For the Love of Goats
Have you thought about adding chickens to your goat farm? Have you heard about keeping chickens and goats together? Maybe you already have chickens and the challenges with the goats are driving you crazy?
In today’s episode, I’m talking about things to consider when chickens and goats share the same space, as well as what you can do to keep them apart. I explain leader-follower rotational grazing with chickens and small ruminants (sheep or goats), including what type of equipment you need in order to be successful.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Premier 1 Supplies because we’ve been using and loving their products with our poultry, goats, and sheep for 20 years. These are the products I talk about in today’s episode:
- Poultry Door for Chicken Coops
- ElectroNet 9/35/12 Electric Netting for sheep and goats
- PoultryNet 12/42/3 Electric Netting
Listen right here…
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For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.
Deborah Niemann 0:19
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. It’s spring when I’m recording this, and for many of us, that means that we are buying more animals for our farm or homestead. A couple of weeks ago, I talked about buying goats, and I had another episode on selling goats, and today I wanted to talk about adding chickens to your goat farm.
Deborah Niemann 0:42
A lot of people start with chickens. In fact, chickens are jokingly referred to as “the gateway livestock,” because they’re really easy to start with. They’re honestly not much harder than a cat. I always tell people, “If you can take care of a cat, you can take care of chickens.” You just need to make sure they have food and water; instead of cleaning the litter box every day, you need to pick up eggs every day. But it’s pretty similar in terms of the amount of work. And it may be even easier to find somebody to take care of your chickens when you leave town, because they get eggs in return! And I think collecting eggs is a lot more rewarding than cleaning out a cat’s litter box.
Deborah Niemann 1:21
So, when I was thinking about all the things I wanted to talk about today, it occurred to me that I was going to be referring to a lot of products that are made by Premier1Supplies.com, which has been my go-to source for all equipment that I need for my goats and sheep and chickens and other poultry since we moved out here 20 years ago. And so, I contacted the wonderful people at Premier and said, “Would you guys like to sponsor today’s episode?” And they said, “Yes!” So I’m really excited, because they have some of the absolute best equipment that you can get anywhere for your sheep, goats, and poultry. And I was first introduced to them within a couple months after moving here. The guy who came to fill up our propane tank saw that I had goats, and he said, “You know about Premier 1 Supplies, right?” And I said “No,” and so he wrote down their name and gave me—I think he gave me their phone number. Because this was back in 2002. And I called and got a catalog, and the rest, as they say, is history. We’ve been buying all their products ever since. So, I’m going to be talking about their products quite a bit throughout this episode.
Deborah Niemann 2:32
So, the first thing I wanted to talk about is, I originally thought of this as, like, “the pros and cons of adding chickens to your goat farm.” And then I sat here with my pen and my paper and I’m like, “Pros… Hmm. Pros…” There’s really not any. There are a lot of pros to getting chickens; I mean, of course the best one is that you get your own fresh eggs that taste more amazing than anything you can buy in the store. But, I could not think of any reason why you would want to have chickens with your goats, or why you should add chickens to a goat farm.
Deborah Niemann 3:07
One of the things that I hear a lot of people ask me is that if they bring in chickens, if the chickens will help with the goat parasites. And I know where this is coming from, because there are a lot of people who use chickens and cattle in a leader-follower rotational grazing pattern, and that works really great. But the thing is, cows and goats are very different. As you’ve heard me say a lot of times, and you’ve heard our guests say a lot of times, goats are not little cows. And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to their poop—which I am so grateful for. That was, like, the one thing I did not like about having cows was cows poop these big, huge wet cow pies. And flies absolutely love cow poop. Like, we had cows for about 12 years, and there was such an incredibly huge difference in the number of flies on our farm once we got rid of the cows. If you have goats, the flies just don’t love them the way that they love cows, and I think a huge part of it has to do with the cow poop. So, if you’ve got chickens following cows in a leader-follower rotational grazing pattern, those chickens are going to go in—and most people, I’ve heard them say, that they wait about three or four days to put the chickens on the area where the cows just left. And that works beautifully, because the flies have come in and found the cow pies and said, “Oh, what a perfect place to raise a family.” And so, they lay their eggs in those wet cow pies, and they know that when their babies hatch 24 hours later, the maggots are gonna have plenty of food there in that cow poop. And so, after about three or four days, you’ve got some really big juicy maggots that provide a great source of protein for your chickens, and the chickens love scratching through those and getting the maggots and eating them.
