Expert recommends five strands of heavy-gauge, high-tensile wire with proper grounding for containing a herd of climbers, leapers and stubborn old billies
Good goats love to roam and you need a fence that’s up to the job.
Characteristics that make goats effective at grazing rough pastures — such as aggressive feeding habits and the ability to stand on their hind legs — also means they like to explore new areas and will jump and climb and otherwise get around containment.
“Goats are probably the hardest animal to fence,” Jason Williams, of Tru-Test, a seller of electric fencing supplies, said at the recent Multi-Species Grazing Conference.
“Whether you use flock netting, page wire, hot wires or barbed wire, goats are goats.”
Williams recommends a five-strand fence and building an electric fence low to the ground to keep the herd in and predators out. That’s tricky though because each blade of grass touching the hot wire creates a short that bleeds off power to the entire fence. Multiply that by a thousand or a million, and it adds up to a major drain. For solar powered systems, that can quickly ruin the battery. The solution is to use a heavy-duty energizer with lots of power that is able to “burn off” the grass, he said.
Electric fencing is cheaper to construct than other options, but requires more maintenance, said Williams. Spend “a little extra” to get the best equipment, particularly dead-end insulators — the oval-shaped plastic thingamabobs used at each end of the wire to prevent current from leaking down through the posts, he said. White deadends, made from plastic and glass are best, as less-expensive, plastic-only green or black insulators are more likely to leak current, especially with high-powered energizers.
Posts can be anywhere from 18 to 40 feet apart, and Williams recommends heavier high-tensile wire gauge as it carries more current.
Resist the temptation to ratchet the wire up “tight as a fiddle string” to make it look pretty, he said. Ideally, there should be enough sag that it can be pushed down to the ground without breaking, which allows deer or elk to blunder through a fence without damaging it.
Existing barbed wire fences can be adapted for small ruminants by adding outrigger or standoff type insulators, some of which have ends that are pounded into the post with a hammer, and others that can be twisted around the barbed wire.
Page wire may appear impenetrable, but in fact old rams and billies have a tendency to push on it until it is bent out of shape or broken. This can be avoided by running a single hot wire along it, said Williams.
Poor grounding is the No. 1 reason why fences fail. Galvanized ground rods at least six-feet long should be installed 10 feet apart. The longer the fence, the more rods required.
“The rule is one ground rod for every two joules of output power,” Williams said. Don’t use plain rebar, because it will develop an insulating coating of rust in a matter of days, rendering the fence useless.
Williams recommends adding ground rods until a voltage measurement from the one farthest from the energizer registers less than 300 volts compared to around 8,000 to 9,000 volts on the fence.
“If you do that, you’ll put a lot more power on your fence,” he said.
For extremely difficult soils, such as dry gravel or sand, Tru-Test sells a kit for the most powerful energizers that uses a stainless steel ground rod and a bentonite clay solution that is watered for three days to “force” a maximum ground connection.
Solar panels should provide at least 10-watts for every joule of power outputted by the energizer.
Electric fencers have come a long way, he added, with the most powerful units capable of outputting 63 joules of zap. To put that in easily understandable terms, a .22 long-rifle cartridge at point blank range represents about 160 joules of energy.