Goat Fencing 101

About half or more of our clients don’t have fencing around their properties, which makes goat grazing an interesting challenge. I get asked about it all the time, so I thought I’d just share how we deal with these goat containment conundrums with you all.

Floppy posing behind our electric net fence.

Surveying the Site

Our first step with every potential client always is to visit the property and do a site inspection to answer these questions: Will goat grazing be able to accomplish what the property owner wants? Is it practical? Is it safe?

We don’t accept every client who wants to hire us. Every so often we will turn a job down because the answer to one or all of those questions is “no.” Outside of toxic plants and predators, my main safety concern is whether or not I can successfully keep the goats where I want them to be. Them escaping is my nightmare (and yes, I’ve actually had nightmares about this).

The best solution we have is to install a temporary electric fence. This isn’t super complicated, but every so often there are circumstances that prevent us from using this. For instance, some yards are so overgrown that the ground is buried 4 feet under a mess of thorny blackberry, keeping us from getting the fence spikes in the ground. Ground that is too dry or sandy can also be problematic, for reasons I’ll discuss below.

Assuming the site is a good candidate, we’ll move forward installing the electric fence the day before the goats arrive (it can take hours, and we’d rather not have the goats bored in the trailer the whole time).

Our Equipment

For the purposes of this blog, I’m only going to address the type of fence that we use. Just be aware that there are other types out there. We get all of our fencing from Premier 1 Supplies. After a lot of research, experience, and discussions with other ranchers, I’ve found this company to have the best quality equipment, and the most friendly, helpful staff. The type of fence we use is the E’Stop 9/42/6 electric netting. The numbers mean that the fence has 9 horizontal twines, is 42″ tall, and has vertical twines every 6 inches. We use 164′ rolls with the double spike, which I’ve found makes the fence easier to install and less saggy. We use a Stafix x3 battery energizer (we also have a Speedrite Delta 3B which I’m having problems with right now), deep cycle marine batteries, and copper ground rods.

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How does it work?

If all goes well, our fence will deliver about a 7,000 volt shock to anything that touches it, keeping the goats in and everything else out. The shock is sent out in a pulse – the actual amount of time the fence is “hot” is about 3/10,000ths of a second, and this happens every 1.5 seconds on the “fast” setting that we keep it on. It can go as slow as every 2.5 seconds, which isn’t fast enough for curious goats in my opinion.

Have some basic understanding of how electricity works goes a long way when it comes to using these fences. Farming is just one of those jobs that requires you know a little bit about a lot. So here’s a brief rundown, and hopefully I won’t confuse you too much.

For electricity to do what you want it to, it needs to complete a circuit. The energizer generates a high voltage pulse (powered by the deep cycle battery), sends it to the fence, and when an animal touches it, the electricity takes that opportunity to complete the circuit and head home, back to the energizer. The electricity goes through the muscles of the animal (causing the pain), into the earth, and travels through the moisture in the earth to the ground rods that lead back to the energizer.

This brings me back to the comment I made earlier about dry soils being less than ideal for electric fencing. When we install the fence, we put about 9′ of ground rod into the soil. The rods are connected to the energizer, connecting it to the moisture in the soil. Dry or sandy soil is a poor conductor of electricity, and can render your fence practically useless.

I also make a point of walking the fence daily to check for shorts (vegetation, especially when wet, sucks energy from the fence if touching the hot wires) and sagging or fallen posts.

Why Such High Voltage?

We have a fence tester that lights up, indicating the voltage of the fence up to 7,000 volts, which is where I want it for me to feel confident in my fence. I’ve accidentally brushed up against it on more than one occasion, and it’s a serious shock. But take a look at a goat, and you’ll see that they’re quite well insulated. Fur and hooves don’t conduct electricity well, so it takes a relatively high voltage for them to feel it.

The shock is very uncomfortable for the 3/10,000ths of a second that it lasts, but doesn’t cause any lasting damage and is perfectly safe for people and animals.

Last but not least, goats have to be trained!

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Trained goats respect the fence even when food is right on the other side.

An electric fence is a psychological barrier, not a physical one. This is very important for anyone who wants to use electric fencing to understand. You have to train goats to respect it, and once they’re properly trained, they should never even think about touching it again. My method is this:

Make a small paddock with the temporary fence – just big enough to hold the goats comfortably with room to mill around. I build this out from the entrance to their pen so they can go in and out of the training area as needed. This gives them an escape route in case they get really freaked out and make a run for it. Make absolutely sure that your system is well grounded and outputting at least 7,000 volts. Never train animals to a weak fence, and whatever you do, don’t let them touch the fence when the system is off!

Being calm is key here. With the fence on, herd them into the fenced area and let them check it out. You don’t need to push them toward the fence – they’re curious animals, and they’ll figure it out on their own, so stand back and observe. Don’t leave them alone with the electric fence while you’re training them. You never know how they’ll react to the shock – hopefully they’ll back up, but sometimes they get confused and charge through it, so be ready for anything.

Training doesn’t take more than a day of this in my experience, but I usually do a second day where I repeat the process but put a bale of hay just on the other side of the fence. If they keep their distance from the fence despite seeing that tasty hay, you’ve got trained goats.

Despite all of the best efforts, there’s a chance a goat may become a fence jumper. If your goat is tall enough that he can see clear over the fence just standing next to it, chances are he’ll think it’s a big joke and hop right over, so make sure you get a fence height that’s right for your herd. Remember that electricity needs to complete the circuit for them to get shocked, and airborne goats don’t do this. They need to have their hooves on the ground to be shocked. Fence jumping goats shouldn’t be tolerated – goats are fast learners, and they’ll have your whole herd trained to see the fence as a fun obstacle course in no time. Once a goat has had a few successful escapes, there’s not much hope for retraining him. Those goats can be sold, eaten, given away, put elsewhere on the farm, anywhere but with your trained goats when they’re in an electric fence.

Even trained goats shouldn’t be left in an electric fence when the electricity’s off. All it takes is one of them accidentally bumping into it and realizing that it’s safe to touch. You can’t underestimate how smart goats are.

Goats can always get through an electric fence if they really want to. If they feel like they’re in danger or if they’re not getting proper nutrition and can see food on the other side, they’ll get over no matter what. They will just decide it’s worth getting shocked to get out, so fenced animals should always be well cared for, comfortable and safe.

One final word of advice: when you’re not using your electric fence and energizer, store them somewhere rodents can’t find them. They just love eating electric wires!