Deborah Niemann 5:09
However, number one: Goats poop very dry little berries. And so, flies do not love goat poop nearly as much as they love cow poop. And the other thing is that intestinal parasites in goats are microscopic—except for tapeworms. And tapeworms really don’t make goats sick. If you have not heard the episode that we did on “Common But Unimportant Worms in Goats,” I really recommend it; we go into great detail in there about tapeworms and other worms that don’t cause a problem for your goats. One vet I know says that tapeworms are “worse for the mental health of the owner than for the physical health of the goat.” And that is so true. Because I mean, who can not freak out when you see that your goat just pooped a pile of rice, or pasta, or you know, worms? It’s just really gross. And it seems like something that looks so gross has got to be really bad for the goat. But it really isn’t, because, like, unlike barber pole, they’re not sucking your blood or anything like that. So, the only way that tapeworms are going to cause a problem is if they become so abundant that they cause an intestinal blockage. The bottom line is that chickens are not going to help your situation with goat parasites.
Deborah Niemann 6:34
We’ve got a bunch of episodes on here that talk about goat parasites and worms and how to deal with them. And unfortunately, there’s really not any reason that you need to add chickens to your goat farm; they’re not going to provide any benefits for you.
Deborah Niemann 6:47
Now, there are going to be some challenges. And that was originally why I wanted to do this episode, was to talk about the challenges of having chickens and goats on the same farm. And it’s funny, because when I told my husband I wanted him to help me brainstorm on what to cover, the first thing he said was, “The grain.” And that is by far the biggest problem. You know, if you’ve had goats for any length of time, you know why some people refer to grain as “goat crack”—because they will eat enough grain to kill themselves if they have unlimited access to it. And that’s generally the situation with a chicken feeder. We have a chicken feeder that holds 50 pounds—or very close to that—and that’s a lot of grain. So, if your goats got into the chicken grain, and they could just sit there and stuff themselves, there’s a very good chance that they could wind up with… At a minimum, they will wind up with diarrhea for about 12 hours, and then it’ll just go away on its own. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re not so lucky, it’s going to upset the rumen to the point that the goat could wind up with enterotoxemia, or goat polio, or a thiamine deficiency, or bloat, or you know, something basically that could kill the goat. So, it sounds crazy. But yes, goats can kill themselves if they eat too much grain. So, you want to make sure, if you have goats and chickens both, that there is no way whatsoever that the goats can get into the chicken grain.
Deborah Niemann 8:18
Now, some of you are probably listening to this going, “Well, duh. How hard can that be?” Well, if you’ve never had goats and chickens fairly close together, you may not have experienced this. But in the early years, our goats got into the chicken grain more times than I can count. And this is one reason that it is important that you have baking soda available free-choice for your goats, because if they do that, and you’re not aware of it, they can go self-medicate. It’s like they’ve got Tums available to them 24/7 in case they need it. So, you know, ideally they shouldn’t be eating much of the baking soda at all. But it just needs to be there in case they need it. And this is a great example of that. Over and over again, we kept thinking that, you know, “Oh no, there’s no way that the goats can get into the chicken grain.” And they just repeatedly proved us wrong. Goats are just so smart. And when it comes to grain, they’re highly motivated. So, if they know where grain is, they will find it. They’re also just really, super curious. So, don’t think that like, “Oh, they can all be running around in a yard together, and the goats are not going to go into the chicken house,” because that is just not true. You know, they’re like cats in that regard. Like, if a cat sees the door, they’ve got to go through it and see what’s on the other side, because they’re sure that something wonderful is in there. And so, that’s what your goats are going to do.
