Goat-Proof Fence

The biggest single expense with goat ownership is fencing. Goats are very tough to fence in. The can readily jump over, climb, squeeze through, or simply bash-down most typical livestock fences. There is an adage that says "If your fence won't hold water, it won't hold a goat." Some people swear by electric fences for goats. Others think woven wire is the way to go. However, I also wanted mine to keep chickens in and predators out. I finally settled on 5 foot welded wire fencing for the front paddock (about an acre) with electric fencing for a another "rougher" paddock of about 2 or 3 acres. This page is describes the building of the welded wire fence, the electric fence instructions are here. Anyway, for this fence, I used pressure treated 4 X 4 as posts every ten feet. I have put up about 1500 feet of this fencing and so far so good. The goats don't seem too interested in escaping... so maybe I have just been lucky. Also, this contains the chickens quite nicely.

1) First step is to plot out your fence lines and clear out any obstructions. Try and make this as straight as possible. The problem around here is that the fenced area is heavily forested, uneven, and loaded with giant boulders and rock ledge (see below). Also now is the time to think about where you want to put the gates.

2) Next space out your post holes. I put mine at 10 foot intervals. Just take a can of spray paint with you and mark the ground as you go. I didn't worry too much about having "exact ten foot intervals. I think it is fine to just pace it off. Next, assemble your post hole digging kit. Mine consists of a standard post hole digger, a heavy-duty, round-point shovel, a steel digging bar with a "tamping end," and a four-foot level. To me, it is really important to have a digging bar with a blunt end (some of bars are two different "digging ends). This is very useful for compacting the soil after you put the post in.

3) Start digging. I usually use the shovel for the first foot/foot and a half. Then I switch to the bar. Basically... smash the hell out of the hole with the bar... this much more effective at loosening the subsoil then trying to do it with the post hole digger alone. After it is pretty "soft," scoop out the soil with the post hole digger. Then smash some more with the bar (repeat until exhaustion). I can get about two or three inches with each cycle. Since I didn't want to use concrete to set any of these posts... I dug them pretty deep (3 foot). This has the added advantage not only of strength, but 4 X 4s are commonly sold in 8 foot lengths.. digging them 3 feet left me exactly the height I wanted without cutting them. Thanks to the glaciers of the last ice age... all of New Hampshire is littered with field stone and boulders. I hit one about every other hole. Wonderful. When you encounter a rock your options are to try and smash through it with the bar (never works... but you always try... also scream profanity while you are doing it... it helps)... move the hole over a tad and try to wedge the corner of the stone up with the bar and then move the rock (if it is a "small one" this works)... or just give up and move the hole over a foot. Once in awhile, I could get a hole about 2 and half feet... before hitting the rock. In that case I cheated and cut six inches of the post. Once I hit a huge piece of ledge... and had to cut over a foot. This one post I reinforced with concrete. I was able to get the rest in okay

