire can be added to the fence.
A more temporary option is electrified netting. “It is not necessarily a long term solution because it degrades,” Redden said. “It might only last 10 years, but it is easy to put up. You can just step it in.”
HIRE A HERDER
Keeping goats in and predators out can be a challenge, but producers have other options besides fencing. “If you are growing into a larger entity where you don’t own all the land or don’t want to build fence, you could hire a herder to stay with the sheep and goats all the time,” Redden said.
Redden shares his experience with sheep and goat herders after taking a trip to Kenya a few years ago. He noticed they have virtually no fencing, and herders stayed with the goats and sheep 24 hours a day, training the animals to herd where they wanted them to go, without the assistance of dogs.
“The problem here is being able to afford to hire a person to do that,” Redden said. Even with the government operated H-2A program that allows sheep and goat producers to hire contract herders from other countries, Redden estimates producers will pay $1,500 to $1,600 a month, or $12,000 to $15,000 a year. He figures producers will need to have at least 500 goats, and realistically 600-800 goats to afford a herder.
PREDATION KILLS PROFIT
Predation can cost producers more than 10 percent of the kid crop each year. Coyotes are the biggest culprits, followed by domestic dogs, bobcats, eagles, vultures and mountain lions. “Coyotes are very good at killing sheep and goats. They will eat anything from newborns to adult animals. They are a threat year-around,” Redden said.
Finding a control method that works can be a challenge. Calling in coyotes isn’t real effective in Texas because the varmints have become accustomed to it, and won’t come for the call, Redden said.
Snares are effective for catching coyotes, but he points out good fencing is needed for success. Producers can also use lethal control methods, leg hold traps, aerial gunning, live trapping, M44 cyanide guns and 1080 collars. Each method has benefits, but also drawbacks, Redden pointed out, recommending producers enlist the help of a good trapper or someone specializing in predator control.
One of the most effective methods of controlling predators may be preventing predation in the first place. Redden said guard animals like donkeys, llamas and guard dogs can be very effective. Donkeys and llamas have been successful guard animals because of their aversion to canines, Redden said. They are low maintenance and will eat what the sheep and goats eat. They need limited training, but if one animal can’t prevent predators, adding a second animal isn’t recommended. “If you add a second donkey or llama, they will wander off and form their own herd, leaving the sheep and goats unprotected” he said. Donkeys or llamas may not be effective against a pack of coyotes, because one coyote can lure the guard animal away, while the others attack the goats or sheep.
If a producer is planning to use a donkey or llama as a guard animal, Redden said to make sure they pick one that will tolerate kid goats or lambs.
Redden finds livestock guard dogs to be more effective in protecting sheep and goats, and more than one livestock guard dog can be added to protect the animals. The dogs are effective because they mark their territory by barking, urinating and defecating in the area where the sheep and goats are. “They are constantly letting predators know they are there,” Redden said. “A good guard dog will also keep the animals together.”
Guard dogs can be high maintenance. Redden said they need feed daily, although feeding stations can be set up. They aren’t respectful of fences, and some dogs may venture over to the neighbors and kill their chickens and eat their cat food, he said.
Redden told producers to do their research before getting a guard dog. “The best way to get started is with a puppy. By raising a dog from a puppy, it will become accustomed to you, your environment and your animals. If you buy an adult dog from someone else, it has less than a 50 percent chance of working out,” he said. ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.