Goats are notoriously difficult animals to contain, and the high standards for their enclosures can be the biggest challenge for people new to owning goats. Even if your current fencing is sufficient for other livestock animals, chances are that it is not sufficient for goats.
Goats Have Specific Fencing Requirements
They require space and forage
Goats do not graze; they browse. They dislike eating vegetation on the ground, and do not prefer grass. They like to nibble on tree leaves, shrubs, weeds, and undergrowth, and, contrary to their reputation, can even be choosy. This foraging habit requires a lot of space and diversity in their environment, and can make them restless within their enclosure.
They are intelligent, curious, and independent
Their history as resourceful and independent foragers has made goats likely to be interested in the world beyond the fence. They are intelligent and persistent enough to do unexpected things to try to escape enclosure.
They are agile and ready jumpers
Unlike sheep and other herd animals, goats are agile and eager climbers and jumpers. They are able to climb and leap on trees and structures and use them to jump over a fence.
They are hard on fences
Goats are likely to chew, lean, climb, and stand on fences.
Many species of goats have backward-curving horns. This means that, when they poke their heads between the wires on a fence, they are prone to getting caught and being unable to retract their heads.
They attract predators
Goats and kids are attractive prey animals to large and small predators, including wolves, coyotes, and foxes, which are also animals that require sturdy fencing to exclude. The fence needs to be incredibly durable and reliable on both sides.
Multiple fences may be needed
If you plan on keeping a buck and breeding your own does, you will probably need to separate the buck. Keeping a buck from a doe in season is a challenge all its own, which we will get into below.
Despite their small size and agreeable nature, goat fencing presents some unique challenges. This guide to goat fencing will help you plan, design, and build the most effective fence to contain and protect goats, whether you are keeping them for meat, milk, fiber, show, or as pets.
Planning Your Goat Fence
What kind of space do you have?
Most goat owners advise “thinking like a goat.” Evaluate your property, looking for the kinds of landscape features that appeal to goats. They like weedy, stemmy undergrowth, and don't prefer grass. They need space to run and play, and like to climb rocks and hills. Evaluating your landscape for the kinds of features that appeal to goats will help you determine where your goat enclosure should be, and also help you anticipate where they may try to breach a fence.
What kind of pasture do you have?
Goats enjoy foraging and it's good for their health. Having good forage for goats also helps reduce your feed costs.
What are the permanent landscape features?
If you have tall rocks, trees, stumps, hills, and other landscape features, then they should be located well away from your goat fence. Goats will use landscape features and furnishings to jump over fences.
What will your temporary needs be?
If you have a buck, you will probably need a separate enclosure during certain seasons. You may need special enclosures for kidding or for young goats. You may want to rotate your goats through different pastures, to allow them to browse and clear undergrowth. In other words, you may want some flexibility in the placement of your goat fencing, and it's good to plan for that ahead of time.
What are climate conditions?
Is your land prone to flooding? Prone to strong winds? Do you have adequate shade? Most goats are better suited to arid climates than damp ones, and some light-haired goats need protection from the sun. Research the goat breeds that are most suitable for your area, and situate their shelter and enclosure in a way that best meets their needs.
Goat Enclosure Needs
When planning your goat fence, it's best to start with the entire area you will need to enclose, and then situating it accordingly on your property.
Standard sized goats need approximately 250 square feet of shelter and exercise space per goat. Some goat breeds are larger, or more active, and benefit from having more space.
Smaller breeds need less space, but 250 feet per goat is a good rule of thumb. Goats are social animals, and will be loud and unhappy if living alone, so you should always plan on having at least two goats. So your enclosure should always be a minimum of 500 square feet.
Keep in mind that goats without sufficient space, exercise, or forage will be highly motivated to escape and test your fences. If goats are given a large, rich, interesting living area, your fence will undergo less stress and can be less sturdily constructed.
Goats always need shelter of some kind, and their shelter needs vary depending on your climate. Situate your goat shelter well away from the fence, because goats will often climb onto the roof of a shelter and use it to jump over a fence.
Goat Fencing Material
The best goat fencing material is woven wire (not welded), because it can withstand rubbing and chewing with less chance of hurting the goats. Wire openings need to be 4x4 inches or less, to prevent goats from putting their heads through the openings and getting caught with their horns. If you have kids or small goats, fence openings should be even smaller than that.
