The short answer is no…. ish. I say ish because we are able to free range our goats, but it’s not something that I would recommend for most people. In fact, I would say the rule is that you can’t, but the exception is that you can try. I know, I know, that’s clear as mud. But let’s talk more about how we free range goats, and what you could do to see if it works for you.
Before we get too far into this, I have a great course on the basics of goat care. I call it Goat Crash Course: Goat 101. In this course, I explain things like types of shelter, types of feeds and hays, basic assessments and so much more! Check it out!
Our Free Range Goats
As you can see, our goats are obviously not in their fence. The reason was because they ran out of grass in their pastures and feed is expensive. And to be honest, I couldn’t fathom spending hundreds of dollars a month of grain, pellets, and hay when we have an emerald forest full of tasty and delicious browse for them.
But getting to this point was a huge stress for Jared. We all know how much I love the goats? Well, he is Papa Bear when it comes to these creatures. He was so freaked out at the thought of them being outside the fence, that he would stand and watch them for hours…. Y’all, HOURS. Man, I need you to do chores, not watch the goats!
But the reality was that because he watched the goats, he was able to direct them and keep them on the property. So okay fine.
How Did We Get Them To Successfully Free Range?
First and foremost, it was accidently on purpose. Yes, I know. But there was never ANY intention on free ranging these goats. Jared wanted long term lawn mowers but after figuring out that we were going to have to fence them, that idea went out the window. We simply can’t afford to fence in our entire property. So we fenced in three pastures and seeded them for grass. Well, that grass didn’t take very well and the grass that did? They don’t really eat it.
When we realized how poor Champs body condition was just prior to her kidding, we started giving grains and alfalfa pellets. But that shot our feed bill to over $600 a month. Which may not seem like a lot for some farmers, but that’s a lot for us. I started brainstorming on all the things I could do to get them out of the pastures and eating the weeds, briars and other yummy things that they love.
At first I thought our magic bullet would be electric netting like this. I’ve heard great reviews on it and a lot of fellow farmers swear by it. But it’s also expensive and some of the areas we would put them doesn’t get a lot of sunlight for a solar energizer and is too far away to run electricity. We had a poultry net and I figured, let’s try that. It didn’t really work. The goats chewed a few of the strains and effectively shorted out a $250 fence. Thanks guys.
At this point, I was/am milking every morning and the goats have learned that when Mom comes out? She usually has yummy things, and it’s usually in a bucket. Without even trying I started training them to come when I shook a feed bucket. This really helped because they would come when “called”.
Once I figured out that they were following me around because I had feed or they thought I had feed, a lightbulb went off. If they come when I have a feed bucket.
Maybe I can let them run loose?
Enter Champion and Stella. These two girls are my most friendly. Jade and Sapphire are friendly, but Champ and Stella seek me out. So I said, screw it and let them out one day. Then the next, I let out Champ, Stella, Jade and Sapphire. A couple days later, I let out those four plus Oakley, Bailey, Bash and Finn. By the end of that week, I had 12 goats running loose on the property and coming when I shook the feed bucket.
Thankfully, Jared was at work because when he came home? He threw a fit when he saw his girls running a muck in the yard. He wouldn’t come inside unless they were back in the safety of the fence.
It has taken about a month or so for him to finally be okay with the girls running loose. The emerald forest, what we call the briar and weed choked property, has never looked better.
We have never looked back. Now, they have run of the property from sun up to sun down.
Can You Free Range Goats?
Uh, maybe? I would definitely not go into purchasing goats with the expectation of free ranging them. The biggest thing I noticed with our goats is they want our attention and food. If we had a herd of Bella’s, this would be laughable. She is still extremely skittish and the only reason why she free ranges now is because all of the other goats are able to free range. Since goats are herd animals, they will follow the leader (Champ) where ever she goes. Including Bella.
Potential Steps To Take
I’m not saying that these steps will work. What I am saying is that this is what we did and it worked for us. The key here is making sure that your herd is is capable of free ranging. If they are going to take off and never come back? I don’t know that anything on this list will work. But we have worked hard to make our homestead a place were animals don’t want to leave. But that doesn’t mean that the urge to take off will go away.
- Make sure they know where their barn is. If they know their safe place is in that barn, when the spook they will run to the barn. Same thing with their fencing. This will take time!
- Start making noise with that grain bucket and “make” them come to you. I say make, but really goats do what they want. The grain just helps things along.
- Bond with your goat! I am 100% positive, with proof, that if you take the time to bond with your goat and they are happy to see you, there is a chance you can let them free range. My proof is Bella. We have had her from the beginning and if the other goats had not bonded to us, she would have run off the first time we let her out. But because we have bonded with Champ, Stella, Oakley, Bailey, Jade, and Sapphire, they will come when we call them.
- Get to know your goats, preferably over winter. This goes along with bonding, but timing is important. If you spend time with them throughout the winter, giving them hay, grain and other yummy things, come spring they know that you are the bringer of yummy things. They will follow you into the gates of hell, for yummy things.
- Do not let any new to the farm goats out of the fence until they are 100% accepted into the herd and listen to your established herd queen. This is really important because if your herd queen will follow you or come to you, this will show the other goats that they need to do the same thing. Bella will follow the herd and the herd follows Champ.
- Do NOT let your bucks loose. They will either get into your doe pen or they will take off to find girls of their own. Maybe once they are out of rut it could be okay. The caveat to this is that our bucks also love us and want yummy things. In the height of rut, we cannot let them loose. But when they are allowed to be with their girls over winter? They can all free range together.
- Predator load is also very important here. If you have an extremely high predator load? This is probably not a good option for you. While our load is mild, we only let them out when we are home. If we are going to be gone, they are locked in their pen.
- Probably the most important on this list, make sure that anything that could un-alive these goats is put up. Nails, paint, loose deck boards, you name it, they will try to die from it.
Since we sit on 8 acres and that bucket doesn’t make a ton of noise. I started working on training them to a dinner bell. Weird, I know. But if I ring the bell when they are close and give them a feed bucket, in theory, they should come to expect feed when that bell is rung. It worked for Pavlov’s dog right? Well, it’s also working for the goats. They usually haul ass to use when the hear that bell because they know mom’s got nom noms.