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

Fences, traps and yards

There is significant variation in fencing within and between enterprises. In wild harvest operations, fencing may be limited to several secure traps or yards compared with a rangeland cross breeding enterprise which will rely on secure stock proof fences between individual paddocks.

Part of the reason for the variation in fencing relates to the distances and expense involved and this has led to many ingenious types of fences.

No one type of fence, trap or yard suits all situations; however, the ability to effectively control goats is fundamental to running a sustainable rangeland goat enterprise.

What to do

Module 4: Infrastructure of the GiG Guide, provides further general information regarding fencing infrastructure for goat production and is generally applicable to rangeland goat production.

Fencing is now recognised as a critical element of sustainable rangeland production. Good fences allow the producer to more effectively manage total grazing pressure, trap and hold goats for sale, manage lines of goats to meet market specifications and undertake controlled breeding programs. 

The behaviour of rangeland goats should be carefully considered when designing fences and yards.

Rangeland goats are typically:

  • Intelligent
  • Inquisitive
  • Agile
  • Territorial

The first step is to decide what kind of fencing would best suit your operation and budget. While the task can be daunting, developing a long-term fencing plan and then investing a manageable amount in the on-going fencing program each year can deliver a significant return on investment. Such a system creates management and marketing opportunities that soon recover the cost of the fence.

How to do it

Fencing holding compounds or goat paddocks

Holding compounds or goat paddocks are purpose-built high security paddocks that:

  • Allow goats to adjust to an enclosed environment.
  • Enable short-term holding of rangeland goats while assembling consignments.
  • Enable the long-term accumulation of mustered goats.
  • Allow goats to be easily and quickly mustered and drafted to take advantage of a marketing operation.
  • Allow small goats to be grown out to meet market specifications.
  • Allow for selective breeding.

When designing a goat paddock fence it is important to consider not only the goat that you will try to keep in the paddock but also those you are seeking to keep out. In the case of a controlled breeding operation, this may include undesirable rangeland bucks or feral animals such as pigs and wild dogs. This may influence fence design.

Goats can be contained using sound structural or suspension fences and electric fencing. Once confined, goats tend to develop a range within the confines of a fence and will not challenge the fence unless available food becomes scarce. There are many examples of goats trying to get back into a paddock, having escaped, as that has now become their range.

Herd structure plays an important role in determining the range and behaviour of goats and may influence the type of fencing suited to a particular enterprise. The tendency of goats to roam can be significantly reduced by removing the bucks. Mobs of goats with a low percentage of bucks (ie: less than five percent adult bucks) tend to graze within defined home ranges, reducing the requirement for fencing in uniform landscapes.

Regardless of whether a paddock is being fenced with a structural fence or an electric fence, it can be beneficial to eliminate corners by using several lengths of 1.1m sheep yard mesh. This removes a high pressure point and potential weakness in any fence – the corner.

Structural fencing

As a general rule, a structural fence that will contain a cross bred lamb will contain a goat. Be sure to place stays on the outside of the fence or use stays that are difficult to climb or goats will use these to escape the paddock.

  • New structural fences
    Plain wire fences with the top two wires being barbed wire, such as a ten wire fence, can be effective provided the wires are well tensioned and droppers spaced reasonably close together (<15m). Maintaining high tension on the bottom wire is critical and it may be useful to use a higher gauge wire to allow this.

    Hinge joint fences, such as 6/70/30 or 8/90/30, with two barbed wires on the top and two on the bottom are effective. Hinge joint with a picket spacing of 15cm (such as 8/80/15) should be avoided as goats can become stuck by the horns in such fencing.

    Line posts (or droppers) should be placed at the bottom of gullies to ensure the bottom of the fence is always within 7.5cm of the ground level. Goats will generally try first to squeeze underneath fences before attempting to climb or jump over the top.

  • Renovating structural fences
    Sheep fences can be upgraded to be goat proof in many ways. Plain wire fences may benefit from the addition of new wires so as to become a ten wire fence, or through the addition of hinge joint. If the fence is too old or dilapidated, it is, however, generally advisable to consider a new fence as this will deliver a better result and require less maintenance.

    Regardless of whether the fence is new or old, some degree of maintenance will be required as goats are opportunists and will leave the paddock to explore if a kangaroo hole becomes well defined or a branch falls across the fence.

Electric fences

Goats respond well to electric fences and this often provides a cheaper fencing alternative to structural fencing. Electric fences may however, require increased maintenance in some environments and consideration should be given to incorporating design features within the fence that will minimise this and the risk of fence failure. This may include running the largest energiser practical to the circumstances to ensure that, even in the event of a minor interference or earthing on the fence, sufficient charge is available to energise the fence, or using insulators that are less likely to release the wire should the structure of the fence be challenged.

  • New electric fences
    In designing a new electric fence for goats, it is important to consider the environment in which the fence will be operating. Establishing a reliable earth in dry conditions can be difficult and it is important therefore to ensure that the fence design incorporates well positioned earth wires. 

    Reputable electric fence suppliers offer products and designs suited to Australian rangeland conditions.

  • Renovating structural fences using electric fencing
    Electric fencing can offer a cheap way to convert an existing sheep fence into a secure goat-proof fence. This can be done by out rigging an electric wire approximately 30cm out from the fence and 30cm off the ground, as per the image below. If done on both sides of the existing sheep fence, this design can also act as a significant deterrent to wild dogs.

