Rotational Grazing for Goats

Rotational Grazing for Goats featured image

Rotational grazing is the key to controlling internal parasites in your goats. It will also make your pasture last longer and save on feed costs.

Rotational grazing simply means that rather than fencing in several acres for the goats and letting them spend the whole grazing season on that space, you subdivide the pasture into smaller paddocks. The goats stay on one section of pasture for a number of days before being moved to clean pasture with fresh grass, leaving behind their poop, which contains parasite eggs that will hatch and die without a host.

Benefits of Rotational Grazing

When I was new to homesteading, I thought you just put up fences, stuck your animal in the pasture and left them there all year. However, there are a lot of reasons you should not do that. Rotational grazing or subdividing larger pastures into smaller paddocks and moving the livestock from one to another every week or two has lots of benefits.

  1. It’s healthier for the pasture. If you leave animals on a piece of land for too long, they’ll eat down some of the grass to the dirt while other areas will be ignored, and the grass will grow too tall to be palatable. Grass that’s eaten down to the dirt will take weeks to recover.
  2. It saves money for the farmer or homesteader. If you are better managing the pasture, you will ultimately be able to let the animals harvest their own dinner for a longer period of time. We usually don’t need to start feeding hay until around the first of November because we keep moving our goats and sheep to new areas.
  3. It’s healthier for the animals because they are leaving their poop behind them in the old pastures. This reduces parasite loads because by the time the worm eggs in the poop hatch and mature into infective larvae, the livestock have moved on, so they are not around to ingest new larvae on the pasture. Over the course of a few weeks, the larvae dry up and die without a host.
  4. It’s healthier for people who are eating the meat and drinking the milk. Grassfed meat and milk have higher levels of healthy omega-3 and lower levels of not-so-healthy omega-6. It also has 3-5 times more conjugated linoleic acid, which is another healthy fat.
Benefits of rotational grazing infographic

How often do you move livestock to fresh pasture?

There are a couple of ways you can utilize rotational grazing, and the method you use will depend on the number of goats you have. If you only have 3-4 Nigerian dwarf goats, four livestock panels can be used to create a 16-foot by 16-foot pen that can be moved every day or two, depending upon how fast the goats eat the grass. This works well for goat keepers who have an acre or two.

For those with a larger herd and at least five acres, the grazing area is enclosed with a permanent perimeter fence, and temporary electric fencing is used to subdivide the large fenced pasture into smaller paddocks, through which the herd is rotated.

goats grazing

When do you move goats to fresh pasture?

Opinions vary widely on how often the goats need to be rotated to clean pasture, but it ultimately depends on the weather. Some say that for best parasite control, animals should graze an area only once per year. However, that’s not practical for many people, and it’s really not necessary. Larvae die by dehydration, so the less rain you have, the sooner the larvae die. If it rains daily, larvae can live for months. However, that also means the grass is growing really fast, so it should not be a challenge to keep goats on grass that’s a foot tall, which is way beyond where you find larvae.

The height of the grass plays a role in deciding when to rotate. Someone once said that goats should never eat below their knees. Technically, they are browsers, not grazers, and they prefer to eat shrubs and young trees rather than grass.

Because goats have gone through history not eating off the ground, their parasite resistance is not usually as strong as that of cows and sheep, who do eat off the ground. Goats really should not be eating grass down to the dirt.

A commonly encountered recommendation is to move goats to new pasture when the grass is about 6 inches tall. Larvae do not have legs, but they can float up on a blade of grass when it is wet. However, without a true means of movement, parasites don’t move very far up on the grass, which is why parasite problems are generally low when goats are consuming grass that is taller. It is a balancing act, though, because when grass gets too tall, it is not as tasty.

Rotational grazing allows you to graze other livestock on a piece of land. Because cows and horses prefer grass, and goats prefer bushes and small trees, and each species has different parasites, cows or horses can graze the paddock just vacated by the goats. When cows and horses consume goat worm larvae, their body digests them. This means you will be able to graze more animals on a piece of land than if you only had one species.

goats on pasture

How do you move animals to new pastures?

You can’t create a door from your barn directly into each pasture, so how do you get your goats (or sheep) to the area where you want them to graze? We rotate our does all over our property, and sometimes that means walking down our driveway to the area that we have fenced in with ElectroNet across the yard from the barn.

If you only have a few goats, you could simply put a lead rope on them and walk them to their new area a few times. However, we have had as many as 22 adults and 60 kids to move, and it would take a long time to move them individually. So, what do we do?

