Danger Collie Goat Page

Using Goats As Brush Control - Real World Experience

The Fence

This is the south pasture but all the fence is pretty much like this.

If someone asks you to help fence 9 acres, take my advice and feign injury, change your name, your phone number, dye your hair and enroll in the witness protection program. Really.

A smart fella might have opted to tackle this project in two halves and done the north and south sections separately. That would have been smart, which probably tells you that I opted to do the whole thing. Before getting started I solicited bids from local fence contractors. Perhaps it would be better to say I tried to solicit bids from local fence contractors. Out of the five I called, only two returned my calls and only one bothered to actually give me a bid. Apparently the fence business is pretty good. More likely it's the kind of business one only takes up at gunpoint. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

So that left me to try it myself. I did a lot of reading on the internets machine about what type of fencing works for goats...almost all of it wrong, but I didn't know that at the time. After two back-breaking days of work just taking measurements and digging test post holes it was clear this was too big of a job to handle alone.

By shear coincidence our assistant fire chief used to be a fence contractor. He's employed by a cotton farmer and isn't quite as busy in the winter. He lives a couple miles from here, has a tractor with a front bucket and post hole digger and enough family to call on for help. He looked it over and we worked out a price that was a little less than the bid I got from the one contractor who actually showed up.

For goats the best fence I've found is called web wire around here, also known as field fence or woven wire. It costs a little more than barbed wire but will make a good barrier to keep goats in and predators out. Some goat ranchers don't like field fence because animals can sometimes get their horns hooked in the panels. You can discourage that behavior by running an electric wire on 5 inch stand off insulators 6-8 inches off the ground. Add another hot wire and a strand of barbed wire across the top to discourage deer and predators like dogs and coyotes. I also spray grass killer along the fence line which diminishes their incentive to stick their head through the web panels.

In my reading I ran across examples of people going completely overboard on their fence. Some of them with sections 7 or 8 feet tall. For a place this size that's simply not practical. And, in most cases, not necessary. A couple miles from here there's a family with a few goats and pot bellied pigs in a pen that's made of nothing but 4 strand electric fence. They have the occasional escape but seem to manage just fine. What I learned about goats is that the bottom three feet is more important than the top two feet. The bottom three feet will keep your goats in, the top is for keeping other critters out.

Since the cost and effort to string web wire is not insignificant, we opted to use web wire across the front where it's relatively flat and visible from the road. Down the sides we used barbed wire and the back already had some decades old barbed wire nearly completely overgrown by grape vines and poison ivy.

As you can read in other blog entries, we messed up on the barbed wire. I'd say "my fence guy messed up on the barbed wire" but he's still my assistant fire chief and I don't really feel like rolling hoses the rest of my time here. We had the bottom strand up too high and the goats were able to escape by just sliding under. My suggestion if you opt for barbed wire would be going with six strands and two hot wires, space the bottom three strands of barbed wire tighter than the top three and put the hot wires in between the barbed wire. Although deer and coyotes can clear a fence jumping, around here I find they're more likely to try slipping in between improperly spaced barbed wire strands. If they stick their head through the strands and get zapped, they'll be less inclined to try again.

With goat fence the bottom three feet is more important than the top two.

Fence Chargers

For goats you will almost certainly need some type of electric fence charger. Otherwise they'll challenge the fence regularly and use it as a scratching post, which will bend your wire and make all your hard work look sloppy. Goats have a relentless desire to wander. No matter how nice you make it on your side of the fence, they'll always want to be on the other side. There could be a burning lake of sulfur or a giant blender with spinning steel blades on the other side and your goats would still want to go check it out.

Solar Chargers

Another fence mistake I made was picking a solar charger. I bought the best, most powerful solar charger I could find and my goats treat it as a mere inconvenience. If you look on the fence charger box, sometimes you'll see little pictures of the animals it's supposed to stop. There's a reason the goat pictures are lumped in with elephants, freight trains, grizzly bears and T-Rex. Solar chargers just don't have the juice or the pulse rate to keep goats under control. Although if you have web wire all the way around, a solar charger will probably be good enough to keep them from challenging the fence or sticking their head through and getting stuck. On their second day in our yard the goats ducked under the barbed wire and took the hit from the solar charger without even slowing down, even the babies. And once they figured it out, they would actually run across the yard and barely break stride getting out again. You can read the gory details in this blog entry.

