Creating A Good Home For Goats

A brown goat stands atop a natural rock outcrop outdoors.
Lily’s outdoor space provides lots of natural climbing opportunities! Photo: Oliver and Friends Farm Sanctuary

Updated October 20, 2020

Like most animals, goats tend to prefer ample safe outdoor space to roam and browse around, as well as an indoor shelter to keep them out of the elements when necessary, though what their living space ends up exactly looking like can vary quite dramatically depending on your resources!

Keep It Safe!

If you are bringing new goats into your life, you also need to ensure that you have an appropriate quarantine space to keep you and your existing residents safe.

How Much Space Do Goat Residents Need?

When creating living spaces, it is important to ensure that your residents have enough space. There are many factors to consider when determining how much space goats need; there is no magic number we have to offer.  Not all residents are going to do well with the general recommendations offered online, or even those offered by established sanctuaries, so you’ll need to be prepared to expand their living space if that’s what they need.  

Farm Sanctuary, Catskill Animal Sanctuary, and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries offer recommendations, but keep in mind that these are minimums, so you should strive to provide more space to your residents.

Farm SanctuaryTheir 2018 Farm Animal Care Conference resources suggest that indoor spaces should “allow at least 20-25 square feet per goat, but you may need even more if you have goats who are pushy or aggressive with their herd mates.”  In terms of pasture space, it states, “Do not put too many goats on a pasture. In a sanctuary setting where you have multiple breeds of varying sizes, you should have no more than about 500 to 800 pounds of goats per acre. This must be good pasture that includes browse areas.”

Catskill Animal Sanctuary– Their Goat Fact Sheet states, “Allow at least 25-square-feet per goat, and be sure the shelter has good ventilation and no direct drafts.” For outdoor space, it states, “We recommend 1/2 acre of land for every two goats. For warm weather, the fenced area must have plenty of shade.”

Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries– In their Standards For Ruminant Sanctuaries, it states, “Room dimension is dependent on intended purpose and/or duration of confinement, ensuring that ruminants can be housed with at least one other member of their species. Enclosures are large enough to allow all animals to comfortably move around and to lie down.”  For outdoor space it recommends a “minimum area of 150 sq. ft. (14 sq. m) per sheep or goat.”

Use these as a starting point, but be aware that there are many factors to consider when determining the amount of space needed to keep your residents comfortable and happy. Age, breed, sex, health issues, activity level, herd dynamics, climate, and type of outdoor space should be considered when creating a space or determining a space’s capacity.

Indoor Living Spaces For Goats

People have employed many different materials and structures for housing goats, but we believe it’s best that goats have access to a fully enclosed pole barn rather than a smaller or less robust solution. Not only are they less affected by poor weather and drafts, but they are also easier to get into and clean, which is very important in the health of any animal. Dirt or another slip-resistant material is crucial since slips and falls can lead to torn ligaments and joint damage in goats. If the indoor living space floor is concrete, you should layer a half a foot of dirt onto the concrete floor or use rubber mats if necessary (which are safer than concrete, but will require quite a bit of daily cleanup). Bare concrete and hardwood floors are not acceptable for goats. In areas with larger predators such as wolves or coyotes, you should be able to close in the goats at night while still providing air circulation.

Ideally, you should provide a lot of dry and clean straw in a goat’s indoor living space. They love using straw as bedding, especially in colder weather. You must remove and replace all wet and soiled straw  to prevent serious health risks to goats. There are products you can spread on wet areas such as hydrated lime alternatives like Sweet PDZ or Stall Dry to keep the living space free of moisture. If you cannot access straw, you can use other clean and replaceable materials such as wood shavings, but straw is best for goats! Exhaust fans with locking shutters are very effective at keeping barns well-ventilated and dry.

Goats generally like to climb and nibble on interesting things. Because of this, you must ensure that everything that they should not be nibbling on (especially electrical equipment and wiring) is secured out of reach!