Deborah Niemann 9:48
One time what we did—when we had our goats around the pond, back when we had our chicken house back there—was that we put the feeder on a pulley. And so in the morning, we would pull the feeder up so that it was out of reach, and then we would let the goats into that area to graze and browse. And then, at the end of the day, we would go let the feeder down. And so, the chickens basically had nothing available except whatever they could get from the pasture during that time. And this wasn’t a permanent thing. We rotationally graze everybody, so the goats would only be there for a week or two. But basically, during that time, the chickens would just have to get bugs, earthworms, grass, weeds, whatever they were going to eat while the goats were in that area, because otherwise the goats would get into the chicken grain.
Deborah Niemann 10:40
One of the things that could have really helped us at that time was the poultry door for chicken coops that Premier 1 sells. And that is an automatic door that opens and closes; it opens at sunrise, and it goes down about 30 minutes after dusk. And all of the chickens are basically inside by then. The only time we ever have chickens get left outside is when we first put new pullets into our hen mobile, and they just don’t know the drill yet. They don’t know like, “Oh, I’m supposed to go inside at sundown.” And so, that’s just for the first two or three days; we may have to basically crawl under the hen mobile to get them and then put them in. And then, once they know they’re supposed to be in there at night, they go in there, and they do get in there before the door closes on them.
Deborah Niemann 11:27
We bought the automatic door opener about five or six years ago. And if I could turn back time and buy something sooner, I would buy that. I don’t know why I thought, like, that was such a frivolous purchase before we got it, because I just felt like, “Oh, how lazy. You can’t go out there and open the door yourself?” But the reality is that the sun rises at 4:30 in the morning here in Illinois. And we always felt guilty every morning. I mean, we were sleeping in till 6:00, and we felt guilty that the chickens had to wait an hour and a half for us to go out there and open the chicken door for them. And on the flip side, in the evening, you really can’t go out to dinner around sundown, because if you’re not there to close the coop when the sun goes down, a raccoon or skunk or mink or something could get in there and kill your chickens before you got back. And then, of course, there were unfortunately the times that we forgot to close the coop for whatever reason. Usually it’s because somebody thought somebody else had done it. And we did have some predator losses, just because somebody forgot to close the coop at night.
Deborah Niemann 12:34
And so, that doesn’t happen with the poultry door that Premier 1 has for their chicken coops. And, oh man, I think it took us, like, a week of having it to say, “Why didn’t we get this sooner?” It is just so wonderful. And the way that that could have helped us with the goats is that it is chicken-sized. The door, it’s only 15-and-3/4 inches high and 11.8 inches wide. And you see the chickens fit through that very nicely, but there is no way that an adult goat is going to fit through there. So, we could have saved a lot of problems with our goats getting into the chicken grain if we would have just done that, because we do keep our feed in the coop; we keep the waterers on the outside, but we do keep the feed in the coop.
Deborah Niemann 13:22
Challenge number two when you have chickens and goats on the same farm is that if the chickens can go into your goat barn, that is not fun. So, we have 100-foot-long barn. Sixty feet of that is stalls, and the other 40 feet is storage for hay storage. And chickens going into the goat barn is just a nightmare. There’s so many reasons why. One is that they poop everywhere. And so, if there’s any place above your goats where they can roost, they will, and then they poop when they’re roosting, and the poop can wind up on your goats, which is really gross if it’s a milk goat. It can wind up in their hay, which is gross, because you’re eating it. And healthy chickens can carry salmonella, and goats can get salmonella, so you really don’t want your goats eating hay that’s got chicken poop on it. And also, the chickens also go into the front of the barn where we have our haystack. And they love to get up on the haystack and hang out and poop, so there’s more poop.
Deborah Niemann 14:36
And then, the other thing, too, is that, you know, every now and then a hen thinks she wants to be a mother. And so, she starts hiding her eggs, and those haystacks are the most perfect place in the world to hide their eggs. And then, because so few hens actually really go broody these days, more often than not, they do not sit on the eggs. They just collect them and then forget about them. And so, at some point in the summer, we wind up with exploding rotten eggs. So, this is one of the many reasons why, about six years ago, we decided that we no longer wanted to use a static chicken coop that sits near the barn. But instead, we bought an old construction trailer, and we created a hen mobile, which we put in a former hay field that is quite a distance from the house. So, there is no longer any danger of the chickens finding their way into the barn and—oh gosh. And then pooping in the water bucket, too, is another one. If they happen to roost above where your water bucket is, then you wind up with chicken poop in your water.
