Letting your goats graze in the woods can be a scary thing. After all, they could get lost, eaten by predators, or sick from poisonous plants. However, if you take the right precautions, you can minimize the chances of this happening and reap the many benefits of your goats clearing your woods. So, can goats live safely and freely in the woods?
Goats can live freely in the woods but usually need some protective measures. Start by inspecting your land for poisonous plants, areas predators can break into, and any gaps in the fencing. With the right safety precautions, goats can clear and fertilize the woods with their efficient grazing and rich manure.
But this doesn’t answer everything. If you’re like me, you may have more questions like, “how do you feed and shelter goats that range in the woods?“, and “could goats benefit from livestock guardians?“. I did some more research to try to help answer these questions and more. Let’s take a look.
Why Would You Want to Raise Goats in the Woods?
First, why would you even want your goats in the woods? Why take that risk? Well, raising goats in the woods is a great idea if you want to clear some of your wooded lands for more pasture or vegetable plots. Goats can work down the vegetation and clear out the brush while leaving mature behind. The result of this is land that’s been cleared and is more fertile.
The process of letting livestock graze the woods and increase the land’s fertility is called silvopasture, and goats are perfect for this. This is also why renting out goats is a popular business model. In general, 1 acre can be cleared by 10 goats in one month. There aren’t any particular breeds that work best to clear land, but some like to use Lamancha goats. But just about any breed of goat should work well.
However, clearing the woods this efficiently doesn’t come without some danger. Getting the proper fencing and protection for goats is vital, as there are predators in the majority of regions.
How to Manage Goats That Live in the Woods
Goats can run into all sorts of problems when they’re spending the majority of the day free-ranging in the woods. They can escape, eat poisonous plants, or get eaten by a predator. Let’s take a look at how to provide the basic necessities for goats, and how to help protect them.
Food and Water
In the early days, goats might not be able to get a complete diet from grazing. You may need to supplement your goats with hay or other nutrients for a short time. When you’re feeding them a dry feed, like hay, they’ll need more water than usual.
Goats generally need a constant supply of water, but they drink much less than cows. If you only have a few goats, you can start by leaving 3-5 gallons out and monitoring the water throughout the day. On hot and cold days, the water could go fast or become frozen, so check on the water more frequently in extreme weather.
After a couple weeks, you should have a good idea of how much water your herd daily, at least with normal weather. When goats start grazing on live vegetation for the majority of their food, you’ll find they won’t need as much water due to the higher water content of the plants.
If you need goats to eat vegetation that’s higher up from the forest floor, consider putting spools out to help the goats stand taller. You can also cut down the trees and let the goats trim off the leaves, which gives you firewood that’s prime to cut. Before letting your goat feed on any plant or tree, check to confirm it’s not poisonous.
Lastly, providing them with a regular dewormer is still a good idea, especially if they’re grazing more than usual or in the rain.
Fencing is one of the best investments when you’re using goats to clear woods. When you’re ready for your goats to live there, either part-time or full-time, fence off the woods 1 acre at a time. From there you can move in 1/4 acre segments. It can become harder to manage if it’s bigger than that.
Also, consider installing a good fence, which not only prevents the goats from escaping but also blocks predators from getting in. Many homesteaders with goats use an electric fence for this reason. But a woven wire fence that’s flush to the ground will be fairly effective as well. You’ll have to find what works best for your property, goats, and the type of predators you have in your area.
Next, do a perimeter walk around the section you’re fencing off for the goats. Look for anything that stands out that could be problematic. Most of the time, this means looking for poisonous plants, such as black cherry trees. However, also keep an eye out for gaps, weak points, or climbable areas in the fencing as goats are great at escaping.
Once you’ve secured the fencing and have checked the property, consider getting a livestock guardian for your goats to keep predators at bay. Common livestock guardians that work well with goats include alpacas, llamas, and of course – dogs. You’ll want to make sure the goats and their guardians grow up with each other, if possible, so they can bond and feel like they’re both part of the herd. The emotional connection will help keep them bonded and working together.
If you need to separate bucks or weaned kids from does, consider installing a temporary fence to divide them in their normal grazing areas.
A goat’s shelter usually needs to provide basic protection from snow, wind, rain, and the hot sun. Installing a hoop house is an affordable way to shelter goats from many of these elements. However, if the wind is strong enough, it could blow away.
You may want to upgrade to a shed to prevent any wind damage. A three-sided shelter would work well in most cases. However, if your weather also gets extremely cold, then a closed barn would work best for increased protection.
The size of the shelter, or sleeping space, should be about 10-15 square feet per goat. Remember to also allow space for feeders and waterers.
When it comes to goats’ bedding, there are a few factors to consider, such as comfort and how easy it is to clean. If you’re not experienced with goats just yet, know that you may have to change their bedding often as they can poop in their beds.
How to Limit Predators
Many predators live in the woods, and goats (and especially kids) are pretty defenseless. This is why keeping a lookout and preventing predators from getting into your property, or goats from getting out, is a major focus for homesteaders. Depending on your region, common goat predators can include foxes, bears, dogs, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, wolves, and eagles.
You can minimize the chance of predators attacking your goat herd by using proper fencing and livestock guardians. While llamas and alpacas make good guardians, they can also be pretty defenseless themselves. Using dogs as livestock guardians is probably the most effective since their bark and bite are pretty big deterrents for most predators.
Installing proper fencing and securing it to the ground will help keep predators from crawling under. Although, some can still climb over the top. For this reason, consider using barbed or electric wire.
If you’re going with an electric fence, aim for a 6 strand wire. This might be enough to deter goats and predators from testing the fence, but you may need to add another layer or element depending on your situation.
Some homesteaders like to use a woven wire fence with an electric 6 strand wire on top (hanging over the outside edge to prevent predators from climbing over). Another way to do it is to use the woven fence on the inside and an electric fence on the outside. This can cost more since you’re installing two fences, but if you believe it to be a useful solution, it could be worth it.
You can also reduce the amount of predators in your area by eliminating hiding spots near the fence such as bushes or woodpiles. Additionally, leaving trash out can invite more predators to scout your property. Keep your yard clean so it remains more hidden and less worth it for predators to break in.
When your goats live in the woods you can reap many benefits such as clearing land for more pasture, creating firewood, better fertilization, less fire risk, and getting your property fenced up and protected. After the goats have done their job, you can spread native grass seeds across your wooded property, which the goats will press into the soil and continue to fertilize. Over time, you’ll have a beautiful, self-sufficient grassland that will feed your goats (and other livestock) for many generations.