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Can Goats Free-Range?

I’m interested in trying my hand at permaculture and silvopasture, so free-ranging my goats is a goal of mine. Goats are great mowers and if you didn’t already know, 10 of them can clear an acre in a month. However, there are some challenges such as providing them with the proper protection and fencing. So, is it worth it? Can you let your goats free-range? Here’s what I found.

Goats that can free-range are often meat goats and not dairy. This is largely due to the difficulty of bringing them in to milk. While it’s possible to free-range goats, it does come with extra challenges. It’s important to set up the proper protection, which usually includes sturdy fencing and livestock guardians.

So, while free-ranging goats is possible, should you do it? And if so, how do you start? Let’s take a further look.

Should You Let Goats Free-Range?

goats free-ranging on a grassy pasture

Your goats can get lost or eaten by predators, so it’s risky to go in blind. Knowing which resources and protection you can provide are essential. So, should you let your goats free-range? And what do you need to know?

Before free-ranging your goats, consider if you have enough land, if you’re raising dairy or meat goats, and if you can provide fencing or livestock guardians. While goats can free-range successfully, they need some measures in place to prevent escapes and predators from attacking.

However, there are times when free-ranging your goats might not be the best idea. For example, if your goal is to use goats to mow and clear your land, having free-range goats means their grazing will be scattered and can take a while to work down a section of land. However, if the goats are concentrated on a smaller stretch of land, and then rotated to another, they’ll clear it more thoroughly and efficiently.

Some other cases include if you have an exceedingly high amount of predators or threats in your area and if your goats are master escape artists.

In summary, deciding on free-ranging your goats is up to you and what your goals on the homestead are. If you’re interested in learning more about how to free-range goats, read on.

How Do You Free-Range Goats?

If you’re new to letting your goats free range and graze on their own, then you’re likely going to have a bit of a learning curve as you fine-tune the process.

Free-ranging your goats largely comes down to providing proper fencing, a basic shelter, and sometimes a livestock guardian. Your goats’ needs will vary depending on the specific challenges you face on your farm. Your goal for your goats should be to meet their basic survival needs of food, water, and shelter.

Even though there will be different challenges on every farm, there are a few common ones that you’ll likely run into. When free-ranging your goats, you should be considering every possibility to minimize loss or damage.

Here are some of the challenges you may face:

  • Blocking off your garden
  • Herding your goats
  • Sheltering the goats at night
  • Deciding on a livestock guardian versus a herding dog
  • Deciding on and building an effective fence
  • How to care for does that are birthing
  • How to effectively have your goats clear land
  • Steering goats away from poisonous plants or other threats
  • How to rotate their pasture (if needed)

As you can see, there are quite a few topics to troubleshoot and solve, and there are many others that you’ll come across with time. The best way forward is to be prepared for the obstacles that do come up and to have a process to overcome them. Often times how you solve problems is more important than the solution you choose.

Let’s cover some of the most common struggles goat owners have when free-ranging their goats.

First, if your goats escape, they can quickly do a lot of damage to your garden. They LOVE fruit trees and just about any plant you’re trying to grow. Over a short time, goats can quickly cause a lot of damage. Consider adding another barrier or two between your beloved garden and your goat pasture.

Another difficult challenge is herding them into their barn (or another shelter) before nighttime. While many goat owners have trouble with this, others have mentioned that providing daily treats at a specific time to entice their goats to come to the barn works well. Quality hay and kelp are some common treats. Of course, if your goats don’t have any predators in your area, then providing a three-sided shelter, open barn, or other basic shelters can work just fine.

If you’re breeding or milking any of your goats, consider how you’re going to herd does in to assist with birthing and milking. As it can be hard to chase them down or deliver in the field, having a good process for moving them to a better location can make it easier for you (and your doe). A good way around this is to have a separate kidding or milking paddock near your house. This way you don’t have to worry about herding or managing them in the pasture.

Providing protection for your herd of goats is one of the most important things you can do. Two of the best ways to do this is with effective fencing and livestock guardians. Livestock guardian can include llamas, donkeys, and more, but the best ones are often dogs.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between a livestock dog and a herding dog. While livestock dogs offer protection, herding dogs specialize in herding. If you have both, they can often conflict with each other, with your livestock guardian dog protecting the goats from your herding dog. Weigh the pros and cons and decide on which type is best for your homestead and its specific challenges.

The Best Goat Breeds for Free-Ranging

The best breed of goat for free-ranging is Kiko goats. They’re primarily a meat goat, and they are fairly self-sufficient. The biggest needs you’ll have to manage are water, pasture, and protection from predators. While these are common necessities for most goats, Kiko goats generally require less.

Other breeds of goats to consider for free-ranging include Boer, Rangeland, and Spanish goats. If you live in a hot climate, Boer goats are well adapted to the warmer temperatures and will suffer less with swings in the weather.

For more information on goats breeds (especially meat goats), check out this video by Discover Agriculture.

Final Thoughts

Free-ranging goats is different for every homestead, but there are many things you can prepare for. Providing good protection and shelter are two of the biggest steps you can take to have an effective goat pasture.

Of course, there will be other challenges along the way, so don’t hesitate to experiment and see what works.

If you’re not ready to free-range your goats just yet, and you only have a few goats, know that you can put a collar on them and tether them in your yard to graze. At night, it should be fairly easy to move them in their shelter or barn to protect them from predators.

For more information on free-ranging goats, including how to manage goats in the woods, check out my other post here.