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 how’s, why’s 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.
Our first full year goating, we spent thousands of dollars on hay, alfalfa and grain for the goats. We battled high parasite loads and constant diarrhea. The amount of money we wasted on pasture seed is incredible. But when we started allowing them to free range there were 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 want it to 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. Which was their original purpose according to Jared.
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. And when we see them running back to the house or their barn, we know somethings up and we start looking.
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…. Well, kinda. 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.
They will break into your gardens. The good news is that they will find the weak spot for you to fix. Just ask them.
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.
Free Ranging Goats: Update 2023
As we move into fall this year, I wanted to give you guys some latest updates on how free ranging is working for us. We still absolutely free range the goats. But there are some new concerns this year that we didn’t have last year and I wanted you to be aware of them.
The coolest part of free ranging is that we have successfully trained all the goats, including this year’s kids, to come when they are called. All I have to do is yell, “Come here, girls!” and they come running.
Lack Of Browse
When we first moved onto this property, there were a ton of briars, weeds, etc. Out of 8.5 acres there was probably only about 1 or 2 acres that weren’t completely covered in weeds/ brush. Since the goats have been doing an excellent job of clearing it out, it’s not coming back as hardy. Next year, it probably won’t come back at all.
If you are only getting goats to clear land and have every intention on selling them after their job is done, then this doesn’t really apply to you. If you have fallen in love with these creatures, you are going to have a bit of a problem. There are a couple options that we are exploring for this winter but they are expanding their nom nom zones and that can be a problem. The goats have migrated to the neighbors property and up the mountain. Neither of those are a problem…. yet.
We have noticed an increase in injuries since free ranging. While only one of them have been severe injuries, they have still gotten hurt so I think it’s worth mentioning. In their search for food, they become a little more pushy when it comes to food. This makes sense because all animals do this. But when they ram each other and one falls? They are going to limp for a minute.
Or in the case of Stella, she was so hellbent that she was going to break into the chicken tractors that she got herself wedge between 2 of them…. were the tin roofing is. She sliced all 4 of her legs and it was pretty nasty. But she actually did herself and her babies a favor because she got put into the kidding stall for a couple days to allow the blukote to work. Now she is paying more attention to her babies and letting them nurse soooooooo.
Getting Into Trouble
These goats are testing my patience this year and while that is fine, I still want to throttle them. I said before that they will find the weak spot in the fences. Well, I wasn’t aware that potato leaves were considered toxic to goats….. in large quantities. I’ve given them potato leaves and never had a problem. But when they break into a garden and gorge themselves? Apparently that is a problem.
They have found every single hole in the yard and hurt themselves.
Or that time they pulled all my clothes off the clothesline and the pigs rolled all over them.
And then there was the time that the broke into the brooding/nursery were they stepped on 6 out of 10 chicks and caused the mommas to “attack” the goats.
So while free ranging goats is worth it for their health. It can be frustrating to deal with.
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