Goats are active, curious, intelligent animals. They need a living environment that provides mental stimulation and exercise just as much as they need food and water. Bored, unhappy goats can be temperamental, less productive, and make more attempts to escape their pen.
Fortunately, goats are likely to play with nearly anything, and it's easy and inexpensive to get goat toys, or even to make your own. Here are some ways you can keep your goats active, entertained, and healthy.
Facts and Tips for Goat Toys for Enrichment
When choosing goat toys, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Goats use their mouths to experience the world
Much like small children, goats are likely to use their mouths to investigate objects. The experience of mouthing, smelling, and tasting objects is important to them. For that reason, always make sure that goats are given objects that aren't made of toxic materials, won't shatter into sharp pieces, and can stand up to rough play.
Goats are natural investigators
It's a good idea to switch out toys every few weeks, or hide toys and let goats find them. Giving them new things to play with, and new ways to interact with their environment, keeps them active and interested.
Goats are climbers
Within goat herds, higher ground signifies dominance, and goats play “king of the hill” both as play, and as an important part of their social behavior. Anything you can give them to climb, stand, and jump on will provide hours of fun, exercise, and social activity for goats.
Goats need “furniture”
Providing a pen or enclosure that has large objects, whether they are play structures or natural features like trees and large rocks, is also important for goats socially. Giving shy goats places that they can hide and feel safe lowers their anxiety, and reduces bullying. Create visual barriers that make their enclosure richer and more complex.
DIY Goat Play Structure Ideas
Goats will enjoy just about any play structure you might use for a child. Trampolines, sturdy slides, climbing walls, and other children's play structures will provide hours of entertainment for goats. Here are some ideas for homemade goat play furniture.
DIY goat see saw
Bury half a tire in the goat enclosure, with the top round of the wheel facing upward. Secure a board to it, and make a goat toy teeter-totter. This will provide endless entertainment for goats, because they will spend hours trying to climb to the high side and playing with each other.
DIY goat climbing tower
Use wooden pallets, cable spools, or other sturdy wooden structures and place or stack them at different heights, to give goats a climbing tower. You can use boards to make a “ladder” for taller structures, or let goats jump and climb structures themselves.
DIY goat obstacle course
Bury or secure a series of logs of different heights, or intersperse upright log ends with rubber tires, large rocks, or small wooden platforms of various heights. Goats will step from log to log, much like kids pretending the ground is lava.
DIY goat balance beam
Bury two five-gallon buckets, bottom side up, so that they are stable and secure in the ground. Place a 2 x 4 between them to give goats something to balance on and walk across.
Goat Grooming Toys
Scrubbing and brushing feel good and goats enjoy it. But you can also use grooming toys to add mental stimulation and activity to their environment.
Secure sturdy scrubbing brushes around your goat pen, allowing goats to rub and scratch themselves against the brushes. If goats show a tendency to chew on brush bristles, you may want to buy an equine scratcher instead, or use an old outdoor welcome mat, either the kind with bristles or with a rubberized texture, and attach it to a board in the goat pen for rubbing and grooming.
Build a small climbing platform or play structure out of cinderblocks instead of wood. Standing and climbing on cinderblocks and stones helps to wear and smooth goat hooves, reducing the frequency of hoof trimming.
Goat Feeding Toys
Goats are natural foragers, so toys that slowly release food or treats can provide hours of amusement. You can buy toys of this nature that are made for dogs or horses, or easily make your own.
DIY goat treat feeder
Clean out an old milk carton and put a few (raw, shelled, unsalted) nuts or vegetable scraps inside. Goats will tip and roll the carton around, trying to get the snacks out, and will often play with the empty container for hours, even after the snacks are gone.
DIY goat slow feeder
To satisfy their foraging nature, get a cage-like “squirrel proof” bird feeder, or use non-toxic twine to tie hay into large, tight bundles. Hang these hay bundles in different places at different heights around your goat pen, so that goats have to work and puzzle to get hay out of the feeder a piece at a time.
Unusual and challenging foods
You can also give them items that are food and toys in one. A whole coconut, watermelon, or whole pumpkin, will be nosed around and played with until the goats figure out how to break it open and eat it.
Pumpkin, melons, and coconuts are healthy for goats, and many farms have extra pumpkins after Halloween that they will give away for free. While not all goats like the taste of these items, it's worthwhile to give them a new experience every few months for the sake of enrichment.
