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So You're New To Goats?
Or perhaps you are planning on getting goats (and haven't yet)?

To get you started on the right track, one of the first things to become familiar with is the language of goats. Over the past several years, I have created a list of common words and phrases that are closely associated with goatkeeping. This list can be found at Goat Terminology. It's not as difficult to learn as one might think and I will give you one example of why this could be considered important:

Years ago on a goat list (back in the days before Facebook and sophisticated forms of social networking), a person new to raising goats was discussing a situation regarding their goat when someone else jumped in and asked, "is she kidding?" The new goat person asking the questions was baffled and thought that she had missed a joke! I mean, the phrase "is she kidding?" could apply to someone thinking that, yes. But what the person was really asking was merely if the goat was having babies (kids). Not all of the Goat Terminology could be confused like that, but the real point of the matter is that if you are learning the basics of goat speak, knowing the vernacular of the subject is extremely helpful.

Immediate things to be aware of

With the common language of goats out of the way, let's talk about some of the immediate things to be aware of - shelter, fencing, health requirements, a breed or breeds to start with, and the ultimate purpose for getting goats (pet, dairy, meat, fiber, brush control, showing, etc.).

For us, we originally got goats for one purpose only - to control brush. We had no idea what was going to be involved with raising and caring for goats. In other words, we got the goats first and then did the research. This is not an approach I would recommend to beginners. Do the research and then get the goats. Trust me, you'll be much farther ahead in the long run. Unfortunately many of us do get the goats first and then try and correct the problems that arise from not planning ahead. No one will look down at you for this although you may hear a few "I told you so's" from time to time.

As a young boy, I had gained some experience with goats: 4H, showing, milking as well as the care and feeding of them. Yet, when it came to actually starting my own goat farm, I found that I had a lot to learn, and if you're a good goat person, you'll always consider that you still have more to learn. From that first day forward owning goats again, I created the GoatWorld web site and began building an extensive collection of experiences and opinions along the way. You'll meet many people in the world of goats, and each brings with them their own experiences and opinions. You'll soon have yours as well!

Are goats allowed where you live?

Before you get a goat or two, there is one specific question that needs to be asked. "Are goats allowed where you live?" It is easily taken for granted that a person can keep goats in his or her area, but in reality, this is not always legally the case. You would be surprised at just how many counties have specific ordinances set up regarding livestock, or more specifically goats. Since goats have increased in popularity, so too have the laws and ordinances regarding them. It is a good idea to check with your county officials first before bringing a goat on your premises. It will save you heartache, effort and legal wrangling in the longrun when a disgruntled neighbor has turned you in for an unplanned infraction. And please don't be fooled into thinking that your goat(s) are just pets and thus classified as such. While you may regard them as pets, others may not and the current trend is to classify them as livestock in many areas.

Just an aside to the "pet vs. livestock" classification, we have raised a variety of animals over the years and I can best sum it up this way: in every state that I know of, if you don't pay taxes on the feed for that animal, they are considered livestock or farm animals. You pay taxes on cat food, dog food, fish food, rabbit food (never quite understood that one), but you won't pay taxes on goat food. If you do, then something isn't right. So it is important to understand that while these goats may be your babies, your kids, your pets, for all legal purposes, they are not pets.

"Good fences make good neighbors" - Robert Frost

Before bringing that first goat home, first and foremost (at least in my opinion) is fencing. If you don't have adequate fencing, you will be fighting a losing battle. Your goats will be everywhere except where you do not want them. There are a few different schools of thought on fencing, each a separate topic in its own right. And a prospective goat owner should take note - install your fencing before you get goats. Otherwise you'll find yourself fighting the losing battle I spoke of.

Goats are curious by nature and will immediately show you that they are by being everywhere except you want them to be. For quite a few goat owners, this has been the main issue. The neighbor that doesn't like goats a whole lot will like them a whole lot better behind a solid, escape proof fence. I can't stress the issue of a solid fence enough. You wouldn't be happy with your neighbor whose dog is continually raiding your trash can or digging holes in your yard. Your neighbor won't be happy with goats that can be destructive in countless ways. Are all goats like this? No. Some are rather tame. But the rule of thumb here is to keep your goats where you want them to be instead of everywhere you don't want them to be.

Some types of fencing to consider

First you have electric fencing. Some will say this is a cruel method - cruel is a neighbor shooting or turning their dogs loose on your "out of control" goats that have just munched down their garden or prized trees and shrubs. Cruel is also containing your goats in too small of an area. At a later point in this article, perhaps part 2 or part 3, I will go over some practical size and area considerations. For now I will leave you with this particular thought that I learned many years ago - one acre will support up to 11 goats.