Deborah Niemann 15:41
And then, the other thing, too, that was just not fun at all, was every now and then a rooster would get in the barn during kidding season. Now, if you’ve listened to any of my podcast episodes on kidding, then you know that I recommend that everyone have a baby monitor so that you know what’s happening in your barn, right? And, like, around 4:00 or 4:30 in the morning, even if the sun hasn’t risen yet, roosters start crowing. And so, you’re sleeping there, and all of a sudden you hear a rooster crowing on the baby monitor, and it wakes you up. And usually, we would go try to evict the rooster. And usually, they would keep coming back. For some reason, they just love going into the kidding barn to roost, and it’s not good if you actually want to sleep in till, like, you know, 6:00 in the morning. So, that’s another reason that it would have been good if we had moved the chickens away from the goat barn earlier.
Deborah Niemann 16:45
Wherever you have them, though, it’s a really great idea to use the poultry netting to keep them in a rather enclosed space. I learned fairly early that if you wanted to have any kind of garden, if you weren’t going to fence in your chickens, you needed to fence in your garden. The very first year that we had tomatoes, I couldn’t… Like, I had so many green tomatoes, and I couldn’t understand why they weren’t getting ripe. And it wasn’t actually until the next year that I saw a chicken eating a green tomato that I realized that the chickens were eating all the tomatoes before they had a chance to get ripe. So, it is a much better option to put up a fence, either for the chickens or the garden. But, I love the Premier 1 poultry netting. We did not use that until we decided to do the hen mobile. And we put the hen mobile out on this former hay field, which we use for rotational grazing with our sheep—and you can just as easily do this with goats. And we put the poultry netting in the area where we want the chickens to stay, and they are following the sheep. So, that keeps them separate from the sheep, so the sheep can’t get in and eat all of the chicken grain—because they would do the same thing. They also love grain, and they would have the same result.
Deborah Niemann 18:06
You may be wondering why we would do a leader-follower rotation with our small ruminants and the chickens if there’s no parasites advantage, and it’s simply because it works very well. Chickens are not going to eat grass that’s a foot tall, but sheep or goats will, and so basically, they eat down the grass, and then you bring in the chickens. Now there’s nice short grass, which the chickens love, and so they can run around and eat the shorter grass. They can also find the earthworms better, and all the other bugs better, because the grass is not so tall. And basically, it just works. And I like being able to move the hen mobile, because the thing that we learned is that the old-fashioned chicken coop that just sits in one place, from the door to about 20 feet out in every direction was basically mud for a good part of the year. And it was ice for a good part of the year. And it was just super dusty for the rest of the year. So, I really didn’t like it. And it’s because, you know, we had 80 chickens running in and out of that door all day long.
Deborah Niemann 19:15
If you are going to do a leader-follower rotational grazing with your chickens and small ruminants, whether it’s goats or sheep, you really do need to use the electric netting from Premier 1. They are the company that introduced the whole idea of the electric netting to the United States. And, I have never even tried to use electric netting from another company, because all the farmers that I know who have been doing this longer than me have said, “Oh, don’t even bother. Just, they’re not as good as Premier 1. So, just keep using what you’re using, because that’s the best.” And if you go to Premier1Supplies.com, you might be really overwhelmed, because they have so many different types of electric netting; they’ve got different types for every species. And frequently within a species, they have different types, because they realize that everyone’s farm is a little bit different.
