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Build A Fence For Your Goats | Fall 2006 Out Here Magazine

Seasoned advice for keeping in those hard-to-contain animals

By Jackie Clay

Illustrations by Tom Milner

Of all animals, goats have a huge reputation for being hard to keep contained. One reason they are hard to fence is that goats are smart. It's funny; a trait that endears us to dogs makes us madder than heck at our goats. And goats are strong animals for their size. They don't usually "break" out of the pasture. They LEAN out, always reaching through the fence for that oh-so-delectable bunch of grass or twigs just out of range. They also are agile jumpers, leaping nimbly over a 4-foot fence that would contain most horses. Like your dog, they will also get down on their knees and crawl under a fence that gaps at the bottom.

Impossible to keep in? Not at all. All goats require is proper fencing and an owner who understands goat behavior.

Besides keeping goats contained, good fencing is necessary to keep predators at bay. Most people think of coyotes eating their goats, but across the country, most goat injuries and deaths stem from dogs. Neighbor dogs, simply out for a good time sometimes band together and their "fun" gets out of hand. A good fence is a definite must.

So what IS a good goat fence? And how do you build one? I've had dairy goats for over 35 years and have a definite preference for tight woven wire stock fence on either heavyweight steel T posts or wooden posts with a minimum diameter at the top of 4 inches. If your goats have horns (which mine don't), you'll need 4-inch squares in the wire, which prevents the goats from sticking their horned heads through the wire, then becoming stuck. There they either choke to death or become easy prey for predators. Without horns, regular field fencing works fine. Especially if you do as I do and reinforce this woven wire with a stand-off strand of electric wire about 18 to 24 inches (depending on your goats' average size and normal "reach through" height).

Closer to home, in corrals or pens, I prefer welded 16-foot cattle stock panels, which are lightweight but very strong panels of heavy gauge welded wire. The more animals are confined, the stronger the fencing needs to be, as the more stress and abuse it will receive.

So let's build an acre of goat pasture fence for starters.

Besides a post-hole digger, you'd be wise to use a multi-use fencing tool that comes equipped with a heavy-duty hammer head, wire cutters, staple grips, a wire grip between the handles for stretching wire, and a heavy prong to remove staples.

Decisions, Decisions


Measure the area you will be fencing, clearing the proposed fence line of brush and trees to make the chore easier. This also lessens the temptation for goats to graze over or through the fence.


Conventional goat wisdom suggests 6-12 goats per acre, but this varies with available forage.


For starters, we'll assume your pasture will have one drive-through gate. This will let you service the pasture with a tractor to work the ground, harrow in manure, or clip any unpalatable weeds.


Decide where your gate will be and where your corners will be. Fencing should always be done in straight lines. Curves may look artistic, but drastically weaken the fence; sooner or later, the pull and weight of the wire will tip posts to the inside of any curves, no matter how slight they seem.

The H brace is extremely important to the strength of the fence, because it bears the force from the fence's pull on the brace assembly.

Plant Your Brace Posts


Using a roll of electric fence wire, measure and stake your corners and where your gate will be. Be sure that your fence runs straight from corner to corner. Stretch the wire taut, going back to snap it like a chalkline. Your fence needs to be straight to work well.


Now measure out 8 feet from your corners, on the wire marker, and dig a hole for your brace post. You want it at least 2½ feet deep; 3 is better. Dig it larger by at least 2 inches, all around, to allow for adequate tamping. Place the largest end of the post in the hole and begin filling in the hole, tamping hard all around it with a small pole or shovel handle. Fill a couple of inches, then tamp and repeat until the hole is over-full (the dirt will settle). As you tamp the posts in, use a level to make sure it is straight on all sides.


Do the other brace post of your corner unit, and finally, dig your corner post hole.


To finish each corner, down 18 inches or so from the top of each post, cut a shallow notch to receive the 4x4 horizontal brace. Make it a tight fit. This keeps the brace from slipping up or down in later years, due to the pressure the weight of the fence wire puts on the corner.


Now you will install the heavy gauge wire (12 gauge or better) that will "tie" the H part of the corner brace unit together. Run a loose loop of wire from the bottom of a brace post to the top of a corner post, around the pair. You don't want it tight, but not awfully sloppy either. Make a small loop in one end of the wire, winding it back on itself with fencing pliers. Then run the other end through it, and wind that back on itself. Staple the loop of wire at the top and bottom of the posts.