Plug-In Chargers

Many publications suggest 4,000 volts is sufficient to keep goats contained. I beg to differ. 4K volts may keep them from leaning on the fence but my the solar charge pulsed 10K and it didn't even slow them down. After the escape I went out and bought a seriously powerful plug-in model. A Parmak Mark 7. It comes with a warning not to use it in small containment areas or areas that are convenient to human traffic.

There's a really good reason for that warning.

I got bit by it one day, wearing gloves and insulated boots, when reaching through to tighten a strand of barbed wire without unplugging the charger. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!!!! Followed by a stream of creative obscenities clearly audible to the neighbors. My arm tingled the rest of the afternoon. The Parmak is routinely pulsing 16-19 Kvolts. You can spot weld with the spark it makes. It puts out what I call educational voltage and that's what you need. For the goats inside and the critters outside.


I'll spare you the details, but a few hints include:

  • Expect it to take longer than you think
  • Expect it to cost more (much more)
  • Expect it to be back-breaking miserable work even under ideal conditions

There's a reason fence contractors aren't particularly anxious to call you back.

There's one tip for setting fence posts I'll pass along that I learned along the way. Instead of setting a post with concrete, you can set most posts by pouring a bag of pea gravel in the hole around the post and tamping it down with an old broom handle. I was skeptical of that post mounting technique but it it works amazingly well. That post will be set and one of the other guys on the department said he stood a tractor up on its back wheels trying to pull one out. The added advantage is that water will drain better and your posts will last longer. The exception is the posts that the gates swing on, we mounted those in concrete for added stability.

Clearing the back fence line was a killer. Two weekends, two chainsaws, four people. And that was in the winter. If had to do it over again I'd be seriously tempted to try napalm. Re-enact that scene from Apocalypse Now where the entire tree line goes up in a giant ball of flame. It would clear out all the brush and be really, really cool to watch.

The nice thing about bringing goats in is when you get the grape vines cleared out, they'll keep them from growing back. Unfortunately I have too much land and not enough goats. So the back is a really scary place. And you can hardly tell we spent days clearing it out the way it looks now. So I'll either have to get more goats or pen them back in the weedy parts until they clear it out. But where they do graze, no vines grow back there. Not very long anyway.


Total area: 9 acres
Construction: Wood corner posts, 6 ft steel t-posts @ 8ft intervals. Web wire across the front, barbed wire across the sides and back. Three 16 foot livestock gates.
Fence charger: 1 ParMak 10K solar on the north side and a ParMak Mark 7 for the south pasture and back fence.
Cost: Approximately $4,000 in materials and $2,500 in labor.

Parting Thoughts

Doing it over, I wouldn't even consider a solar charger. That was almost $300 I could have blown on wine, women and song. Yes, they're both a waste of money but at least with one of them you could get some cell phone camera pictures that would make the whole thing worth it. I might be able to use the solar charger in some capacity, maybe as a portable charger to light up temporary fencing to keep them penned back in the weedy parts of the property. With goats you're better off getting the most powerful livestock charger known to man and getting a second, battery powered spare in case of an extended power outage or maintenance issue.

Field fence if you can, barbed wire if you have to.

Most stocking densities say 10-12 goats per acre and that's about right. I have seven with access to about 5 grazing acres and there are parts of the property they've never seen.

Remember: It costs as much for first five as the next 50.

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Comments on this article:

Hmm, very cognitive post. Is this theme good unough for the Digg?
by: Azazael
Don't know if it's popular enough for Digg, but thanks. It's mainly for people thinking about getting goats. They are marvelous biological weed control agents. And quite tasty.

Hi People How are you doing?
by: Eteseestots
We're doing fine. How's the forum spam business these days?

I should email my pal about your post.
by: Stolen Virginity
Please do.

very useful article. I would love to follow you on twitter.
by: AC
I'll figure out the Twitter API for announcing new articles eventually.

www.dangercollie.com; You saved my day again.
by: FCI
Glad we could be of service.

I really like when people are expressing their opinion and thought. So I like the way you are writing
by: Albert Harris
You're welcome. We aim to please.

You have really great taste on catch article titles, even when you are not interested in this topic you push to read it
by: Arthur Cox
Why thank you. I try.

It was certainly interesting for me to read this post. Thanks the author for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more on that blog soon. Best regards
by: anonymous
Glad you enjoyed it. I'm planning on rolling these stories into a book about hobby farming.

How you find ideas for articles, I am always lack of new ideas for articles. Some tips would be great
by: anonymous
Mainly just walking out in the pasture and looking around. I just write about what happens.

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