Electric fencing can work, but one needs to really understand the concept of building a tight electric fence, good corners and good materials. In my opinion, the thicker and tighter the electric fence wire, the better. I have seen fences of three strands of wire adequately contain goats of a certain size. If you have a mixed size herd, i.e., Pygmies, Saanens, Nubians, kids, I strongly feel you may need more strands of wire because the smaller goats will go under or over the very bottom wire while the larger and taller goats may be inclined to jump over the middle or uppermost wire. And if the fence isn't tight enough, many goats will simply go through it.

The charger itself should be of good quality - many report that solar chargers work well. We personally use a Par-Mac charger that delivers 10kV (10,000 volts) of what is pretty much a "static" electricity shock - pulsating. Also to be included with this type of set-up is a good grounding system that ensures that the fence charger delivers that 10kV at any point in the electric fence line. A poor grounding system will not go very far in detering a goat from going through it.

Since my first writing of this article, I have revised my thoughts on fence chargers somewhat...there are two that I don't recommend that a person use. The first is the type that is used for dogs. These are generally much cheaper (thus an enticement to a prospective buyer) than what I call "official livestock fence chargers". These dog chargers just don't produce enough zap to effectively deter a goat from crossing through. The second type of charger is a solar charger. This is not to say that ALL solar chargers are a no-no. Some of them may address my chargers seem to have a slower recharge rate, meaning that there is a time lapse from when the electric fence is hot, and when it is not. Also of concern is that the zap is also not enough to deter a goat from crossing through. Some of the higher end solar chargers may work, but the ones I've had experience with thus far, don't.

An alternative to electric fencing is the use of "cattle" or "hog" panels. These can be used with great success but there are a couple of drawbacks. First, cattle panels come in 16 foot lengths and cost anywhere from $11 to $14 each (as of 2013 they are a lot more than that). The difference between a "cattle" and "hog" panel is the height and the spacing of the squares in the panel. Cattle panels are approximately 5 feet high and each square is approximately 6 inches by 6 inches. Hog panels stand about 3 feet high and while the top squares are 6 by 6, the lower to the ground the hog panel gets, the smaller the squares get.

Personally I have found cattle panels to be highly useful for larger goats while the hog panels are more suitable for kid goats (who can often squeeze through 6 by 6 squares on the larger cattle panels). Conversely, larger goats can (and often will) jump over the 3 foot high hog panels. The other drawback to both cattle and hog panels is that if you have horned goats, they may be likely to stick their head through the 6 by 6 squares and get stuck in them. On the other hand, cattle and hog panels do offer the ability of being able to move a fence-line or goat pen. They are very durable and besides adding a few corner t-posts for support, all that is needed is a bit of bailing wire or bailing string to lash them together. I have even seen and used myself, the smaller hog panels with an electric wire above the top of the panel to deter jumpers.

Another fencing alternative is "woven wire". Personally I don't like this method because for one thing, it becomes a permanent fence for the most part and woven wire also has either 4 x 4, 5 x 5, or 6 x 6 inch squares - again, goats can and do get caught in this set-up. Also, it's a real task to get a woven wire fence tight which is a key to building a good goat fence. But some do use woven wire with excellent results.

Another (and more expensive) alternative is using chain link fencing. This is probably the most secure method there is but then not everyone can afford to fence an acre or more with chain link fencing. This kind of fencing would be ideal for smaller goat pens for breeding, holding, sick or kidding pens. And within your budget, a good fence for large areas too.

Two more types of fencing are widely used with great results - again they are more expensive. Wooden and metal fencing. Both types require that you have fence rails of either material spaced just right so the goats cannot slip through them. Best if fashioned after the cattle and hog panels in heigth of railing. Metal tubing is ideal. Wood is equally effective - the only drawback being that goats will tend to rub and gnaw at certain types of wood - you may be replacing sections of wooden fence railing more often than you'd like to.

So now that I've discussed some "basics" of fencing, I am hoping to hear what kind of fencing ideas you may have come up with. Perhaps you have a few questions about fencing. I'm not the ultimate authority on the subject but I'm sure many of the other visitors and members of GoatWorld have their own experiences and wisdom to share.

Hopefully at this point, you have still resisted the temptation to get started, and haven't rushed out to get your first goat. There is more ahead in this that you'll definitely want to know before taking that step. And if you have gotten that first goat or goats, well, there is still hope for you yet although I would recommend you continue reading on anyways! For those of you that jumped the gun, please know that there is a wealth of information to be found in the GoatWorld Articles section as well as other great goat related web sites.

Looking back on this article now, I realize that I have mainly skimmed the very first part of being "new to goats". I may have originally done this to stress the importance of fencing. While fencing is certainly important and should not be overlooked, I now realize that I've left new goat owners, or prospective new goat owners out in left field by not following up with the next area of actually being new to goats. I will soon have more subsequent articles to provide the Part 2, Part 3 and so on. Please watch these pages for an update soon!

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