By Elyse Nicholson
One of the biggest myths surrounding goat ownership is that you have own a lot of land for them to graze on, and that they need a way to go in and out of a shelter whenever they please. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, goats can be raised in a variety of living situations — evening grazing on your own front lawn (if zoning permits it, of course). Such has been the case for my four goats over the past eight years. Living on a small amount of acreage, the vast majority of Happy Acres Farm’s 18acrers spread is devote to a hay crop — more than 16 acres worth to be exact! So, that doesn’t really leave a lot of room left for goats when you factor in a house and barn on the remaining two. Yet, we’ve been doing it for nearly eight years now. To make it all work, we’ve learned a few tricks around the norms of goat farming, such as a movable fence in place of electric or wire-mesh, beach umbrellas for shade instead of a walk-in barn, and an over sized horse stall for living quarters. In this post, I’d like to give you a “little” glimpse into life on a small acreage goat
The biggest issue people will raise regarding small acreage goat ownership is the pasture itself — goats need space to browse. And since most of our land is devoted to hay, that doesn’t leave a lot of options for setting up large areas of fencing. So what do are goats do for grazing? The front, side, and back yards surrounding out home, of course! Using four 16-foot metal cattle panels, wired together on the corners, we’ve constructed a lightweight, movable pen which contains enough “pasture” to last the goats one day. The pen is moved each day to a new spot in our yard, slowly traveling around out house until its gone from one side of the driveway to the other. Because our yard is slightly bigger than most, it takes the goats about eight weeks to completely around the house in a typical grazing year with average weather conditions. This is almost ideal for rotational pasture and parasite-prevention as the goats never return to the same spot for another eight weeks. Each grazing location is then marked on a map of our property to ensure that the goats aren’t returning too soon. During the winter, after the last hay cutting has been harvested, the pen is moved to the hayfield, giving the yard three months without goats to recover and to kill off any leftover parasites during the winter.
When the goats want more grass than is in the pen, they stick their heads through the fence to eat on the other side. After all, to a goat, the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side! They can also push the fence to allow more grass in their pen — and believe me, they can push it far! If there is something on the other side of they want, all they have to do is push with their shoulders and the fence goes with them.
The only problem in the system occurs when we have a drought year, such as the Mid-West experienced this year. The grass grows slower and is thus shorter, so the goats move much faster through the cycle than usual. This is where we get inventive with grazing. Sometimes the goats are given hay in their pens. Other times they are moved to unique locations, like overgrown weedy areas, dirt piles with grass or even the leftovers the horse won’t touch in their own pasture!
Since the goats are grazing in the yard, which is connected to the hay field, there isn’t a lot of shade options due to the lack of trees. So that means that during the extremely got summer we get here in the Mid-West, there aren’t very many ways for goats to keep cool, especially when the barn is too far away for them to go in and out. So, as usual, we’ve improvised a little! Wooden electricity spools, left over from area wiring projects, are placed in the pens to allow for a movable shade option and a sense of shelter during normal days. And when the temps really rise up, a large breach umbrella is placed in the pen to keep the goats cool. When the heat is too much to handle, the goats are taken back to the barn where their stall is equipped with a high-powered fan.
In the barn, the goats are set up with a very unique living situation. Our barn was built with the intention of five horses and an arena. But for years the fifth stall has sat empty. So, it soon became the goats’ home. Its filled with a wall of wooden spools to allow the goats to climb and see over the high walls. Each day they are led from their stall to their outdoor pen with leashes.
Their favorite part about this living situation is standing on the stall wall to greet people as they walk by. The spools are just high enough to allow that goats to put their front hooves on the top panel and look out to see everyone!
Raising goats on a small amount of acreage can be challenging at times when you are limited in your resources. But when you’re creative and inventive enough to find ways around the limitations, you end up with a pretty cool set up and some very happy goats! And if you’re lucky, you might just end up with goats outside your window for a few days! Life on a small acreage farm sure has its benefits!