  1. We start by putting a pan of alfalfa pellets and grain in the area where we want them to go.
  2. Then we put alfalfa pellets and grain into a feed pan or bucket, open the door to their stall, and hold the pan in front of them so a couple of them can get a bite or two.
  3. You walk slowly holding the pan of feed where they can see it, sometimes letting them take another bite or two, if you need to do that to keep them following you. If one is falling behind, you may have to leave it behind for now. If you try too hard to keep them all together, you risk having the ones in front eat everything in the pan before you get to your destination. Go ahead and take the ones who are following you and get them into the area where you have the pan of grain and alfalfa pellets waiting.
  4. Show them the pan(s) of feed sitting in the pasture, and they’ll start eating it while you go back with your pan of grain to get the other goat(s) that fell behind.
Goats grazing

The young kids are the hardest. If we didn’t have so many, we’d just pick them up and carry them! But even the littlest kids get it figured out in 2 to 3 days, especially if they’re dam-raised because they learn to stick to their mom. Getting them back into the barn at night is much easier because they want to go into the barn at sundown. This is especially true if you have does in the group who’ve been living in the barn for a couple of years. They know where home is! If you try to do it much earlier than sundown, they won’t be as eager.

After doing this for 3 or 4 days, you won’t need to use the pan of feed to get them to follow you. They’ll know that there is a pan of feed waiting for them in the grazing/browsing area in the morning and in the barn at night. Don’t be tempted to stop leaving the feed in the pasture for them.

For the number of Nigerian dwarf goats we have, we put out three pans. If you have five or less goats, you can probably put out one pan of feed. The more goats you have, and the larger they are, the more pans of feed you need to have in the new area so that they will stay busy eating it until you get everyone in there.

goats on pasture inside the fence

What’s in the pans?

In each pan of grain, I put 5-6 cups of alfalfa pellets and 1 cup of goat feed, so the actual amount of grain that each goat is getting is almost nothing — 2-3 tablespoons. If your goats are not milking, you can use grass hay pellets, such as orchard grass or timothy pellets. They are made by the same company that makes the alfalfa pellets in our area.

If you don’t have a lot of goats or a long distance to go, or if you can run as fast as your goats, once they get the drill, you may not need to use much for hay pellets. I just use that much because I’m really slow, so that’s how much I need to have in the pan for them to still have their noses stuck in it by the time I get there to close the door of the barn stall or close the gap in the ElectroNet.

Also, be sure that they’ve had hay pellets before you try this. They will only follow you if they really want the food you have. That’s why I have to sprinkle some goat grain on top. Most goats are not immediately big fans of hay pellets. It takes time for them to start liking them, and some never seem to become fans. However, when there is competition for food, they are always more interested in it. So, they are more likely to want it if there are other goats around than if you simply offered it to them in a pan when they are alone.

Deborah Niemann is the author of Raising Goats Naturally: A Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More.

This article was originally published on October 2, 2013.

If your farm plans are bigger than your budget and you’re not even sure where to start, tune in to this enlightening podcast episode featuring Joshua Hammond, a public affairs specialist with the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), as he discusses some of the projects the government agency can help you with, including rotational grazing, fencing, and irrigation.

Click here to visit our Amazon store, which includes a list of things goats need.

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31 thoughts on “Rotational Grazing for Goats”

  1. I am not sure what kind of shrubs you have there but how do you keep your goats from stripping the bark (and killing the shrubs)?

    Reply
    • First of all, you should never put goats in an area that has been landscaped with anything that you care about. However, the whole point of rotational grazing is to move the goats often enough that it’s actually beneficial for the pasture. If you are rotating them frequently enough, they shouldn’t have enough time to actually kill shrubs. Young trees are very easy to kill because they have a single trunk, so if the goats strip the bark all the way around the young tree will die — and several of them could do that in less than half an hour. But shrubs so not have a single trunk. They have many branches that carry nutrients from the roots out to the leaves, so you’d have to leave goats in an area for a long time for them to be able to do a lot of damage to shrubs. They do eat floribunda roses to the ground, but I’ve never heard of anyone that cared about those. But again, that takes time.

      Reply
      • My goats are expert at girdling trees, especially fruit trees. They will also go after aspen bark and conifer bark. On occasion they will get out of their pen, find and strip bark from my apple trees with alarming speed . I have put wire mesh around the trunks and lower branches, completely covered smaller trees etc to protect them from the occasional jail break. Similarly they strip bark from choke cherry (which I know is toxic in large quantities) so that is a double whammy…dead trees that we have to clear and goats that are eating things they aren’t supposed to. These are big, 200+ lb goats. Anyway, we have cleared some areas of the choke cherry and will probably do more of that (since that is what dominates on our 3 acres). We have some meadow as well and try to keep the goats in the meadows as we rotate them. It is just a shame because there is a lot of good grass under and around the chokecherries. From experience I know I can’t let the goats have more than a few minutes exposure to the chokecherry. Although they seem to be able to tolerate eating the leaves (also toxic in large quantities) they can’t resist stripping bark and in a single day will girdle several trees. I do have some wild rose on the property and they love that but of course it is in and amongst the cherry. Ah well, clearly we need to move somewhere with better shrubbery!