    Out rigger wire 30cm off the ground, 30cm out from the fence

  • Training goats on electric fencing
    The effectiveness of electric fences can be significantly enhanced by training goats to accept electric fences prior to introducing them to the fenced area. This is best done in a small holding yard, fenced with a well maintained and relatively powerful electric fence. Goats should be held in the yard for a week or so and provided with adequate food, water and shelter. They will soon learn to respect the fence and can then be released into a larger area fenced using electric fencing.

    In a breeding operation, older breeding does that have been raised to be accustomed to electric fences will tend to train younger goats and it is not therefore necessary to train goats bred within an environment fenced with electric fences.

  • Maintenance of electric fences
    Electric fences do require maintenance if they are to remain effective with the main issue being the shorting of energised wires by fallen branches, animal interference, regrowth and debris. The amount of maintenance will depend on the landscape and vegetation.

    Maintenance can be reduced by ensuring that you do not overestimate the amount of wire an energiser will energise. Always be conservative and ensure there is ample current to service the fence.

    It is often a good idea to run two or more energised wires rather than one so that if one wire is earthed, part of the fence still remains energised.

Paddock size considerations

Holding compounds or goat paddocks can be any size provided some basic principles are met:

  • Sufficient feed and water are available for the contained animals. Goat numbers can increase quickly so care must be taken to ensure that a paddock does not become over stocked.
  • The vegetation and size allow for relatively quick and easy mustering.
Animal behaviour and welfare considerations

When goats are confined or the mob structure altered, their behaviour can change. Issues to be aware of include:

  • Mixing unfamiliar animals may result in dominance behaviour resulting in stress or injury, especially among bucks.
  • A mob of goats comprised mostly of does tends to be more stable.
  • Where bucks are being kept for a specific market, they should be kept separate from the main herd in appropriate confinement paddocks.
  • Goat populations can increase quickly in confinement. If goats are held for an extended period be sure to monitor numbers. Pay particular attention to the number and condition of breeding females and manage these as required i.e. add additional feed or reduce the number of females.
  • To minimise dominance behaviour and maximise production, goats should be segregated into the following groups:
    • Does with kids at foot
    • Heavily pregnant does and small or young goats
    • Bucks
Trap yard design

Trapping of rangeland goats is one of the most effective ways to accumulate goats from the wild or from large paddocks. Trapping involves the construction of goat proof fences, typically around water sources with a number of one-way gates or ramps.

For further information read the Toolkit: Trap yard design and considerations.

Handling yards

Goat yards may be purpose built or may be adapted from cattle or sheep yards. Well designed handling yards make working rangeland goats easier and safer.

Purpose built goat yards

When designing and constructing handling yards, producers should consider the following principles:

  • Yards that will be used more frequently should be constructed to withstand constant heavy pressure and construction materials should be selected and used accordingly, particularly in high pressure areas such as approaching races.
  • Goats exhibit following and circling behaviour; therefore yards should have rounded corners to improve the flow of goats.
  • Goats are extremely agile so covering all internal struts and stays will help prevent goats climbing out.
  • Goats will crowd and pack together more readily than other livestock. The length of raceways should be reduced to 4m sections to reduce compaction and crowding of goats. V-raceways of widths 50cm at ground level and 65cm-70cm at the top can help accommodate long horned bucks.
  • Goats have a nervous disposition and wide angle vision. They tend to be attracted by light and are reluctant to enter wet, muddy areas.
  • Modified sheep or cattle yards can make useful goat yards. The height of sheep yards may have to be increased through the addition of another rail, increasing the height to about 1.1m-1.2m. Hinge joint, mesh, rails or belting may be added to the lower 1.1m of cattle yards to make them goat proof. Attention should also be paid to the loading ramp to ensure that trucks can be loaded and unloaded with minimal risk of escape.

Sheep yards that have been modified for goats through the addition of a top rail

Portable yards are a useful addition to some goat enterprises and can save time and effort when goats need to be handled. Portable sheep yards can be easily modified to handle goats by adding an additional rail to increase the height of the panels.

Useful features for yards
  • It is suggested that the minimum height of perimeter fencing be 1.5m while the minimum height of handling yards be no less than 1.2m.
  • Goats and workers work better in shade. Provide shade to as much of the yards as possible.
  • Holding yards should be equipped to provide feed and water.
  • It is useful to be able to water the yards to suppress dust.
  • Yards should be located so they can be easily accessed from the main road but far enough away so as not to be easily observed. This allows goats to be trucked out readily as required while reducing the risk of stock theft and a possible negative public reaction to seeing confined livestock.
  • Goats are less inclined to attempt to jump yards if they are able to see through them.
  • Yards should be accompanied by a sturdy loading ramp.

The Toolkit: Example goat yard design shows one example of goat yards that incorporate a holding pen, 3-way draft and vee-race.

Module 4: Infrastructure of the GiG Guide, has further information regarding design considerations for goat production that should be considered in a rangeland goat production context.

Mustering goats

When mustering goats, it is often useful to move them along a fence line. This increases your control over the mob and often reduces the need for labour.

Wings can be constructed away from permanent yards to channel goats toward the yard. When using portable yards, these can be set-up on fence lines for a similar effect.