Many varieties of livestock fencing will work for goats. There is a fencing material specifically sold as “goat fencing” and it is made of woven wire with 4x4 openings, that comes 48 inches high, in rolls of various lengths. This height may be sufficient for some goat enclosures, but we will look more closely at that question below.
Goat Fence Construction
Goat fence height
Goat fences need to be at least 48 inches high, but that may not contain breeds that are very large, or breeds that are very active jumpers. Large and active breeds may need a fence that is higher. If you have large or active predators in your area, the fence should also be higher in order to exclude them. For the best protection, a goat fence should be 6 feet high.
Goat fence posts
Goat fence posts can be made of wood or metal. They should be spaced 8-12 feet apart, with 8-foot post spacing for large and heavy goats. Closer post spacing also helps protect the bottom edge of the fence, making it more difficult to pull it up and dig or squeeze under it. Posts should be placed 2 feet deep, or secured with cement footing for stability, or both.
Braces and reinforcements
Any fence braces or supplemental supports need to be placed on the outside of the fence, so that goats don't climb them.
To Wire or Not to Wire?
If you simply can't build a fence tall enough to deter jumping and contain your goats, you may need to add an electrical wire 6-12 inches above the fence wire. In many cases, electrified fencing may simply be the only option to contain active, powerful goats, and livestock experts often recommend it. There are some benefits and downsides of electrical fencing for goats.
Some goat owners find that electrified fencing is the most effective way to contain and protect their goats. Some feel that it's too expensive, or can't bear the idea of hurting their goats. If you live near a highway or in a high-predator area, it may be a smart decision. For those in quieter areas or with calmer goats, it may be wise to wait and see if it's necessary.
Fencing a Buck
A male goat in season is extremely difficult to contain with any standard goat fence. At that time, he is highly motivated to use intelligence or brute force to overcome a fence. When a doe is in season, she will also attempt to find a way to get to the buck, and goats are known to find a way to mate through a fence.
A buck needs to have an extremely sturdy enclosure, and should also be kept well away from any enclosure containing does, with several feet of space between both fences. While 2-3 feet of distance may suffice to contain both goats and prevent accidental breeding, it is not enough distance to actually deter a buck from pushing and straining at a fence.
A distance of 12 or more feet is more discouraging. Make sure that posts are 8 feet apart or closer, cemented into the ground, and that the fence is 6 feet high. Also make sure that gates, hinges, latches, and other attachments are extremely strong to withstand battering.
Fencing a Kid
Goat kids are often small enough to fit through fencing gaps that would contain adult goats. In an area without many predators, this is sometimes not considered a problem, as they will generally return to their mothers on their own.
However, if goat kids get in the habit of squeezing through a fence, they will maintain that habit, and either stress or distort the fence as they grow, or get stuck when they get too big for the opening. This behavior is sometimes deterred with an electric wire along the lower edge of the fence.
You may also temporarily add a second layer of woven wire fencing that is only 2-3 feet tall, with smaller openings that will contain baby goats. If it is used in addition to standard goat fencing, it doesn't need to be as strong.
Goat Fence Maintenance
Whatever kind of fence you have for your goats, regular maintenance is a must. If you have a large herd of active goats, maintenance needs to be done thoroughly and regularly. Here is an example schedule for a small homestead with a couple of goats.
Walk the fence line and inspect it for wear, holes, and distortions. Goats place the most stress on the lower third of the fence, so check that most closely, looking for any areas where there may be gaps between the fence and the round. Bend strained wire back into place. If there is a repeated area of wear or bending, you may need to reinforce your fence in that spot.
Check the entire fence thoroughly, making sure that posts are still seated securely and that the fence is not damaged or broken. Oil hinges and latches, checking that screws and attachments are still secure. Check wire spacing to make sure it is correct.
Annually (before breeding season)
Check your fences again. Consider placing flagstones at the base to protect the bottom of the fence. Make sure posts, gates, and corners are sturdy and secure. Check for weather damage or wood rot.
Fences should also be inspected for needed repairs after severe storms and weather incidents.
Keep Your Goats Happy
The best way to contain goats is to provide them a healthy, happy environment. Goats are intelligent and loyal animals who may escape, but will also readily come home if they are well cared for. If goats are repeatedly, determinedly attempting to break out of their enclosure, consider making it larger, improving the quality of their forage, or providing them with more toys and entertainment options.