        Reply
  2. My goat pasture is more grasses than trees, or leafy weeds. You’re pasture looks full of better things. Did you plant things yourself? I actually bought some hairy vetch seeds and plan on planting them. Do you have shelter and water on each area of your rotation?
    I only have water in one area and one shelter and an acre of pasture that it’s in. This spring we are thinking of setting up a rotation, unless there is a way to use cattle panels and have an easy way to shelter them and provide water as they move.

    Reply
    • All of our areas are different. Some are mostly grass, and some have lots of bushes. It really varies. We have not planted anything. It’s just what grows wild here.

      They do need shelter because goats will melt if they get wet. 🙂 And they definitely need water, especially on hot summer days. We just use 5-gallon buckets in areas that are not near the barn where we have water troughs.

      You can use four cattle panels if you have four or five small goats like Nigerian dwarf. Otherwise, the ElectroNet from Premier1 is great. They also have solar chargers.

      Reply
  3. Where do your goats sleep while they are being moved around in the rotational paddocks? Do they stay in the paddocks with a mobile structure or do you take them back to a permanent structure every night?

    Reply
    • It depends. Our milk goats always go back to the barn at night. The dry does and wethers are being rotated through areas that have pasture shelters. We divide up their area so that the shelter is always in a corner. They kind of rotate around it like a pie. Hope that makes sense! I should create a drawing of how we do that.

      Reply
    • The Electronet for sheep and goats is available in two different lengths, and they have solar and regular electric chargers. We have one of each, and they both work well. Different strength chargers can handle a different number of panels connected to them. I’d suggest visiting https://www.premier1supplies.com/ to find what will work best for your situation. If you have any questions at all, just drop them an email or give them a call. They are great at answering questions about their products.

      Reply
  4. We found a old trampoline frame wrapped field fencing around it. Left one end not secure for a gate. We then can drag it around to new areas. Even with the goats in it! No house so they do go in at night.

    Reply
    • I have only used chicken tractors for 2-3 kids for a few days. It wouldn’t be big enough for adults — not even Nigerian dwarf or pygmy. The smallest space I’ve ever recommended is a square made with four livestock panels, which are 16′ long, so you have a 16 x 16 space. The other thing about these chicken tractors that would not work with goats is that it uses chicken wire, which goats would destroy fairly quickly by rubbing on it. You really need woven wire for goats. Anything welded or a smaller gauge won’t hold up to goats.

      Reply
        • Only about 2-3 standard size goats OR 3-5 Nigerian dwarf, and you’ll probably have to move them every 1-3 days, depending on how fast they eat down the grass.

          Reply
        • It depends on where you are and what season. I would not use that anywhere that it is going to fall below about 50 degrees at night. Goats do not need an insulated barn, but they do need to be safe from wind, and there is no way that a chicken tractor would protect them from wind — and it would be even worse if it rained. Someone once asked me why their goats were shivering when it was only 40 degrees out. I asked them to send me a photo of the goats in their shelter, which turned out to be this ridiculous thing pieced together with pallets, so the poor goats were soaking wet, and wind was whipping through this so-called shelter.

          And something that size would not work for three adults — not even Nigerian dwarf. It would be too small, even if you were moving it daily. So you need to build a real shelter for them with at least 3 solid walls to protect them from wind and rain.

          Reply
  5. When practicing rotational grazing, should I be taking the goats off the pasture and keeping them in a barn during the rainy season since they don’t like getting wet and are more susceptible to parasites from the grass during that time? How do people manage this?

    Reply
    • If the grass is growing so fast that it’s a foot high, that’s not usually a problem because worm larvae are only on the lower 4 inches of the grass. I personally like to move my goats when the grass is 6 inches just to be on the safe side. You absolutely must be sure to move them weekly though — sooner if you see that they have eaten down the majority of the grass. Since short, young grass is more tender and sweet, then tend to go back to that and eat it, so you don’t want to leave them in one place too long, even if it looks like there is still a lot of tall grass in there.

      Reply
  6. Hi there, I have half an acre for 3 goats. This is well fenced into two sections [1/4 acre each]. I’m planning to switch from one section to the other… and wondering how long I should leave in a section for… a week?

    From watching your video, I can see what would be more ideal would be a few more sections [4?], but that would just involve too many fences for me.