So, in order to avoid major tree removal and dynamiting... the fence meanders "just a bit."
4) When your finished... put the post in the hole and level it BOTH directions. Nothing says "amateur fence construction" like crooked posts. You can't eyeball it and don't try. Not only that it will be much tougher to attach the wire later if the post isn't straight. Basically the process is, level the post... scoop in some soil in the hole, tamp it down with the bar. Re-check the level, and repeat until the post hole is filled completely in. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have all your posts in.
5) Roll the wire out and staple it to the posts. I used 3/4 galvanized staples. Go ahead and spend the extra 10 cents to get the galvanized ones... ESPECIALLY if you are using pressure treated posts. The copper in the posts will dissolve plain steel quite quickly. Also, you will quickly get tired of smashing your fingers with a hammer as these staples are tough to drive. I found it was very easy to use needle nose pliers to hold the staple for the first few wacks. The do sell commercial staple holders, but they are expensive and the pliers work fine. Originally, I only put in four or five staples per post. Bad idea. The goats scratch their backs on the fence and popped the staples out quite readily. I ended up putting about 12 staples per post after that. Maybe I should have used 1 and a half inch staples.... but this seems to be working. Also try and staple at the welds. This is the strongest way to staple the fence (see below). It is also useful to have a helper for this phase. It is sometimes tough to hold and staple. Also, you definitely need someone to apply some tension. This is nearly impossible to do yourself. The absolute toughest situation is when you need to go up or downhill. It is very difficult to get the wire "to do what you want" under these conditions. The "uneven" sections of the fence look a little sketchier than normal...but it is fine for goats (see below). I bought 14 gauge galvanized welded wire at Cheapo Depot. This only seems to come in 50 foot lengths. As such there was alot of splicing I had to do. Basically, I would overlap about the two pieces about 6 inches, and splice in the cut ends with needle nose pliers.
6) After the wire is up. Time to put up the gates. I think it is easiest just to build the frame of the gate into the existing wire fence... staple the gate, and then "cut it free". I think this is much easier than having to "stop and start" the wire stapling to make the gate as you go. For the gates themselves... I used 2 X 4s doubled up. I made each gate 4 foot wide. That is enough to get a small tractor in, but too short to really start sagging when opening and closing. I used slide latches to secure the gates and two heavy duty gate hinges. It is important that the gates open INWARD. Goats will PUSH on a fence, but really won't pull on it. I nailed a small piece of 2 X 4 on the outside to strenghten the gate even further (see below). This keeps the latch from bearing all the strain of a pushing force. I put the latches on the outside of the gate. This is somewhat inconvenient in that you need to reach around from the inside to open the gate, and it also requires two hands to close (to really line it up). A standard "self closing" gate latch would seem more convenient. However, I have heard that goats can quickly learn how to open these. Also, goats have a tough time with closures that require two movements to work. The latches I have require a lift and then a pull.. simple self closing latches only have one motion... goats can figure these out.

7) Put a top rail on it and your fence is done! You might be able to get away without the top rail. However, around here.. tree branches are constantly falling on the fence (see pic).. so the top rail will protect the wire from some of this abuse. So far, this fence is holding up. However, I am planning on adding a second rail to further stengthen it.
8) Optional Equipment/Things to Consider: Here are a few other things you might need or want to think about regarding fence8) Optional Equipment/Things to Consider: Here are a few other things you might need or want to think about regarding fence construction. First one is a rope. Tie this to your post hole digger so when you throw the &^$*^#%% thing into the swamp after encountering your 50th rock of the day... it is easier to retrieve once you calm down.
Next one is a link to Craigslist Services; Unless you are a glutton for punishment: PAY SOMEONE TO DO THIS. I dug about 30 post holes by hand until I broke down and paid some guy to come out with a power auger. http://nh.craigslist.org/lbs/

Lastly, the best part of fence building in New Hampshire is that you get two fences for the price of one. After digging up all those rocks... I made a nice stone wall in front of my house. Fantastic!
May 2010 Update

Well, my fence has held up reasonably well over the past 9 months. There are a couple areas that need to be addressed. Firstly, there were a few areas where the goats were damaging the fence. They seem to like to lean on the fence hard, then walk back and forth (presumably to scratch their backs). Well, this caused the fence to "curl" somewhat at the bottom. In and of itself, this isn't the biggest issue for the goats, but it did allow the chickens to get out on occasion. Therefore, I ended up reinforcing a few areas with PT 2 X 4s and then stapling the bottom of the fence to these. That seemed to fix the problem. I think in the end I am going to have to put a middle rail on the whole thing, but I am hoping this will be a permanent fix.
Upon further reflection I am no longer recommending 3/4 galvanized staples, even with 8 or 10 staples per post, the goats are able to pull them out. Instead, I bought 1.5" galvanized, knurled staples (see comparison pic below) and put two of these per post at about goat level. So far these seem to be withstanding the goat abuse.
July 2011 Update

I have been working on and off to clear the front paddock of trees and adding a coat of paint to the fence. In general the fence is holding up fairly well, but I am seriously considering adding another support board in the middle of the fence. In some areas the goats are slowly but surely pushing through the welded wire. Otherwise, this seems to be working fine.
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