Going into Goats: A practical guide to producing goats in the rangelands

Case Study: Keros Keynes

Name of producer: Keros Keynes
Property name: Formerly of Curbur Station
Property location: 340 km north east of the port of Geraldton, Western Australia
Property size (in ha): 178,000ha
Rangeland enterprise type: Wild harvest and domesticated goats
Target market: Live exports and abattoir

Designing goat yards

Keros Keynes has spent over 40 years with livestock and goats. While operating Curbur station, he designed and built a 15,000ha domestication paddock with training compound and yards as well as trapyards (from arc mesh and ringlock netting) around 48 dams and wells.

Since July 2009, Keros has established a goat breeding farm incorporating a depot and feedlot. On this farm, he has built containment and handling yards for rangeland goats which allow for drafting on arrival into sex and weight and applying health protocols such as drenching, vaccinating, weighing, feeding and holding.

Keros’ observations on the following aspects of goat behaviour led him to consider these as key factors in the design of goat yards:

  1. Goats tend to prefer to move uphill.
  2. Goats tend to move more easily through curved yards as they tend to smother in corners.
  3. Goats prefer to remain in social groups, with the older goats leading the younger ones.
  4. Rangeland goats tend to rush and pack into each other, causing a risk of trampling. To minimise this risk, the size of the forcing yard should be limited to a capacity of about 40 goats and processing raceways should be limited to about 6 metres in length.
General planning principles
  • Holding paddocks should be of a scale to contain the largest mob on the property and should be located with easy access to the main yards. These should contain adequate shade and water, with some rocks or logs to provide some entertainment for the goats.

  • The construction material used in the complex, including fences, gates and raceways, should be of sufficient strength to withstand rangeland bucks running at full speed.

  • Gateways need to be wide enough to enable a smooth flow of goats.

  • Provide a single pathway to all handling facilities so that all goats have to follow the same direction every time they use the yard system. Goats are intelligent and will remember their way.

  • Avoid steep downhill slopes within the main yard complex; however, a slight gradient may be useful to provide drainage during wet conditions and avoid water collecting in undesirable places such as near drafts and gateways.

  • Orientate the facilities to avoid shadows falling across pathways and raceways.

Handling facilities

Provide suitable drafting facilities and handling pens or raceways:

Drafting race – Allow a minimum of 2.5 metres between the race entrance and the drafting gate. The race should ideally be V-shaped, 900 mm high, 600 mm wide at the top, tapering to 300 mm at bottom with a solid floor. Added strength and improved flow can be achieved by staggering the upright posts, especially at the entrance to the race. The sides of the race should be solid and smooth, without holes or rails, to allow ease of passage for larger horned animals.

Allow for a minimum three-way draft to reduce the need to repeatedly move the same groups of goats through the system. Consider labour saving devices such as remote controlled gates where applicable. Drafting gates are best manufactured from solid material so as to prevent goat horns from being caught.

Handling race – Can be up to 6 metres but divided into three 2 metre sections. If handling large numbers of bucks, the height may need to be increased to 1.2 metres. Consideration should also be given to raising the race or making the race height adjustable as it is easier for an operator to work on animals at waist height rather than leaning forward over a race all day. Allow space for a set of scales to be dropped into the race or set up a separate weigh station to allow two procedures to occur simultaneously.

Handling devices – There are several goat handlers on the market which take the hard work out of regular husbandry activities such as drenching and hoof trimming. Of particular note are those units with a built in squeeze, providing safety for the animal and operator.

Shelter, shade and dust – Shade should be provided, particularly over the working race. Dust suppression in working yards is important for both the operator and the animals. Well positioned sprinklers can reduce dust while dust and mud can be minimised through the use of paving and good drainage.

Recommended dimensions

Height of fences and yards

  • Most manufactured farm gates are 1.2 metres high and this is a good height for most goats.

Gate widths

  • Receiving yards – 4.0 metres
  • Internal gates 1.2 metres or wider
  • Consider vehicle access as part of the planning process

Suggested area per goat

  • Holding yards one goat per square metre
  • Forcing yards three goats per square metre
Words of advice
  • If the people handling the goats are comfortable in the yards, then nine times out of 10 the goats will be as well.
  • If you have troublesome individual animals such as habitual fence jumpers, sell them as soon as possible.
  • Run new animals through your handling facilities, including the yards, race and crush, several times without handling them to get them used to your facilities
  • Consider building your yards with temporary or portable yards first so you can change them to suits your situation. Once you settle on a design that works, then build the permanent structure.
  • Use small mesh size to reduce the incidence of smaller goats getting their head caught in the yard panels.