Tie wire together by making a small loop in one end and winding that back on itself. Run the other end through it and wind it back on itself.

A simple piece of hardwood provides the leverage to tighten the wire that ties the H-brace together.

Tighten the Loop


Now take a stout hardwood piece of wood, about the size of a small hammer handle and 18 inches long or so and stick it through the wire and begin twisting it to tighten both sides of the loop at once. Continue tightening until the wood creaks and the wire is evenly tight. Then with a short length of wire, tie the tightening bar to the brace wire to hold it from unwinding.


Repeat, only go from the bottom of the corner post to the top of the brace post, making an X with the wire, with the horizontal wood brace across, high on the X. This finishes your H brace; there are two making each corner, one on each run of fence from the corner post. And there is one H brace on each side of your gate.

Fences with 4-inch squares are best for goats with horns, preventing them from sticking their head through the wire, then becoming stuck.

Installing the Wire Fence


Install your fence posts; pound a 6½-foot heavyweight steel T post, with the bumps facing into the pasture, every 12 feet. Or dig your holes for wood fence posts every 12 feet. These, too, should be 2½ feet deep; deeper is better and you have enough room to adequately tamp the dirt while you fill the holes. As with the corners and H brace posts, use a level and make sure the posts are quite level vertically.


Once your posts are in, begin putting up your wire. It is usually easiest to unroll the fencing on the inside of the pasture, all the way down to your corner. Keep it as tight as possible as you unroll. Tie the end to the starting corner to keep it from sliding or rolling back up.


Stand the wire up as much as you can, leaning it against the fence posts. At the end where you tied the fence to the corner post, take one wrap around the corner post and staple the fencing nice and square with the post. Keep your bottom wire parallel to the ground, particularly in an uneven landscape. The vertical wires should be straight up and down, with the same amount of each square showing. You don't want to start your fence out of square or it will only get worse.

The more animals you're fencing, the stronger and tighter that fence needs to be to stand up to the abuse and stress it will receive.

Stretching the Wire


At the far end, weave a pipe or strong 2x4 through the fencing, a couple of feet up the fence line from the corner. Then fasten a lightweight chain or strong piece of rope from one end to the other. You will hook your fence stretcher to the center of this and the other end will be fastened to the center of the corner post. To keep corner posts absolutely straight during stretching, I usually fasten a chain or rope to the top of the corner post and snug it up with an ATV or tractor, just to keep it in place during the stretching process.


Now begin tightening the stretcher, going back along the line from time to time to straighten the wire up against the fence posts. You want the wire quite tight but not so tight that the little strengthening "humps" stamped in the heavy-gauge wire pull out straight; that's too tight.


Now staple the fencing to the posts (if using wooden posts), turning each staple at a bit of an angle so you can make the most of its holding power. Don't pound the staples in so far that they dent the wire; this weakens it. If using T posts, fasten the fence securely with the fencing clips that come with the posts. Be sure to clip on all the heavy gauge wires, especially top and bottom.


Continue all around the pasture in the same manner.

Adding strands of electric wire will prevent goats from reaching through and standing on your fencing.

Hang the Gate


Hang your gate(s), making sure that they are low enough to the ground that wily goats can't crawl under.


To make your beautiful new fence stay nice, it's a good idea to add a stand-off line of electric fencing at 18 inches from the ground (the typical "reach-through" and "stand-on-the-wire" place). Use plastic one-piece stand-off electric wire insulators that snap onto T posts or nail onto wood posts. They hold the wire about 6 inches out from the fence, effectively keeping the goats from getting too close.


It is also a good idea to run another "hot" wire on the top of the fence, including over your gate where you will use a spring-type gate latch to open and shut the electric wire when you open the gate. Not only does this prevent goats from standing on the fence and looking over it or eating over the top, but it keeps dogs and other predators from climbing the fence to attack your herd.


If you are really concerned about predators, you can also add another electric wire a foot or so from the ground on the outside of the pasture. I have used sharpened wood stakes, driven into the ground securely, topped with nail-on insulators to carry the electric wire.

The Fruits of Your Labor

That's it! Now you have a safe fence that will keep your goats where you want them and will keep out predators as well. Maintenance is easy. Use a string trimmer and mow any greenery from touching distance from your electric wire. Replace wire clips that come undone and enjoy that fence for years and years to come.