Summer Considerations

A goat’s indoor living space needs to be waterproof, in both warm and cold conditions. Although they are fairly good at regulating their body temperature, excessive heat can lead to exhaustion and dehydration in goats. Therefore, you need to make sure that they can stay cool indoors in the summer. If it gets too hot for them to be comfortable, you can use water misting fans, but you have to make absolutely sure you aren’t getting their living space too moist. Even basic circulating fans can be kept on automatic thermostats to keep residents comfortable, but you must ensure that all cables are safely secured!

Winter Considerations

In the winter, you have to make sure that the barn is ventilated but not drafty, because humidity can quickly build up in a warm barn and cause dangerous pneumonia outbreaks in a herd. If your barn is draft-free, a goat’s body (especially a herd of goats in an appropriately-sized area) can provide a good deal of warmth, so barring excessively cold temperatures, you will likely be able to keep them comfortable by keeping doors closed (while still allowing for ventilation), adding extra bedding, and using goat coats for anyone who appears cold.  Also make sure they have access to lots of hay because eating and ruminating helps keep them warm too!

Goat Coats

If you are caring for goats who need extra help staying warm in the winter (such as smaller or older goats), coats are a good way to help them stay comfortable. If you do employ coats, you must make sure that they do not impede or accumulate urine- this is a common issue with male goats wearing coats with belly straps.  If the strap slips over the pizzle, it can cause serious issues such as Pizzle End Rot.  It’s good practice to check coats daily to ensure they are fitting properly and have not become wet.  Removing and checking under the coat weekly will help ensure you aren’t missing any issues that are hiding under the coat such as weight loss, external parasites (lice love hiding under the warmth of a coat), or other issues.

Condensation Concerns

If you feel condensation on the walls or ceiling of a barn in the wintertime, it must be immediately ventilated as it is far too moist for safe goat habitation!

An oversized indoor living space is not ideal in the winter as they will have a harder time keeping warm in it. If absolutely necessary, you can use ceramic bulb heat lamps, but you must make sure to keep electrical cords out of reach from curious residents and make triple sure to keep heating elements clean and dust free! Barn fires are tragically common occurrences. Ceramic heating panels are a safer option, or if you have ample funding, radiant floor heating covered in dirt is the most ideal and safe heating solution for animals in barns. If you look into installing radiant floor heating, be aware that this system could cause an environment that is too humid depending on the type of enclosure you have. Typically, wood structures will “breathe” better than concrete block or metal sided buildings, which are more likely to sweat and contribute to high humidity levels.  Additional ventilation may be necessary when using radiant floor heating.

Determine if and at what temperature the indoor water supply may freeze in the winter. Be prepared to empty waterers at night and provide fresh warm water for overnight access. Automated waterers with heaters on thermostats can be very helpful for keeping residents safely hydrated all season long.

Ensure that there is no risk of snow or ice falling off of structures and striking residents.

Outdoor Living Spaces For Goats

Goats need a safely enclosed outdoor space to spend time in throughout the day and browse if they so choose. The area must be fenced in with materials that can’t be easily jumped over by a goat. Four to five foot “no-climb” 2×4 inch woven wire horse fencing (embedded a fair distance into the ground and buried if you are concerned about goats “rolling” up the fencing) is an ideal choice for keeping goats safely within the space and some predators out. Woven wire is preferable to welded wire which is more likely to break when put under pressure (such as by a resident rubbing against or head-butting the fence). Not only is a broken area of fencing a potential safety concern in terms of keeping residents safe from predators and safely within their living space, the broken fencing could also cause injury or entrapment. Be sure to consider the types of predators in your area- some, such as coyotes, can climb or jump most fences, especially if they are desperate for food, so you may have to take additional compassionate precautions to keep your residents safe. You need to regularly walk the perimeter of the fence to ensure that your fence does not have any gaps in it that a goat can sneak out of or a predator can break into or under. It’s not recommended to use any kind of fencing that has openings in it where a curious goat might get their head caught, such as field fencing, hog paneling, or widely spaced slatted fencing, and goats cannot be around high tensile wire fences!

Goats can be very rough on fencing, especially if there is a neighboring goat herd on the other side. The addition of non-arsenic pressure treated wood boards can help protect the no-climb fencing from constant slamming, which can pop large holes in the fencing.  In some instances, sandwiching the no-climb with wood boards is necessary to protect both sides of the fence (and also to prevent goats from knocking off boards on the opposite side of the fence).  This fencing technique is more expensive than simply using no-climb fencing but can save you lots of time and additional costs later on.

