Rule number one in raising goats is keeping them safe, which is hard to do at night when many predators are prowling about, and you’re most likely sound asleep. Goats require only a small amount of sleep (just over five hours a day), and they can see relatively well at night even in low light (thanks to their rectangular pupils), so they are active at night when you’re not around.
Should goats be locked up at night? Goats should always be locked up in some way at night. Goats need protection from predators but may not need to be locked in a goat house. In addition to housing protection, goats can be locked in protective fencing or guardian animals to be kept safe.
What are the most effective ways to keep goats safe? I polled over 300 goat owners and discovered that almost 60% of goat owners lock their goats up at night. 40% do not. Why not? Because they use other forms of protection for their goat friends.
Here are five of the most frequently used goat protection options, ordered from what I consider the most important to the least optimal level of protection. You can decide which (or which combination) is best for you.
- Fencing: Good fences are the absolute key to keeping your goats safe. Most goat keepers combine a woven wire fence with electric fencing, though solely one or the other can work as well if installed correctly.
- Livestock Guardian Dogs: The most reliable protection for your goats is likely to be a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD). These dogs have been bred specifically for this purpose, so most of them have strong instincts to protect their charges on your farm.
- Housing: All goats need shelter from inclement weather. If the predator load is high in your area and your fencing is less than ideal, a lockable goat house or a pole barn that you can close and lock at night is a great option.
- Guardian Livestock Kept with Goats: Donkeys and dogs are natural enemies. Most full-sized jacks and jennies would love the opportunity to crush a coyote. Other animals such as horses, llamas, and even emus may also keep predators at bay.
- Herd Size and Natural Goat Protection: Some experienced goat keepers trust the size of their goats, goatherd, and the goats’ natural protection–their horns and eyes.
First Goat Protection Option: Fencing
Fencing is expensive but necessary to keep your goats in and to discourage uninvited after-hours visits. Some goat keepers find that it’s not needed to lock goats into an enclosure at night with adequate fencing. Keyword: good fencing.
If your budget is tight, rather than fencing in your entire pasture with a predator-proof fence, you can create a night pen for your goats. Using optimal fencing materials, you should build this night pen around your goats’ shelter so they can get out of the elements at night. The night-pen should be open during the day to allow your goats to forage. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has great goat fencing information here, or see this article by the Oklahoma State Extension Office.
Having tried several fence methods (and found that goats are incredible escape artists), I would recommend the following fence types organized from my favorite to my least favorite.
Portable Electric Netting
My number one choice of goat fencing is portable electric netting. This fence allows me to move my goats around the field relatively quickly, let certain areas rest, and offer my goats various grazing options. And because I don’t need a considerable amount of it, it is cost-effective.
And keep in mind that whichever fence option you choose, it should reach at least 5-6 feet high to keep your goats in and discourage predation. Ideally, you can fence your entire property. Still, keep in mind that most perimeter fences will not fully protect your goats from predators.
Woven Field Fence
Near the top of my list is a woven field fence. It is easy to set up, comes in a great variety of sizes, and is durable when installed properly.
The smaller holes of the 2” x 4” field fence are a safer bet for goats with horns, though my goats quickly learned how to turn their heads and extricate themselves from an occasional horn stuck in a fence.
I use field fencing around my goats’ night housing. I eventually added a strand of electric tensile wire along the top as my goats jumped on it and rubbed against it all day long. The wear tended to sag the fence after only a few months. The electric fence line solved that problem.
Electric Tensile Fencing
Electric tensile fencing uses many strands of wire, each of which is electrified. Tensile means it is stretched tightly for durability. It is a step above barbed wire because it’s convenient and not expensive initially.
But it has to be replaced annually unless you purchase the heavier electric woven wire, which can last from 5-15 years (depending on care). And, the woven wire costs more.
Electric fencing requires almost no maintenance through the summer, but it does require regular checks during the winter when the soil is dry, and animals’ winter coats are thick. It may require additional voltage for adequate protection.
In addition, weeds and branches along the fence line must be trimmed, or the strength of the shock diminishes. It is inconvenient to install and maintain an electric fence along a row of trees or plentiful weeds.
And like the barbed wire option, you should string it with more lines than required for larger livestock to be sure your goats don’t slip through the fence lines. It would be harrowing for a goat to get stuck in an electric fence.
Hog panels come in 3rd place because of their cost and the difficulty of moving them. Hog panels come in 16-foot lengths. They range from $39.99 for a 42” high panel to $44.99 for a 56” tall panel at the Tractor Supply Store where I live. There is a 34” high option for $28.99/panel. That may suffice for pregnant does and kids, but it is not high enough to keep your standard-sized goats enclosed.
For about $160 (plus the cost of the posts), you could buy four hog panels and create a 16’ x16’ square enclosure (appropriate for about two goats). But your goats would need additional feed supplements or be moved nearly daily to provide them sufficient nutrition. To move a hog panel, you’d have to install T posts and be willing to spend a lot of time every day moving unwieldy panels.
Barbed wire is my least favorite option. It is commonly used on farms, so it is widely available, not challenging to install, and not costly. However, attempting to keep goats in a barbed-wire fence requires you to string more wires (especially down low) than you would use for other livestock.
Stringing more wires is more work and more costly, so the cost efficiency and ease of installation are both diminished. The risk of injury is also higher than with other forms of fencing.