Learn more: Episode #10 All About Electric Fencing with Joe Putnam of Premier 1 Supplies
Deborah Niemann 20:12
So, we use the ElectroNet for sheep and goats. And I think that was the original, which is why it has a name that’s not as descriptive. A lot of times when I say “ElectroNet,” people are like, “Oh, what kind?” And it’s like, “ElectroNet.” It’s the ElectroNet for sheep and goats, and that one even comes in a couple of different heights. So, if you have goats that are jumpers, you would want to get the taller one. It also comes in, like, a single spike or a double spike. And so, like, if you’ve got more sandy soil, then you might need to get the double spike, because that’s gonna stand up better than the single spike. Whereas if you have, you know, more rocks, then you want the single spike, because double spikes is just harder to get through the little rocks. So, they’ve got a lot of different products to meet everyone’s needs. And then they’ve got different netting for, like, pigs and cattle and poultry.
Deborah Niemann 21:03
And so, we have three rolls of the poultry netting that we use with our hen mobile, and we actually don’t even know how many rolls of ElectroNet we have. We think it’s around 15 or 16. I know, initially, we bought some and we thought, “Oh, if this works, we’ll get some more.” Well, it worked great. So, like, within a few weeks, we bought two more. And then it’s like, “Oh my gosh, we’re using it all. We need more.” So, we bought more. And for probably about three years, we just kept saying, “Oh my gosh, do we really need more? How can we possibly need more?” So, we just kept getting more and more, until like I said, I think we’re up to 15 or 16 rolls now. And it’s really great. We are still using this stuff that we bought more than 15 years ago. Like, it’s… You know, there’s a couple places where there, like, might be a broken strand, but we’re still using it. So, this stuff really lasts. And we use it all the time. I mean, the whole growing season. So, pretty soon here. We’re getting very close… We’re at the end of April now, and the grass is getting tall enough, we’re going to be able to start grazing. And we can pretty much graze until the end of October. So, it’s about six months every year that we are using the ElectroNet for the sheep and goats. And it works great. And it’s continued to work for all these years.
Deborah Niemann 22:14
So, the poultry netting. Really, I do not use the poultry netting around my goats—the baby goats. So, some people look at it and they think, “Oh, the poultry netting has smaller openings, so it’s better for baby goats.” So, while it’s true that the baby goats could run through the ElectroNet, dam-raised kids don’t—and by baby goats, I’m just talking about Nigerians. I don’t think bigger kids can fit through it. But the baby Nigerians that are, like, a couple months old can fit through it. But, I would much rather have them slip through it than get tangled up in it. And I’ve heard of kids getting tangled up in the poultry netting, because they can’t go through it. But they get their head in there, or a head and a leg or whatever, and then they get shocked and they freak out, and that becomes a big challenge. So, I just really don’t want that to happen. Once they’re a little bit bigger, though, then they don’t fit through the poultry netting anymore, and it’s totally fine.
Deborah Niemann 23:12
So, I don’t worry at all about the poultry netting bordering where the sheep are. So, we’ve got the poultry netting all the way around the hen mobile. The chickens are in that whole space that’s fenced in with the poultry netting, and then the sheep, they’re right next to them. So one side is poultry netting, and the other three sides are the ElectroNet. And we raise Katahdin sheep, which are pretty big. And so, they’re not going to fit into the poultry netting and be able to get tangled. Especially because they’re usually born, like, at least a month or so before grazing season starts. And so, by the time grazing season starts and we’re putting up the temporary netting, they’re not even going to be on there. And we can’t even get our hen out to the field until May, because it’s just always too wet. We get too much rain in April; we would get stuck. Our truck would get stuck, if we tried to move the hen mobile in there.
Deborah Niemann 24:08
I hope you’ll visit Premier1Supplies.com and check out all of their amazing equipment that they have for sheep, goats, and poultry. I love their logo, and it is “Equipment that works! From folks who use it … every day.” And that is absolutely true. Because they do; they use it every day. So, they’re not going to sell a bunch of stuff that they know doesn’t work. And we have always been happy with everything we bought from them, which is why I am really happy to have them as a sponsor of today’s podcast.
Deborah Niemann 24:37
Whether you are thinking of adding chickens to your goat farm, or you already have chickens and you’ve had some challenges with them, I hope you found some suggestions in here that might help your goats and your chickens live more in harmony and cause you less anxiety. So, thanks very much, and I’ll see you guys again next week. Bye for now!
Deborah Niemann 24:58
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!