Gate Security For Goats

Goats are known to be very curious and quite adept at getting through seemingly secured gates! It’s a good idea to have all goat entryways secured with at least two different methods (such as a latch and a chain loop) when closed to prevent any would-be hooved Houdinis!

It’s very important that you know what kind of pasture goats are browsing on. Certain plants are toxic to goats, and you need to ensure that any dangerous plants are removed from the pasture before a goat is allowed to roam there. Even common ornamental plants like rhododendrons can be fatal to them. A local governmental agricultural department should be able to tell you what regional plants you need to protect goats from. You also should not let a goat graze on an alfalfa pasture, as it is very rich in calcium and protein and can lead to urinary calculi and bloat, both of which are life-threatening conditions. If goats graze on clover or (as previously not recommended,) alfalfa pasture and it rains, you should not allow them out to graze as wet clover or alfalfa can lead to bloat as well.

Ideally, the outdoor space should consist of mixed grasses and clover as well as goat-safe browse. If they’re relying on pasture for their nutrition, a goat needs at least 8 hours of grazing time per day (a healthy goat needs to eat approximately 4-6% of their bodyweight in hay, with more if health compromised, very young or old, a new mother, or in colder climates). Goats can fairly quickly strip a grassy area down to the dirt, which can lead to muddy conditions. If a goat’s pasture is consistently muddy, make sure to provide ample space for the goats to keep their feet dry. Chronically dirty feet can lead to foot infections. You should also have a shady area in their outdoor enclosure that they can access on the hotter days of the year. If there are any trees or landscaping that you don’t want destroyed, you should make sure to fence goats away from them, because they are quite adept at defoliating all kinds of plant life!  If there are non-toxic trees that you want to be available for goats to browse on, be aware that goats often strip the bark off trees, killing them.  A simple solution is to either plant these trees on the other side of a fence so that goats can reach branches but not the trunk, or you can fence around trees that are in their pasture.

Ice Concerns

Goats should never walk on any icy paths, as a slip could seriously injure them. Thus, you will have to create a slip-mitigation plan if it gets icy at your sanctuary. In addition, if you are de-icing areas that goats walk on, do not use caustic or salt-based products as these can damage their feet!

Ideally, you should have two different pastures for goats, so you can let one regenerate while the other one is in use. This way, it will never get too muddy or barren for goats, and can lower the chances of goats getting infected by internal parasites. Goats are more susceptible to internal parasites than other ruminants. Planting goat safe high tannin, chicory, birdsfoot trefoil, or sericea-lespedeza plants can help reduce goat parasites such as Barber Pole Worm. Another way to prevent goat parasites is to allow the goats to graze on pasture with equines, or another species not affected by goat parasites, or to let them graze on a pasture that has regenerated after being grazed upon by one of those species (sheep don’t count as they can get and spread Barber Pole Worms, too).

Goats are natural climbers who love to explore, so be sure to offer them an interesting and varied outdoor space.  Large, sturdy natural rock formations make great climbing opportunities, but even if your terrain is completely flat, you can still provide exciting climbing opportunities for your residents.  Wooden platforms and jungle gyms are great additions to a goat’s living space.  For more ideas on climbing opportunities, check out our resource on goat-safe enrichment!

It’s important for goats to have free access to their indoor space so they can get out of the elements if they so choose, and they should always have access to a clean water source wherever they choose to spend their time!

SOURCES:

Goat Care | Farm Sanctuary*

Goat Fact Sheet | Catskill Animal Sanctuary

Standards For Ruminant Sanctuaries | Global Federation Of Animal Sanctuaries

Building A Safe And Healthy Habitat For Your Goats | Off The Grid (Non-Compassionate Source)

Tips For Keeping Goats Warm In The Winter | Hoegger (Non-Compassionate Source)

How To Protect Your Goats From Poisonous Plants | Dummies (Non-Compassionate Source)

*As of the publishing of this resource, the online care guide does not reflect the updated information provided to 2018 FACC attendees.

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on June 22, 2021

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