    Cheers from New Zealand~~

    Reply
    • Two sections is almost worthless. I assume you get pretty regular rain where you’re located, so the worm larvae can survive on pasture for a long time. They should be off a piece of land for at least a month — longer, if it’s wet because the larvae die from dehydration and heat, so the more often it rains, the longer they survive on pasture. Moving goats back and forth week to week would not be any different than leaving them on one pasture. In fact, when you move them back to a pasture after one week, it will have MORE larvae on it than it did when you took them off a week ago because more eggs would have hatched. And grass is not going to grow that much in one week. A month can work because the grass will have grown tall enough that the goats won’t be consuming much larvae, which stays on the lower 4″ of the grass. (they can’t crawl; these simply float up on the grass when it’s wet.)

      You can subdivide the pens using temporary electric netting, which is less expensive than permanent fencing, and it was available in Australia and/or NZ before the US. If you only have three goats though, if you were in the US, I’d suggest you just a make a moveable pen out of four 16′ livestock panels (feedlot panels) and move them every day or two. This is what they look like. https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/catalog/feedlot-panels Hopefully you have something like this.

      Reply
  7. OK, so why not leave the goats in each section for a month… a month on and off as have two sections? I can also feed supplemnets… hedges etc. The problem with small pens is the housing. If the 3 goatrs are contained to the 1/4 acre, they have access to huts~~

    Reply
    • Worm eggs hatch on the pasture and mature into infective larvae within about 5 to 7 days, and the longer they are on that piece of ground, the more infective larvae that will be on the grass. The goats will be eating from their toilet and getting a bigger and bigger load of worms the longer they stay on the same grass. They won’t graze an area evenly. Instead, they prefer to go back to the areas where they already ate because the shorter grass is sweeter and more tender than the taller, mature grasses.

      Reply
  8. From time immemorial, people with a few goats… and a bit of ground… didn’t bother with this system, which all seems a bit OTT and heavy on the management side of things. Anywat, I’ve found another section I can open up… and will conisider splitting the other two into smaller sections. Seems a lot of…. work.^^

    Reply
    • Historically people did not have goats in places that got a ton of rainfall. Goats are desert animals, and they are browsers, meaning they eat small trees and bushes — NOT grass. Worm larvae is on the grass, and if you put up fences and stop them from moving — animals in nature migrate — then you are forcing them to eat from their toilet. Goats are not native to the US, which is why we have had to learn to mimic nature to keep them alive. If you don’t have goats dying from worms, then maybe there is something growing on your farm that kills them. In the US, that would be something like sericea lespedeza or birdsfoot trefoil or chicory. Goats in the desert parts of the US don’t have worm problems either because they are not eating grass. I could talk about the history of goats and worms for at least half an hour, but if you want to know more about what causes problems and what prevents them, here is my comprehensive post on goat worms — https://thriftyhomesteader.com/goat-worms/

      Reply
  9. We are starting to rotate our two wethers. My question is: as they rotate to the new area can they eat too much. They live in our forest with bushes, trees, weeds and poison ivy! So they are foraging not grazing but there is a lot to eat.

    Reply
    • Hi Terri

      It’s always possible for any goat to over indulge, but in general your scenario should not cause an issue.

      If you were moving them from forest with browse, to an open paddock full of lush green vegetation, that would certainly throw rumens off.

      Tammy

      Reply
      • And what would that look like? Clumpy poop? just wondering because sometimes I think this happens to my goats and then clears up, but for a few days I wonder if I am beginning to have a parasite problem.

        Reply
        • Yes- I have found clumpy poop across the majority of the goats on the same day is typically due to a change in forage. Especially new spring growth with lots of broad leaf weeds- they hold more moisture.
          We actually had HORRIBLE diarrhea break out a few years ago when my bucks broke into a pasture that had chicory growing in it. They all gobbled it down for hours before I realized it and by that night- uggh, blowing diarrhea. But it was all clear within 24 hours.
          When the forage was ready to graze, I gradually introduced them to it and we had no issues at all.
          Tammy

          Reply
  10. Hello! Thanks for the great article. I have two questions. First how long should we leave the animals out each day? We currently move them back to the barn each night but want to make sure we’re giving them enough grazing time. Second, do you provide any sort of temporary shade structure in areas without shade or do the goats do okay as long as they have water? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Maria

      I keep my animals in the barn as little as possible so that they can spend all day on pasture in the fresh air. They are out shortly after sunrise and then back to the barn at sunset.

      They really do need a shaded area when out on pasture. When they are not grazing, they will look for a shady spot to rest and ruminate. Just like us, they are impacted by the heat of the direct sunlight and the lighter colored goats in particular, are susceptible to sun damaged skin that can turn into cancer.

      ~Tammy

      Reply

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