Goats aren't lawnmowers; how to care for your pet goat
Are you thinking about adopting a goat? Goats are curious, playful animals and can make wonderful pets! Like all animals, they require special care - they can’t be adopted just to do some ‘goatscaping’! Here are our useful goat care tips.
Despite the popular myth, goats don’t make good lawnmowers! Goats are herbivores and require a proper diet of good quality hay, grass, plant materials, and additional supplements. Furthermore, they are ‘browsers’, which means they like to nibble on plants selectively, and they prefer not to eat from the ground. Goats love to forage so will appreciate a variety of different types of plant material, but please remember that many plants are poisonous to goats. Avoid feeding your goat rhododendron, honeysuckle, evergreen, buttercup, any plant from the nightshade family, any part of flowering plants, or any bulbous plants such as daffodils or tulips. If there is any doubt whether a plant is safe for your goats, then do not feed it to them.
Make sure fresh, clean water is available to your goats at all times. Water containers should be positioned so that goats are unable to knock them over, defecate, or urinate in them.
Tips for feeding goats:
• Goats prefer not to feed from the ground, so try to place foods at different heights that they can forage as they would do in the wild.
• New foods must be introduced gradually in small amounts alongside foods your goats are familiar with – goats do not cope well with sudden changes in diet.
• When feeding goats together, spread the food out so they are not competing for space to feed.
• Clean food and water dispensers regularly. Goats can be fussy about the cleanliness of the water they drink.
Goats are highly intelligent, social animals and need an environment that stimulates them both physically and mentally. The best environment for goats is one with a lots of space to run and play, and varied terrain or objects to climb on or explore. Their surroundings need to be clean, comfortable and offer suitable protection from the elements and possible dangers.
Your goats’ enclosure must be large enough so that they can exercise, explore, play and climb. Tree stumps, logs, sturdy huts, raised planks, large tyres and wooden benches all are great items for goats to jump and climb on. Remember that goats love to chew, so always monitor their environment to check if the enrichment provided is still suitable.
Goats are also curious and playful animals that need to be provided with stimulation to help prevent them getting bored or developing problem behaviours, such as chewing or trying to escape. Provide different food or present it in creative ways, such as hanging it from various heights. Change your goats’ environment regularly so that there are always new things to investigate. Make sure that any new enrichment items are non-toxic and safe for your goats.
The great escape
Goats are incredibly inquisitive and active, and they are also known for being excellent escape artists and can be very destructive. It's important that all fencing for goats must be strong and sturdy, and without any crevices or platforms that may allow your goat to escape.
Fencing should be a minimum of 1550mm, depending on the size of the goat and must comply with any government or local council regulations. Larger or more agile goats may need higher fences. Note that goats are able to squeeze through hedges, however thick, and climb most banks and stone walls.
Goats can become trapped in unsuitable fencing. Gaps in the fence must be small enough that goats will not get their heads and limbs stuck, and so that any small goats cannot squeeze through. Owners of horned goats will need to take particular care not to have netting-type fencing as the goats’ horns can easily become tangled in these fences.
Monitor your fence boundary for signs of damage or digging underneath. As well as requiring repair, these may be indicators that your goats are bored and need more enrichment.
Safety and shelter
Your goats’ environment should be free from toxic or hazardous substances or items, for example poisonous plants or sharp nails. Being browsers, goats tend to inspect and nibble most things in their environment! In addition, fences and woodwork should not be coated in anything that might be toxic to the goats if it is consumed.
It's importnat to note that goats should not be tethered. Tethering prevents them from being able to express their natural behaviour and can also put them in significant risk from entanglement, or injury. Sores or injuries can also develop under their collar. In addition, tethered goats may be in danger from mistreatment by unkind humans or attacks from other animals such as dogs.
Tethering is only acceptable during short-term veterinary or husbandry procedures, and where the goat is supervised. When it is necessary to temporarily use a tether, specific care must be taken to select a type and length which ensures that the goat is prevented from likely or actual harm. Any collar used must be soft, with a swizzle D cup connector, and only chains that cannot be tangled should be used.
Shelter provided for goats must be able to withstand and provide protection from the most extreme weather conditions like heat, cold, wind, and rain. Goats especially hate getting wet because they lack natural waterproofing, have a thin coat, and have very little fat under their skin, which makes them susceptible to the cold.
Tips for creating good shelter:
• Make sure it’s big enough for goats to comfortably stand up, move around in and lie down.
• The shelter should be clean, dry, well ventilated and contain appropriate bedding, such as a layer of straw or wood shavings.
• Raising the shelter above the ground will help to keep it dry. Don’t forget to provide a ramp so that the goats can access their shelter!
• Avoid metal shelters as these are too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Buildings that contain a large amount of glass should also not be used as they can act like a greenhouse, becoming very hot.
The goats’ shelter must be free from any potentially harmful items/areas (e.g. sharp protrusions) and must be regularly checked and maintained to ensure it remains in an acceptable state.
While some herds of goats are happy to share a ‘main goat house’, other herds may not be happy to do so. Monitor the behaviour of your goats to ensure that they are all able to seek shelter safely. If any goats are being excluded, you will need to provide additional shelter.
• Goats need friends! Goats are social herd animals that should not be kept alone. It’s best to have at least two goats that get on well together.
• Goats need regular veterinary care. Vaccination, worming, foot care, general health checks and emergency care are all very important for goats. Goats tend to deteriorate quickly when they are ill, so it’s good to keep on top of things!
• Different breeds have different needs. There are a variety of breeds of goat, each with different characteristics in regards to temperament and health. It is important to research what breed of goat will suit you and your lifestyle.
• Uncastrated male goats are not suitable as pets. They develop an extremely strong odour and frequently spray urine. They can also be very boisterous.