Keeping Goats Amused
As we researched and prepared to bring our goats home, two pieces of information stuck with me. One was the quote "if a fence can hold water it can hold a goat". The other was that if a goat's pasture has enough entertainment, they won't try to escape. While we did invest in a good, strong fence, I also decided that providing an entertaining space for the goats would be the best way to keep them inside their fences.
What is entertainment? Goats are curious, high energy creatures, especially as kids. Like human kids, they need to be kept amused and challenged by toys as they grow up to keep from becoming bored. Think of goat entertainment like a jungle gym or neighborhood park for your children.
The easiest thing to add to your pasture for goat's amusement are large tree stumps. At some point in our farm's history they had kept Nigerian Dwarf goats, and perhaps because of that we found two large stumps in a back shed that we added to our field. The smaller your goats, the less high they can jump, but you will be surprised just how bouncy they are. Providing stumps at increasing heights will keep them going up and up and then leaping off the tallest one with great gusto.
Unlike baby geese who are ungainly, clumsy, and delicate, goats develop sure feet and an ability to bounce back almost immediately after being born. It's amazing to me how, cat-like, these little ones will hop from something twice their height and nonetheless land on their feet.
We also put in a lean-to in our pasture. The plan behind this was to provide a wind and weather break so that the goats could stay out on less than sunny days and still have shelter. Because our pasture is relatively small and access to the stalls inside the barn is always open, the goats haven't used the lean-to for shelter once. The chickens do enjoy lounging in its shade, and I believe that a similar structure would be very helpful in a further or larger field.
The lean-to is not without its purpose, however. The goats love to bounce onto the roof of the small house and leap across its top, enjoying the ringing sound that their hooves make as they skitter along. This is another example of a very simple and easy to add feature that will keep your kids amused for hours.
Our other goat jungle gym feature we could not have planned out. The barn we have, built in the mid to late 1800s, has a large stone foundation on the far side where the pasture is. The foundation is similar to the stone walls often used on bank barns for their lower side, except that it doesn't go up high enough to provide suitable stalls under the barn. These large, smooth rocks are low enough for the goats to hop up on, and they will race back and forth along the barn's walls at lightning speed, leaping from rock to rock.
The foundation did mean we had to add some extra fencing along the barn to keep the goats from following the rocks all the way past their fence line. Once we did that, we were able to sit back and enjoy watching them race up their ramp, along the wall, and down the goose ramp in ever-faster circles.
Goats also use stumps and other structures as itching posts for persistent bug bites and other annoyances. They'll love anything else you can provide for hopping an adventure, such as a spool from the local power company to leap on and off of, or other ramps and platforms to climb around on.
To keep your goats amused make sure they always have plenty of hay, fresh foraging grass and branches to nibble on, and a mineral block for licking and jumping on. If your goats are adventurous they may even use your goat house as a jungle gym.
Entertained goats will be more likely to stay in their fence, and they will also be happier for all of their bouncing around. As a farmer, you'll find yourself mesmerized daily by their constant antics, which is surely one of the highlights of keeping goats.
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