Second Goat Protection Consideration: LGDs
Except for the essential requirement of good fencing for your goats, the best form of protection for your herd is Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs). There are many breeds of LGDs, so be sure to research the species that will work best in your location and your needs.
Our newborn goats lived inside and on our porch for their first 3-4 weeks but eventually had to head out to the great unknown. About that time, some neighbors of ours lost a mini donkey to a panther in the late afternoon.
We already locked up our kids at night, but now we became concerned about them during the day when we weren’t home. Since we already had a solid perimeter fence and a goat house, we found a pair of young Anatolian Shepherds. Anatolian Shepherds are Livestock Guardian Dogs that have been bred for several millennia in Turkey to protect vast herds of goats and sheep.
LGDs work best in pairs. Depending on the size of your farm and the number of livestock, you may need more than two. But you are unlikely to find a more reliable source of protection for your herd. The dogs’ bark alone keeps most animals at bay.
And the few hungry critters who have accidentally wandered onto our property have not been left alive. If you’re willing to take the time and financial investment, they are well worth the effort to protect your goats.
We no longer need to lock our goats anywhere at night. We feel confident that our goats are entirely safe between our woven wire fencing (topped with electric wires), the fencing around their night pen, and our LGDs. Many other goat owners shared this sentiment.
Third Goat Protection Consideration: Housing
All goats need access to shelter from inclement weather, and you can use this for night protection as well. A closed pole barn or lockable goat house is a great solution to provide weather and predator protection. It is my third favorite option because it may be difficult to lock a large herd into a barn every night.
There is little my goats hate more than getting wet, and living in South Florida. They have to face summer storms almost every day from May through September. Early on, we built them a goat townhouse. Their townhouse has an upper room that is lockable for protection at night and space below to get out of the summer sun or rains (see photo).
Your goat house should be well ventilated and spacious enough for all your goats. You should clean it quickly to keep the goat pellets from piling up and breeding parasites.
If your goat house cannot be locked and if your perimeter fence is lacking, a row of electric netting around their shelter is the key to reducing predation. Our goat house is in the center of their fenced-in goat yard, which is protected again by a fence that runs the entirety of our property. The exterior fence has three rows of electric strands.
We have suffered no goat predation in the six years we’ve raised them. But that may be because we also keep livestock guardian dogs.
Fourth Goat Protection Consideration: Other Livestock
Another option is to use guardian livestock. If you’ve ever seen a donkey in attack mode, you’ll understand why many people use standard-sized donkeys to guard their goats.
A donkey’s bray-alert is enough to convince most predators to find an easier target. And those who persist are likely to be bitten on the back of the neck and stomped by a 400-500 pound equine.
Other goat-keepers use horses as protection animals, and emus and llamas have been known to help keep a herd safe as well. Plus, their dislike for unknown visitors causes them to call out in alarm. Their alarm call alone can chase predators away. Still, these guardians leave me with some concerns.
The problem with the above livestock guardians is that they are livestock themselves, so with a large enough predator load, they may be vulnerable. In addition, it is a matter of their being in the right place at the right time. They may be unreliable. Please see our article about donkeys as livestock guardian animals.
Fifth Goat Protection Consideration: Goats’ Natural Protection
For most people, letting goats protect themselves is the least reliable source of protection, but it may work if your goats are large enough and the predator load is small enough. A full-sized Nubian, Alpine, or Saanen buck will weigh in around 180lbs.
Add horns to that picture (though many Nubians are polled), and you have a somewhat formidable foe. It is unlikely a coyote, for example, would consider attacking a large buck.
Herd size also matters. A large herd of such goats is safer from predation than three or four backyard Nigerian Dwarf goats. A coyote will undoubtedly attack a pregnant doe or a kid off on their own but would be unlikely to venture into the middle of a large herd of horned Alpines to reach them.
Goats’ eyes also have a pupil shaped to see wide angles. This helps them to detect enemies and see well even at night. This eye shape evolved to allow them to avoid encounters with predators whenever possible, as they may be able to spot their predator before the predator sees them.
Still, almost all goat keepers agree that other forms of protection are essential to keeping a healthy herd of goats.
Know Which Predators Your Goats Are In Danger From
Understanding what predators are in your area is key to knowing how much and what extent of fencing you’ll need. In addition to talking to your neighbors about predators they’ve faced, I’ve compiled information about what predators are local.
I’ve compiled this list of top goat predators from a report put out by the USDA (click here for the entire report). Click on each animal to determine whether they live in your area.
Note: Two of the predators, coyotes and neighborhood dogs, account for 65% of the goat and kid harm across the US. Plus, almost 15% of the predators are never identified. This leaves surprisingly small numbers of kills for some of the animals you’re probably most concerned about.
Top Nine Predator List (click name to see distribution in the US)
Coyotes (43.1% of goat and kid predation)
Unknown Predators (14.5%)
Bobcats or Lynx (4.8%)
Feral Pigs (1.2%)
Now that you know which predators live near you and that your goats are most likely to be lost to coyotes or wandering neighborhood dogs (and unlikely to be lost to bears), you can decide what type of protection your goat is herd needs. If you want more information about the specific predators most common where you live, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local county or state agriculture office.
Keeping goats is a great joy that comes with great responsibility. Your goats entirely rely on you for their housing and protection. There are numerous combinations of security available. Please consider what you can provide your goats to keep them safe long before you bring your first goats to their new forever home!