We officially started free ranging our goats on August 1, 2022. This was an experiment and, I would say that THIS year, it has gone pretty well. We have had some hiccups in the matrix, but nothing that was so bad that I wouldn’t free range them again. But I wanted to discuss the hows, whys and maybe do this next year if you are thinking about free ranging goats on your homestead.
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!
The Real Side Of Free Ranging Goats
There are a lot of good things that have come out of free ranging the goats on our 8.5 acres. But there has also been some bad. And while the good definitely out weigh the bad for us, it may not be the case on your homestead.
In the last year, we have spent thousands of dollars on hay, alfalfa and grain for the goats. We have battled high parasite loads and constant diarrhea. The amount of money we have wasted on pasture seed is incredible. But in the last two months that they have been free ranging full time, we have seen some fantastic results.
I mentioned above that we have spent thousands of dollars on hay and such. But that’s only a part of it. Not only have we spent money on food, we have also spent a lot on vet bills, fencing, and feed troughs. While that is definitely part of raising any livestock, this has been a lot higher than we feel it should be.
Free ranging the goats allows them to do what goats do best, search for their food. It keeps them from eating food off the ground and picking up more parasites. By eating the browse, they are helping us not have to rent bush hogs and other equipment to clear these areas.
Champ, who has never had a FAMACHA better than a 3, is now at a 1 and has stayed there. Her body condition, that we could NEVER get better than a 2, is now a 4-4.5.
They have an established herd queen now (Champ) who is actually looking after her girls. By not having them fenced in, we are allowing their natural instincts to kick in and they are actually looking out for each other. This really helps because when we need to put hands on them, we just have to find Champ.
We also noticed that the babies were better able to fight off various infections, parasites, etc, simply because they were allowed to be free. This is in essence the process of rotational grazing…. just without fencing.
Yard clean up is virtually non existent. We were trying to figure out how to battle the weeds, brambles, and briars when we first moved in. Now? They move through the property and eat all of it down. How does this help with predator control? Well, by having the goats free range, they have eaten down a lot of the areas that the predators would live in.
We now have a clear line of sight to the various areas of the property because they have come through and eaten everything.
We do worry about the goats and the babies coming across a fox or coyote den, we only free range them during the day when someone is home. This minimizes the risks. Since we really only free range between spring, summer and fall, we are almost always outside anyways.
Parasites are pretty much cured. It is totally normal, and completely fine for your livestock to have worms. In fact, we want them to have some worms because it aids in digestion and other good things for the goats. But you should never have an uncontrolled parasite problem. When you don’t utilize pasture rotation, you will have parasite blooms and your livestock will suffer.
Since we refuse to deworm monthly, we have to make sure that we are on our game with pasture rotation. Deworming every month as a preventative causes resistance and they aren’t making new dewormers.
Well, there is poop everywhere. While it doesn’t stink, it is a pain when you step in it and don’t realize it.
They’ve eaten the house plants on my front porch. ALL OF THEM.
They broke a board on the back deck and think the flight of stairs is a great place to jump from.
They have eaten ALL of my fruit trees.
Bucks chase does, so they have to stay penned up.
As you can see, there aren’t many deal breaker cons for me. The trees sucked and I will be fencing in the area so that the goats won’t eat them next time. The poop is easily swept up too. Overall, we will free range them again and again. They are much healthier and happier.
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That’s fantastic about Champ’s body condition! It’s funny how when we let nature do it’s thing, it really does it’s thing!
You are absolutely right! Nature is a beautiful thing! When we stop fighting Her, she will literally fix herself
This is so interesting! I wish we let ours free range, but we have too much space. We have found success using mob grazing where we move them everyday so they are getting fresh grass everyday and staying away from their waste. So far it is working well. We run them with our dairy cattle and I think that helps with predator control too.
I wouldn’t want to mess with cows if I was a predator. No matter how hungry I was. We started letting them free range because of predators. We had a couple foxes hiding in our brush. We let the goats eat everything down and now we can see everything.
That sucks about the trees and houseplants, but those are easy fixes. The free ranging option sounds better overall, though!
That was my thoughts, too. I can replace trees and house plants. A healthy and happy goat is worth more in the long run to me.