DIY goat puzzle feeder
Take an empty 2-liter soda bottle and poke holes in the sides, about a third of the way from the top. Thread a rope through the bottle so it comes out on both sides. Use the rope to hang the empty bottle in the goat enclosure. Place hard, dry treats like pellets or nuts inside the bottle, so that goats have to tip the bottle upside down in order for the treat to come out.
Goat Sensory Toys
Goats also enjoy smaller toys that are simply interactive, and will readily play with just about anything designed for a dog. Place these kinds of toys at various heights around their pen, so they have to stand up or kneel down to reach them. Things that make noise, are shiny, have new smells, or present unusual textures are all good enrichment items.
DIY Goat Activity Areas
- Hang one or more dog rope toys, with or without hard rubber balls attached, around the goat enclosure for mouthing, chewing, tugging, and tossing
- String a number of clean, empty cow bells or tin cans together on a rope, so that they clatter and clank together, and hang the rope in the goat pen (no, goats don't eat metal cans, but any sharp edges should be sanded smooth)
- Thread two or more lengths of pipe on a cord, so they can slide back and forth, and suspend it between two objects in the goat pen
DIY Goat Sensory Activities
- Make a sandbox or gravel area for goats, so they have different textures below their feet
- Give goats a polished, reflective piece of metal so they can look at themselves
- Give them objects that are colorful, reflective, make noises, or even light up for more interaction and stimulation
DIY Goat Toy Ideas
Because goats are so playful and curious, almost anything that is fairly sturdy and non-toxic can be repurposed as a goat toy. Consider letting your goats play with:
- Cleaned out, empty buckets with the handles removed
- Empty water cooler bottles, milk jugs, and the like
- Wooden crates and boxes
- Wooden or metal barrels
- Car or tractor tires
- Hard plastic kiddie pools filled with water or sand
- Hay bales
- Stepping stools
Goat toys should be made of natural wood, rubber, hard plastic, natural fibers, metal with no rust spots or sharp edges, stone and cement, and other natural materials.
Avoid and remove metal staples, the ends of nails and screws that may scratch, breakable items, toxic paints or coatings, plastic fibers, etc. Be careful with items like paper bags and cardboard boxes.
Cardboard boxes are extremely popular with goats, and they will be thrown around, stepped on, and hidden behind. Be mindful that goats don't eat cardboard boxes; a small amount won't hurt them, but goats should be observed closely when given cardboard or paper toys.
You can always visit thrift stores, ask friends whose children have outgrown their play equipment, or repurpose many dog toys and structures to work for goats.
How to Use Your Goat Toys
Whatever kind of goat toys you choose, here are some tips to keep them interesting and use them to promote goat health.
Supervise goats with new toys
If you are introducing something completely new, it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on your goats as they interact with it. They may do something unsafe that you don't expect, get a head or foot stuck, chew on something unhealthy ... there's no telling what these creative little animals might do.
So, try to stay in the area and be attentive to unhealthy behaviors or signs of distress until you know how they will interact with a new toy.
Move toys once or twice a week, hiding them if possible
Moving and hiding toys stimulates a goat's curiosity and intelligence as they investigate their pen and find new toys or old favorites.
Always have several toys available, to prevent bullying and competition
If you have several goats, avoid introducing only one of a toy or favorite plaything. The dominant goat will claim it, and no one else will get to enjoy it. Have several toys, and several kinds of toys, to avoid hogging and bullying.
Don't be afraid to challenge goats
If you occasionally give your goats a container they can't open, a nut they can't crack, an obstacle they can't climb, or a toy they can't reach, that's okay. They may surprise you with their ingenuity, and the occasional challenge is good for their mental curiosity and engagement. Challenging goats from time to time is acceptable, while frustrating them isn't.
Goats require a toys and mental stimulation in order to be happy and healthy, and prevent negative behaviors that arise when they are bored. Studies show that goats that have a rich, stimulating environment with activity and exercise experience fewer health and behavior problems, and actually live longer.
Fortunately, goat toys don't have to be difficult or expensive. Since they will play with nearly anything, a huge number of household items can be repurposed as goat toys, with just a little bit of attention and creativity. DIY goat toys are a great way to stimulate your own creativity as well as your goats, and can be fun projects for the whole family.
Don't be afraid to experiment and try new things, so that your goats can also learn and try new things in turn. Have fun playing with your goats and all their new goat toys.